Phone shopping and the information glut

It is time to upgrade from my retro phone, a 3-year-old Nokia 3650. And I have very clear requirements, decent camera (to make blog-worthy photos), a decent MP3 player (I travel), calendar and address book should sync with PC (so that I can donate my Palm T3 and T5 to an orphanage) and budget around Rs 20000. Yes obviously, it should be a decent phone as well, but that isn’t something phone shoppers really look for these days.

First round of Internet search fine tuned my specs to these. camera 2 Mega Pixels or more, expandable memory for mp3 files, and, preferably Symbian or a similar smart OS. Then, some furious googling for “as all-in-one as possible” devices threw up following models. Nokia N70, 6233, N71, N72 and N73. Sony Ericsson W810i, W700i, K750i, K800i and Z610i. Samsung D600, P850 and D900. It was clear to me that either I go for 6233 or 810i type phone in Rs 15K range, or raise the bid to ~ 22K to pick between N73, K800i or D900.

But this is where the problems began. God, it is all so-so very confusing. What the hell are these phone makers and review sites doing by throwing so much at you!?

Some sites say N72 and K750i don’t have 3G. But they won’t tell you what 3G is good for. N73 and K800i make great photos, but experts caution the camera covers are too fragile – oh, how stupid of Nokia and SE. And by the way, K800i is supposedly not a smart phone, though K750i was. N70 is seemingly outdated now, but newer model N72 sells cheaper, why? I am just lost on the model numbering schemes here! N91 has 4 GB storage and Wifi, cool! But reviews talk about low screen resolution. Talking of resolutions, every reviewer on the Internet says 352 x 416 (N80, E70) is double the size of 176 x 208. Learn some geometry, N80 has four times the real estate than N91 you dumbos, not double.

Talking of touting similar models to confuse shoppers, Samsung takes the cake. D500 did well, so they flood the market with sliders. And now, even the phone fanatics cant tell D600 from D800, D810 from D820 and D840, or D870 from E900. Oh by the way, I tricked you there; D810 is a clamshell, though the model number may suggest a slider. Oh man, these out-to-please-you phone makers, God give them some sanity.Nokia E70

Anyway, in the end, I had to selectively ‘erase’ some models and reviews from my mind, and I have decided to toss it up between Nokia N71 (a Symbian clamshell) and Nokia E70 (the best all in one for my budget), whichever falls my way sooner or cheaper. E70 is cool, Wifi, nice screen and a full qwerty keyboard. But it supposedly runs out of memory a lot, and has this problem of … … no, nO, NO. Not again. E70 it is, don’t you force any more models and reviews on me.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so they say. But in present times, too much information just kills. Bits and bytes are flying towards you, duck them all if you can.

Landmark music: Hum Dono

Imagine an album where three of most popular playback singers of the time, all sang songs that would make it to top5/top10 playlists of most fans. When I think of Hindi movies with landmark music, of the few that readily come to mind, “Hum Dono” stands out for this particular reason.

When music critics do a Lata Mangeshkar top 10, “Allah tero naam” usually makes the list. The lady herself picked this song to be her best. Lyrics are a welcome change from the usual romantic stuff. Slow and melodious tune, you feel like humming along each time you listen.Hum Dono - external link

Find me a Mohd Rafi fan who will not count “Main zindagi ka saath” as one of his best. Meaningful lyrics that qualify to be good peotry on their own, an utterly melodious tune, and Mr Rafi singing at his best, this song is as perfect as it gets.

Don’t let the bhajan and philosophical poetry fool you into thinking that this album is short on romance. Asha Bhonsle joins Md Rafi for what is arguably the best duet sung in Bollywood. One can never get bored of “Abhi Na Jao Chhor Kar“. Duet of such class, that it ranks amongst Asha Bhonsle‘s best.

And such is the quality of those 3 songs that people tend to forget Sahir wrote and Rafi sang “Kabhee khud pe kabhee haalaat pe rona aaya” for this very same album.

