The new iPad

Yesterday, on the way to visit family out in Essex, Reva and I stopped by the Apple store at the Westfield mall in Stratford. But I think a more accurate description of events would be that I dragged Reva to the Apple store at the Westfield mall in Stratford. It was the day after the release of the new iPad aka the third generation iPad and I wanted to get a glimpse of the screen that had been described as “resolutionary” by Apple’s marketing but had also been talked up greatly by all the blogs and podcasts I’m subscribed to.

Overall, yes the screen is a lot brighter and sharper, but to see the difference I really had to compare it to the iPad 2. I do see the difference between the iPhone 3G and iPhone 4S, but only on close inspection. I don’t know if the difference would be noticeable to me in daily use. In fact, I’d say it isn’t because I regularly use both an iPhone 4S and a Nexus One. And it’s not the screen on the Nexus One that annoys me (but that’s a story for another day).

The 3rd generation iPad is similar – only when compared to an iPad 2 up close can I really notice the difference, but ohh boy – what a difference it is. The size, shape and weight is almost identical to the iPad 2. The rear camera is apparently better, but personally that’s not a big selling point. Faster processor (quad core graphics?) and increased RAM are two big factors for me because original iPad I have is almost unusably slow with iOS 5 on it. LTE? Well, not until there’s some serious LTE push outside North America will I take notice of it.

Bottom line? If it’s the first tablet one is buying, then this is the best tablet on the market. If one already has an iPad 2, then don’t buy it unless one has $800 burning a hole in one’s pocket. What about me? I have an iPad 1. I’m sorely tempted, but I think I could last another year. Hopefully by then there’ll be a reason to get it for LTE in Europe.

Why I wish India hadn’t won the 2011 Cricket World Cup

Edit: This is a long post, it rambles, but eventually gets to my point. It started out as a post about why the World Cup victory is bitter-sweet to me, so it has a lot of my personal history with cricket. To get to my reasons, skip to the last 2 paragraphs.

In the 2 weeks since the madness of April 2nd there have been countless articles & blog posts written, thousands of tribute vides created, many gifts distributed and god-only-knows-how-many emails circulated about India winning the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Dhoni has been hailed a Midas, Yuvraj as the comeback-kid, and Sachin the saviour of a nation and the person who carried the burden of a billion people until the Cup could be won back after a 28 year gap. Journalists have used the opportunity to write about how the win, the first by a country hosting the World Cup, represents India breaking the shackles of foreign dominance. It is a symbol of the confidence of a country bursting through and taking the bull by the horns.

The night of the victory was special for me (as it was for every Indian). I hugged numerous strangers and a smile was plastered on my face. I’ve been a cricket fan (and sometime cricketer) since I was 10. A vague memory lingers in my head of watching the imposing Imran Khan lift the cup in 1992. 1996 is much clearer to me. My friends and I took to filling out the win/loss brackets in between classes playing hand cricket when teachers weren’t looking. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one embarrassed by Vinod Kambli’s tears after the semi-final in Kolkata. Sri Lanka deserved to win, however. The 1999 edition was perfectly timed – during the summer vacation between my 10th and 11th grades. Sachin’s 140 against Zimbabwe after his father passing away, Rahul Dravid scoring the most runs despite India not reaching the semi-finals and Lance Klusner’s appetite for big sixes are the highs in a tournament that was otherwise largely forgettable for Indian. 2003 was exciting though; I was away from home for the first time and watching and playing cricket with new friends. Trudging through over a foot of snowdrift at 2 am to get to where I’d paid $100, along with 6 others to install a dish so we could receive the broadcast marks the pinnacle in my desperation to see India win. And they almost went all the way. The thrashing they gave England in the group stages, having Zimbabwe and Kenya qualify through to the Super Sixes and finally having to beat Kenya in the semi-final, made me feel like this could be the year. But then Ricky Ponting happened. I wont even go into the 2007 edition, it was that miserable.

In the 19 years since I’ve been watching cricket, I’ve also been one of very few people I know that truly enjoy Test cricket. I watch any game India plays in, all 5 days if possible. And if England, Australia, or South Africa are involved against anyone else I’ll usually watch that game too. I also fancy myself a cricketer of sorts. My first coach believed I’d be a decent seam bowler given my lanky build (at the age of 13). But I quickly found myself more interested in the art of wicket keeping. But given the opportunity I loved having a bat up the order as well. Yes, for a bits and pieces player I didn’t do too badly. I ended the president of the Drexel Cricket Club and even captained the University club team to a memorable tournament victory when the regular captain was unavailable. Tennis ball cricket was a frequent pastime in the American summer as well.

So what is this story about? Yes, I’ve waited a long time for India to win the 50-over Cricket World Cup. Yes, Yuvraj Singh has proved he’s capable of a renaissance, MS Dhoni has appeared out of nowhere to first, be the #1 batsman in ODI cricket, then lead the Indian team to the #1 test rank in the world, and then win both the 20-20 and ODI cricket world cup. But for a fan like me, is it really what should’ve happened for the good of cricket?

