Archive for the ‘Tech, Gadgets etc.’ Category
As they say, if you can’t beat them – join them. So fair warning: this post contains iPad-related stuff.
As much as I was inured by the recent avalanche of bytes over the impending release of Apple’s iPad, I just couldn’t take it anymore on Saturday, and simply decided to be internet(thusly, iPad coverage)-free. But this perhaps made the iGods (oh yes – there is very much a religion where Jobs is the messiah) angry. Before the end of the day, it had to be that I actually got to hold and try out an iPad at the Apple store!
Here’s the story:
So I was happily spending the day driving top down on a beautiful sunny day through windy roads leading to the desert, taking snaps of wild-flowers growing on cacti, followed by a nap in the backyard hammock and such suitably non-iPaddy stuff, when – wouldn’t you know it – my iPhone started showing the white screen of death! As my favorite saying goes – karma’s a bitch (okay second favorite saying, and note to self: stop using cliched sayings). So faster than you could say irony, I booked an appointment with one of them Apple ‘geniuses’ (Apple – I hate you for that ).
And since I was already there in the Apple store – where any craziness for iPad purchases seems to have subsided and replaced by a teaching session for a bunch of geriatrics on how to use the machine – I couldn’t resist temptation and actually got to playing with the thingie for a while.
Sigh! As the god said – so it goes.
Seeing as I am bothering to write a post that involves the iPad, might as well cover some of my impressions:
Honestly, this stuff is a technological beauty. The apps open much faster than they do on the iPhone/Pod, display is stunning, especially for playing HD movies, and contrary to what what a lot of people have mentioned, I thought it was quite compact and light.
Personally of course, I have no use for a device that doesn’t come with a camera, doesn’t allow me to multi-task, and doesn’t allow me to transfer data. As for the supposed 10 hours of battery life, I can only emit a hollow laughter. I am sure all the fanboys will buy one have bought one already. I can see a great use for college students, if they can download all their text-books into the iPad (will be a great interactive experience e.g if in a biochemistry book, you can click on an animation showing protein movements and likes). The one interesting demographic could actually be the elderly people not as much used to computers. I can already think of several relatives in India who are not quite comfortable with the pressing of keys , the clicking of icons etc. The simple touch interface might allay their fear.
So, perhaps a ‘granny computer’ then.
Oh, I was able to get a replacement iPhone, not before arguing with a Genius about how I do know how to handle a smart phone and the white-out wasn’t my fault (even if the crack in the screen was – but the phone had been working perfectly with the crack for several months). Of course, the new iPhone had to have a white out screen this afternoon again! Fortunately, it was temporary and the problem fixed itself. No idea what caused it.
: Apple, as much as I really like your products, I need to point out that pimpled teenagers (or punly middle-aged ladies such as the one I got talking to), pompously trotting around with nerdy air of superiority does not a genius make. I know, what’s in a name you say, but a bit of honest honest nomenclature will not hurt.
I knew that Mac users (and general Apple lovers) are a bit crazy, even cultish (in fact, I like Apple products as well, mainly due to aesthetics). But this is kind of extreme:
Violet Blue, a popular blogger and sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, who also features in the film, says: “First of all, I’ve never knowingly slept with a Windows users … that would never, ever happen.” (link)
I often get irritated when the IT people at work insist I need to change my e-mail/account login passwords every three months, or when they require it to have combination of numbers, characters etc. But seems like a good idea now, considering this report on Indian Express (via), about a hacker site that has revealed the passwords for 100 governmental organizations and embassies from around the world ! Included in them are embassies of India in Germany, China and USA, as well as the DRDO and the Indian National Defense Academy!!
According to the Indian Express and an independent source, these passwords and accounts actually work – so this is not a hoax. What is troubling though is how absurdly simple some of these passwords are. Consider the password for Indian embassies in China and USA: ‘1234’ !!!!! Or the account for DRDO, ‘password+1′ !
What is worse though is that sources tell me at least one of these passwords is still active. No one has bothered to change it yet.
One can only hope that nothing much in the nature of sensitive or confidential information is being exchanged through these email accounts. For the Indian embassies, it looks like the generic e-mail address, possibly used mostly for people inquiring about consular processes etc (perhaps now, some of those e-mails will get answered :) ).
