Friday, March 26, 2010

Mobile platform multi-tasking revisited

Everyone is clamoring for multi-tasking on their mobile smartphones. android has it, windows mobile has it but the iPhone and the new dangle windows phone 7 don't. This isn't that hard of a ponlem to solve you would think, but it really is. Reason - constrained resources on the phone and no good user interaction model for users to kill rogue applications.

The biggest issue with multi-tasking on phones though is reduced battery life. Right now, my iPhone barely gives me 5 hours of usage; I shudder to think what my battery life will reduce to once multi-tasking becomes du jour. Single-tasking is plain not good enough because switching to another app means all context is lost in the current app. There are times when I am listening to an episode of fresh air in my browser and the phone rings - bam, need to start the episode from scratch! So we are at an impasse, unless...

Yes, there is a third solution; an idea which is more of a hybrid approach - application hibernation. Switching to another app puts the current app into a form of suspended animation, kinda like the pause button for media playback. The application's state is saved to persistent storage and room is made for the new application. It would be trivial to provide a list of "suspended"/paused applications, with a cool ui that allows a user to literally press Play on the application they want to turn "On". It's going to be really interesting to see what strategy the 3 leading mobile platforms will adopt.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup good for you? The debate rages on...

I happened to switch on the TV last Thursday around the time of ABC’s nightly news programme. Under normal circumstances, I would have switched to a recorded program or to another channel, but the story being featured was on the deleterious effects of Fructose on our body. It turns out that the food industry has been lying to us, repeatedly; imagine my shock and horror! Even food dubbed healthy is full of fructose – probiotics, fruit juice, yoghurt, Special-K; the list is endless. Unlike sucrose, fructose tampers with the body’s Leptin production , which results in the lack of appetite regulation (we continue to feel hungry even after our body has received the necessary nutrients).

Of course, the Corn Growers lobby in Washington was also mentioned. Corn is pure starch, and it is the most abundant crop in America; some Corn in my food is to be expected. Was it really *some* thought? I had to know exactly how prevalent the grain was though, so I conducted a small “Corn” experiment this weekend at the grocery stores I frequent. I have a list of maybe 20 items I buy on a regular basis – some from Safeway but most from Trader Joe’s. I went down my list and read through the ingredients of the processed foods (including the unfrozen kind) - mostly juice, yoghurt, cereal, veggie patties, peanut butter pretzels, etc. It’s hard to get exact amounts of individual ingredients, so I just put a check against items that contained Corn or Fructose on the list; my findings were eye-opening!

Regardless of provenance and seller, about 75% of all processed food I purchase contain corn in one form or another (syrup, powder or whole). Fructose came in at a slightly lower 54%, the remaining 46% contained sugar. You should know this – I am a careful, anal even, shopper and read the ingredients before buying anything. Even I haven’t staved off the corn growers onslaught on my system. I guess the cost of healthy eating is a lifetime of vigilance.

What am I going to do now that I have this information? My findings suggest I need to eat more real food, less fruit juice, more fruit pulp, and cook more. I’m going to see how long this latest revelation makes me cook fresh meals before I succumb to the convenience of packaged food. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Being profligate in a recession - NYC sports teams

In this time of recession, it seems profligate, reckless even, for American sports teams to be erecting billion dollar pantheons for their respective sports. Take the professional baseball and football teams of New York City for instance.
At the same time, the Jets and the Giants are moving to yet another new stadium in the Meadowlands, which will replace a perfectly good Giants Stadium, to accommodate shrimp-and-wine tastes. The new place will still hold major soccer matches, particularly if the United States is chosen to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
Parts of the world are so in debt and in need of funds that people don't have enough to put two square meals on the table. These teams are/were playing in perfectly functioning stadiums and ball parks; such excess!

Friday, March 19, 2010

System.Uri constructor makes the host lower-case

I stumbled upon this cool property of the System.Uri class today; the .NET Framework's Uri class knows that DNS names are case-insensitive. If you pass a string to a Uri constructor with mixed or upper case letters, the constructor will make the DNS/host part of the string lower-case.


Uri uri = new Uri("");
will print: ""

will print: "FoO"

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Apple might be setting itself up for a Mobile Search Fail

APPLE and Google remain partners in certain areas. Google pays Apple millions of dollars annually to make its search engine the default on Apple’s Web browser, on the iPhone and soon, perhaps, on the iPad.

But there is wide speculation in technology circles that Apple is preparing to give Google a public black eye: by making Microsoft’s offering, Bing, the preferred search engine on the iPad, and perhaps even on the iPhone. One Apple employee says that Qi Lu, the president of Microsoft’s online services division, was recently seen visiting Apple’s campus in Cupertino to discuss such a deal. Microsoft declined to comment.
At the time of this writing, there is no physical device that runs Windows Phone 7 Series, but the initial buzz around the new platform and devices is frenzied. The devices are going to have an application store and an SDK out of the gates, and all of the Windows 7 phones will have Bing as their default search engine. If the platform catches on, and Android continues its onward march at the steady clip it is today, the default search engine on Apple will no longer be a priority for either Google or Microsoft. Why would either of the two companies pay a third almost a billion dollars to feature its search engine on *another* mobile phone platform?

