Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Ode to Apple


Reams will be written, songs sung and billions made.

Apple will laugh all the way to the banks, as we queue up for a last swipe of a physical credit card at an Apple store to buy the latest of Apple ware.
Apple will now open our hotel rooms as we check-in, ask us to stand up and move around a bit and yes, tell us the time.
Also, give us that taptic hint when it is time to pick up the kid from school.
Isn’t all this cool ?

Let me step back, from all the hype and hoopla..

After years of self-denial, Apple launches big screen phones
After years of self-denial, Apple agrees one style doesn’t fit all.
(So is it simply that Cook’s right and Jobs left ?)

No, there’s more to it.

After years of authoritative (dictatorial?), product innovation, Apple accepts the wisdom of the crowds.
After years of isolated excellence, Apple joins the mass movement of mediocrity.

OK, am being unfair.
Yes, there are several shiny little nuggets in the products just launched.
The digital crown is a truly smart thing, but it isn’t going to change the world in the way the single physical button on the iPhone did.
(Oh, BTW, didn’t someone recently tell us that skeuomorphism is so old school?)
There’s a lot more, I know.
Few, if any, of them though, would truly wow you, and not for long.

But this is not merely about what Apple makes – it is as much about what makes Apple.
It is not merely about what Apple gives us – it is as much about what we give back to Apple.

Apple makes shiny cool gadgets. Excellence makes Apple
Apple makes tonnes of money. The very best engineering R&D makes Apple.
Apple gives us pride of ownership. We give love back to Apple.

All of this this has been true for a very long time.
But equally true is that there is a decline.
Yes, miracles don’t happen every day, nor do disasters.
But small mistakes accumulate.
accumulate into something bigger.

With their latest announcements, Apple has bought membership into a new club.
The club of me-toos, the club where marketing exceeds the product
They still retain some excellence – may be in marketing, in branding, in the shiny gloss of their presentation (notwithstanding the streaming glitch).
But the excellence in product R&D is now relegated to a nice-to-have, or at least minimized to a digital crown, with precious little beneath it.

No you don’t need an OctaCore or a mega screen or some super res.
Cool products are not merely the result of the greatest and biggest engineering specs.

But cool products are necessarily original – or an original take on an existing, un-cool one.
iPhone was uber-cool when it launched.
iPad was surely cool, very.
They changed the world. Period.

The iPhone6 and 6plus are screaming “me too” at the Galaxys and their ilk
in semi-muted decibels, thanks to lesser guts under the sheen.

The watch, at best, is confusing. Will you buy it because of the aluminium/gold/multiple straps?
Aren’t there dime-a-dozen watches with these bells and whistles?
Oh, but you say, this one is also “smart” ? Really ?

Smart as in a smart phone, it isn’t.
Smart as in a smart-ass, it is.

Doodle your way to glory. Share a heart-beat. Save yourself the trouble of looking up your iPhone.
If Apple calls this smart, well, they aren’t. Anymore.
(The conspicuous silence about the battery life is undoubtedly another example of the latter variety of smartness).

Not long ago, Apple was a product of excellence.
But these are products of mediocrity

What goes up, comes down.
That is nature.
Sad but true. 




Monday, May 26, 2014

Why U R Ananthamurthy is wrong (about Modi)

First the disclaimers – U.R. Ananthamurthy (URA) is not wrong in holding opinions about people, specifically about Narendra Modi. He has an inalienable right, just as everybody else, to hold opinions about people or issues. Going a step further, one can easily dissect his expressed opinion about Modi and rationalize it – yes, Modi has an historical baggage which includes, (as alleged) in the least, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, letting a genocide happen, with gruesome murders of innocent people. Also, URA has voiced his opinion not only recently (since Modi was projected as the PM candidate of the BJP), but several times earlier as well. URA, like the rest of us, is entitled to his opinions. Nothing wrong with that.

So why is URA wrong?

Simply put, URA is wrong because he does not understand “leadership”.

It is often said (and half-jokingly) in corporate circles, that leadership demands that one rises above one’s principles. How true this is! Narendra Modi has probably done just that, and URA has spectacularly failed to observe this transformation.

The Narendra Modi of the last decade was allegedly non-secular, divisive and breathed venom against minorities.  Many people construed, rightly or otherwise, that these were his principles, the very core of his thinking, and the foundation of his politics. The critics, including URA, thus concluded that here was a man married to politics of hatred, someone who would condone (or, as some alleged, even collude with the perpetrators of) genocide to further his own political ambition.

