Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hello Google?!

The weekend announcement of the impending Google phone has evoked an unanticipated reaction from tech enthusiasts- 'meh!'. Everything in the Google cellphone plan, which was initially thought would be an iPhone killer, is pretty obscure.

1. Its not going to make a phone.
2. Their revenue will be via advertising through the phone software.
3. The handset manufacturers who have teamed up in the so-called Open Handset Alliance (OHA) already have 'rival' software running on their phones.

The only potential advantage that I can forsee is if the handsets running gPhone run on 3G for fast net speeds over cellular networks. Lack of 3G is one of the major gripes about the Apple iPhone. One of the reasons why the iPhone is not 3G is because using 3G is a drain on battery and 3G is not yet available in all areas in the US. However, Apple is not stupid and it can fairly easily add in a 3G chip in the iPhone if pushed.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to a drooling crowd in Jan 2007, the multi-touch interface and rich graphical features of Mac OS X that were introduced where never implemented in a cellphone before. Each of these technologies existed in isolation and Apple brought them together in a shiny, thin object. Thus the hype started and to some extent, the product lived up to the hype.

The idea that I will be bombarded with ads on my cellphone is far from appealing no matter how slick the interface might be. Google needs to do some serious innovation to come out of this one. Otherwise the inevitable dip in its share prices might be a good opportunity to buy google stock.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, November 05, 2007

Nice video of information revolution

I have done everything that is depicted in this video- including learning typewriting when I was 12 to spending the whole day searching for books and articles using library catalogue cards. This post is published within 1 minute of viewing the video on youtube using Flock on my MacBook Pro that I carry around with me.

Embedded Video

Blogged with Flock

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On a Mac

A bunch of (almost) life changing stuff has happened to bluelaser since the last substantial post. One of the most significant changes has been that I have been using a Mac for the last month. And loving it.

Those who know me, know how opposed I have been to Macs and their hype for ages. For most geeks (the 'purist geeks' not 'mac geeks/fanboys') the Mac is considered a frivolous system that lays more emphasis on looks than on performance. Then there's the exorbitant price of every Mac hardware (a power adapter for the MacBook Pro is $70 while one a PC laptop is $10), which makes Mac geeks elitist and generally dumber than PC geeks. In this post, I aim to debunk the above, and some more Mac-PC myths that you will not get from Mac-PC commercials or Microsoft's strategies.

Vista Nightmare
My MacBook Pro (15" LED screen, Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz, 2G RAM, 120G HDD, nVidia graphics 128MB RAM) came about after the untimely death of my Acer Tablet PC of 3 years because of a motherboard short. Faced with the choice of buying a new laptop, I guess I owed the switch to Macs because of the monstrosity that is Microsoft Windows Vista. I beta-tested Windows Vista many months ago and somehow hoped that the retail would be free of the kinks and inconsistencies of the beta. Nope. All the things that irked me in the beta were all there in the retail. One of the 'features' of Vista is that it is stable. Can you believe that in 2007, a software giant who has been in the business of making operating systems for the last 20-odd years touts OS stability as a feature? It speaks volumes about the company and is shameful to say the least. Most of the 'cool' graphical features are blatant copies of Mac OS X (desktop search, gadgets, directory nesting arrows). Those that are not (3D flipping of windows with Alt+Tab) are completely useless for any meaningful function. And Vista won't tell you the time of day without 2GBs of RAM. User Access Control is a great idea which has also existed in Linux and Mac sinces ages, but nowhere has it been implemented in a worse way than in Vista. The Vista interface is terribly inconsistent with some dialog boxes with back arrows on the upper left (like IE 7) and forward arrows on the bottom right (like most dialog boxes). However stable Vista may be, it is horrible in the details and that is what killed it for me. Microsoft has really dropped the ball with Vista and Windows Mobile 6 OS (which will be part of a different post) and these 2 systems has really showed the lack of originality on part of Microsoft.

