Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Too much hype: Android One is not one of its kind

Spice Android Dream One
Photo from Flipkart
Yesterday at a much-publicized event in New Delhi Google unveiled its Android One phones in India. There is quite a hype about it. Understandable. Don't be surprised if Android One gets dubbed as the poor man's Nexus or Moto X, as it has stock Android.

But there are other phones in the Android One category.

To begin with there's nothing so great about stock Android. What it means is that, those phones with stock Android will get the software updates directly from Google as and when they are released. In all other phones, the manufacturer like Samsung or Micromax will have release it for you. Phones with stock Android are Nexus, Moto G, X and E, and now the Android One.

For all practical purposes, these updates and upgrades aren't going to make any huge difference as far as the routine uses of a smartphone are concerned. All the common apps function perfectly well even on an Android 4.1. There are some apps that run only on the newer versions of the OS. But now all phones give you at least a 4.3.

Even if you thought you needed a stock Android phone, there is already one for around Rs 7,000. That's Moto E.

Now, let us weigh some of the specs of Spice Dream Android One phone, with Moto E, Samsung Galaxy S Duos 2 and Micromax Unite 2. All four of them are in Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 range.

* All four have dual SIMs. Spice Dream and Moto E have micro SIM.

* Spice Dream, Moto E and Micromax Unite 2 have Android 4.4 but the other has Android 4.2. But that should not really matter, unless you badly want to be with the latest version of Android, and you want to download some niche high-end apps.

* Duos 2 has 4 inch screen, Moto E 4.3, Spice Dream 4.5 and Unite 2 4.7 inches.

* Dream and Unite 2 have 1.3GHz quad core processor, while Moto E and Duos  have 1.2 GHz dual core. So, all are fairly powerful.

* All have 5 mega pixel camera. Only Moto E doesn't have front camera.

* All have 4GB and option to expand memory.

* Regarding battery, while Dream has 1700mAh, Unite 2 has 2000mAh, Moto E 1980mAh and Duos 1500mAh.

So, basically Android One is not one of its kind. I randomly looked at three phones for comparison, but any e-comm site will give you options of many other phones with good specs in the same category.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kerala Diary 4 - Jew Town, Dutch Palace and boat ride

I have been planning a visit to the Jew Town in Mattancherry for long. Since it was bandh yesterday, we rescheduled it for today. As it was pouring since early morning, we abandoned the plan to go by boat, and instead hired an autorickshaw.

Mattancherry is about 15 km from Elamkulam. We started at 9.15 am and reached there at 10 am. Bordering the coast, Jew Town is a relatively quiet area. The roads were neatly asphalted and the building architecture of days of yore. On either sides of the road are showrooms selling curios, artefacts, clothes and antique materials.

One of the primary attractions is the Synagogue. It's known by various names: Cochin Jewish Synagogue, Mattancherry Synagogue or Paradesi Synagogue (called paradesi because it was built by Spanish-speaking Jews, and was primarily used by Sephardim, the Jews of Spanish-Portuguese descent. These settlers were known as Paradesi Jews).

The synagogue was built in 1567 on a piece of land to given to the Cochin Jewish community (also called Malabari Yehuden community) by the Raja of Kochi, Rama Varma. This is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth, and is one of the seven places of worship of the Cochin Jews, who are the oldest group of Jews in India. The first batch of Jews came to Cranganore (now called Kodungallur) in the year 70.

The Cochin Jewish traditions have been influenced by Hinduism, and they have no rabbis, instead are led by elders.

The synagogue is open from 10 am to 12 noon and from 3 pm to 5 pm on all days except Friday, Saturday and Jewish holidays. There is a ticket fee of Rs 5 per person. Visitors have to enter barefoot. Photography and videography are banned.

Dutch Palace

Adjacent to the synagogue is the Mattancherry Palace or the Dutch Palace. It was built by the Portuguese and gifted to the Raja of Kochi in 1555, in order to please him after a nearby temple was plundered. In 1663, the Dutch renovated it, giving it the name.

In the courtyard of the palace, there is a temple dedicated to Pazhayannur Bhagavati, the goddess of the Kochi royal family.