What the critics got wrong was the depth of that political ambition, and what transformative effect that deep-seated ambition could bring about in the bearer.

Modi is no novice – neither to politics, nor to leadership. He knows very well that what brings one to a position in life doesn’t help him get to the next level. Heck, what brings one to a position does not even guarantee that one can keep the position.

Many lesser mortals fail to understand these concepts. They continue to be enslaved to their old formulae of success. If doing A brought one to a big milestone in life, one would continue to do A even more passionately hoping that this will bring him to the next / higher milestone in life. Alas, how wrong can one be?

Regardless of what brought Modi to the CM’s office, one needs to acknowledge that his focus on good governance (or, in the least, the focus on communicating about good governance) is what kept him there. Let’s face it – after the bloody riots in 2002, Gujarat has been a peaceful place. Communal/Social harmony has been disturbed in various other parts of the country, ruled by parties of all shades of the spectrum, but Gujarat has been spared. Why? Is it because Modi rose beyond communal politics?

Leadership is not like school exams. Study hard and you clear your 10th standard. Study harder and you will clear the 12th. Continue grinding harder and you will one day wear the convocation cap. But leadership is different.  (Side note for Kejriwal – Hartals brought you to the Delhi Vidhana Sabha. More hartals will not get you to the Lok Sabha, and even more hurtals will not get you to the UN).

Modi knows this only too well. He needed a vehicle to get to the Gujarat Vidhana Sabha. He rode it. But to stay there, and stay there long enough, he needed to do something different. And that he did. He was in no hurry to move on. He stayed put in Gandhinagar for as long as needed; at least for as long as he would need to prepare to move on. And prepare, he did.

One should credit Modi for not jumping the gun in 2009. He let the senior BJP leaders do all the talking. Advani, Jaswant, Sushma ..the whole bandwagon went to town, but came back with a sorry face. Why? Was the UPA/Congress offering so superior that the country voted UPA2 back to power? No. The reason why BJP lost 2009 was simply because they didn’t offer anything new. They didn’t realize that what brings them to the opposition benches will not bring them to the treasury, regardless of how passionate they are about it. In other words, they had peaked already. As Peter’s principle says, they had risen to their level of incompetence.

Some are born leaders, some grow into leaders and some have leadership thrust upon them. It’s a pity that many of India’s leaders belong to the last category. Clearly, in the case of Modi, leadership has not been thrust upon him. He has very visibly grown into that position. And worked hard to get there.

This truth alone sets him apart from many of his predecessors. Here’s a man who knows not just the tricks of the trade, but the trade itself. Standing as he is, at the cusp of an incredible opportunity, one hopes he doesn’t hit his level of incompetence any time soon.

Probably URA fears that divisive politics is Modi’s Achilles’ heel. Or worse, that someone who can indulge in divisive politics could do anything (or anything worse!) to further his ambition. URA’s fears are luckily unfounded because higher political ambitions driving Modi demand a higher vision. Modi could not have got to a higher office if he had limited his vision to playing to a gallery of hardline Hindutva voters. And to insinuate that Modi won on a mindless wave is to allege that this country is filled with dimwits who can easily fall prey to a wave. Hope URA (or anyone else) does not believe in this wave theory, because this wave theory would insult the electorate and the maturity of democracy in India. 

Probably URA reasons that regardless of how positive / governance driven Modi might be, the very fact that he has been associated with religious intolerance is reason enough to deride him. This is a matter of principle. But URA should note that Modi has risen beyond hardline Hindutva. In the ideal world, politicians, just like our intellectuals, are principled people.  But true leaders, when the occasion so demands, do rise above principles. Once URA understands this, he will not need police protection.

Monday, December 30, 2013

AAP


AAP ke aankhon mein
kuch mehke hue se raaz hain
AAP se bhi khoobsurat
AAP ke andaz hain

So said the bard, though not of Kejriwal’s heady concoction that has laid siege to Delhi.

Of course a lot has been said of Kejriwal and his idol Anna Hazare and their eventual split, their clean image, Kejriwal’s bold step to stand for elections, and actually win. Of how congress has been humbled and how the broom can sweep the country clean (of corruption). 