OSX Wins
All Macs need is for Windows users to give them a fair try for some time to get used to their OS. Like this Windows user, most never go back. I had initially intended to primarily use Windows with Mac OS X occupying an insignificant part of the drive since I was comfortable using Windows and was concerned with compatibility with all my other PCs and apps. But once I got down to using Mac OS X and figuring out how to navigate their menu system and single mouse button, I found myself using OS X more and Vista less. Sure, you could wipe out OS X and use the MacBook Pro as a Windows only machine, but I no longer wanted to. Using OS X it is immediately clear where Microsoft got its inspiration from. I must admit that some of the windows software still has no acceptable Mac versions- my most used ones being Origin for graphing and Vector NTI for sequence analysis. To use them, I run VMWare Fusion which virtualizes a Vista machine inside OS X. Its almost unbelievable to see it work. The virtualized Vista of course, works much slower than native Vista, but not enough to be a big problem.

And now the de-bunking of myths begins

1. Macs are faster than PCs
Apple first realized that the operating system was not really using the graphics processor that started to be included in computers from around the year 2000. OS X was the operating system that utilized the graphics processor in the way the operating system interacts with the user. That is why the Apple operating system is synonymous with Windows flying around and shiny, pulsating blue buttons (aqua interface). Although it increases the visual appeal of what you are doing, it does not add any speed to application processing. In my opinion, for the same hardware specification and a well-maintained system, Windows is faster than OS X.

2. Macs are more stable than PCs
What PC users have experienced as the 'Blue Screen of Death' (BSOD) when their PC crashes, has a geeky name when OS X crashes- Kernel Panic. The screen greys out and instructs you to restart your computer, in 3 different languages too. Kernel Panics also occur from bad/corrupt drivers, hard disk sector errors and memory issues by rogue apps. You can obviously limit the frequency of these panics by limiting the number and source of installed applications- same as in Windows. And the reason that Macs are safe from viruses is simply because no one writes viruses for Macs since they are only 6% (as of writing this post) of the world's computing population.

3. You are hampered by a one-button mouse
Not really. You only think that because you are used to Windows navigation. Mac navigation works just as productively with a single mouse button. And for the occassions when you gotta have that 2nd button, Apple-click or a two finger tap on the MacBook Pro trackpad (really cool how that works) will be your right click.

4. Macs are for graphics, Windows for numbers and Linux for programmers
At least that was true before Intel-based Macs came into existence a year ago. Now with virtualization software, you can run all three quite easily on your Mac (warning: virtualization is very RAM intensive). There is a perception that OS X navigation is heavily mouse dependent compared to Win or Linux. That is true. However, there are very cool apps like Quicksilver that let you add keyboard shortcuts to almost every action and far surpasses the shortcuts used in Win or Linux. OS X is Unix based, although so far away from the regular Unix that you need another plugin to keep the native Unix apps running happily. Point is- everything runs on a Mac, but you need the appropriate plugins sometimes.

5. Macs are too expensive
Apple usually keeps the pricing of its products constant while giving it incremental upgrades. This is opposed to other manufacturers making their products cheaper and getting newer, more expensive stuff next year. For this reason, the consumer line of Apple products (eg- MacBook, iMac) are now very reasonably priced compared to their competitors than they were a year ago. The professional line of Apple Macs (eg- MacBook Pro and Mac Pro) are still sold at a premium. I guess Apple considers that professionals can afford to spend more which subsidizes the consumer products (airline business and coach class analogy).

Anything bad about Macs at all?
Of course they aren't perfect. If something goes wrong and you don't have AppleCare warranty, you are looking to spend big bucks getting your Mac repaired. Mainly because every piece of Mac hardware is so overpriced. Almost nothing is user replaceable/ serviceable (except RAM and battery). MacBook Pros also tend to run very hot. Some say its part of the design that the aluminum body acts like a big heat sink. I say it makes for uncomfortable typing. Apple also acknowledges that you should not keep these super hot running computers on your lap. So they officially dropped the term 'laptop' and only call them 'notebooks'. Tablet PC functionality is also non-existent in Macs in their current form.

