May 4, 2014

Chromebook - some complaints too!

It is not all praise and praise, I have a few rants about my new Chromebook too!

  1. How come when I sign out it still seems to remember my mail login etc. once I sign in again? After all we enable two step verification for a reason. So once I sign out of GMAIL it should ask for 2 step again and not remember the login which is based on one step verification.
  2. BTW it would be nice if the Chromebook login itself is controlled by the two step process.
  3. It doesn't seem to let us decide when to shut down and when to just go to sleep and appears to decide on its own. Even pressing the Shutdown button merely puts it to sleep, ready to wake up at moment's notice. But at times it does a proper shutdown and takes a while longer to wake up. I worry about the impact on battery life of this 'feature'
  4. Being a cheap device, the keyboard sucks big time, but I guess I have no reason to complain. 
  5. Where are the delete, PgUp and PgDn keys? Miss them a lot!

That's all for now folks!

May 3, 2014

First look - Chromebook Acer C720

I finally made the plunge! Got myself Acer C720 chrome book which is based on Intel Haswell CPU and 11.6" screen. It cost me little over S$200 BNIB since there are many sets that come bundled with broadband deals available for sale in the market.

Just who is it for? Well, it appears I am the kind of user it is really made for. Why?

Content consumer or generator?

This is the key question. If you are just a consumer, that is, browse web sites, watch movies and dabble with Twitter and Facebook, play games, perhaps any tablet would do. But if you type a lot of stuff - blogs, email messages, forum posts, documents and sheets in the cloud and so on, then a keyboard based system becomes practically necessary. A tablet would not do.

Of course, you can get yourself a tablet with one of those bluetooth keyboards, but then they cost a bomb. For instance, a mid range Samsung tablet with a keyboard would set you back about $600. That's three times the price I paid for this!

Ready to live in the cloud?

The point is, I have been doing precisely that for years now, long before Google even thought of Chromebooks, long before there was even Chrome.

All my mails, contacts and documents have been on the cloud with mails going back to year 2000! I switched to Yahoo from laptop based Outlook back in 05 and uploaded all my mails to the cloud. When GMAIL came along, I switched again, this time transferring my mails over.  Along with that calendar, contacts, documents etc. Recently I surprised my customer showing him the first mail he ever sent, over 10 years ago! Very few that used traditional mail on hard disks can do so, having lost a few along the way to disk crashes and other disasters.

So I can switch laptops in a few minutes, not leave anything behind in the old one and ready to do so with the new one anytime as well.

So when I switched to Chromebook, I practically lost nothing. I don't use Excel for anything other than customer work where it is compulsory because of certain add-ins that don't work with Google Docs. I stopped using Word except for very big user document prepared again, at customer request.

That only leaves a few programs that I do use on my regular laptop (which I have not thrown away yet) - Skype (again used only when overseas), IE (again used only for work), Remote Desktop and VPN stuff (I am told some work on Chromebooks, have not tried them out yet).

Microsoft is helping Chrome!

Since M$ makes a lot of money on Office and wants to keep doing that, it is forced to offer its solution on the web, hoping users would stay in Office and not switch to Google Docs. This means the Office suite is available on the web, and you can use it with Chromebook!

What now?

I think this is a revolution and is here to stay. A few developments can force the pace and make it even better.

  1. Corporate apps like the ones by Oracle, SAP etc., need to be Chrome and HTML 5 compatible, not require IE
  2. Simple spreadsheet add-ins that are increasingly used by practically every business software should support cloud based systems like Office, Google Docs
  3. Ability to integrate with Corporate in house cloud based storage, facilities for backup etc. to take care of security concerns

If these are taken care of you will find most companies can take away 99% of their staff's costly laptops and give them $300 chromebooks that will do a far better job, with lot more security


BTW this blog post was done on my Chromebook, would have been impossible to do on a tablet! Actually I have sold / given away my tablets and am not going to buy one again unless Google stops selling Chromebooks!

Death of smartphone super profits?

I recently purchased a Xiaomi (RedMi) smartphone. I had to get one in a hurry after losing a high end smart phone and this was on sale. The so called sale price in Singapore was actually much higher than regular price charged in other places, but this is usually the case with many tech products for inexplicable reasons. Despite this, I paid only $200 for the phone with a spare battery, without any contract.

The feature set of the phone manages to find the precise sweet spot between what's usually considered luxurious and bare necessity. The screen size, 4.7" dual sim facility, screen quality, replaceable battery, Micro SD slot, Gorilla glass, you name it  - all the features that a typical buyer would deem important are there. A few they would not dream to find in a phone at this price are also thrown in - a reasonably fast processor, nice UI, responsive OS, decent build quality, clean design etc.

You can actually buy a decent point and shoot camera and a good MP3 player and perhaps even a Amazon Kindle along with a HongMi and still have money left for a few good dinners instead of splurging on a high end S5 or Z2.

That brings us to a question. Who in right mind would pay $900 for a Sony Z2 when such phones become more common? Obviously the comparison is unfair as Z2 is very high end. But then the price is almost 5 times! Same goes for Apple IPhone 5, Samsung S5 and LG's top end models - all of them seem to offer a bit more for a lot more $.

Is this the end of era of super profit in the smart phone business? Once carrier subsidies are withdrawn and phone companies forced to compete on price and features not obscured by such subsidies, I think the game will be over. In fact in such countries (India for example), it is very hard to sell a $1,000 phone except to very few. Even in countries with higher affordability like Singapore, without subsidies, very few will upgrade every year and go for the top end models. They may settle for much less frequent upgrade cycles and lower end phones.

