Resolution Matters

Bill Hill, creator of Cleartype:

The 3rd Generation iPad has a display resolution of 264ppi. And still retains a ten-hour battery life (9 hours with wireless on). Make no mistake. That much resolution is stunning. To see it on a mainstream device like the iPad – rather than a $13,000 exotic monitor – is truly amazing, and something I’ve been waiting more than a decade to see. … It will set a bar for future resolution that every other manufacturer of devices and PCs will have to jump.

I remember thinking, when I was buying a laptop last year, that the most common laptop resolution of 1366×768 sucked. I’m glad the iPad 3’s display is likely to give laptop manufacturers something to look forward to.

(Via Coding Horror)

PC Crapware: Intel’s “Screen Rotation” feature

The software added by OEMs (promotional software, search toolbars, even drivers) tend to be some of the worst parts of the Windows PC experience, and it’s sad to see that even in 2011, the companies that produce PCs haven’t learnt their lesson. Here’s a data point.

Most new Windows PCs have Intel’s display drivers pre-installed, and this includes some “helpful” software to rotate your display. Now, rotating one’s display is very useful with multi-monitor setups — it allows one to set up a widescreen monitor in potrait mode to get a lovely “tall” display.

However once you set this up, it’s done. Not the sort of thing you’d mess around with on a regular basis. So why they decided to have keyboard shortcuts enabled by default for this feature escapes me.

Intel Graphics Control Panel applet - shortcut keys

This is just asking for trouble. One of the shortcuts is Control-Alt-cursor keys. If you ever play a game on your PC, boy, will you be in for a surprise as your screen goes haywire. Even word-processing power users (or Emacs users on Windows) will get bitten.

Granted, changing this setting is simple enough. (My experience of trying to change this setting when running as a non-admin user on Windows 7 was definitely not simple, mainly because the Control Panel applet that exposed the setting had issues running as non-admin.) However, even if it was simplicity itself, should one have to? Add this to a laundry-list of reasons why Apple is ripping the PC business a new one.

Attack of the Penny Dreadfuls

Indian writing in English was once dominated by the Salman Rushdies and Amitava Ghoshes, occasionally leavened by the simple pleasures of RK Narayan*. The writing was usually excellent (if sometimes pretentious) but definitely not mainstream.

Thankfully, enterprising authors are coming to the rescue. As far as I know, Chetan Bhagat set the ball rolling with his formulaic potboilers (“Combine subjects close to India’s youth — like cricket, romance, the ennui of unsatisfying jobs, IITs. Sprinkle a dash of sex — but don’t take it too far. Serve up the inevitable and utterly foreseeable conflict. Roll in the moolah.”) But now there’s a new author in town.

Amish Tripathi is an ex IIM-Calcutta banker (brand: check) who turned to writing. And he’s written book called the Immortals of Meluha (part one of a planned trilogy) about the god Shiva, set about two thousand years ago when he was still a man, leading his rather primitive tribe to the relative comfort and safety of Meluha, a city that appears to be part of the Indus Valley civilisation.

I believe this is a great idea — there’s lots of amazing stories in India’s mythology and legends, and the world would be a better place if these stories were told, or even retold with a modern spin.

So I eagerly googled the book and lo and behold: the first chapter is available to read on the web. So I dug in. And promptly winced. After reading this passage, I really didn’t feel like reading any more:

Nandi requested Shiva to wait outside as he went into the office. He soon returned, accompanied by a young official. The official gave a practised smile and folded his hands in a formal namaste. ‘Welcome to Meluha. I am Chitraangadh. I will be your Orientation Executive. Think of me as your single point of contact for all issues whilst you are here. I believe your leader’s name is Shiva. Will he step up please?’

Shiva took a step forward. ‘I am Shiva.’

‘Excellent,’ said Chitraangadh. ‘Would you be so kind as to follow me to the registration desk please? You will be registered as the caretaker of your tribe. Any communication that concerns them will go through you. Since you are the designated leader, the implementation of all directives within your tribe would be your responsibility.’

Yikes! If everyone here spoke like this, it’s clear Amish Tripathi has discovered what killed the Indus Valley civilisation: too much bureaucracy and a glut of corporatese. Don’t invent an “Orientation Executive” before you invent electricity, kids!

To be fair, I have only read one chapter. The rest of the book may be much better (although I have lost what little appetite I had to read it). But the point of this post is not to rag on Meluha’s pedestrian prose. The point is — people are reading this!

Yes, I hear you sneer, people read dreck of all sorts — to wit: James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer and half the books in the WH Smith chart. But I firmly believe that reading trash is better than reading nothing at all.

We’ve been here before. Some of the penny dreadfuls of the 1920s were truly dreadful, but they did pave the way for a lot of good genre fiction, including science-fiction. And, importantly, it made reading accessible to the masses.

I’m hoping books like Meluha can do the same in India. A vibrant publishing market can find space for all kinds of readers and all sorts of books, and it’s just not healthy for Indian writing in English to remain confined to the sorts who read Rushdie or Ghosh or Narayan. Which is why I will hold my nose at Meluha, but will wish it well.