So yes, find me another album where three great singers chose to give off their bests. And to top it all, it wasn’t any usual suspect of that time who made these tunes. Jaidev didn’t compose music for very many movies after this one, but “Hum Dono” made sure he won’t ever be forgotten by the fans of old time hindi film music.

Come learn some obscenity

source rediffA movie that is filled with filthy language, and has song and dance sequences you cant watch with family, has been granted exemption from entertainment tax for three months in Uttar Pradesh.

… with the State Government saying the movie spreads the message of checking crime among youth

Who is that youth being targetted for such a message (assuming the movie carries one) here? Young people in their teens are supposed to be the “impressionable minds”, not grown up folks in their 20s and 30s. But oh o! Omkara carries an A certificate, so only adults are allowed to watch it.

Am I the only one who finds this “tax exemption” odd? Moreover, listen to what the maker of this movie has to say:

Critics have lambasted director Vishal Bharadwaj for excessive use of cuss-words in Omkara, but the director is unruffled by the criticism and says he didn’t make it “keeping audience sensitivities in mind”.

Damn it. If you can’t make movies keeping audience sensitivities in mind, you must not be allowed use of this public medium. Some one please exile Mr Bharadwaj for making such a statement.

Egovernance @ Bangalore – new BMP website is here

The new look website of BMP, built by the Egovernments Foundation is online! Looks good, and I am trying to do a detailed review. But writing anything in detail takes time. Moreover, the new BMP site is due for big updates real soon (Sep 15). So for now, here is a quick look at this exciting initiative!

[Note: A press release said that the "complaints" page was already up on this site. But that is not the case, as "Public Grievances" module is listed under the "Coming soon" section].

One basic question first. All these egov sites seem to assume I know where I live. Ward numbers, CMCs and all, it gets a bit technical. How do I know for sure that I live in Mahadevapura and not Bangalore and what exactly is my ward number? I need to know this to figure whether to go to this BMP site, or Mahadevapura city site.

Even the list of wards, where presented, has user interface quirks. Go to Property Tax Id page. You have a drop down with all ward names here. If you live in Domlur, you may want to type D and find it. But the wards names are listed with their number prefix. So you have to scroll through the big list and find Domlur, and that will be # 72.

Talking of user interface, go to the “know your property tax details” page. In here, try finding a specific address in say J P Nagar. You have to go through a page by page listing of all properties to find yours.

What I am alluding to is this. User interface for these city portals seem to be very ‘academic’. First up, all these sites need to be hosted under the umbrella of a “Karnataka state” page. There could be an entry point that asks you for your location, which I could provide by clicking on a map, or by typing in the name of the area where I live. Based on my answer, I could then be redirected to the website of the appropriate town, city or ward.

Next, what is up with all those “pdf”s? It is a bit annoying to run into “pdf”s even for simple bits of information.

Ward map with work details is nice and wonderful. But I wish this could be a query driven page, and I could get to see details of all types of works, not just the roads. That may be headed our way in form of the “ward works” module. That could go hand in hand with the complaints (aka grievances) page so that citizens will have ready and reference-worthy context for their complaints and suggestions.

List of legal hoardings is cool! I can now easily figure the illegal ones and hopefuly soon, report these to BMP right on this website.

I clicked on the “building plan approval” link with hopes of finding an electronic way of submitting soft copies for approval. But the page is merely a collection of addresses and phone numbers.

Also, as a layman, I am bit confused as to what things fall in jurisdiction of BMP vs BDA vs BMRDA vs BWSSB and what have you. For example, if I find a road flooded due to a broken water pipeline, who do I call for help? BDA or BWSSB or BMP? I wish BMP could provide links to “related” egovernance sites, and offer some guidance on jurisdictions. A ‘true’ city portal (bangalore.gov.in like thing) would be the best.

