Apple does it again – iPad 3 (or iPad HD or just iPad) offers great value for money

Being a harsh critic of what I once coined as “iSuccumb, iSnob, iSupplicate” syndrome, of mindless parroting of iPhone’s hardware and user experience, I never thought I would find something in a Apple product that goes beyond hype and provide real  ‘value for money’.

iPads – particularly starting from iPad 2, seemed to me, as devices providing better value for money, even against myriad Android Tablets, till the launch of Galaxy Tab 10.1. Even after that, in terms of overall value (including availability of Apps made for 9.7″ screen size or bigger) iPad 2 was still ahead of the curve. Perhaps those who sought a near replacement to laptop (including the ability to see Flash videos) would have gone for Samsung’s tablets or Motorola Xoom.

When it comes to Tablets, excluding the ‘in-betweeners’ like DELL Sh*te (oops.. Streak), the reasonably well done HTC Flyer, and eye candy Samsung Note etc, most of them fall under either 7″ or 9.7″-10.1″ size factors. There’s enough literature that has clearly documented that a 7″ tablet represents about 45-50% of screen size that a 9.7″ iPad delivers. In simple terms, for those who have no particular interest to keep the form factor as 7″, and are happy to go with larger screen, all other parameters being nearly equal – in terms of processor speed, Graphics card performance, pixels per square inch, connectivity options (WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS….) – a 7″ tablet retailing at $ 200 is NOT cheaper than $ 400  Tablet at 9.7″ 🙂

Legend has it that, Amazon sells Kindle Fire at a loss of $ 2-3 on every piece it sells and obviously can sustain that in view of higher volume of content sales. And, mind you, the Kindle Fire comes with a measly 8 GB space, and is as much a walled garden as Apple products are (well, at least in principle) and does not have Bluetooth connectivity. The Nook eReader is better specd but one obviously pays a little more – $ 249.

iPad 2, despite a stone-age spec front camera (0.3 MP – VGA) and a miserly 1 MP rear camera, and a not so great screen resolution, would still represent $ 99 worth more than Kindle Fire at $ 400 if Amazon were to increase the screen size (hypothetically).

iPad 3 – or whatever it’s eventually going to be called – with a razor sharp screen resolution, better rear camera (no news still on front camera specs), faster processor, ability to run over 100k Apps that are made for such screen size, would seem lot better value for money for those who can buy it in the US, at $ 499 !

The usual limitations of not being able to run Flash – unfortunately, there’s still lot of Video streaming on Flash till everything moves over to HTML5, very limited formats supported for playing Videos, in terms of native codecs, absence of widgets support, namesake multi tasking (for those who have used Android, the swiftness of swapping Apps , Apple’s double quick press on home button to browse last few Apps would seem very retarding!) etc.

But, for those looking forward to use their tablets primarily for consuming information, as I end up doing, in terms of watching BBC iPlayer, reading PDFs for long hours, viewing Guardian’s spectacular Photo Gallery app, National Geographic snippets, Flipboard, general browsing of Newspapers etc. a 9.7″ screen is indeed a nice size to hold and enjoy viewing. Dependable Bluetooth, Battery life, good Graphics chip etc. are further bonus.

Apple aficionados have to admit at least for once, that people who flock to iPads, at least since iPad 2, make that choice due to meaty real-estate and hardware specs representing a great value for money and not essentially as fans of iOS, iTunes or even Apps beyond a particular range.

Of course, whether Apple may have been compelled to squeeze so much value for money in $ 499 but for the huge competition posed by Android tablets is a moot point.

For now, three cheers to the techies who were behind iPad 3’s sumptuous specs !

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – tangible ones though !

If you fell in love with the Sherlock Holmes released in 2009,  you won’t be disappointed viewing this sequel.

If you haven’t watched the earlier one and/or not prepared to see the famed detective not just as a man of high reason but also as a man for all seasons, you may be taken aback by the apparent trivialisation and irreverence this movie abounds in. If you are only used to Mr.Holmes’ image as the one cast by  immaculately astute  Jeremy Brett, on popular  TV series in 80s, you’d be better advised to watch the first part of this movie on rent, to see if you can stomach this sequel !