* Yes, I realise I skipped over Shobha De’s kiss-and-tell tales and Khushwant Singh, who combines literature and bawdiness into something that’s unique to him. And for that matter, genuinely talented writers like Amit Varma who bring an authentic Indian voice into Indian English fiction. But this is a blog post, not a literature paper.

And Then There Were Three

November 2009: “Nurturing a platform is hard work.  Sure a Dell or an HP could go its own and create a platform. But it’d have to stand by and commit to its platform for the 5-7 years it takes for a platform to gain critical mass.”

Today: HP to discontinue its WebOS operations.

This leaves iOS, Android and Windows/Phone on the mobile devices battlefield. Given how much money Microsoft continues to lose on pour into search and online services, I’m not sure they’ll blink anytime soon in mobile. (Yes, QNX from RIM has a very strong core, but Blackberry’s traction with app developers is small. They really ought to license Android, but post-MotoGoogle they may just end up in the Windows Phone camp like Nokia.)

Apple’s App Store Subscription Plans

Apple’s rolled out a new subscriptions platform with their usual penchant for surprise, and apparently it caught a lot of people off-guard. Some are even, shall we say, riled.


  • Apple will provide a subscription and purchase infrastructure, for which it’ll charge 30% per transaction. (This is the least objectionable part of the new platform.)
  • You can’t offer a lower price anywhere else on the web (Alarm bells should be going off about now)
  • You can’t link outside the app (e.g. to your website) in your app to allow “off-app purchases” (Yow!)
  • And the kicker: you have to transition to the new payments process by Summer, or get booted off the App Store. (Apple’s way … or the highway)

The obvious answer to this bit of control-freakery is to create an iOS-specific subscription plan. This way publishers can keep their iOS user base while a) not raising costs for non-iOS users and b) making very clear to iOS users that their choice of gadgetry will cost them not just at purchase time, but almost every time they pay for almost anything. And the reason for that is, well, Apple’s greed1.

Let’s consider Spotify. Note that Spotify already offers a PC-only subscription for £5/month.

  • A Spotify Everywhere will cost £10/month and will not be sold on the iTunes App Store. You will be able to buy it on their website and on other proprietary platforms if allowed. You will not be able to listen to songs on iOS devices using this plan, but you will be able to listen on the PC, Mac, Android, Blackberry, WP7, etc. This is very similar to Spotify’s current £10/month plan, which of course includes iOS devices.
  • A hypothetical “Spotify Everywhere with Apple Devices” plan will cost £13/month (£10 + Apple’s 30% cut) and will be sold on the iTunes App Store and on the Web. With this you can listen to songs on PC, Mac, Android, Blackberry, WP7, etc and iOS devices.

I believe this neatly gets around the requirement that you cannot offer a lower price elsewhere on the web. The implicit assumption here is that the lower price cannot be for a “like” product. A subscription plan that excludes iOS devices is clearly not “like” one that includes iOS devices and therefore could be cheaper.

Of course, if an app developer believes there’s enough sales from the App Store channel to justify it, they can keep their iOS-only subscription plans at the same price level (or even cheaper) than the other plans. The important thing is that content providers will have some say in the matter. Whether they actually do so and increase the number of products they offer (potentially increasing user confusion) is another story.

I’d love to hear comments and reactions to this idea. I’m very aware that increasing the number of available subscription types is a suboptimal solution, and I’d love to find out what, if any, the alternatives are.

Footnote. 1 There is no technical or user-experience reason that a link (a link!) to the content provider’s website is now verboten. As for all the Apple fans blithely commenting that they’d rather trust Apple than content providers; well, that’s sweet of you but others might not agree. For myself, I’d trust the Economist, the Guardian, the Independent et al more than Apple any day of the week.

Smokey escaping from the island

Smokey Escaping the Island, er, Iceland

Er, Iceland. Click the image for a larger version. The original image is from this story in the Independent.

Here’s an original image from Lost to compare with. Can’t believe there hasn’t been more Eyjafjallajökull/Island/Smokey snark like this one from The Borowitz Report.

Here’s a couple of excellent before/after pictures of the volcano (via Wikipedia and orvaratli on Flickr):

Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano before the explosion

Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano in action

Tab Docking in Google Chrome

Almost everyone knows you can tear off and re-join tabs in Chrome, but it also supports powerful docking features that are quite useful, especially on Windows XP and Vista (which lacks the window manager refinements of Windows 7).

The most useful feature probably is the ability to drag a tab to the middle of the left or right edge of the browser window (as shown below) and have the windows arrange themselves into a vertically-split view that’s ideal for side-by-side comparisons.

Drag tab to the middle of the left or right edges of the browser window Vertically split Chrome windows side-by-side

There are more docking positions listed on Chrome’s help pages.


Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin. … She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that ‘We Shall Overcome.’

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.  And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

America, we have come so far.  We have seen so much.  But there is so much more to do.”