Summing up
My thoughts about Apple and OS X stem from using my MacBook Pro, and to some extent, from the iPod 5.5Gen which is the other Apple product I own. Apple is heavily focused on design which I think is great and under-appreciated till you use Apple products. Apple also likes to keep things simple so that the user has to do as little maintenance as possible. This gives you convenience that other products do not. As with everything else is life, this convenience also comes at a price.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

Living in exponential times

Sort of a doomsday prophecy on YouTube. It has got strong reactions across the board (very insightful to piece of crap). I would like to see each of the statements referenced. Otherwise it crosses over to hype. Entertaining though.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


You would think that with so much computer and internet exposure, people would be at least a little sensible by now. Remember the emails about Bill Gates paying you money to forward emails? Or that little girl dying of non-small cell lung cancer? And the money you were promised from an inheritee in Nigeria? I am sure all of us have seen these. Some of us believed and forwarded them. Afterwards, we were told (or figured out- given most of us are above the age of 12) that they were fake.

I got 5 emails from 21+ year olds this morning. It pertains to a popular social networking site called Orkut. Yes, all of you are idiots. What did you do after forwarding this message to everyone on your friends list? Go to your cave and rub two sticks together?



Wednesday, February 21, 2007

E-mail psychology

An interesting piece in the New York Times talks about how people may appear different over email compared to in person. I have found this to be largely true. Many times, emails are misinterpreted (emoticons notwithstanding)

I quote :

This work points to a design flaw inherent in the interface between the brain’s social circuitry and the online world. In face-to-face interaction, the brain reads a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, instantaneously using them to guide our next move so that the encounter goes well. Much of this social guidance occurs in circuitry centered on the orbitofrontal cortex, a center for empathy. This cortex uses that social scan to help make sure that what we do next will keep the interaction on track.

Research by Jennifer Beer, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, finds that this face-to-face guidance system inhibits impulses for actions that would upset the other person or otherwise throw the interaction off. Neurological patients with a damaged orbitofrontal cortex lose the ability to modulate the amygdala, a source of unruly impulses; like small children, they commit mortifying social gaffes like kissing a complete stranger, blithely unaware that they are doing anything untoward.

Socially artful responses emerge largely in the neural chatter between the orbitofrontal cortex and emotional centers like the amygdala that generate impulsivity. But the cortex needs social information — a change in tone of voice, say — to know how to select and channel our impulses. And in e-mail there are no channels for voice, facial expression or other cues from the person who will receive what we say.

End quote.

So it makes it all the more important to write with precise grammar, punctuations and prose to get now only the message, but also the tone and therefore the main focus of an email across to your recipient.

This post is directed to people who insist on talking like 'Need 2 spk 2 u... wan 2 b ur frnd... wat do u say'. No one likes to read literally stunted communication like that except on a cellphone screen. Please don't write like that to me.

How do you shower?

Another hilarious video. Man, is blogging easy or what ?? ;)

How To Shower - Men & Women - Click here for the most popular videos

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Another funny Mac-PC ad spoof

The problem at YouTube is its hard to stop at just one.

Funniest iPhone video ever!

A friend of mine just gave me the YouTube link. Been laughing ever since.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What drives you?

This question arises from a more basic question that a lot of people, including my wife, have asked me numerous times- Why do you work on weekends? Lets put this entry in perspective- its a clear Saturday afternoon in New York. I am in lab where my samples are incubating. This post is to justify my work and habits to myself. That and I have also started touch-typing recently so I won't waste a lot of time on this verbose piece.

I don't really have a 'real job'. I don't get up in the morning, take a train somewhere to hunch in front of a glowing screen or sell things to people. Unfortunately, I also don't make money like the people in the previous sentence. I have to make do on a meager stipend, which if you calculate the amount of hours I put in, falls way below minimum wage stipulations.

What drives me?

Your work takes up most of your days. For most (sane) people, the purpose of work is to earn money to improve the quality of the other part of their life. For me, the quality of my other (non-working) life is improved not by material things (gadgets are a BIG exception- they increase productivity!) but by knowledge about myself. I don't like to call what I do work at all. I think of and chase an idea. To find out a very tiny piece of the puzzle of how nature works. Sometimes the idea works. Most times it doesn't. More than figuring out the answer to the puzzle that will eventually (and hopefully) become my graduate thesis, I get my reward in finding out how much I, alone, can accomplish in the given state of affairs. How can I ask a better question? How can I set up an experiment that will answer a series of questions with least assumptions and no loose ends? How do I prove or disprove something that I think about a (any) system? At the end of the day, did my approach work? If I don't see what I expect, what do I see and how can I fit the data in the broad scheme of things? How do I bounce back from failure? How do I deal with people who want to help me and those who want to tear me down? How do I maintain a healthy level of dispassion from my work so that I don't go crazy and drive people around me crazy? I find answers to THESE questions everyday. And every question I ask is better than the previous one. That is my reward.