In concluding scenes of the first movie, handcuffed Rachel McAdams speaks of her vanquished employer to Robert Downey Jr, almost as an eulogy, “Please don’t underestimate him. He’s just as brilliant as you are. And infinitely more devious“. Viewers are left with a sense of unfulfilled intrigue as to what further destruction was Moriarty capable of and would Holmes have quelled them too with equal aplomb ?  Guy Ritchie doesn’t make fans wait for too long and dishes out yet another artistically lavish, meanderingly fast, sumptuous sequel to indulge in ! 

In our largely despondent times, rife with economic contraction, rampant complacency and rueful accountability, to be time transported to high days of Victorian era (~1891), with glimpses on London Underground while it’s still being built, buttoned up men pursuing  science with infectious passion, a society on throes of life changing automotive speed comes in as a whiff of fresh air. As Paul Anderson (who plays Colonel Sebastian Moran, nearly the right hand of Moriarty)  alludes to a large stockpile of symmetrically arranged warheads as a place where science meets art, one can’t but be reminded if the director is trying to pat his own back. He has, after all, attempted precisely the same with the movie itself – art, science, wit and action thrown in equal measure !

The ride gathers momentum with the duo (Holmes and Watson) reaching Paris to unearth reasons for seemingly disconnected, but ominous episodes involving Professor Moriarty. From the moment Sherlock eases Mrs.Watson into a river from a running train, obviously to save her (!), there’s hardly a dull nano second. Sherlock Holmes has never been as actionesque in any portrayal so far,  his moves so fast that even scientists at CERN working on LHC may only marvel  but miss detecting. Mortal viewers like us, are, thankfully, offered slow motion preconstructions of his thoughts preceding action – expanding on the technique creatively used in the brawl knockout scene of the first movie. But, truth be told, even those re-enactments would seem too fast to comprehend for those still intent in knowing the big picture :-). For most viewers, by this time, it would all seem minor details that can wait; instead, keeping pace with  action,  including Sherlock’s tryst with mule ride in continental hinterland, men risking their lives against those with newer (now vintage!, fast-loading ammunitions would be more engrossing !

The background score by Hans Zimmer is as gripping as in the first movie, with rapturous violin pitches accentuating the already fast screenplay. Talking of which, those with artistic bent of mind won’t miss the beautifully recreated Paris garden scenes being quaintly reminiscent of  Édouard Manet’s impressionist paintings or of his contemporaries such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Anyone playing this movie from Blu-ray players onto large screen TVs can actually pause at many frames, sigh at their sheer beauty and dispatch A0 size printout command, as souvenirs for living room ! Though grandeur isn’t a new idea in period movies, some directors weave their distinct interpretation, and make period come alive, in sepia style timelessness, than just paint a backdrop to enact indoor opulence and decadence charade, in what’s come to be known, almost derogatorily, as costume dramas.

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Robert Downey Jr does a stellar job of ‘faster than neutrino‘  detective, who is at equal ease giving  fancy dress competitors – men and women alike, a run for their money! That his thinker-kicker credentials were firmly established in Iron Man franchise makes him a confident choice to reprise this role with absolute élan. Portraying a  self absorbed, maverick,  narcissistic genius with predictable foibles, who can also smile well, isn’t an easy task. It’s very hard to imagine who else could have managed to pull this role off, as convincingly ! Jude Law is called upon to provide professional expertise as a Dr. a couple of times before the movie finishes, while for most part, more as an able bodied accomplice, who just happens to share the same destiny ! However, even with such brief platonic remit, he does an excellent job in understated acting, with his incisive eyes conveying agony, exasperation and unspeakable grief than lofty dialogues. One does wish the mysterious Rachel McAdams, the lady who leaves Holmes smitten and vulnerable with her menacing smiles, could  grace more frames than Noomi Rapace did, who, though cast well as the gypsy Madam Simza Heron, somehow appears more burdened with purpose than is actually assigned! Kelly Reilly is more relaxed as Mrs.Watson, obviously allowed for better make up and screen presence than in first part, though meaningful tasks for her role continues to be in short supply.

With very little space for British characters such as  Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan, “inept inspector” – just a passing reference by Holmes) coupled with a never-ending parade of new characters every few minutes, viewers aren’t able to associate each with their unique sense of  quirkiness, much unlike the first part. For those looking forward to a gratuitous dose of British humour, unfortunately what’s on offer is a bit frugal and perhaps, more American !

Directors like Guy Ritchie risk being called disloyal to British style of movie making if they offer a feel good but less rooted film of this nature. However, if they craft a great British saga – deep, dark or classical – most people, critics included, might rather wait for the movie to come on telly than splurge cash to watch it on the big screen !