PS - If you want to try accessing these accounts, you are at your own risk.
Even though it is a fault of the respective organizations for failure to secure their e-mail accounts, accessing them without permission is still illegal.
PS2: The Indian Express article seems to be quite hastily written, or possibly quite par for the course for factual inaccuracies and bad English. Consider:
The Indian Express sent a test mail to the Indian Ambassador in China on her official email ID and, using the password posted online, was able to access it.
You login to e-mail accounts – not send ‘test mail’ to access them.
Similarly, accounts of NDA and DRDO officials reveal phone numbers, commercial documents, official correspondence and personal mails. The account of the Indian embassy in Germany contains a query by two IIM (Calcutta) students about safety in the wake of recent racial abuse cases in West Germany.
Err….someone please let the writer know of the German reunification. The racial abuse case being spoken of, in any case, happened in the erstwhile East Germany.
The blog itself is a really cool attempt by several really smart people (yes it does make you wonder why they let me in) to convey the beauty of science and technology in layman’s term. Pliss to check it out regularly. We are also hoping to bring some perspectives to day-to-day scientific news.
There should be warning signs or alert notices with news such as these – otherwise when you are reading them way early in the morning, you are liable to spill the coffee.
First, via Slashdot, a story about the Kerala goverment ‘actively encouraging’ its schools to use Linux and other such free software instead of Microsoft products.
As part of a drive against “monopolistic” organizations, schools and public offices across the state are being encouraged to install free software systems instead of purchasing Microsoft’s Windows programs.
(via NYT, free reg’d required)
Now don’t get me wrong here, I hate Microsoft1 and love free stuff as much as the next guy, but its the reasoning that caused an inward gasp.
“It is well-known that Microsoft wants to have a monopoly in the field of computer technology. Naturally, being a democratic and progressive government, we want to encourage the spread of free software,” M. A. Baby, the state’s education minister, said by telephone.
This from a goverment that actively pursues monpoly of the state in every sphere of life and tries to stifle free market competetion.
(btw, cannot help but giggle at the name of the education minister. Imagine him at the cabinet swearing-in ceremony: “I, MA Baby,…..”)
Second, via Amit Varma, another example of ignorance and ineptness in the main stream media. Some dude named Stephen Thompson reviewing Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games for the Scotsman on Sunday begins with this gem:
There are certain books that are so similar to one another they almost beg to be grouped together. This is largely true of Indian novels. Look closely at the ones published in the past, say, 25 years, and you’ll see that they’re virtually identical, in theme if not in style and content.
For me, Midnight’s Children is indivisible from A Fine Balance, which in turn cannot be separated from A Suitable Boy. Directly or indirectly, all three books – and there are other notable examples – are concerned with the same thing: the state of Indian society in the wake of independence and partition.
As Varma says, the idiocy and the fallacy in these statements are pretty much self evident. Apart from nitpicking that Thompson should mention ‘Indian novels written in English’, given the vast repertoire of quality literature in other Indian languages, I could question how many of the so-called ‘Indian novels’ this guy has read. I am sure Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’ (lacking as it might in literary merits) deals with post-partition trauma – actually I can see that – IITs came about after independance and so on :-) !
Moreover, has he ever bothered to read, at least the synopses, of the novels he cites as examples of being similar ? A Fine Balance deals with emergency and a particular section of Indian society, while A Suitable Boy and Midnight’s Children are much more sweeping temporally (not to mention the wholly different issues tackled in each of the latter novels). Additionally, if a novel is set in modern India, what the fug could it’s theme consist of if not independance and partition? Same as saying all mystery novels are about murder and such and all sci-fi novels are about the future. Of course, he also conveniently ignores Chandra’s own earlier epic ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain‘.
Such use of broad brush strokes and sweeping generalizations could be construed as racism, as this person does. To me its plain laziness, combined with incompetence.
1: With Bill Gates recent philanthropic ventures, my MS hatred has become a bit muted.
Many professors are apparently banning the use of laptops in their classes – arguing that laptop use, particularly to surf the internet during lectures, are a ‘distraction’.
As the professor lectured on the law, the student wore a poker face. But that was probably because, under the guise of taking notes on his laptop, the student actually was playing poker — online, using the school’s wireless Internet connection. The scenario is not uncommon in today’s college classrooms, and some instructors want it stopped. So they have done the unthinkable — banned laptops.