Thinking about this some more, Microsoft might still make such a deal with the *perceived* devil, simply because it is the underdog in search. So yes, Apple will give Google a black eye, but really, will it even make a dent in Google's armor? In true Google style, it might just yank out the blackened eye and replace it with another commodity eye it bought for cheap on the open market!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thoughts on the iPad

My friend Ishmeet and I had a spirited discussion on the iPad a few weeks ago. The linked article was sent my way by Ishmeet earlier today; reading it literally broke the dam holding back my thoughts; it is time I let my opinion join the steady stream of opinions and conjecture on the device. Bear in mind, this is based on an email response I wrote to him on my iPhone.
The author makes some good arguments - Apple is trying to define a new market segment, which is difficult; the $499 price point might be prohibitive for some; we are in the throes of a recession. But I think the rest of his arguments and scenarios fall flat. In particular, his logic on the whole "connectivity aspect and 3g" is specious. We live in an infinitely connected world - I can't go to a single place these days without my phone finding at least one open wireless access point. The need for 3g connectivity is so minimal and the available 3g network is so clogged (at least AT&T's), that watching movies would be more of a problem with 3g and shouldn't be a problem without the 3g device. Also, his point about content consumption vs creation is only partially valid. Content creation seems conceptually harder on the iPad than it would be on a traditional netbook, but that's what they said about typing on a touch only iPhone keyboard. We know how that claim has been debunked. To wit: it took me about 10 minutes to type this out on my iPhone and I chose to use this keyboard even though I am sitting in front of my laptop. The difference in typing time is insignificant enough to even be a factor. Regardless, there is a Bluetooth and tethered keyboard accessory available that should mitigate a lot of the content creation issues, if not all of them.

The issues that the author hasn't touched upon are the ones that concern me more - expandability, peripheral support, camera and screen. Software shortcomings are easier to overcome than hardware oversights. There is another tablet out there, developed by an Indian company, that is the clear choice when compared to the iPad. It remains to be seen whether the technical superiority of the Indian innovation will translate into real sales; my hope is that other hardware vendors will take cues from the Indian outfit and build a viable competitor to the iPad. This shouldn't be a 1 horse race, and Microsoft's answer isn't that far along in development to factor into this conversation.

To Apple's credit though, there is no doubting the brilliance of the iPad's software interface. Herein lies the true gem, and the real reason people other than loyalists will buy the device. Finally, there is a computing device that is larger than a phone that actually gets out of it's own way and let's a user do what they want. Granted that a user can only do a few things today, but the possibilities are limitless. For further proof of this, read the initial press coverage that the iPhone received. Apple got a lot of feedback from the early adopters, incorporated the feedback in subsequent releases, which further fed the frenzy around the iPhone. I think this is an appropriate moment to say, "the rest is history"...
My stake in the ground is that the v2 product will address a lot of the issues raised by the early reviewers and adopters. The v1 for my mom? Maybe!

Led by Energy, U.S. Wholesale Prices Fall -

"In subdued economic conditions, there just isn’t the demand to support higher prices,” said Paul Dales, an economist for Capital Economics in Toronto. "Companies have to cut prices to survive.”

The Labor Department will release its barometer of consumer prices on Thursday."
The market is going to be volatile tomorrow and Friday, but one thing's for sure - it's not going to start way higher than the previous night's close as it did this morning.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My thoughts on the 2010 F-1 season opener

This is culled from an email exchange with one of my close friends Karan.

Every time the FIA come up with new regulations, it does little to change the trend started by Schumacher. Once a person takes off at the start, it’s well nigh impossible to overtake at the front unless the leader has a reliability problem. The new breed of *good* drivers is very accomplished, and there is very little that separates these drivers from one another. Mind you, I am only talking about the cream of today's crop - Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, and their ilk. In other words, it has boiled down to the car – how else would you explain Jenson Button winning last year after 10 years of stagnation, and Alonso’s win after a season in which he didn’t win a single race or sit on pole? The argument that changing regulations help with lowering costs is specious at best. Take KERS for example – billions of dollars were spent by multiple teams to integrate KERS and test it in the cars last year, to what end? As regards Schumacher, it’s only his first race back. It would be fool-hardy on anyone’s part to expect him to return to his form of yore immediately upon locking his seatbelt into a new formula-1 car. Comebacks are hard for a reason!

Speaking of trends, a similar trend is emerging in MotoGP races – the Ducati bike is so much more superior than the rest of the pack that if their main driver, Casey Stoner, is healthy, he almost always wins. Rossi wins by the sheer force of his indefatigable will and some good fortune. Be that as it may, some races are still very close; two come to mind immediately – 2008 race at Laguna Seca and the breathtaking battle at Catalunya last year. I do foresee a day when the MotoGP races will become as boring as today’s F-1 races, but that day isn’t here yet. You know the lack of overtaking is one of the biggest reasons for the sport waning in popularity, especially in markets like the US where people want to see real competition and no holds barred driving. Hate it or love it, stock car racing has a surfeit of both those elements...

