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An Indian comeback from the dead

I didn’t want to quote the 1st day’s bulletin until today, lest I jinx the team. But now that we’ve won, here it is. Joy!

They must have read about it. They must have heard about it. They must have planned for it. Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla have played a Test there before. Nothing, though, can be preparation enough for an Indian comeback from the dead at Eden Gardens.

Buzz update

Google has updated Buzz to address some of the privacy concerns. If you’re like me and are interested in completely disabling Buzz, go to your Gmail settings ‘Buzz’ tab (you may need to do a logout/login to get the latest code).

If you click ‘Disable Google Buzz’, it claims to completely remove your Google profile, Buzz posts, and unfollow you from anyone you’re following in Buzz as well as Reader. This did happen for me.

What I still don’t like is there seems to be still no place where I can monitor state, i.e. be assured that Buzz is “disabled” on my account. Even after you click ‘Disable Google Buzz’, your settings page will display exactly the same message, which technically would lead you to believe that Buzz is still active.

The mysterious before

A beautiful essay by an American-born Indian on conversing with her great-grandmother:

Laminated photos affixed to the walls tell a story of black-and-white into color, of arranged marriages and love affairs, of constancy and change. As I walk through the house, I find my face, too, framed and on display. As always, it surprises me that I belong here, that even after I return to my American life, my child’s image will persist in a rambling home in the two horse town of Elevanchery.

Stop the buzz!

Here’s the thing: I don’t get social networking.

A friend of mine whom I got in touch with after a long time told me off quite sharply for not being on Orkut or Facebook. Apparently, he had scoured the social webs looking for me. It didn’t occur to him to Google me, which would’ve led him quite easily to my blog or public website.

A news source whose top headline on any given day may be that a casual acquaintance (who’s name I cannot match to a face) has just acquired three pigs on his virtual farm does not spark my interest. Nor does it amuse me to learn that twenty-three other complete strangers “like” the fact that this casual acquaintance of mine has just acquired three pigs on his virtual farm. Well, maybe it amuses me a bit. That I’m expected to devote any serious attention and time to a page full of such stories is, to me, laughable.

Sure, 350 million people and counting disagree with me, and that’s fine. It’s a free Internet. As long as I’m not forced to use Facebook any more than I want to, I can keep my information as private as I want and most importantly, I can delete my Facebook account any time I want to, I’m happy.

Along comes Google Buzz. Whatever may be wrong with it, they named it perfectly, though I’m sure they didn’t mean “low-pitched irritating, senseless and humming noise that bees make”. That’s the perfect description of what a social network these days is like: there’s just so much noise that even any tidbits of useful information get completely lost.

Nothing else about it feels right. I’ve no problem with another social network on the web. I get it: there is pots of money in social search and networking; so Google wants in. Some even find this a unique and useful service. But did they have to do something that left me feeling screwed over?

I was signed up for a social network automatically when I didn’t want to be. Even before I knew about Buzz, people had started ‘following’ me on Buzz, and other people were informed that I was following them. Even worse, anyone who was following me could see the list of people that “I was following”. Lets make this clear — “I” had no intent or even knowledge of following anybody. Yet the statement “Anshul is following these people” clearly indicates deliberate action and intent on my part, and therefore for Google to make that statement was just factually wrong and untrue. And letting anyone who was “following” me (without my consent or knowledge) have a peek at my most frequent contacts… words fail me. That three-letter three-word motto of a famous search engine company? The opposite of that.

So, when I did figure out that there was this thing called Buzz, I turned off all the stuff it was sharing on Buzz about me (Picasa photos and Google Reader links), I modified my profile not to show anyone whom I was connected to, and finally, I turned off Buzz in Gmail. It was a bit disturbing that it was down in the fine print section. How come obscure labs features get their own settings page and something like Buzz doesn’t?

Unfortunately, people can still follow me on Buzz. True, as of now nothing will be posted since I’ve turned Buzz off; but just knowing that I can be followed by someone makes me feel quite uneasy, especially given this background.

Here’s the worst part — Buzz is tied to Gmail, something that I not only love using, but something I’m basically tied to. Almost all of my email activity — personal friends, blog comments, former work colleages, internet banking, utility bills, credit cards, travel booking — goes through GMail. I can delete my Facebook account in a heartbeat, but for me to dissociate myself from Gmail would be extremely difficult. It is easier to change my physical address (I know, I’m moving house in a couple of weeks) than to change my primary email address. Here’s hoping that Google will iron out the privacy issues sooner rather than later, and let us choose to live without the buzz.