This movie, as much as its predecessor, is meant for international audience. If most relish the artistic expression, great music, excellent casting, witty script and the craftmanship, it’s a big win already. Should many of them also get interested in the genius of Sherlock Holmes, of course, even better 🙂

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In response to “Why I Will Never Feel Threatened by Cheap Overseas Programming”

Following ‘comment’ was posted in response to Why I Will Never Feel Threatened by Cheap Overseas Programming as comment # 194. Here’s a copy + paste of that, with some corrections.
Some of my Indian friends (born in India, migrated to US on H1B) who manage IT spend in US also bemoan the fact that they can’t even employ a single programmer due to blanket ban of using onshore programmers. Well, that’s taking it (offshoring) to the extremes.

One thing the author of this post should bear in mind, however, is what my Indian friends call the 70:30 or 80:20 gambit.

Most companies that have any decent budget to spend on IT initially hire the services of one or the other Big 5 firms to do ‘business process consulting’, ‘change management’, ‘feasibility study’, ‘strategy document’ and quite a few other fluffy bits. Fresh or seasoned MBAs with no direct knowledge of the industry, regurgitate report after report, recycled from years of hard work put in by their predecessors (from Victorian or WWII times ? ha ha ha). They have long term stay in Marriotts, Best Westerns, Radissons – charge hefty sums in time and expenses and leave precious little as ‘tangible’ output. Suddenly, after 1-3 botched up years, the IT Director of the firm realises his seat has turned hot under a$$ with just 1 more year to show something tangible – e.g. an ERP that works, a portal that customer can use to place orders etc. By this time, he has already spent 70-80% money on PPTs, PDFs and VISIOs! With what’s left, all he can lay hands on is a ludicrously under-cut offer from one or the other tier-2/3 type ‘system integrator’ Indian firms. Obviously, such firms, hired as an after-thought, with frugal margins, are infamous for long work hours, high employee attrition, low morale and consequently low creativity. These become bad ambassadors for Indian talent, bringing down with them, the overall image of what Indians are actually capable of.

The already rich, upwardly mobile and well-oiled workforce in the West fleece exorbitant rates and move on from one firm to the other. Middle class in the West have no clue why carpet is pulled under their feet. If all white elephants are made non existent and profligacy is nipped in the bud, there can be budgets for healthy IT spend, hiring best of talent at optimal price, be it onsite or offshore.

Is there truth in the fact that one can hire similar (like for like) talent for less cost in India – A big YES. No running away from this reality. A country rich in people as a resource, even if intelligence is a matter of statistics, should have lot more talented people. Indian middle class population today is the size of US population or more.

A firm that charges 1/10th of US hourly rate – can they still provide similar talent though – Of course NOT

Is outsourcing (to anywhere overseas for that matter, not just cheap destinations; try outsourcing from US to Ireland) always the best way to bring down costs – Again, how could this be true ? Common sense should prevail on what’s best retained locally what should be outsourced.

There really is no need to seek refuge in any perceived ‘holier than thou’ pedigree. It’s only as misplaced as a conceited programmer in India who may think his English is already impeccable !

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Another painful loss, gnawing at the roots of UK’s engineering future

The news that Canadian firm Bombardier is to axe thousands of jobs and close it’s Derby plant has outraged all people concerned about the future of engineering in UK, not just those who are worried about these jobs alone.

Of late, why do we come to hear these tales too often in the news ? Were the seeds of such wanton job loss and erosion of UK’s manufacturing credibility sown decades back, in any irrevocable way that we are meant to be just mute witnesses ? Could governments of the day and near future not stem the rot even midway and salvage the situation before it’s impossibly late ?

Even a casual look on either side of car, driving up the Midlands or Yorkshire would make anyone realise how perilous and fragile the economy is – with more derelict and abandoned industrial swathes than functioning ones. It would also make one realise as to how, despite the overall mood being despondent, a few manufacturing plants, power stations and distribution depots etc. still try to eke out a living and keep people occupied, the recent duress from a shrinking economy notwithstanding.

While Tories have long been blamed for obsession with myopic ‘market economics’ and short-termism, Labour have done nothing great either; their way of keeping whole regions and council jobs on artificial respirators isn’t a long term solution either.

The following article, in Guardian, seems to echo painful introspection than chest-thumping jingoism.