Best online music service - Grooveshark

Move over Pandora, this service is hands down the best I have used. You can control:
- Songs in your playlist
- Go back a song
- Skip a song
- Search for specific songs and add them to to your list
- Like that last line in the current song - rewind :)
- Create playlists
- Radio mode!
- Social networking built-in

Even though Apple won't approve their iPhone application, this is simply the best desktop music application out there. As regards Apple and its walled garden, that's a whole new can of worms; this certainly adds more fuel to the fire brewing over Apple vs Android. In related news, the latest salvo in the Apple vs Android battle was fired by Tim Bray, a prominent developer who has defected to the Android camp. Details :here:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Are Smart Brake Pedals the answer?

They just might not be. You can make the pedals as smart as you want; they are only as smart and safe as the driver using them.
But based on my experience in the 1980s helping investigate unintended acceleration in the Audi 5000, I suspect that smart pedals cannot solve the problem. The trouble, unbelievable as it may seem, is that sudden acceleration is very often caused by drivers who press the gas pedal when they intend to press the brake.

From the mid-1980s until 2000, thousands of incidents of sudden acceleration were reported in all makes and models of cars (and buses, tractors and golf carts). Then, as now, the incidents were relatively rare among car crashes generally, but they were nevertheless frequent and dangerous enough to upset automakers, drivers and the news media.

What is a brand?

Wise words that provide the missing answer to a huge question:
"A brand is not a logo. It’s not a slogan. It’s not a product.

A brand is the soul of who you are and what you’re doing and it pervades every aspect of your business from your attitude to your interactions with customers. A great brand inspires other people with its passion. But you knew that already."

improving JavaScript performance with J�gerMonkey ✩ Mozilla Hacks – the Web developer blog

Here's the latest salvo in the browser Javascript wars - Mozilla's new Jagermonkey engine. Highlights:

1. Tracing
2. Nanojit
3. Nitro assembler

all used in conjunction to create screaming Javascript performance. This is all great news, but in this Javascript-arms race, we're soon going to hit a wall. I believe it is time for browser vendors to start looking for the next performance goldmine. From current trends, Google Chrome might be the first one to hit the mother-lode, but I know that Firefox and Safari won't be too far behind. These are great times for us consumers of web browser technology.

On a somewhat related and otherwise tangential note, I was listening to an interview this morning in which a scientist was expostulating the view that soon, the browser in its current avatar won't exist for much longer. Reaching out to the web will become so intertwined with our daily activities that the "obtrusive" and "unintuitive" browser intermediary will be replaced by something else. My thought is the browser will become the only way to interact with our computers and phones, albeit with a dramatically modified and enriched interface.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

Jonathan Schwartz, has this interesting insight into the ramifications of Apple suing HTC/Google over the infringement of iPhone patents:
Having watched this movie play out many times, suing a competitor typically makes them more relevant, not less. Developers I know aren’t getting less interested in Google’s Android platform, they’re getting more interested – Apple’s actions are enhancing that interest.
I tweeted a similar thought when news first broke about the lawsuit, which I believe is not just frivolous but unnecessary gamesmanship on Apple's part. Ir remains to be seen whether the suit will actually go to court, but something needs to be done with the whole Patents shenanigans in the software world. To wit: It all started somewhere, so live and let live; thrive and let thrive.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Berkshire Hathway's 2009 Annual Report

Insightful as always; Mr Buffett's style is inimitable. If you want to learn about making the right trading decisions, these Annual Reports are a must-read.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

How Firefox has fallen...

The linked discussion thread is about plugins running in their own process in Firefox. Internet Explorer has had this feature since the launch of IE8, Google Chrome has had this feature since as far as I can remember, and even Safari, with its negligible market share, has this feature. I am using an unheralded browser on the Mac called Stainless - even that browser's team of maybe 10 developers has figured out a way to do not just plugins, but tabs in their own process. Whither Firefox?

I started using Phoenix 0.1 back in the day because I was sick of IE being stagnant, slow and bloated. Phoenix/Firebird/Firefox's claim to fame was it innovated faster vis-a-vis IE. Ironic isn't it - Firefox is the IE of today - slow, bloated and almost stagnant. Almost because it is the slowest innovator; Chrome is innovative, Firefox is derivative. Sad!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Windows Phone 7 - interesting observation

Best to use the words of someone else when they state everything you wanted to, only better!

The big three mobile platforms right now are iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android. (Feel free to add Nokia as a fourth.) I think Windows Phone 7 is most competitive with Android, because that’s the one with the same business model: licensing the OS to OEM hardware makers. They’re even competing for attention from the very same hardware makers, especially HTC. Google’s been undercutting Microsoft with free (or nearly free) services for a few years now: Google Docs against Office, Gmail for Business against Exchange, and soon, Chrome OS against Windows. But this one, Android vs. Windows Mobile, is the first one where Google seems poised to take the lead. Windows Phone 7 doesn’t just have to be better than Android, it has to be better enough to convince handset makers that it’s worth the licensing fees.