There seems to be two major complaints here from the teacher’s side: the students are either too focused on typing up notes on the lecture or simply doing something else like checking e-mails, IM-ing, (and perhaps blogging?) on their laptop. In both cases, the professors contend, students are not really ‘participating’ in the class.
I think these are just lame excuses for professors with poor teaching skills. Regarding taking notes in class – in the pre-laptop era the same students would be copying the lecture verbatim with a pen on paper. All through my high-school to college life I have seen these species – students who hang on to every word the teacher speaks thinking they are pearls of wisdom to be written down and recorded for posterity. So compulsive was their habit that I remember one teacher, who wanted us to pay attention and participate in class discussion, having to snatch away their pens ! So you replace paper with laptops – a much neater way of taking notes actually. The only complaint could be if someone is bothered by all the tapping noise from the keyboards.
As for doing other stuff online – I can’t remember the number of lectures, both in undergraduate and graduate school, that were so dull and uninspiring so as to induce me into a sleep (for the lack of anything better to do and also because I hadn’t slept the night before having too much fun with friends). At least if I had a laptop and wi-fi connection at that time, I might have spent my time more constructively (like I am doing now by blogging !). IMO, if a student is not paying much attention to what you are saying – there is a good chance you are not communicating effectively. This is particularly true for elective subjects in college or graduate school – most students are in those classes because they happen to like or have some interest in the topic already.
Now I agree that for teenagers with limited attention spans, some sort of discipline needs to be enforced. So I would not be too opposed to limiting use of laptops in high-school or the first couple of undergraduate years. But these are mostly law school students (that too from Harvard and all) that the article is talking about – not exactly undergraduates who need to be coached at very step. Most (likely all) of them are adults with considerable life experience and maturity to figure out what is right for them. Also, law school is extremely competitive and not to mention expensive – why would the students risk missing out important things in class that might jeopardize their law education. These people are going to go out in the real world in a few years and perhaps handle matters of life and death – can’t you trust them to be attentive in class.
IMHO, all this is just a convenient ego-stroking exercise for the professors.
Of course, my opinions might change pretty quickly if and when I get to the other side of the podium someday and find some wise-ass watching torrent versions of American Idol instead of listening to my pearls of wisdom. :-)
PS – On a similar note, I have heard about a few professors who make students shut-off their cell phones and deposit them in a box in the front of a class ! One of the professor in my department has a much better solution – anyone whose cell phone rings in the middle of a meeting, lecture etc – buys bagels for the rest !
That was my first thought when I saw the report of this accident of an Enzo Ferrari on the Pacific Coast Highway near Los Angeles about a month and a half ago.
I mean you drive off the road at 160 miles per hour (~260kmph) (‘fly off the road’ according to one witness), your car gets smashed into two pieces (see picture above) and then just walk away with nothing more serious than a bruised lip! One life down two more to go – just press enter on the game console!
The irony is that this guy, a Swede named Stefan Erikssen used to be a high profile executive of Gizmondo – a failed hand-held video game company.
Turns out, in a new twist, there is further irony involved. The circumstances surrounding the accident were a bit mysterious to start with. Erikssen claimed that at the time of the crash he was in the passenger’s seat and some German guy named “Dietrich” (who apparently ran away) was actually driving the car. Now according to the latest reports, Erikssen has been charged with ‘grand theft auto‘ for failing to make payments on the crashed Ferrari and two other high-end cars and other charges. (From NYT)
The suspect, Stefan Eriksson, 44, is being held without bail on charges of grand theft and immigration violations. Mr. Eriksson was arrested over the weekend after a search of his house in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles……..
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said that the cars were owned by a British financial institution and that no payments had been made on them for months.
So basically, he was speeding in a car he did not own in a place he legally did not belong !! Such is the exciting life of video game execs. As a friend of mine commented while discussing the video game parallels, we can at least be thankful this guy did not run over pedestrians or kill a prostitute !
I am just sad that such a fine piece of machinery, only
400 399 of which are in existence (to say nothing of the $1 million price tag), had to meet such a sorry fate. That too at the hands of such a scamming douchebag. Here is a list of some other (hopefully more responsible) owners.
