Choosing a new phone

I had been having a little trouble with my iPhone 3GS.  The software was fine, it was running iOS4.0 (jailbroken and unlocked). It used to be an AT&T locked iPhone, so to use it in the UK, I had to keep it unlocked.  The hardware was fine too, save the headphone minijack.  If I was walking and listening to something (which I’ve been doing a lot, lately) one channel would often cut out.  It was bothersome, but nothing I couldn’t live with for a bit.  Then on a telephone interview or two (with me using the included iPhone earphones/mic), interviewers mentioned they couldn’t hear me very well.  I didn’t quite put two-and-two together until I spent the entire day repeating everything I said on the phone one Friday two weeks ago, when I was working with a consultant to rewrite my CV.

That did it for me.  Realising that possible work opportunities depended on recruiters and employers being able to hear and understand me on the phone, I started looking for a new phone.  With the release on Windows Phone 7 around the corner, I stopped in at an O2 store to check out the phone in action.  They had the HTC HD7 on display which I could play with.

The hardware:  The phone looks and feels really nice.  It has a solidity to it that I’ve come to expect for HTC devices.  The 4.3 inch screen is a beauty, but just a little to large for me.

The software:  This was my first time playing with Windows Phone 7, and I must say, I’m impressed.  The UI has a fluidity to it that trumps anything else I’ve used.  One of the key things I look for in the UI/OS is how long a first time user takes to figure things out.  And as a first time user, I was very comfortable navigating in and out of the various apps in under 5 minutes.   I was pleasantly impressed by Internet Explorer on the phone (I was really dreading it, after being used to Safari on the iPhone).   Cricinfo.com loaded flawlessly.

The things holding me back from getting a WP7 device is that I couldn’t get one unlocked or “sim-free” yet.  Also if I purchased the devices contract-free in the UK, they are still locked to the career.  Other things holding me back are the lack of copy & paste, a native Mac client for syncing, and the relative lack of multi-tasking for third party apps.  Some of this has been fixed already and others I’m certain will be fixed very soon.  Also I don’t yet own an XBOX 360, so I’m not tied to the Microsoft platform in anyway.

 

I also looked at several Android phones (unlocked of course).  The phones that I was considering were the HTC Desire, Desire Z, Desire HD (all £400 and above) or the Wildfire (around £200).  My rationale here was that I would probably want the iPhone 5 when it arrived in the middle of 2011, so a temporary Android device would let me get a taste of the platform.

But given my lack of a job, I wasn’t about to plonk down some serious cash on a phone yet.  So I listed my iPhone on London Craigslist, which isn’t very popular here, one morning for £250.  And lo, I got a serious offer that evening.  I wasn’t quite ready to sell, since I had listed it just to see if any fish took the bair.  But as Reva said, if I’m being offered £250, from a serious buyer, I should take it.  It would only be harder to sell later on.  I sold it that night, and reverted to using my ageing Sony Ericsson w880i while I scoured the Internet and high-street stores for an Android device I wanted.

What complicated matters even more was rumours of a “Nexus Two” to be released shortly.  I figured if I was getting a phone to experience the platform, it should be able to update to the latest OS as soon as possible, à la Nexus One.  I waited a few days and the tech blogs didn’t really heat up with the possibility of the Nexus Two with Gingerbread anytime soon.  If I could buy a Nexus One for around £300, that would be perfect, I thought to myself.  Randomly one morning, I looked on Gumtree (UK’s Criagslist) for a Nexus One in decent shape.  I found a very friendly lady selling a brand new, still in the box, Nexus one and she was willing to part with it for £300.

So for only £50 pounds more than I sold the iPhone for, I’m currently rocking a Nexus One running Froyo.  Not bad, eh?  Yes, the model itself is more than a year old, but it is likely to be one of the first phones to get new upgrades of the OS.  This was my top criteria for any Android model I got, anyway.  Given that the Galaxy S devices are still running 2.1 (Eclair) when 2.3 (Gingerbread) is around the corner, is pathetic.