Optimism is probably the opium of the masses, or of the youth. And pessimism is the ground of the incurably skeptic. Granted, in that case, am a skeptic. Am skeptical of AAP. In my view, very soon, AAP will become, in every which way, a competitor of Congress and BJP or any other political party. Kejriwal (if he continues) will be rubbing shoulders with a Mulayam, Lalu, Jayalalithaa and Jagan. If he is luckier, he will give more shivers to Modi, Rahul/Sonia, Chidambaram or a Pawar. But one thing is for sure – he (or AAP) will do all this – not by being a saint among the sinners, but by being ONLY marginally a better sinner than the rest. Yes, AAP will now transform into a full-fledged political party, with all bells and whistles accompanying it. Or it will disappear. 

How else can it be? A political party functions as a political party – not as a bunch of well-meaning rebels who can fast unto death for a cause.

A political party has politicians in it – people who hanker for power – people who need to hanker for power – people who play the power games, people who have people depending on them to play the games, and win. A gallery to play to, a vote bank to retain, an all intoxicating drug of power to sustain, to breathe, to live. Once AAP tastes blood, either the purists will leave or will get transformed from “rebels with a cause” to normal, power hungry politicians.
 
Scams will come and scams will be hidden. Like always, scams will start small – a gas pump agency for a long standing  friend, a foreign junket for a deserving scholar, purchase orders to a known reputed dealer..and soon, the whole jimbang of uncles and cousins and supporting industrialists of all colors and passports will be on the AAP speed dial.

And Anna Hazare will continue to fast. Maybe Kejriwal as well.

Tigers are carnivorous by nature. Feasting on grass is just not natural for tigers. AAP is a political party. Thriving on honesty and integrity is just not natural for political parties. It simply defeats the very purpose of being in politics. Politics is a zero sum game – either AAP has power or someone else has it. There is no democratic sharing of power, ever. Power is binary. He who holds it is 1. The rest have a grand 0. There is no fuzzy logic about power.

There is no doubting AAP’s desire to deliver clean governance, efficiency or progress. However, should they focus on governance alone, they will struggle to retain power. And once they realise that they are losing the grip on power, they will either reprioritize (thus, quickly learning the art of real politik) – or they will die a natural death reserved for all honest,  hard-working, na├»ve politicians.
 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Brick by brick


When your eight year old comes back beaming from the washroom in a restaurant and exclaims “they have soft closing seats in the loo”, there can be only one conclusion. You must be constructing a house ! And yes Sir, I am.

Soft closing seats aside, am not petrified anymore by fully or partially vitrified tiles. Fossil stone, engineered wood and high-density fibres are now like a random bunch of friends from various childhood schools.  Antique brass and powder coated hinges don’t leave me creaking. My TLA vocab has grown too, taking in its sweep RWH, MSS, MDF and WHU (what-have-you). Also, have figured out a thing or two about faux art - Monier is not a French painter, Odele is not a Roman princess. Artize could make a good photoshop option, but means something else altogether these days.

House construction occupies mental bandwidth like nothing else possibly can. Courtship or marriage wouldn't possess one as much as construction, for what else can explain affairs on the side ? Work could never obsess most people as much either – how else can one explain job hopping? Try googling for people who have cheated on a house construction, by leaving one midway and starting another, you will have reached the end of what google knows! House construction wins hands-down when it comes to being the single most important master in the lives of each of us earthlings, who mostly innocently venture into such an activity.

Some people are born to be passionate about something – they become the experts in their chosen field – Sachin Tendulkar and Oprah Winfrey are good examples. Lesser mortals can fancy their chances at expertise ..with house construction.  Practically everyone that has constructed a house- be it the size of a shoe box or a shoe factory, has an expert opinion on every aspect of the construction – and mostly this expertise has been gained at the cost of a screw up.  If you do take the risk of asking someone for advice on what you should do, be prepared to be inundated …with what you shouldn't do ! Don’t go to that architect – in fact don't go to any architect. Don’t go for teak…Don’t ever consider anything other than teak. Don’t go for marble floors – it is the most overrated thing ..next only to the Taj. Don’t go for granite counters, don’t plant those trees, don’t paint those colors and stay away from such neighbors!

At home, house construction plays Pope maker. And the Pope decides. And the Pope wears the pants. And decides what is good and what is bad, and curses you for always playing the devil’s advocate. The Papal role is of course reserved for the one who spends most time at home. Most logical, if logic was ever a criterion to go with. I resign, devil’s advocate is probably as far as I can ever get to having a say, legal or otherwise, in matters of house construction.