Today we find many companies quitting the PC laptop business and increasingly, the LCD TV business too. Perhaps smartphone too would join the list soon.

Apr 19, 2014

Book review: Incurable Romantic (Lalgudi Jayaraman)

Came across this book while waiting for my flight at Chennai airport. Managed to finish it in a day or so, skipping only very few pages that were somewhat 'technical'. Biographer: Lakshmi Devnath Publisher: Harper Collins. Here is the link to the book.

Disclaimer: I have not read too many biographies and it is somewhat too early to write my own ;-) I am no expert in this art of book review. Nor am I well versed in technical aspects of Carnatic (or for that matter any other) music. I do listen to and enjoy music of various genres.

Salient features

The book makes very interesting reading, almost like a novel. The author manages to combine the right mix of personal anecdotes and musical aspects of this great musician's career. Given the intense personality clashes and ego that always go with creative talent, there is enough of gossip and interesting stories too.

Nothing is 'overdone' - the artists' lineage, details of his training, personal life, career progress, contributions as a composer, senior artist and 'guru', musicologist are all covered in just the right amount of details.

The language is easy to read, despite liberal use of many Tamil language words and phrases. There is a glossary but I did not need one, so if you don't know the language your view may be different.

There is also a audio CD that accompanies the book with snippets of Lalgudi's violin wizardry.


The author has done a great job, but IMHO there is always scope for improvement.

The family tree could have shown names of a few women members of the family (spouses) who have clearly played important roles in the musical journey of the Lalgudi clan.

Few more anecdotes, opinions and snippets from musicians that have known him personally and are fortunately with us still would have also helped.

Mar 22, 2014

Gastronomical meanderings - March 2014

Singapore has always been a great place for foodies and if there is one thing that has gotten better over the last few years, it is the food scene. Lots of new bars and restaurants are opening up at every corner even in the so-called HDB heartlands and remote suburbs. Many are 'authentic' these days i.e., run by native chefs from country of cuisine and many even have waiters from Europe to add that authentic touch. Reason - the average meal tickets are a lot higher making it meaningful to employ them. People - locals, tourists or expats are more willing to spend on a good lunch or dinner. I remember the early 90s when a 10 cent increase in coffee shop prices for Kopi sparked big discussions and a fifty cent price increase in hawker food was resented heavily. Today many don't seem to care as they plonk down a 50 dollar bill for a normal meal in a not so fancy restaurant. Even in a distant mall like Star Vista, you can see students happily enjoying meals that easily cost two weeks of a typical working office lady's lunch barely a couple of decades ago.

Let me quickly share my comments and thoughts on a few restaurants I have visited this month FWIW.

Serendipity is defined as 'pleasant surprise' - something you run into or find when you are looking for something else. Taking a wrong bus led me to Portsdown road and when the bus did a loop and started turning back I got off and walked into Pietrasanta - Italian. It was lunch so I had a quick Pecorino salad and Ravioli (spinach). Salad was good, and pasta was excellent - recipe used butter which gave it an interesting aroma of ghee which is often used in Indian cooking. The mini pizza served free as starters were also quite tasty, encouraging you to order one for the next meal.

It was a return trip to Pietrasanta, this time for dinner, that led me to Chuckswagon as Pietrasanata was closed for renovation! So serendipity visits again. It was really a pity that in a restaurant with a very interesting menu, a great location away from the maddening crowd, good ambience and one of the friendliest bunch of young staff I have seen in Singapore, I could not enjoy a main course. I had ordered Bruschetta to go with my beer and a Salmon steak for the main. But the friendly waiter told me I am ordering too much and helped me cancel the main since the bread was too late to cancel. The portion sizes are huge! The bruschetta was four large slices of bread generously topped with chopped tomatoes and olive oil. It was a meal by itself, as I was alone. I ended up breaking a bottle of sauce as I was leaving. I have to make it up for all this by spending a lot more next time around!

As I mentioned earlier, now many Singapore restaurants make enough to afford European chefs and even waiters. One such place was in Cross St - China Square Central. I will not name this place as the food was not great. It goes to show every Italian cannot make great Italian food just as every Indian cannot spin a good Prata. Authenticity can draw initial patronage but repeat customers requires great food. Tried some Chianti, my usual Bruschetta for starters and grilled Cod for the main, but it was so-so and too salty. I generally also don't like restaurants that dump the main course on your table literally seconds after you order for it, even as you are enjoying your drink or starter. I have to learn to hold off on the order perhaps.

Holland Village as you all know, has lots of interesting food choices and my usual haunt is the Al-Hamra Lebanese joint. It was vegetarian this time around, with Hummus / Pita combo plus a salad Tabbouleh which uses cracked wheat (Bulghur?). The bread as well as hummus was quite tasty and decent portion size.

I also had dinner at the HOUSE in Dempsey Hill with a friend. They have an interesting diverse menu and a great location nestled among the wooded and green Dempsey area that makes you feel you are in Bali or someplace like that. A pork dish called Asian Sliders, presented with white bun that tastes like the 'pau' sold with red bean and other fillers in Singapore, plus carrot fries was more than enough that night thanks to calories provided by the beer - again a rarely seen Aussie one whose name I forget. The main course was quite nice.

Looking forward to sharing more in future! Thanks for viewing.