I am in a race. A race to find out something about a system that competitors and companies with more people and money are working on too. Will I get discouraged and settle for a lesser question? What about the Kenyan marathon runner who outruns his more healthy eating, sophisticated-equipment trained and cash rich American competitor? The power lies in ideas and attitudes, not brute force numbers. Coming back to the need for working on weekends. A person working weekends works around 25% more than a person who does not. Have you ever heard of a race where one team has a 25% lead on another?

There- typed all that in 16 minutes. Still have 14 minutes to spare.

Moral of the post- find out what really drives you and do that. You will be able to deal with everything around you much better.

The ultimate phone (as of today)

Move over Apple iPhone droolers. The most technologically advanced, feature rich, slick phone is now available for interested people- mostly for the gadget obssessed and independently wealthy.

Its called the Eten Glofish M700. Eten is a Taiwanese high-end consumer electronics maker. The specs of the phone reads like every gadget geeks dream:

  1. Quad band GSM 850/900/1800/1900: meaning you could use it on any GSM network in the USA, Europe and Asia.
  2. 2.8" TFT touch screen display 240x320 pixels, handwriting recognition and a sliding QWERTY keyboard. This is a huge deal because you can comfortably and quickly type on this phone.
  3. Wi-Fi, GPS (SiRF StarIII chip). This is is coolest feature. This phone not only has Wi-Fi internet so that you can get onto wireless networks without paying an arm and a leg to your cellphone service provider, BUT the phone is also a GPS device. You can use it for GPS navigation while driving or use it as a handheld GPS device when you are hiking or meeting friends in that obscure cafe in the east village in Manhattan. GPS is the best feature a cellphone can have. Think about it, you can never get lost!
  4. Windows Mobile 5 OS, Bluetooth, GPRS, 2MP camera, music player, FM radio, Micro SD expansion.... all the yadda yadda that every phone has these days.

Now for the price. At $612 (cheapest online price), its not a cheap phone. But given that a GPS device is around $200 at least, and iPod is another $200, that's $400 just for those features. So a Windows smart phone for $212 isn't a bad deal.

Compare the above to the iPhone which has approximately a 50% profit margin per phone. It has no keyboard (typing on a touchscreen, even with handwriting recognition is HORRIBLE! Trust me, I have a Tablet PC), no storage expansion, no replaceable battery, no GPS and a hefty service plan charge from Cingular per month. All this for $600. And available in June 2007. LG is already set to launch their touch screen phone, very similar to Apple's next month.

If you are saving up for the ultimate phone, look no further than the Eten M700. I have already started checking my bank balance for possible ways to bounce back after the purchase.

Friday, January 12, 2007


So the consensus amongst techies seems to be that the iPhone won't do well when its released later this year.

The iPod and the first macintosh were unlike any other device in terms of function when they were released. This is why people flocked to a new and cool thing. There are many devices that do well what the iPhone claims to do. Add low memory, battery life and high cost and you see the problem. The limit as to why you can't do 50 different things on your cellphone is the battery life of your cellphone. If your iPod or Palm battery runs out, not a big deal. If your cellphone battery runs out- problem. The final killer is that you will not be able to replace the battery on your own- you have to ship it to Apple. Wow. Remember the Moto Rokr phone? Was launched at the first phone with integrated iTunes (512 mb) with much fanfare 2 years ago? Didn't think so.

That hasn't stopped a funny piece by Craig Ferguson (love his accent) on CBS. Enjoy-

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Apple juggernaut continues...

By now most of the Internet connected world knows about the Apple iPhone. Not surprising considering it was announced about a day ago. Apple would like you to believe that your life will be sad without their $500+ iPhone. Here are a few big problems with this next generation do-everything-but-the-laundry gadget:

1. Maxes out at 8GB storage. IMHO, Apple should have made it thicker and stuck a 30GB drive in it. When you have a device that can store and play music, video, photos, pdf files, web pages and rich-text email, you would assume that the storage capacity would run out pretty fast. If you need to keep syncing it at regular intervals to manage your files (because of low capacity), you kinda defeat the purpose of a standalone do-it-all device.