I’ve been vocal (when asked, of course) that ODI cricket needs to be put to rest. Despite all its quirks as a sport, I don’t believe that cricket can sustain 3 formats at the international level, especially with only 7 or 8 teams capable of competing at the highest caliber. T20 cricket has been great for the sport. It has lead to innovative stroke play, attacking bowling and cunning captaincy. It has enabled the discovery of players who may never have been given opportunities otherwise (courtesy the IPL). And finally, it has elevated cricket to a truly professional sport. Players who would only ever have played domestic cricket and not earned a sustainable income, now have the opportunity to make a true living just off the T20 format.

Many believe that the success of the 50-over World Cup in India shows that the format is healthy and can survive many more years. The ICC has, in fact, already begun preparations for the 2015 and 2019 editions (to be held in Australia and England, respectively). Sachin will certainly no longer be playing. MS Dhoni & Yuvraj Singh, both 29 years of age, may no longer be playing. That’s not my concern though. My concern is for the longest format of the sport. Will Test cricket still be a viable option in 2019? With our short attention spans, will anyone really care of a game that lasts 5 days? And if fans don’t demand it, broadcasters will now show it. And without broadcasters, there will be no advertisers. And there will be no Test cricket. (When was the last time you saw Table Tennis on TV outside of the Olympics?)

Yes, as much as I enjoyed the 2011 victory (strangers in Trafalgar Square will testify to that), and enjoyed watching every other edition of the cup despite India’s (often lackluster) performances, I believe that it doesn’t bode well for the future of Test cricket. Outside of India, England, Australia and maybe South Africa the sport has become vulnerable. Even in India it is impossible to fill a stadium for a 5 day game unless it is a weekend and there is the possibility of seeing Sachin score a century. And unless Test cricket survives, we will begin to lose what made cricket special in the first place. Maybe the future greats will emerge in the T20 format, but count me amongst the skeptical. The best ODI players have also been the best players in the longer version of the game. No one really remembers Michael Bevan or Ajay Jadeja. They remember Gary Sobers, Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, and Inzamam-ul-Haq. Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath, Muralitharan, and Anil Kumble are the names that come to mind when one thinks of modern bowling legends. Images of Yusuf Pathan, Mike Hussey, or Paul Valathy will never adorn the dressing room at Lords.

Yes, at the risk of angering 1.2 billion Indians, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it may have been better for the future of cricket as a sport if India has crashed out of the 2011 World Cup early on. We may now never see the next Sachin Tendulkar take guard against the next Shane Warne and that is a loss of immeasurable proportions.

False Advertising in the UK Mobile & Broadband Market

It has always irked me that the carriers in UK Mobile market claimed “unlimited” data when their products are far from unlimited (usually a 500 Mb monthly cap). Something ought to be done about the unfair advertising, or more and more people are going to be facing slowed data throughputs at the end of their 30 day cycle. Now that I’ve been shopping around for broadband, I’ve noticed this false advertising also affects broadband in the UK. While it is true that the increased competition offers lower prices and more features in terms of broadband availability, they all tend to generally advertise “unlimited” plans, while the small print talks about a data cap (generally 5 – 10 GB), after which the provider can slow your available bandwidth.

Lately though, I’ve noticed that some carriers are trying to move away from this (O2 doesn’t seem to have the word “unlimited data” on their home page and it took me a while to find the words “unlimited data an downloads on the Orange website, but find it I did). I attribute this to Three UK promoting it’s One plan, which apparently has “true” all-you-can-eat data. T-Mobile, however takes a different approach on their iPhone page. The wording on this page, under the title “No scary data charges” says, “But we won’t charge you any extra if you go over your limit. And, we’ll always let you browse and email, even if you’ve reached your data limit for streaming videos and downloading files”. Vodafone’s advertising on their website is perhaps the clearest of all – they offer different “web packs” that subscribers can buy, but even the best of those has a paltry 500 MB limit.

Also, why do these companies complicate things with Boosters (T-Mobile), Bolt-Ons (O2), Animal Plans (Orange) and Freebees (Vodafone)? And while I loved the Orange Wednesdays when I used them (2-for-1 cinema tickets), isn’t it just an extra cost that they can pass on to the consumer in terms of lower prices? I wouldn’t stick with Orange for these deals, I moved my number the moment I realised their 3G service was awful.

What prompted this rant? My search for a good broadband provider, now that we’re moving flat’s and need to get our own service. We’ve been using our landlord’s Sky broadband service so far, and while it’s been decent, there are definitely times when I know they’re throttling me down.  And what does Sky’s broadband page say? There are 2 plans, the first with a ridiculously low 2GB monthly data allowance. The second one, while claiming to be “unlimited” has a soft cap of 40GB and is subject to network management policies. And oh, I need to sign a 12 month contract. BT is even worse, with an 18 month contract required and the “unlimited” broadband that is capped, but their T&C don’t mention what the cap is. Forum poster seem to claim it is 100 GB, which is decent, I suppose. I can’t seem to find any information on whether BT Vision usage (IPTV) contributes towards this cap, but it shouldn’t.