The palace houses the portraits of all the kings of Kochi from 1864, the ceremonial dresses, ivory palanquin etc. It also has very impressive mythological murals.

There is an entrance fee of Rs 5. Photography and videography are banned.

International Tourism Police Museum

This is a unique museum, which can do some publicity. It shows the evolution of the Kerala Police. It has a good collection police uniforms and weapons that date back to the colonial and Travancore State days. It's well maintained and functions as a police station too. There is no entry fee.

Willingdon Island

There is boat jetty in Mattancherry from where there are tourist boat rides as well as a Kerala government transport department's boat serivce for passengers. The first one is available for different durations and takes you to different tourist locations along the coast. The second one plies to Ernakulam via Willingdon Island and Fort Kochi.

Since the weather had cleared we decided to return to Ernakulam by boat. We did it in two legs. First we went up to Willingdon Island.

Willingdon Island is an artificial island created using the soil dredged out while deepening the Vembanad Lake for the construction of Kochi Port in 1936. It's named after Lord Willingdon, the then governor of Madras. The island belongs to the Cochin Port Trust and the Indian Navy.

We walked around a bit to see the place, and returned to the jetty to board the boat to Ernakulam.

Thanks to the crowded and poorly maintained roads, the water transport on this stretch is still very popular. It takes less than 30 minutes to travel between Mattancherry and Ernakulam, while it takes anywhere between 45 to 90 minutes by road.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kerala Diary 3 - Modiji, please end the bandh culture

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Japan on a day when his party has shut down Kerala. In Japan, people work hard on any normal day, and work harder when there is a reason to protest.

Today's snap state-wide bandh is in response to the killing of an RSS worker in politically sensitive Kathirur near Thalassery in Kannur district, allegedly by CPM workers, yesterday. The region has a long history of tit-for-tat violence between the RSS and the CPM.

Incidentally, BJP president Amit Shah's arrived in Kerala yesterday to reinvigorate the party in the state where his party hasn't been able to do well.

No one likes bandhs. Political parties too know that. No one knows what bandhs achieve. At best, parties only have a misplaced sense of power. Vehicles keep off roads, and shops down shutters because of fear of being attacked for disregarding the call. Bandhs are clearly a lose-lose proposition.

Though forceful shutdown of a city or nation is disruptive, I do agree that parties and people are fully entitled to organize peaceful protests on any issue of public importance. Supreme Court has upheld this right. But what matters is how and when it is organized.

Bandhs are most disruptive and most annoying when organized without any advance information. Most bandhs in Kerala are snap decisions. Yesterday's is a good example. Originally, the bandh was planned only in Kannur district. By late evening, it became a state-wide shutdown. How it happened, no one clearly knows.

I am furious. I am stuck at home today. We had planned visits to tourist spots, and homes of relatives and friends. The plans have been ruined.

Modi keeps talking about making India a powerful nation and bettering the standard of living of every Indian. I am told he works very hard, and expects others to work very hard too. I am sure, he will abhor the culture of bandhs, not just in Kerala (where it is a fairly frequent phenomenon), but anywhere else in India.

Every party is equally guilty of organizing bandhs and even indulging in associated violence. Can Modi make a difference? Fresh from Japan, can he prevail upon the party to unilaterally declare a moratorium on  bandhs? Can he get the party to say, "Bandhs don't serve any purpose. It only ruins the economy. BJP is declaring a moratorium on bandhs and disruptive strikes. We will not call for a bandh, even if other parties do."

Modiji, can you walk the talk?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Kerala diary 2 - Rain, more rain, and then a pause

