Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quality of our graduates

For the last couple of days Satya and I have been interviewing rookie programmers - people with less than one year experience for a certain activity we are going to get into. We are not particular that they should be Engineering graduates, or MCA etc. But you find them everywhere and we have received resumes of people with either an Engineering degree or an MCA. They have completed their last degree just an year back.

After talking to them on other things, we ask them to solve a few simple Math problems. This is really revealing. I give below the questions.

One candidate with a B.Sc (Comp) and MCA couldn't solve a single problem above. His answer to the first question was "1". In fact three candidates all gave "1" as the answer to the first question. Then on further prompting and helpful hints, one came up with 1.4, another 1.414. One person came up with an amazing method, which resulted in sqrt(35) reaching close to No one could touch the quadratic equation. One candidate solved all but the last problem.

The degree we are giving out is worth shit.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

iPad vs Nexus Android Tablet

I went from this article (Unapologetically cheap) to this article (What happens when it's all glass?) via Shankar Ganesh in Facebook.

Ignoring other OS or device manufacturers, my basic problem with Android earlier was this. It was simply no good compared to iOS. The gap was just too wide. The devices running Android were pathetic too. Even as the hardware started getting better, the Android OS simply did not keep up. That is until now.

Even now, a Nexus 7 (2012) 16 GB is no match for an iPad mini. However, as pointed out by Jason Fried, the gap is coming down and the common man on the road is not going to care much about the brand.

Google now seems to have gotten the right idea. Build a solid device - a good, cheap phone that is robust, fast and functional and a similar tablet. Hope it is also profitable for them. Such products can make a big difference to people in countries such as India.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Nexus 7 (2012 model)

I bought a Nexus 7, 16 GB Android Tablet by Google & ASUS last week. It cost only Rs 8,999/- on Flipkart and was quite enticing. It is not going to be my primary tablet. I have an iPad. The main reason I bought this one was to test and continuously give feedback on an Android app (NHM Reader) we are developing.

Over the last few of years I have bought many cheap Android tablets, mainly to test them. I was quite disillusioned with them all. It started with a cheap (then - Rs. 7,000) 7 inch unbranded Chinese tablet, resistive touch, Android 1.x which was soon cast away. Then I bought another resistive touch 10 inch, yet another cheap Chinese make (which cost Rs 10,000) from the US and had it delivered to India. It was some Android 2.x version. Again threw it away after a while. Then, again bought a capacitive touch 9 inch version from the US, which performed a little better, but had some fault and I couldn't fix it. [When I say I have thrown it away, I have them all lying in the house somewhere.] I then got a gift of Penta, a capacitive touch 7 inch tablet marketed by BSNL. I gave it to my daughter who quickly grew tired of it and instead kept taking my iPad away.

These were basically for experiments, trying to figure out whether a cheap Android tablet can be a good consumer device, for consuming music, video clips, reading books etc.

In the meantime, I also experimented with couple of cheap Android phones - a Micromax one and a Samsung one, both at the entry level. They also left a lot to be desired. The Samsung Galaxy Y is still in use at home. My daughter uses it, primarily as a web device to watch Youtube clips, check weather, chat with her friends and quickly check her emails.

I was looking for a very robust device at a good price point. Satya then pointed Nexus 7 tab to me an year back. He had procured one from the US. Then it went on sale in India on Flipkart and was costing around Rs. 10,000/- Then when they dropped the price further, I bought it.

There is apparently a new Nexus 7 tab coming up (or has already come up?) I believe. I am not a gadget freak. I don't much care about the latest version of anything. I have an iPhone 3GS and do not feel the need to change it at all. Nexus 7 has only one camera, a front facing, low pixel one. I am yet to take a photo with it. I probably may never use this camera. I do however use my iPad to take a lot of pictures and many video clips as well. So if that is what you want, Nexus 7 is not your device.

However, my experience with Nexus 7 so far is very good. It is nicely packed, compact and light enough. Its storage of 16 GB is more than enough for me. Screen response is really good. Just as good as my iPad. What I liked the most was the neat OS upgrade. The OS that came shipped with the system was 4.2. The same day as I started up the system, it downloaded 4.3 and upgraded itself (of course, with my permission). Then a day later, it prompted for upgrading to 4.4 which I did. (They could have upgraded from 4.2 to 4.4 in one jump, but probably this is easier for them.)

I couldn't get a good cover for it. Satya had procured one from the US. But here in India I have now bought two covers and both are bad. A cheap one from Ritchie Street (Rs 250) which looks good from outside but quite pathetic leather inside. I had to use my cutter to carve out portions to see the full screen. The second one, I bought from Flipkart for around Rs. 550 (marketed by Ambrane India), which contains a cover and a keyboard built in. The keyboard works very nicely. So it can be used with Quickoffice (a free App) and you can create documents and presentations really fast. But the device can slip out of this cover, so it is not very safe.

Kindle app works fine of course. Playing video and music are very competent. Browser (Chrome) experience is of the same standard as in an iPad.