[T]he human genome exists in every one of us, and is therefore our shared heritage and an undoubted fact of nature. Nevertheless 20 percent of the genome is now privately owned. The gene for diabetes is owned, and its owner has something to say about any research you do, and what it will cost you. The entire genome of the hepatitis C virus is owned by a biotech company. Royalty costs now influence the direction of research in basic diseases, and often even the testing for diseases. Such barriers to medical testing and research are not in the public interest. Do you want to be told by your doctor, “Oh, nobody studies your disease any more because the owner of the gene/enzyme/correlation has made it too expensive to do research?”
Now, there can be much debate and there certainly exists grey areas in the field of gene patenting; but, whether intentional or not, Crichton is over-simplifying the issue in this article. No one can hold patents for your ‘natural’ genes (especially your own one which would be unique) – patents are usually granted only for the pure form of a particular gene. The gene has to be isolated (technical term: cloned) from our chromosome, be available in a test-tube and should be able to do something useful (e.g. produce the relevant protein when put into a bacteria) for a patent to be granted. The simple act of dicovery that a particular sequence of genetic material does something (e.g. cause a disease or cause the color of your eyes) will generally not be validated as a patent, at least by the United States PTO. Companies invest considerable money and time in the isolation step and therefore it is really within their right to recover the cost by patenting both the process and the final gene product.
Couple of articles dealing with this issue can be found here and here.
BTW, Amit, in his usual pithy style also says thanks for the little mercies:
And no, no one owns a patent on bad puns.
He would otherwise be paying through his nose for these . ;-)
A group in Britain has shown that forgeries of paper documents, plastic cards etc can be detected by using a simple laser scanner. The method, published in the latest edition of Nature, takes advantage of the fact that almost all documents ‘contain a unique physical identity code formed from microscopic imperfections in the surface’. This fingerprint can be read by using the phenomenon of laser speckle (in lay terms, scattering of laser light from a surface) with an appropriate scanner. The biggest cost-saving from this technology would be not having to impart an external security tag such a hologram, watermarks, microchip etc. to important documents, currencies, credit cards etc.
So why the title ? As this report on NPR Morning Edition mentions, the researchers were actually scanning a new security chip they had developed, which fell off, exposing the paper underneath it to the laser. To their surprise they found a signal coming from the paper – further investigation led to the discovery that each piece of paper has its own unique ‘roughness’ and hence an unique signal !
During his regular evening walk, software executive Steve Crandall often nods a polite greeting to other iPod users he passes: He easily spots the distinctive white earbuds threaded from pocket to ears.
But while quietly enjoying some chamber music one evening in August, Crandall’s polite nodding protocol was rudely shattered.
Crandall was boldly approached by another iPod user, a 30ish woman bopping enthusiastically to some high-energy tune.
“She walked right up to me and got within my comfort field,” Crandall stammered. “I was taken aback. She pulled out the earbuds on her iPod and indicated the jack with her eyes.”
Warily unplugging his own earbuds, Crandall gingerly plugged them into the woman’s iPod, and was greeted by a rush of techno.
“We listened for about 30 seconds,” Crandall said. “No words were exchanged. We nodded and walked off.”
This blog refers to it and late last year there was a story on NY-Post how an Apple store in Manhattan are replacing bars as dating and pick-up joints:
“People in here glance at each other just like they do in a bar,” Frederick Pina, a writer and Apple Store regular, told the New York Post. “It’s not a problem to open a conversation because you know everyone has similar interests.” Actress Nina Rutsch agreed. “When you’re checking your e-mail online, you’re really near your neighbor, so its an easy place to strike up conversation,” she said. “And if you talk to a guy in the Apple Store, you already know he’s going to be modern and up-to-date and sober. It’s healthier than picking up someone in a bar.”
The hackers from MIT strike – not against Caltech in retaliation – but to make a point about worthless scientific conferences.
….the graduate students involved were sick and tired of receiving computer generated spam soliciting entries to what they felt were questionable academic conferences.
Jeremy Stribling, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said yesterday that he and two fellow MIT graduate students questioned the standards of some academic conferences, so they wrote a computer program to generate research papers complete with nonsensical text, charts and diagrams.
Scientific conference spams ?? – you better beleive it – I keep receiveing about 2-3 such invitations every week to Biotech related conferences. Read more about it here.