So I’ve been enjoying this phone for about a week now, and it certainly fails the earlier test I mentioned (a novice to the platform being able to use it in under 5 minutes).  But I love the configurability.  I’ve not rooted it, and I don’t plan to at the moment.  I’ve got most of the apps I normally use for free from the Android Market, including a few games to keep me occupied.  I like that I don’t need a computer to get it up and running, or really to do anything on it, including downloading podcasts and music.  The phone came with Android 2.1 installed, and I spent a day or two pinging the servers to get the OTA update without luck.  Finally, I manually updated it to 2.2  I hope 2.3 isn’t such an issue, but I’m not sure if this has to do with the fact that the Froyo rollout for Nexus One is over or that I’m running it on Orange.  Additionally, I had to manually set the Orange APN for the UK to get 3G service (something I didn’t have to do with the unlocked iPhone).  The screen is not great, but the camera is better than the 3GS.  The keyboard is definitely a downer, but I like the audio input, which actually works very well in a quiet environment.  And I still can’t figure out how to get Swype on it.  Battery life seems decent, but I’ve not put it through any heavy usage yet.  I’ve also been killing of background tasks fairly often.  And the real bummer? The native GMail client doesn’t support copy/paste from a non-editable text field.

Overall, one week into using the device I’m happy.  I plan to keep using this till next Summer at which time I may upgrade to the new iPhone if it is compelling enough.

Update: And here we go, the Nexus S has been spotted.  No release date tho.  It does look like a front facing camera in that picture. http://www.engadget.com/2010/11/11/this-is-the-nexus-s/

Pub #1: The Castle, Islington (Angel), Nov 1, 2010

The first stop on my legen — wait for it…dary (!) pub crawl mission was The Castle.  I picked a place I could walk to from home, but not close enough to make it seem like I was being lazy.  The Castle is on Pentonville road, a few minutes walk from the Angel Tube station.  I had walked past it the previous week and it had a certain appeal from the outside.  It was missing the polish of a chain pub (which often means they lack character) and also wasn’t as run down as some of the independents I’ve seen around Highbury & Islington.

I got there mid-afternoon on Monday, Nov 1 and paused outside making sure this was where I wanted to start my project.  It seemed light and airy inside, with only a handful of people so I popped my head in.

I walked to the bar and was immediately greeted with a smile (which rarely happens in London).  One of the beers on tap caught my attention, mainly because of the name.   It was called TEA, but I soon realised this stood for Traditional English Ale.  I inquired about it and was offered a taste.  I always accept a taste.  I liked it and ordered a pint.

Being a Monday afternoon, the pub was mostly empty and I had my choice of tables.  I usually prefer to sit at the bar, but British pubs generally don’t have too many stools. This allows people easier access to the bar, which I like.

The beer was a lovely honey/amber coloured best bitter.  Funnily, I found out later that TEA was voted “best bitter” in 2000.  Not a very hoppy ale, I found the beer very drinkable but somewhat characterless.  A fruity finish capped a very enjoyable £3.25 beer.

The staff at The Castle were very friendly, and as one Yelper puts it, the pub has an ambiance of being cool without knowing it.  The atmosphere is very laid back, and the few tables up front are complemented by some cushioned couches in the rear.  The lunch menu seemed very interesting, if a little pricey.  There are stairs at the rear leading to a roof deck but since it was a little nippy, I didn’t check it out.  I imagine the place is quite bustling on a balmy summer evening.

The Castle is definitely a place I’ll want to check out again when I have a little more time and money, and I’m eager to try one of the delicious looking items on the menu.

Starting my own 100 pubs mission

Inspired by @abandonedlondon‘s 100 Pubs Project, I decided to start a similar mission of my own.  What better way to get to know London than through its pubs? It also helps that I love beer.  I would walk a 100 miles to to try a new beer, and walk a 100 more to drink a pint with a friend.   Hyperbole aside, my fondness for beer goes back to the first drink I had after turning 21 (yes, I was 21!) during my Ann Arbor summer.  Living in Philadelphia for so many years was a treat for a beer-aficionado with plenty of specialist brew pubs and micro-breweries in the area.  I once brewed my own beer, that I like to say looked like a nicely poured Guinness but tasted like a Bud Light.

I like to experiment with beers and will go out of a my way to try a new one, so now living in Europe (and specifically London) is a dream come true for a beer lover.  I’ve already been to several pubs and tried many ales, but only now decided that documenting my visits on my blog will be a worthwhile exercise and experience. Plus it gives me something to look forward to during my unemployment.