Tamil fonts and complex Unicode rendering are built in and work well. Google doesn't provide a default Tamil input as of now, but Tamil typing can be done with Sellinam well. I am sure there are many other input apps as well.

I paired it with my iPhone through Bluetooth and got the Internet working on the road. At home or office, wi-fi works comfortably.

The battery life is really good. This I did not expect. Almost as good as (but a little lesser to) an iPad.


Why am I bothered about a cheap Android device?

Print books have reached a stage where they are not going to grow much. It is a tough business. Raw material (paper) cost is steadily increasing. Every time paper cost goes up, we are forced to increase the cost of the books considerably - because everything else works on a percentage basis. The author gets 10%, while the trade discount is around 35% for Tamil and can be as much as 50% for English. So if the cost of paper consumed by a copy of a book goes up by Rs 1, you have to increase the MRP by Rs 2, just to stay where you are. If you want cover the inflation elsewhere, you will have to up the MRP by Rs 3. There are plenty of other difficulties a book publishing business face, too numerous to mention here.

In this scenario, Book business can grow only with E-books. It is possible to create e-only books, and retail them for as low as Rs 10 and Rs 20. Most Tamil readers still expect books in this price range. They do not understand that paper price has grown three-fold in the last 10 years. When we started our publishing business roughly a decade back, one kg of paper was around Rs 23-24. Now it is almost Rs 70.

E-books can work only when enough people have a reading device in their hands. Dedicated Kindle Reader like devices with e-ink displays are not going to work in India and particularly in the regional language market. Even Amazon has sort of given up on them, I think. So it will have to be tabs. iOS devices will always be exclusive and expensive.

Given the price conscious Indian markets, it will have to be a cheap and yet robust Android tablet that will trigger in this revolution. Having played enough with resistive touch or unknown brand products, the hassle is so much, I don't think most common folks would even want to touch them. That is where Nexus 7 tab comes in. It is cheap enough at 9k, but in terms of performance it is good enough. In fact it is fantastic.

So go for it!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Campa Cola illegal constructions in Mumbai

Read an article on Campa Cola illegal constructions today [The Hindu]. Municipality had given permission for construction of only 5 floors but over time, 35 extra floors had been created! The residents had gone to court demanding water supply, but the municipality had protested this claiming the construction was illegal. Now, armed with a court order, the municipality wants to demolish the additional floors but the residents are blocking this move. The chief minister of Maharashtra has refused to issue an ordinance regularising the structure. Opposition MLAs have jumped in to support the residents.

I do not understand the housing problem in Mumbai much. There are too many high-rise buildings in Mumbai. You don't see that many in Chennai, though a few have emerged recently, in particular along the Old Mahabalipuram Road. Even then, they are probably around 10 floors. In the middle of the city, it is usually ground+3 or ground+4.

I have read a fair bit about construction in Chennai in violation of the permit given. Usually a shady builder will add a floor more (if four floors are granted, build a fifth one) and then hope that (a) nobody finds out and (b) if found out, pay some fine and regularise the same. But what is shocking to me is, how could someone build 35 extra floors when the original permission was for a mere 5 floors? This is some audacity.

A few famous shops in T.Nagar business district were penalised over the last few years for illegally adding 2-3 floors, or for not having enough parking space. Some demolition happened in case of Saravana Stores, but then the whole thing fizzled out.

The normal middle class response to this is that the officials and the politicians take bribe and let these shops run unchecked. But now, decent upper middle class folks of Campa Cola compound have willingly violated the law and are refusing to vacate their premises. Chances are that most residents of Mumbai will side with the law-breakers. If that is the case, how can we demand that the politicians and the government officials clean up their act? I can clearly see a whole bunch of politicians sympathising with poor Lalu Yadav spending time in prison for stealing a few paltry crores!


I can see a bunch of violations by decent middle class people in Chennai.
  1. Unauthorised floors above the permit.
  2. Not leaving enough space between the compound wall and the construction inside, thereby blocking air and sunlight to the neighbouring building.
  3. Encroaching on public space by extending their construction into the kerb.
  4. Letting out space including the footpath for shops. [My earlier apartment complex had a problem like this. The idiot who owned the commercial space in the ground floor had rented it out to a food joint. This was not to be done - it was meant only for stationery or mobile or such shops. Anyway, the food joint simply gobbled up the entire footpath in front. The food shop fellow asked us to talk to the owner. We fought with the owner, who simply dodged us. The problem continues. I have moved out.]
  5. Constructing ramps across the footpath for vehicles, which makes walking on the footpath difficult for older people or pushing a child-cart impossible.
  6. Not making provision for transformers inside the apartment complex but placing them in the common public space [which is then quickly converted into men's toilet.]
It maybe worthwhile to start a campaign to educate the people on these and many other violations committed by them (mostly because they do not know that they are doing this) and fix them within a specific time, before we start demanding our politicians to clean up their act.