It has been raining cats and dogs. Typically it doesn't pour for too long. When it rains it rains heavily. After about 10 minutes it reduces to a drizzle. Then it stops. After may be a couple of hours, clouds gather all over again and it's heavy rain again.
Here even though it rains so heavily roads don't get waterlogged. Water runs off to either side and sinks through the loose mud. But puddles of water can be a nuisance for pedestrians.
Considering the water and mud footwear can carry into the shop floor, some retail outlets expect you to leave your footwear outside. Some shops have an umbrella stand and some others provide you a plastic cover to put your wet umbrella in while you shop.
Monsoon arrived a bit late. This spell started on 28th and has been on since then. Rainfall  has been more than average this time, so say media quoting met dept.
It was my niece's wedding today and mercifully, rain paused till evening much to the relief of everyone. Such social gatherings are the perfect rendezvous to meet relatives and friends. Today's function was no exception.
Such occasions also make us pause and ponder over how time has flown by. I remember the day when my cousin got married. During my visits her daughter played with my son. Today, she has grown to share her life with another.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kerala diary 1 - Confusing numbers and ticketless travel

Train journey is always more lively than one by flight. And a day travel is better than one by night. The view from the window, of hills, barren land, rivers, bushes and trees, is an ample and welcome relief from the clutter of vehicles and concrete buildings of the city. The journey itself is a sort of perfect getaway.

Where is my coach?

While boarding the Inter City to Ernakulam this morning, I found the numbering of coaches confusing. Though coach D followed coach C, the numbers went in the descending order rather than ascending. That is, after C1 came D11 then D10, D9 etc.

This is confusing. A person looking for coach C would end up in the wrong end of the train if he followed the numbers. Since alphabetically C comes before D, he would look for C coach before D1. But actually the C coach was before D11. That's absolutely strange.

If alphabets followed a particular order, it would make sense for the numbers too to follow the same order.

Now you don't need a ticket to travel

As the ticket examiner did the rounds, I saw that many people had the printed paper ticket, though while booking online IRCTC clearly discourages you from printing out the ticket. A few of us showed our mobile phone. But he did not look at the SMS confirmation. He only checked our identity card -- PAN card in my case. He asked me which was my seat number and he verified what I said on the list he carried. He wanted to see the identity card of passegers who brought printed tickets too.

The advent of internet and mobile phone has done away with the physical, printed ticket that was once upon a time mandatory to travel. Now you just need to know your seat number and have your identity card.

It's too cold

The chair car is too cold and I can't find a  regulator. There isn't one, it looks like. There should have been one for the blast of cold air streaming out of the two vents overhead. The train has reached Dharmapuri. The sun is up and the warm rays are finding their way in. Hopefully it will help matters.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shamu, Nexus 6 and Android Silver

If you say Shamu, most people will relate it to the whale that was captured in the 1960s. But for the few gadget geeks it's the name of the new Google phone that will hit the market later this year.

It's making waves because many people think Motorola Shamu, or Moto S, will be the successor to Nexus 5.

But what has added to confusion are reports that Google will discontinue the Nexus series, and that Moto S will be an Android Silver phone.

What is Nexus?

Nexus series (of phones and tablets) is Google's flagship Android mobile devices. These are informally called Google phones or tablets because though the devices are manufactured by Samsung or LG, they haven't been customized by the manufacturer. Additionally, since there is no third party intervention, so to speak, Android updates will flow in directly and immediately from Google itself, rather than being pushed by the device manufacturer. There are pluses and minuses of that.

What is Android Silver?

That is the new range of stock Android phones, which will replace the Nexus range. Reports say that these phones will have newer standards, different from what Nexus phones have, that will be of premium nature. What these standards are and how Google will enforce it is not known. For this range, Google is said to have tied up with Motorola, and the first device, Moto S, is expected to hit market in early next year.

A lot to watch out for in the coming days.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A father's choice -- save child or family

Imagine the plight of a father, whose only son, a six-year-old boy, has fallen into an unused borewell, and after a couple of days of futile rescue attempts, says:
"I know my son is dead. You can't get him out. All your efforts to bring him out only resulted in destruction of my sugarcane farm. Now please don't spoil this place further. Please call off the rescue efforts, and close the borewell with my son inside." 
The six-year-old unlucky boy is Timmanna, and the incident happened on Sunday in Sulikere village of Badami taluk in Karnataka's Bagalkot. The well is on the premises of his father's sugarcane field.

Children falling into unused borewells is quite common in India. Most such accidents happen in remote villages or small towns. And not all of them become national news items, only people in that particular state or region get to know of it.