One fine day, after having bought the site, I broach the subject of planning the house. The son begins with his wish-list - a Jacuzzi, a basket-ball court, a cricket field and a velodrome make it for starters. A gaming room and bedroom that turns into a disco come in as after-thoughts.  The better half, holding her papal instincts back if only briefly, suggests a gym, with the noble intention that getting me to invest in it would get me to use it, if only occasionally. Mother asks for a kitchen large enough to qualify for Michelin stars – the rest of the house, if any is needed, could be on the first floor or even on the neighbouring site. My dad asks for a garden that is at least as big as the kitchen. The basics are expected to fall in, fairly easily – the living room, dining, bedrooms, bathrooms ..all make their appearances – just that I’m left wondering if what A considers to be the bathroom space is indeed what B considers to be ideal for the kitchen and C thinks would make the perfect place for the puja, from a V perspective. Arrrgh ! I take it on the architects, I tell you, they are all about options and not about decisions! And that’s exactly when I’m reminded with the all-knowing “ahem”, it’s not the architects silly, it’s the Pope who decides!

And Pope it shall be. The Papal decisions come in a flurry. We will not have the living room there, we will not have those kind of windows in the kitchen, we will not have those floors and the stairs, they will not be there. So how do we go upstairs, I innocently ask. Stairs of course, will be there, but not “there” as in, not in that part of the house – silly me. I thought we were going to have an escalator! The papal decisions leave me floored – a number of good decisions that identify the bad designs are taken. Good riddance of bad rubbish – to hell with those stupid ideas. But the devil’s advocate cannot resist popping the question - how do we go about identifying the good designs – where is it good to have the dining or the living or the stairs or the garden or whatever. Pat comes the reply – the Pope decides, lesser mortals can design. That leaves me resigned to design. And re-design. Ad infinitum.

And then the parents and assorted well-wishers and relatives chip in. The dreaded V word begins to make its rounds. The word I had avoided – had specifically asked the architect to steer clear of. V for vastu.  Since I take pride in being a rational animal, I have steered clear of religion and belief to the extent that I made a pre-nup with the wifey on letting me steer clear of it, and have relished the day when my son, all of 5 years, popped the question “Is there God, and why should we believe”? Anyway, cutting the rationality crap, I for one couldn't care less for vastu, but since I’m anyway a careless person, others tend to care. 

Weekends are spent window shopping ..and door shopping and tile shopping and WHU shopping. Designs, materials, quality, affordability, availability accessibility and lot of other ities occupy weekends. Options, options and even more options play out in my sleep. All my rationality is used up in making mental pugh matrices, only to be over-ruled either by the contractor for being too expensive, or by the architect for being inconsistent and finally by the Pope for being, well, not Papal in origin! To be fair, I’m terrible at decision-making myself, and I always knew it. But just as you never learn how to swear until you learn to drive, you will never learn how to decide (or how not to decide), until you build a house.

As the house gets into shape – exteriors are done, plastering in progress, the contractor is haggling us for the design of the compound wall and such sundries, am left wondering if house construction – or any construction for that matter.. is a matter of the heart or the soul. The debate of the head vs heart is pretty old fashioned – and in the case of house construction, they are both nearly on the same side. The body (head and heart) needs a house, but what about the spirit? Does the soul crave for a house – complete with wooden floors and pergolas, Hettich in the kitchen and Grohe in the bathrooms? Couldn't we live on earth and disappear leaving behind nothing at all? Plants and animals leave behind pretty much nothing. But we leave behind monstrous amount of legacy, hardly of relevance once we are gone. 

And in my case, decidedly, that will include soft closing seats.


Monday, May 24, 2010

If Google TV were a bicycle..I'm a fish

I need another box around my TV like i need a hole in my head. Well, I probably can do with a search bar on my TV. But do i need to balance a keyboard on the armrest of the couch while holding a beer in one hand and a baby on another? And then wait for search results to show up, and when I click on one of them, be reminded about codecs I don't have. Or holidays that I can have, also pizzas, jeans and cars. Or be informed what my 100 odd "friends" are busy watching. Or sieve through finance bonds, junk bonds and chemical bonds before I get my quantum of solace?

If Google TV were a bicycle, I'm a fish.

TV watching is not hunting-and-gathering. It is a lazy buffet from which you take your pick. Normally, the spread is large enough to satisfy most eaters. But one can beat the spread easily. And complain. The buffet targets the average audience (called TRP). Gourmets get nothing special in this spread. You can partake of it as much as you wish. But the spread will hardly change just to mollify the pesky eaters. If you come late and miss your dish, well, hard luck. You can always get to a gourmet restaurant and order one "a la carte".