For the purposes of this “mission” (I will be calling it a mission so as to not directly copy Doreen’s title) I will attempt to visit 100 pubs over the next few months and drink at least a pint of beer/ale/bitter/brew.  If I’m feeling spendy, I might get some food too (altho British food…not so much).  I will also write about my visit and hopefully have a picture or three to remember the visit by.  So without further ado, up next is a post about pub # 1.

The iPad as a gaming platform

I’m not a heavy gamer on iOS devices.  I will admit to having downloaded several free games, and even a few paid ones for my iPhone/iPad, I don’t spend any extended time gaming on them.  Despite reports of the iPod Touch being a serious, competitive threat to other portable gaming consoles, the platform never held much draw for me.  Actually, portable gaming itself doesn’t interest me all that much.  Chalk it down to having been spoiled by playing Call of Duty on a 100″ screen in 1080p.

There are, however, a few games I think the iPad does well with bringing into the 21st century.  The first is Scrabble.  It works best if played in “Party Mode” with iPhones or iPod Touches as companion devices. These act as your tile-rack, while the iPad is the Scrabble board.  The “board” auto-rotates to face the player whose turn it is.  The tile-racks have an integrated dictionary so it’s easy to check words before playing them.  And of course, score is kept automatically.  The game does need all devices to be connected to the same WiFi network, and does suffer from frequent dropped connections if the device screens are allowed to shut off. But these minor gripes aside, playing Scrabble on such a platform is incredibly entertaining and fun for a group of players. The iPad portion of the app costs $10 and the tile-rack app for the iPhone/iPod touch is free.

The other game where the iPad works well as a platform is Pictionary. Reva & I had a few friends over for dinner last night and the conversation soon turned to the iPad, when then turned to Scrabble.  But since we didn’t have enough iDevices to go around, we thought we’d try and play Pictionary on it.  I have a sketching app on it, but it is not optimised for the game. A quick search of the  App Store showed no results for an official Pictionary app, but a substitute with pretty decent reviews (and a light version) is Sketch n’ Guess. The full version is only $1.99, so after a quick go at the light version, I purchased it. We had a great time drawing on it and guessing the words. Some drawings (and guesses) were definitely better than others 🙂  I think Hasbro/Mattel is missing a trick here by not developing an official Pictionary app for the iPad.  If it is as  good as their Scrabble app, I’m sure people would pay at least $5 for it.

**Note: the Scrabble app for the iPad is officially made and distributed by Electronic Arts

My first stuttering memory

While it is not really the first time I recall myself stuttering (or stammering, as I used to call it back then), it is my first major memory of realizing I have a speech impediment that will cause me problems.  The reason this memory popped back in my mind is because I was wondering about stuttering in other languages.  I do stutter in all languages I speak.  But I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of people only stuttering in certain languages, or not stuttering when they put on an obvious accent.

Anyway, back to my memory.  I must’ve been 12 or 13, I was probably in the 6th or 7th grade.  I was chosen (for what I can’t recall) to participate in a school debate.  In my second language. Hindi.  My history with Hindi is not a fun one.  I disliked the subject so much in school, that I even now have nightmares about my 10 grade final exam which involved memorizing literature from 3 text books.  I always went to “tuition” classes for Hindi, not that it helped much.  Anyway, now that I agreed to participate in this debate, I started preparing for it.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what the subject was, but I remember preparing for it with my Hindi tuition teacher, a kindly old woman who taught my friend and I for a few hours after school, when we’d rather be outside playing Tennis or Cricket.  I had my essay written out, she marked it up, I wrote it out again.  I practiced it, she praised my performance.  I practiced it again the night before the debate, and I was good to go. Or I thought I was.

I got up on stage the next day in school, in front of a crowd of about 150 kids (or maybe it just seems like 150 now and it was actually more like 35). I started to deliver my memorized speech-debate.  But my stomach knotted up, my throat went dry and my brain stopped working.  I was panting for breath.  I was stammering worse than I ever had.  It seemed like every word began with a vowel that caused me to struggle and repeat it, excruciatingly.   With things going so badly, my eyes glazed over.  I stopped paying attention to the audience or the delivery stance and poise one had to have while debating.  Instead all my attention was focussed on my own stress.  All I could think of was finishing this ordeal as fast as I could so my heart would stop pounding in my chest.  But the faster I tried to speak, the more I stuttered, the more I stuttered, the longer it took.