There was one celebrated case of Prince, which gripped the nation's attention. That was in July 2006. The 5-year-old boy fell into a well. He survived on biscuits and chocolates thrown to him, and after Army-led resuce operation that spanned two days, he was brought out alive. Here is an NDTV footage of it.  Prince's case was an exception. Rarely children survive.

But this is the most distressing story I have heard. Father Hanumantappa Hatti's emotional appeal is really moving. He has taken loan worth lakhs for digging borewell and also for the sugarcane cultivation. Now that his field has been dug up and crops destroyed, he can see only a dark future ahead of him -- son gone, his filed and crops too gone. The Hindu report on it.

What has driven him to this state is the extreme poverty. For the villager, who is struggling to make both ends meet, the loss of his son is just another of the misfortunes. Borewells are dug after paying huge amounts of money due to severe water shortage. Closing the well is also not easy. It costs huge amounts of money to buy the sand.

Many such people are also used to living with risks all around them. The fear of someone falling into an open borewell is not so different from many other fears they already live with daily. For him, the loss of the child is another loss life has handed over to him. Just as he has moved so far, he will hope to move on from now on too.

Borewell business is a huge unregulated one. Hopefully, the government will open its eyes and bring in some order, accountability into this business.

Let's hope that no more children lose their lives in this manner.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rape fallout -- fear, suspicion, loss of innocence

These are really bad times.

Most people say incidents of rape haven't gone up. We are only seeing increased reporting of such crimes. Earlier, girls and women suffered in silence. Today they speak up. They go to police stations, file cases, and battle in courts to get the criminals punished.

To say that only the reporting of rape incidents has gone up, is to skirt the real issue. It's no consolation, it's just the opposite. It's like all the dirt, which was lying covered, getting exposed now.

How many of us really understand the enormity of what is striking us every day?

One, the much-spoken-about feeling of insecurity. Women don't feel safe any more, in any place. If every woman hasn't already begun seeing every man a potential molester, it's only because she still has hope in humanity, she still has faith in man. In the midst of all these, we still see couples lost in the warmth of togetherness. Nevertheless, fear, very much in the background, is only growing, and not diminishing.

Two, the loss of innocence of the child. The years till teenage are blissful; or they are supposed to be. Children don't know anything wrong. Everything is right for them. There is only love and happiness in their lives. Even when the toy car rams against the wall, she squeaks in delight. Because she can only see it as good fun.

That innocence, is in great danger of being lost, if not lost already. Children as small as four and five are being told by their parents about "what is good touch and bad touch". Many mothers -- who are forced into going down this lane -- frustratingly concede that they only end up confusing the kids rather than making them feel safer. One mom says her kid asked a counter-question, why she was saying all that.

It's very natural for anyone to smile when they see a child. Today, parents are telling their children to be careful if they see anyone smiling at them. Children are being told not to trust anyone, to tell parents if any stranger has spoken to them or held their arms. They are being told not to be friendly with the uncle down the lane, and not to play with him always, whenever they return from school early. Kids are being told that if ever they need any help, to call only the parents and not anyone else.

Three, parents are getting more and more paranoid. It's very normal for parents to get worried when their kids fall ill, or show unusual symptoms, like lack of sleep, or lack of appetite, or pain in the stomach. Those are, as any parent would know, usual problems every growing child faces. Nothing of any great consequence. But today, parents have begun factoring in the possibility of someone having violated their kids' privacy. Lucky if "possibility" doesn't turn into "probability".

Children after seeing "R or Rose and not Rape" on placards in TV news, ask their parents, what is rape. They enlighten their parents, that it was not R for Rape anyway, and that they have always learnt in school that it's R for Rose only.

I  don't know if anyone of us really understands how our society and a whole new generation is getting spoiled. What sort of society are we living in? With what frame of reference these children grow up? Where are we all heading for?

How do we end this terribly bad run? When will it end?

Any answers?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Train travel is still affordable

How poor you think is the average Indian train traveller? I don't think he or she is very poor. And, if he or she can afford to travel by train, he or she can also manage to put in an extra of a maximum of around Rs 60, following the increase in train passenger fares announced by railway minister Sadananda Gowda on Friday and due to take effect on June 25.