Of course this is not always ideal. There is always a seeming need for an occasional mail-order. VoD is just that. However, it is not (yet) the most natural way of consuming entertainment on the TV.

The most natural way to consume TV is using the P+ and P- buttons of the remote control. You can reduce that further to only one of them - say, the P+.

P+, arguably, the most pressed button on the remote control, represents how most people have spent their evenings all their lives. Will Google TV change this, with the plethora of android apps? And succeed ? Or, will it "enrich" your P+ experience by suggesting friendly ads, listing your friends who are watching the same channel, recommending related content etc ? And how much of this enrichment would you love? And for how long?

Google needs to detail out a number of aspects of their Google TV. What value do they bring to consumers, to advertisers, to content creators and to their own shareholders.

Of these, the key question of course is about consumers: Why would consumers prefer Google on their TV? (Aren't we happy enough googling on our PCs and phones?). Or, as explained earlier, aren't we happy pressing the P+? If you happen to be the "lean forward" types, you always have the option of using a PC. If I hear you complaining about the hassle, then you are actually a "lean back" person. So go back to your lazy, lean back, channel surfing habit. And stop pretending that Google TV is what you always wished for.

Secondly, it might make sense for Google to ask themselves why would they succeed any more than Yahoo with their TV widgets... given the following facts. The widgets are a lot more light-weight than Google TV. And there are thousands of widgets out there, suiting almost every need! Yes, Google has more credo, although Yahoo claimed the advantage of pioneering this whole concept! And still Yahoo widgets on TV is not exactly hot cakes.

Thirdly, but as important as anything else (if not more) is: Who makes money from Google TV and why? Google should have held their technology horses until the business guys come clean on this. Going by the recent history at Google, the urge to spin new technologies seems to over-power the need to underpin it's viability. "This is cool stuff", they seem to say. "Let's do it and then hope to find a way to make money from it". C'mon guys, you are not a start-up anymore, hunting for a rich-n-greedy investor to buy you out, based more on your tech credo than the weight of your biz-model.

There are more reasons to doubt Google TV. But then there is still a possibility that Google has the last laugh. For sure they can pull this off. But most likely not in it's current shape.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Social web is not an ordered set

With social web, it is often easy to conclude that it is a mess - just point to the fable of a million monkeys on a million keyboards. Extrapolating from here, aggregating islands of mess will only make it a bigger one. Right?

Could we be more wrong and more right at the same time ?

Social web is not an encyclopedia of human knowledge. It is not meant to be. It is the collective noise of the human race, each saying "hello, am doing good. how are you" and a zillion variants of this same message. To expect order in this is futile. To claim that this is cluttering our otherwise prim-and-propah lives is akin to calling the Tajmahal a white building.

But, as we all know, there are golden nuggets hidden in this humongous data mine. Just because it is so big or so difficult, should we give up looking? Should we not try to decipher patterns here, infer who are potential friends, what they are up to, what they have in common, or how our relations can be strengthened ? Should we not seek to better our lives by exploiting technological possibilities?

I think Yahoo is doing the right thing. The purpose of aggregation is not to seek nirvana (neither intellectual nor commercial), but enable easier social contact over the web. The nirvanas mentioned may arrive (ref: http://www.cluetrain.com/) but even if they don't, the purpose of social networking would have benefited.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Is Shashi a tweet chap ?

Jug believes Shashi Tharoor (ST) is a "tweet chap". I'm not sure. There could be more to ST's tweeting than meets the eye...but I'll leave that for another day. For now, let me question Jug's belief.

ST has the right to tweet and the right to disagree. However, as a minister, he has the obligation to retain in public, the sanctity of the governmental view on policies. In private (within the four walls that SM Krishna has mentioned), he has the obligation to criticize policy proposals and ensure that the country gets the right policies.

In his eagerness to use his rights, either he clearly has forgotten his obligations, or (worse), has discovered that his views and policy criticisms do not seem to matter.

There's nothing wrong in ST tweeting, nor is there anything wrong in the message itself. But there is clearly something wrong when a minister chooses to go the public route to criticize a policy. Either he is naive enough to be unaware of decision making loop (and hence is unable to contribute his valid positive criticism of the policies while they are still being prepared) or has not earned the trust of his fellow politicians so they disregard his criticism (even if it is presented well in advance of the public announcement of the policy).

Jug, you could do your old buddy a favor by reminding him of his obligations..and advise him on how to go about achieving his obligations. He clearly doesn't need any support for exercising his rights (and wrongs).