Critics insist UK government to blame over Bombardier job losses, not the EU

One of the comments included in the above article reflects a view, rather a fear I have had for some years now – that UK is increasingly becoming a nation of individual accomplishers than a country that wins as a unified force.

The very symbol of the new Germany is the stunning glass dome on the Reichstag in Berlin, the seat of German democracy. Was that built by a German architect? No, by Britain’s Sir Norman Foster, following a European public tender, a German government official noted.

Not just Sir Norman Foster, the number of Brits who have done exceedingly well as individuals (or as small teams) would be a long, healthy one indeed – J K Rowling (who single-handedly put an English language fiction on top of top sellers in France, dislodging even French language books; no mean feat!), Gordon Ramsay, David Beckham….. In terms of such one man (/woman) success stories, I believe UK’s accomplishments must be second only to USA. I am not talking of the number of billionaires as a metric since there may be even more individual billionaires in corrupt, inept countries too. It’s about individuals who would have succeeded, regardless of any number of other contestants and still won by a great margin ! UK still abounds in such talent, which, of course, is a great hope to hold on to. But, will it ensure that UK remains a prosperous country for all its citizens ?

One does not come across as many individual success stories from Germany or France. At least not on the scale that we are used to seeing here. But, they have painstakingly retained their abilities to run giant corporations (national champions, as Sarkozy would like to exult in). Take for instance, Eiffel Constructions métalliques – of Eiffage group – a descendant of the engineering company Société des Établissements Eiffel founded by Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower. Well, the company is still ‘active’ and continues to build stellar engineering successes, as it once built the Eiffel Tower (1889!). How could the French keep it going for so long so well while we in UK have to look for Victorian ingenuities only in Museums and (still functioning) viaducts, bridges and old railways ?

Surely, there’s something totally wrong with our priorities. Can Britain not, yet again, become the ‘institution builder’ that it once was, par excellence. Of all countries that won independence from colonial masters in mid-20th century, countries that were ruled by British Empire are likely to have still retained the institutions (and perhaps Log Books too !) left than those under other occupiers.

We are now getting into a vicious cycle where, with more companies shutting down, less avenues would exist for university-industry collaboration. That will further disenfranchise whatever minimal number of students who like to make Engg./Technology their focus for higher studies.

Brunel would be turning in his grave.

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Have I got a movie for you !

Here’s a list of B grade (sshhh…not the dodgy ones!) movies you may have quickly browsed past, while surfing for more watchable channels, on your TV.

Well, in case you’re ridden with viewer’s remorse, here’s a cut & paste of précis immaculately drafted by the broadcaster! After all, the ‘i‘ button on the remote does have its use !

Well, apart from feeling sorry for those wannabe actors, actresses who couldn’t make it big in Hollywood, sh*t movies do provide a welcome relief ! Not sure if it’s a vicarious sense of pleasure to know that even in this day and age, there’s still budget, prospect, avenue and audience – however miniscule – for unpretentious crap ! Reassuringly sh*tty indeed ! 🙂

And, of course, before you become too envious, I must say I don’t really get to watch my fair share, as irritably boring sanity does get the better of me, somehow.

Nature Unleashed – Volcano (2004):
A volcanologist tries to convince the mayor of a European ski resort that its massive snow-clad mountain peak is about to erupt. Disaster thriller starring Chris Martin and Antonella Elia.

Xtinction (2010): A Louisiana tour guide learns someone has cloned a 50ft aquatic dinosaur and let it loose in the swamp. Creature feature thriller, with Elena Lyons and Mark Sheppard.

Apex (1994):
In 2073 a scientist is transported 100 years into the past to correct an experiment gone wrong. When he returns, he finds a place decimated by war.

Alien vs. Hunter (2007):
Humans are caught in the middle of a battle between two deadly extraterrestrial creatures. Sci-fi thriller, starring William Katt and Dedee Pfeiffer.

Conan the adventurer: (1992)
The Siege of Ahl Sohn-Bar – In an arid and perilous land, mighty Conan continues his adventures battling evil forces with some help from his beautiful warrior companion.

Nazis at the Center of the Earth (Video 2012)
Scientists in Antarctica discover an underground base, where monstrous Nazis are plotting the conquest of the world. Sci-fi horror, with Dominique Swain and Jake Busey. (2012)

Scorcher (2002)
After two nuclear blasts throw the earth off its orbital axis towards the sun, scientists discover that the only way to counteract the orbital shift is to detonate another bomb under Los Angeles.