2. How scratch-proof is the screen really? If the iPods are anything to go by, the ladies will want to cut their nails before letting their fingers go wild on the screen.

3. How about also telling us the battery life with all the bells and whistles on? A cellphone is a mission critical device and if using Wi-Fi, visual voicemail etc on that hi-res screen hogs on battery life, it will remain underutilized for most users. I am still waiting for Apple to come out with a device that beats Creative devices in battery life.

4. $500 even with a 2 year contract? Not including the premium Cingular will charge for the service? We're talking an arm and a leg for the general populace that salivate over every Apple product launch. Given that most of us have a computer and home and work to check email, browse etc, that seems to be a hefty price to pay for doing the same thing on the commute. Hmmm...

What about me? Well, I have started setting money aside to get the 8GB iPhone when it comes out. Luckily it coincides with when my current Cingular contract expires...

Goodbye JB

Once in a while, you meet people that are talented, courteous, helpful and friendly. JB was such a person. A very talented electron microscopist, extremely helpful, patient and with a great British sense of humor. We met 3 years ago when I wanted to do some electron microscopy for my project. The problem was that I had never seen an electron microscope before and knew as much about EM as the fruit seller on 62nd and 2nd (well, just a bit more than him). The second problem was that JB was one the pioneers of the EM field and was your average famous scientist. Usually when such meetings happen, either the newbie is intimidated or the honcho gets frustrated. It was JB who took me under his wing, taught me everything about EM and got me talking about my project to him as well. He was so interested in my project that he told other people about my creative project and they in turn started asking me if I can use my system for their protein. This continued for most of 2005.

I emailed him yesterday so that we could meet up, after almost a year of lull in the EM front of my work. I had been learning more advanced EM techniques (even went all the way to California for an advanced training course). He replied saying that he had moved to the UK and was setting up a lab there. The suddenness of this news and the fact that I wouldn't be able to discuss ideas and problems easily with him anymore put a cloud on my day. Goodbye dear JB and good luck to you. Thank you for your support and training. If I ever do something cool with EM, please know that it will be because you got me motivated into it in the first place. I hope you continue to inspire many more people like me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Only in the US

I went with a friend to a pet store for her dog's food. Just when I think there is nothing left to amaze me about the US (it may be a Manhattan thing, but anyway), I see bottles of Vitamin water for dogs. That's not all, there are 2 flavors. I used to think that vitamin water for humans was stupid enough. I walked around the corner and saw that pooches too can now have the benefit of no grain, lo carb, organic foods just like their no-whip-lite-soy-splenda-mocha-frappuchino drinking owners.

My source of amazement and sarcasm may well be because I come from a country where most people (yep, just like you and me, unless you have a computer that woofs out words to your dog- hey, just wait!) have limited access to drinking water and quality of food that is worse than the $17 /lb Evo organic dog food. It may shock some people to know that Indian dogs eat leftovers and stay just as healthy as American dawgs. The Upper East Side of Manhattan also has something called a Doggie Gym where Fido can actually exercise indoors on specially made dog exercise equipment.

A bit of doggie facts before you leave- dogs can't see color like humans can. They are like a red-green colorblind person. Anything that is red, they will only see in a pale shade of yellow and green will be white. They are able to differentiate some deeper blue/ violet shades. Trust me, I am studying vision receptors for my PhD. A dog's eyes can also not see the level of detail that a human eye can. For example, a barcode will be a grey blur. So all the cute pawprints on your doggie's bowl and toys are pretty much useless.

You see, I have a feeling that the above is targeted more for you than your pet. Don't display your dumbness so profoundly as to actually believe that Fluffy actually cares whether his food is organic or if his water tastes of cherries. All he wants is to spend time with you.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

mobile blogging

This is blue lasers first attempt at mobile blogging.

Happy 2007

How would you not say it? I'll tell you. Don't say it as a scrapbook entry on Orkut. Or send out a mass email to all the 359 'friends' of yours on Orkut. To me that sounds terribly impersonal, lazy and insincere.

A call or even a slightly personal email is so much better. Even text messaging is a good option. At least you don't have to think where you figure in the 359 list.