All in all, a good beginning in the form of an organized site that presents whatever information I assume BMP and eGov are in a position to present right now. It is just a beginning however, a directory of information of sorts. For us, the citizens, real fun will begin when the modules listed in the “coming soon” section will come online. Because then, there will be a real chance that the BMP portal could become a medium for two-way dialogue between residents and BMP.

Let us wait and watch.

[PS: "Ward works" link on Mahadevapura CMC site produced a pdf with garbage characters. I hope that is because I am missing some kannada fonts on my PC]

Business Baazigar is not a reality show

A personal note, an odd thought.

I hear these claims that Zee’s reality show “business baazigar” is a hit. Might be true. It may have helped raise Zee’s viewership, but I personally don’t like the show – nothing to do with quality of the show itself.

While they must have been inspired from success of “The Apprentice” in US, the program does “Indian-ize” that concept very well. The reason I don’t watch the show is – it markets itself as a “reality” show.

Tell me one thing. In our country, how easy is it today for a “nobody” to actually start a business based on any idea? Save for IT industry, I tell you its damn hard. IT industry is an exception because it was born much after our stifling regulations and bureaucracy took roots. Starting a business is just not a “real” thing yet. We are still in the mode of “seeking” employment. Generating employment is not even on the minds of many.

“Business baazigar” may claim to be a “reality” show, but it makes money by selling dreams. To me, its a dark take on this grim reality in our country that entrepreneurship isn’t thriving yet. Even though, talks of booming economy and all that want to make you believe that.

Bose, now in India?

The famed Bose marketing machine has started cranking up in India as well.  I wonder what the TV ad is trying to say though. “Bose, now in India”, I find that tag-line very ironic. And to stress the Bengali-ness of the name, the ad ends with a visual of Bengal style Durga Puja!
Imagine a regular guy watching a TV ad that screams “Bose , now in India”. Don’t con me please, Bose sounds like it was always in India – fair enough if someone thinks that way.

I had the good fortune of dealing with Bose service center here in Bangalore. Prompt and good service. I asked the guys what product they sell most in Bangalore. Its their budget home theater system, the 3-2-1. Oh no. I made the mistake of buying their 3-2-1 HT system a few years ago, only to realize later I could have bought similar audio quality elsewhere for 30% less.

Buy their other overpriced yet quality stuff, noise canceling headphone, wave radio, speakers. But avoid HT systems. Don’t be tempted by compact shapes, most are overpriced and not worth the money you will spend.

The Other Side of Outsourcing

If you have not, do have a look at this documentry I came to know of through this churumuri post. The documentry was made by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman of “The World is Flat” fame.

Talking about that book, I must say “The World is Flat” makes a good reading. More than those ten “flatteners” Friedman describes (in Chapter 2), the small details and interviews here and there throughout the book are what make it interesting. Talking of the ten flatteners, I think he mislabeled Flattener #2 (“When Netscape went public 8/9/95″) a bit. From the description, it sounds to me that the bandwidth overcapacity built during internet bubble was the real flattener. “Telecom bust” could have been a better label.

And in there, I find this logic a bit hard to digest. Why did American companies have to lay a lot of cables to a poor country like India? Laying cables to connect to Japan and Europe made business sense, unless the telecommunications companies were foreseeing a big future market here. Were they? The argument – that India got lucky to get so much bandwidth for cheap due to telecom companies investing themselves out of the market – may not be right. Demand for bandwidth might have come later, after the outsourcing industry got some roots here. Not the other way round as suggested.

ePaper – Times of India and Deccan Herald

If you travel a lot and want to stay in touch with developments in Bangalore, what do you do? You are an NRI, and want to stay abreast with all the developments in Bangalore, what do you try? News paper websites? There is a better way, “ePaper”.