Final Days of Planet Earth (2006)
Conclusion. A group of people meet at the mysterious Room 86, and the task of leading them to safety falls upon archaeologist Lloyd Walker. Gil Bellows stars. (S1 Ep2)

Eye of the Beast (2007)
A scientist defends a small Canadian fishing village from marauding giant squid. Thriller, starring James Van Der Beek and Alexandra Castillo.

Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus (2010)
A giant shark goes on the rampage yet again, but this time faces a monstrous crocodile found in the jungles of Africa. Thriller sequel, with Gary Stretch and Jaleel White.

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Traffic Free Cycle Routes in UK – a few ideas from personal experience

I am one of those who’d prefer to take bike on car or train, even to far off places and cycle traffic-free to heart’s content than do it locally, jostling for space with cars, buses and white vans! Well, I do cycle on normal roads, but mainly to get to a nearby train station or when participating in events like London to Brighton BHF charity ride (when roads are made available !).

Well, I know opinions can vary on this approach as some may say this doesn’t bode well for environmental activism of small city rides to keep cars at bay ! Well, I would have preferred to do that too, if only we had the fortune of being in country like Netherlands, with cycle lanes on almost all commutable roads !

If you are like me and have been exploring options for traffic free routes in the UK, here are a few ideas. In a nutshell, Wales is wonderful ! In parts around London, the towpath route abutting Grand Union Canal provide some succour, but nothing compares with what we’ve got in Wales. At least, that’s my view !

The route maps mentioned below are based on MyTracks App from google, thanks to my Android phone ! There may be some parts involving intersection with Roads or towards the end, to cycle some parts on road, to reach the nearby rail station.

Utmost care must be exercised in following these, which can, at best be taken as supplementary source of information and not as a substitute for proper Ordnance Maps or better maps from other specialist bodies that may make them available with updated and more accurate coordinates.

Kidwelly Rail Station to Llanelli Millennium Coastal Park
~ 17 miles, each way

Llanelli to Gowerton Rail Station ~ 10 miles, each way

Llanelli to Cross Hands ~ 13.5 miles, each way

Reading – Newbury ~ 20 miles, each way

Denham to Rickmasworth ~ 7 miles, each way

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In fashioning myself I fashion man – Sartre’s words … how very true!

Following is a brief excerpt from Jean-Paul Sartre’s defence of atheistic/ agnostic Existentialism. But, even as a believer, I have found his following passage very profound and almost a ‘theistic’ credo as well (much would have he disliked such a follower!). Apart from the joy of reading excellent prose, it’s quite a humbling as well as a scary thought – that regardless of what we think, our actions do speak for themselves, all the time !

Source: Existentialism is a Humanism

……When we say that man chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be. To choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm the value of that which is chosen; for we are unable ever to choose the worse. What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all. If, moreover, existence precedes essence and we will to exist at the same time as we fashion our image, that image is valid for all and for the entire epoch in which we find ourselves. Our responsibility is thus much greater than we had supposed, for it concerns mankind as a whole. If I am a worker, for instance, I may choose to join a Christian rather than a Communist trade union. And if, by that membership, I choose to signify that resignation is, after all, the attitude that best becomes a man, that man’s kingdom is not upon this earth, I do not commit myself alone to that view. Resignation is my will for everyone, and my action is, in consequence, a commitment on behalf of all mankind. Or if, to take a more personal case, I decide to marry and to have children, even though this decision proceeds simply from my situation, from my passion or my desire, I am thereby committing not only myself, but humanity as a whole, to the practice of monogamy. I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man.

Though Sartre would regard this state of being as Man being condemned to be free, his rationale for it, nonetheless, does touch upon the sensibilities of responsible (Sattvik, in Hindu speak) actions.

….man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does. The existentialist does not believe in the power of passion. He will never regard a grand passion as a destructive torrent upon which a man is swept into certain actions as by fate, and which, therefore, is an excuse for them. He thinks that man is responsible for his passion….

Despite not granting absolute Freewill, and holding man as just one of the three reasons for outcome of an action, Hindu scheme does demand ownership of actions but goes more with the ‘state of mind’ during its performance.

I’d like to think, reflect and write on this further..

For now, I do rejoice and marvel at Sartre’s masterly exposition of his intense ideas, incidentally, anchored still as a theist.

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