Let us take one example, from the lowest class.

According to South Western Railway, Rs 60 is the increase in fare for General 2nd Class seat from Bangalore to New Delhi. It's currently Rs 395, and it has been raised to Rs 455. If the person, who has to travel to Delhi can manage to save Rs 395, I am sure he will find ways and means to put in another Rs 60, for his Delhi trip. I don't think an increase of Rs 60 is so prohibitive that he or she will have to cancel his travel plan. It may be hard, no doubt, but it is manageable and not impossible.

In the same class, the fare from Bangalore to Chennai is Rs 105. It will henceforth be Rs 119, an increase of Rs 14. Similarly to Mysore the hike is Rs 5, new fare is Rs 60.

I do understand that for the poor, even Re 1 is valuable. Why for only the poor? Even a sensible rich guy will greatly value his one rupee. My contention is that the average hike of Rs 14.2 per cent is not so steep that large numbers of people will have to actually stop travelling by train. That would probably have been the case if the increase was 100% or even 50%.

When everyone is coping up with price increase in consumer durables, and even essential commodities, why increase in train fares alone announced by the Narendra Modi government should be such a huge burden on common people, I don't understand. Look at the price of sugar, salt, rice, wheat, etc. In fact, the increase in those segments have a far greater impact on people's budget.

The protests against the train fare hike are largely political. And that too is not surprising, since even when Mallikarjun Kharge raised the fare by a nominal 2% last year, there were howls of protests from political parties.

It's also a common trend in India that when government raises prices of its services there are howls of protests. But we don't see protests when private sector manufacturers or service providers raise prices. Even poor people make use of services and goods of private players. Why should government be prevented from generating revenue for its services, I fail to understand. And no one has any complaints when private sector increases prices.

(By the way, everyone, the richest and the poorest pay the same rate for the ubiquitous mobile phone services -- even the guy who can afford to buy only the duplicate model from the grey market. May be the rich use it more than the poor.)

Indian Railways, the largest network in the world, also offers the least expensive fare for the passengers compared to many other countries. There is always a reluctance to increase the fares because trains are seen as the preferred mode of transport for the poor and middle class people. The poor financial resources has left serious infrastructural and safety issues unresolved. Our trains need to be cleaner and travel needs to be safer, Actually, it should go to the credit of the Railways that the number of accidents are quite minimal for the network of this size and complexity. But, that is no reason for complacency and passengers definitely deserve a better deal.

Railways, as a public service, and should not get caught in politics. It is as much the responsibility of the opposition as that of the government that the people get an efficient train service. Whichever party is in power, periodically there has to be increase in train fares. Train fares alone can't insulated.

One option the Narendra Modi government can try out is to have market-driven differential pricing for Super Fast and Express trains. That will bring in more revenue, without seriously affecting the lower middle class people.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Involve entrepreneurs to solve Bangalore's garbage problem

Waste disposal has become a major issue in Bangalore. Every year once or twice the issue hits headlines with people residing in areas near the landfills complaining of health hazards, and refusing to let garbage trucks into their areas.

Only a few days ago the government managed to pacify the people of Mandur in Bangalore outskirts, who were on a protest, resulting in garbage piling up all over the city.

It's not that there are no solutions. But there are many extraneous issues related to land that are thwarting attempts to implement a solution. All advanced cities around the world have adopted mechanical processes to either harmlessly incenerate the waste or turn waste into organic manure.

There is also lack of determination to look for solution and make them work. Deccan Herald has an article today on how an entrepreneur is running 170 Organic Waste Converters. One of the converters in Jayanagar, sold to the city corporation, is maintained by this entrepreneur Narendra Babu. The people of the area are  helping him to keep it going.

So it'sn't that there are no solutions. Taking a cue from the good work done by this entrepreneur, the government must get private players and citizens involved in the process. Such OWCs can be set up at various locations and a self-sustaining model devised to have the manure distributed. A win-win solution that is crying out for adoption.

It's an irony that a city like Bangalore, which has a huge number of innovators and entrepreneurs, doesn't have an effective way of handling waste.