Times of India

I have been hooked to Times of India ePaper since late last year. First time I tried it was purely out of curiosity. I was at Pune, and missed my daily dose of politicking around Bangalore infrastructure. So I signed up at TOI ePaper website. Once you log in, you have the option of reading electronic versions of TOI or even Economic Times. So, select TOI, pick your city – yes, they let you see electronic versions of a few cities, not just Bangalore – and you are led to a page that shows a scanned image of the first page! [If you run Firefox, you may see a page that says our browser may not be supported. Just ignore and continue, things works just fine inside firefix.]

TOI ePaper
You can zoom the scanned newspaper images to your liking. Unfortunately, pages can only be zoomed out that much, so I can’t make the best use of my UXGA resolution screen. But that’s okay. For navigation, you just go “next page” one at a time to go through the entire paper. You can directly jump to a page or a section if you like. There is a tool bar on top of the website that lets you pick older editions of the newspaper. You can also switch to reading editions printed in other cities. Nice. There is even an option to print the newspaper, but I couldn’t get that to work with Firefox.

You don’t have to strain your eyes to read things off the scanned images. Click on a story of interest and you get a popup with complete story in text. If you click on the advertisements, you get a popup of the complete ad image.

ll in all, Times of India ePaper is easy enough to read and navigate. And all this is free as of now. I will be willing to forego my print circulated version provided a few problems are addressed. If the images could be zoomed out a bit more, I may be able to read the stories directly off the scanned images. And there is no provision to bookmark or “clip and save” stories for reading at leisure.

Deccan Herald

If you are as hungry for local news as I am, chances are, you are not happy reading just one newspaper. No problem. The other Bangalore biggie, Deccan Herald, too offers an ePaper!

Go to DH epaper site and sign up. When you log in for the first time, you must set a bunch of options. You can opt for a text only version (kind of like TOI's dialup version). You can also decide if you like to view the ePaper in PDF or image form. I will tell you in a bit what difference this option makes.

DH ePaper website, after you are logged in and setup, looks a little different than TOI. The main difference is – you have personalization options. Notice the “My News”, “My Clips” like options on the top of the page. Also, there is no option to zoom the image in and out to fit your screen. To read a story, click on that article on the paper page. The story will come up as an image in a pop up window. In here, you can zoom on the clip image you are shown. If you opted for PDFs, stories will pop up as pdf files, and not images. The advantage with PDF option is that you can select and copy text content from stories.

DH ePaper
DH started out on ePaper a bit later than TOI did. So looks like they have tried some improvements. Its more pleasant to read clips as images or PDFs, better than reading TOI's boring text only popups. Next, Personalization features are prominent, even though a bit raw rightnow. I had 15 clips saved in “my clip” section, even though I had not saved any. Last but not the least, it is not an IE only website, so no warnings if you are on Firefox. But be warned that DH ePaper website shows visible signs of being under construction. Expect to see ugly error messages here and there that go “Notice: Undefined index: …”.

Regardless, DH ePaper is usable and very much readable. I love it, you will too. The best part is, it is free right now, just like TOI.

Owner’s review: 2005 Honda City CVT

After I wrote about automatic cars, there have been requests for a review on the New Honda City CVT. So I am trying one. See this as owner’s review, stuff that may help you make up your mind. If you are looking for engine and body statistics in millimeters and kilowatts, try the auto magazines.

Let me start with the dealership. Sales person was very friendly. And she has been that way since, before I bought the car, after the sale, and even today when I need help with services or insurance. The only negative thing about the dealer – Whitefield Honda – is that they aren’t actually located in Whitefield! K R Puram Honda is more like it, but I guess they like this western touch to their name. I drove all the way to Whitefield and then back to K R Puram to find them. Wish I had called them up for precise directions.

Since I was set on buying an automatic, I had only two realistic options. Santro AT, and City CVT. Santro being a bit too small, my job was easy. Essentially, if you want an automatic, and want a boot, but want to stay around 8 lakhs, City CVT has a monopoly. There is an automatic Lancer, and Corolla and an Optra as well, only a bit expensive. I just dont understand why the car companies don’t make and market automatics. Even the recently announced models – Aveo and Fiesta – don’t come with automatic option.