In hindsight, I don’t think I was ever nervous going up there to give my speech.  I don’t think it occurred to me that my stuttering would be a problem. And when I got up there and it became a problem, it took over me.  I can’t remember much after I was done.  I can’t remember what I did, where I went or how I felt.  Knowing me, I likely took my seat in the audience, listened to the next guy speak and when my heart and stopped beating, I probably forgot all about it.

The Haircut

This past weekend, luck put me on my way to Philadelphia on a Saturday.  As soon as I realized that Max’s would still be open I called for an appointment and he had an opening at 5:00 PM.  Maxamillion’s Gentlemen’s Quarters is a barber shop in the Rittenhouse area of Philadelphia.  I stumbled upon his shop a little over a year ago, while walking around the area.  I have been to several men’s saloons, unisex saloons and hair “chop-shops” but nothing like Max’s.  A large window overlooking Chestnut street, mahogany and oak mirrors and chairs, jazz & blues music playing in the background, the lingering smell of aftershave, a shoe-shine boy, and photographs on the wall of the famous people’s hair that have been cut at this establishment.

Max is a imposing, black man in what seems like his early 50’s.  Always a smile and a wave for everyone that walks by the window, he’s always dressed impeccably, be it his white barber coat or a denim jacket from the 80s.  His shoes are polished so that the gleaming light reflects of them.  His hair and beard are always perfectly trimmed.

Is it any wonder that the best haircut’s I’ve ever received have been from Max? He pays attention to every line with the shaver, every trim with the scissors and every draw of the comb.  When I leave Max’s 30 minutes after I sit in the barber’s chair, I look better and feel better.  It’s a true men’s salon, not like the namby-pamby establishments that surround it.  A man should only get his hair cut by another man, and preferably by a black man.  They know style.  Now I just hope that I’ll have a head of hair long enough to keep enjoying these fantastic haircuts.

Bing.com censoring searches in India

Microsoft’s new search engine Bing.com is censoring searches in India (and apparently several other countries). Setting one’s country option to India and searching for the term sex, porn or even Kama Sutra is censored with a cryptic “THE SEARCH MAY RETURN SEXUALLY EXPLICIT CONTENT. To get results, change your search terms.”  No option for a “safe search” or a grown-up uncensored option like Google has for its image search.  This censoring has been pointed out on a few other blogs and news sites, but no word if this is Microsoft’s doing or a government mandate.

bing

My guess is that some Microsoft head-honcho in India took it upon themselves to be the moral police for these countries based on some poorly conceived laws in these countries.  India, by the way, makes it illegal to transmit sexual content of any kind. I can’t find the actual law that states this, but I will update when I can.

Religulous – a little disappointing

I finally watched Religulous tonight and I’m glad I didn’t go to watch it in the theatres.  As much as I like Bill Maher and his show on HBO, I found this movie lacking any kind of depth.  I’ve watched him do stand-up in Philadelphia and this movie reminded me a little too much of his comedy routine.  Maybe that was his reason for making this documentary but I was a little disappointed with the outcome.  The movie consisted primarily of two types of scenes: Maher interviewing people and Maher talking into a camera while being driven in a car.

When he interviewed people, he would often try really hard to make fun of them and their beliefs instead of trying to understand and seriously critique their points of view.  Often, he interviewed Middle-Easterners and Europeans and they didn’t quite get his American brand of humor and tended to give him blank stares.  When he was talking into a camera while being driven, there was this weird voice in the background either asking him questions or agreeing with him.  It annoyed me trying to keep up with what this voice was saying.  Again, this is strange because his show on HBO is very polished.

Bill Maher had the opportunity to truly represent the 16 million people he says are non-religious.  A better job at making this an informative, critical, and thought-provoking documentary would’ve gone a long way in making non-religious people feel safe(r) in a country that has, for as long as I’ve known it, been considered a Christian nation by its leaders.

Flower (PS3)

I managed to finish level 1 of Flower, and like the reviews said, it is phenomenal. It takes a little getting used to, and I got help from a YouTube video. It is the first game I’ve played that made me laugh happily after completion.