On statistics

Amidst the endless comic relief on Slashdot comments, I came across this gem:

For example: there are two popes per square kilometer in Vatican.


Apparently, less than two weeks after introducing an expensive and not very useful toy in the middle of the biggest recession in recent history, Apple says it might reduce the pricing of the iPad if the market demands it.

Wow. Sure, they had to do this for the iPhone eventually, but only after it released. Looks like Apple saw some polling data, and is running scared.

One thing’s for sure: this will lead to far fewer pre-orders at the current price.

Dialing letter-based numbers from the Nokia E71

So, you saw the ad on late-night TV you’re about to embark on that American dream, suing someone and making millions.

The only hitch — the ad asked you to call 1-800-SUE-THEM (disclaimer: number changed to protect myself from legislation), and you have a Nokia E71 with a QWERTY keyboard that does have number signs but not the traditional ‘ABC’ under the number 1 and so on. (It’d be really hard to fit the letter R, the number 1 and a small-type ABC on the same key). What do you do?

Simple – you type it out, but remember to type in caps. In this case, just type 1800, then hit the bottom left key which switches to text (abc) mode, then press the shift key (right next to it) twice to go into caps text (ABC) mode and type SUETHEM on the qwerty keyboard and hit the green Send button.

Good luck with those lawyers!

(This should probably work on a number of Nokia’s Symbian phones, E63 etc. YMMV.)

I wish

Recently while doing a Windows update for my graphics driver I got the following pop-up:

If only I had a screen with that much real estate. The dream faded after the update was completed and the system restarted.

A new e-book Reader

A company in India, Infibeam, has introduced Pi, an e-ink based book reader for the Indian market, with support for local languages and a very Kindle-like look.

Lesser base storage than the Kindle, but you can extend the memory with an SD card. It can read PDFs, ePubs, HTML, DOC, JPG and some other stuff, which is awesome. Doesn’t have a keyboard though, so while you can bookmark stuff you can’t make notes; which is a bit unfortunate. Like the Kindle, it can play MP3s.

It has a built-in version of Sudoku, and they claim they’ll add more apps.

Given the price (10K, lower than the Kindle), and the reading culture in India, I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a decent hit. I love the Indian language support, which the Kindle lacks. If you go to the link, they show a mixed-language book with both English and Sanskrit text. They claim to carry 100,000 books for now, which is a goodly number, given that the Kindle, introduced long ago, so far carries about 400,000.

I’m not sure if this comes with a built-in cellular data connection like the Kindle, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve always thought that was a bit of an overkill, I’m happy to sync a book reader via my computer for purchasing books.

I wonder if someone couldn’t produce a cheaper version of this for the poorer schools in India which have such a hard time providing access to books. Yes, 50 of these would be very expensive compared to buying 50 books — but you can just have 50 of these in a class and every student of every grade and subject could use exactly the same device in the classroom. Lots of saved paper, and maybe saved money in the long term too.

The Lost Art of Walking, by Geoff Nicholson

The Lost Art of Walking

Almost a decade and a half ago, a friend and I did something many considered somewhat batty. We walked from Juhu to Versova along the beach. It isn’t really much of a challenge, the distance being about four or five kilometers. For some reason, large swathes of the beach were empty, deserted and relatively far from the touch of civilization (I’m sure that has changed now). We had never walked there before, nor knew anyone who had, nor in fact knew that there would be a way to get from Juhu beach to Versova (where I lived).

We encountered many things, but what I remember is a solitary camel sitting across a shallow creek that we had to pass; I remember deliberating over our safety in case the animal decided to be unfriendly. We went through; all we got was a quizzical stare.

This delightful ramble of words celebrates walking for walking’s own sake. I walk these days to reach places, to exercise, to photograph; but I cannot remember a recent time when I walked just for the sake of walking, and seeing what would show up – both within and without.

The book is many things – a collection of trivia about walking, wonderful descriptions of walks that the author has taken, an argument that walking works wonders for mental health, but most of all, to me, it was a reminder that walking is not just an abstraction. Walking can be a screen on which life is projected — obvious when you compare the way people walk in New York with those in a small town. Walking can be a wellspring of creativity – many greats, from Dirac to Dickens, have been inspired during walks.

Reading this brought back some fond memories and taught me to try and not treat walking as only a means to an end.