Even with City CVT being the only choice, I looked around for some social support. I couldn’t find any CVT specific review around. Nor did I come across any owners, not even on team-bhp. No problem though, because rest of the car is same as other variants. All the mags said the same things about City – Underpowered and fuel efficient. One said suspension was a bit stiff. And another mag said the ground clearance is a bit low.

The good: Automatic transmission, interiors and fuel economy.

It’s not just Bangalore. Every other city I have been to recently – Pune, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata – the traffic isn’t a lot better. Just that Bangalore folks crib more due to the pace of growth that caught everyone by surprise. Bumper to bumper traffic means neutral, then to first, second. And twenty meters later back to neutral again. Doing this again and again is a pain. Both your hands and both feet stay engaged all the time. The stress levels drop to a third when driving an automatic transmission. There is simply no comparison.

I have owned automatic cars when I was in US. The CVT – the transmission – is very contemporary, in the sense that I don’t feel any ‘jerks’ during the “supposedly hidden” gear changes that happen behind the scene. CVT doesn’t work that way I am told. I had driven an Esteem A/T once; there is just no comparison. I hear all the Maruti automatic transmissions are like that. That is the reason I didn’t even bother checking them (Esteem A/T, Zen A/T) out.

nhc

The car has an acceptably spacious cabin. Compared to other cars with similar dimensions (accent, Baleno, Aveo, Fiesta, Lancer, and even Corolla), City has good legroom both front and rear. I am 6’3″ and even with front seat set back all the way, I can fit myself in the rear seat. I can manage this only in a Corolla, and the new Lancer Cedia. Compared to other cars in same price range, the interiors feel better. Aveo is the only car that comes close with dual tone interiors.

I get about 11-12 kmpl (km per liter) in the city, and 14 on the highway, pretty good numbers for an automatic. I had expected the city figures to be 9-10, so this beat my expectations. Mind you though, I am not an aggressive driver at all. In fact, if I was the racing type, I would have considered another car.

Could be better: safety, suspension

I didn’t like the fact that car didn’t have two basic safety features – airbags and ABS. They don’t offer these even as options. Competition has ABS (Fiesta, Accent, Aveo), and you get airbags too for a lot less with Swift.

Compared to some other cars, the suspension seems a little stiff. Can’t do small humps or mid size potholes at speeds of 40 kmph or higher. I can do that with Baleno, or even the OHC.

So so: power, looks

Main complaint about NHC has been lack of power. 78 bhp plugged to automatic transmission would make it even worse. But so far, driving within the city, I haven’t felt any sluggishness. Only time you feel it is on the highway, at higher speeds, if you drive up a slope with A/c on and 3-4 people in the car. Conclusion on power: for the use typical city owner will put it to, its okay for the job 95% of the time. But, you cant race and overtake every other car on the road. Ikon 1.6, older model of City (OHC), Lancers – I have tried pulling ahead of them, and failed at times. But FYI, the only gas pedal worthy road in Bangalore is Outer ring road.

Arguably, the looks could be better. It does have a very odd shape that takes some getting used to. There are better looking cars around, even after the slight touch ups they have done with the 2006 model (ZX).

Rest is acceptable

Regular servicing hasn’t been any more expensive than my other car, which is a Maruti. Ground clearance is a bit low, but so far it has scraped a speed breaker only once. Have to be real slow when going over the big ones. Little annoying, but you can live with that. Air conditioning is good, not as good as Baleno, but does the job. CD/MP3 player isn’t standard, just a cassette with radio, but one can always upgrade.

So all in all, I have been one happy customer, with no major complaints.

So this is it! Took me over 5 days to finish this long review, my longest post, but I did it! Hope Honda India pays me some money for doing my bit for the CVT.

bye bye Blogger

Just moved from blogger. Blogger is good, but they dont support categories. WordPress does.

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