Anyway, rant time over and some good news: I was very pleasantly surprised at the very decent BT customer service when I ordered a new phone line at the flat we’re moving to. It was set up fairly quick and when I had to make a change to the activation date, it was done without any fuss at all. I was quite impressed. And with regards to the broadband I finally ended up singing with? BE Broadband – apparently the only UK ISP with no caps or any traffic shaping policy.

Note: Tesco mobile (I’m currently employed by Tesco) adverstises “unlimited” web and data on their pay monthly sim only plans, while the paragraph below that says “fair use policy applies” and states the montly data allowance is 500 Mb (yes, with a lower case “b”, meaning megabits.) *sigh*

Is any mother really superior?

In the last week or so, the tech blogs have been filled with responses to Amy Chua’s article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”.  Strange place to find this article and responses to it, no? I thought so. Maybe techies have a special affinity for their moms :).  Anyway, I found the whole argument and counter argument quite interesting.  I’ve collected all the articles I’ve read on the topic so far and I’m posting links to them here. be warned though, the WSJ links will probably expire soon.

http://is.gd/NVkRCS – The original WSJ article
http://is.gd/M1e75O – A rebuttal on TechCrunch
http://is.gd/GTuvLk – Vivek Wadhwa in BusinessWeek (not a direct rebuttal, but along the lines..)
http://is.gd/EBHtEi – A defence of Western moms in the WSJ
http://is.gd/EDeHCP – Probably my favourite riposte

My own thoughts on the topic? Every mother does her honest best for her children. What the child achieves at end of the day is a combination of luck and hard work (or nature and nurture). If a combination of the right incentives are present, it doesn’t really matter if the mother of a child is Chinese, American, Indian, or British. The child will be successful, regardless.

Pub #8: The Gun, Canary Wharf, 10 Jan, 2011

The Gun in Canary Wharf is hard to find.  A 15 minute walk from the tube station, this gastropub can easily be mistaken for a low-key local.  But when you step in, you’re greeted by a very nicely decorated, restored interior and a dining room with white linen tablecloths that adds the “gastro” to the pub.

There wasn’t much in the way of a selection of ales – London Pride and Adnams Bitter.  A range of imported lagers and expensive looking wines complemented the selection.

The lunch menu is extensive, but as usual there was only 1 vegetarian option for starters and the main course.  The starter, a goat cheese, potato, olive and pine nut bake, was excellent.  It matched the Adnams Bitter (£3.30) very nicely.  The hand cut fries were also excellent, but the main dish, a mushroom and chestnut wellington, was good but not £12.75 good.

According to the interwebs, The Gun has some interesting history to it:  It was originally a favourite of Lord Horatio Nelson who would meet his lover in an upstairs room and popular with smugglers who would distribute illegal imports via a hidden tunnel.  As a tribute (I suppose) the door to the men’s room has the word “Horatio” painted on it.

Overall, a very interesting experience for a first visit to a gastropub, but not a place I want to revisit.

 

Pub #7: The Island Queen, Islington, 5 Jan, 2011

So after a 3 weeks break over Christmas, my first 100-pub visit in 2011 was the Island Queen is Islington.  That is not to say I didn’t consumerany adult-beverages or visit any boozer establishments over the holidays.  But The Island Queen was the first blog-worthy pub.

I wasn’t intending it to be a pub visit night, or a pub visit week for that matter.  But when Prem called and said we should grab a beer, and said he knew a place I would love, I couldn’t say no.

Like many of the best historic pubs in London, The Island Queen seems to be recently restored and it has a certain period boozer charm.  A few chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows up front, and plenty of dark wood gives this place plenty of personality.

I had two pints, the first a decent dark porter called Black Horse Porter from the White Horse brewery.  The taste of this porter is superb, rich roasted malts give real depth and body to the beer whilst there is a nice hint of dark fruits which add a little tartness without making the beer in anyway fruity or overly sweet. There is a long dry finish and a really surprising kick of hops which really makes this porter sin.  The other was Czech beer called Kozel, a fine lager that will go well with masala peanuts (now only if I can find a place that server both).  The two pints ran me about £6, and the walk to The Island Queen was a little wet.  A perfect way to begin the new year for a beer drinker in London!

Pub #6: Princess Louise, Holborn, Dec 17, 2010

Princess Louise on High Holborn has to be the most unique pub I’ve ever come across.  The layout has to be seen to be fully comprehended.  The front of the pub has 4 doors that lead to 6 or 7 different bar areas, which are actually “booths” surrounded by intricate etched glass and painted tiles.  In the middle is a long, island bar that is surrounded by another bar that separates customers from bar-tenders.  I’m guessing the separation probably has something to do with social barriers in Victorian London.

The only beer available here is Sam Smith, which many reviews on the web call mediocre, but I call it snooty reviewers dissing inexpensive beer.  The £1.99 Old Brewery Bitter is decent, and the £2.41 Sam Smith Stout is fantastic.  A light aroma of roasted malts and just a hint of chocolate blended in makes this a supremely drinkable beer.

I got here around 5pm on a Friday evening, perhaps the worst time to visit this pub, since it’s located on the busy High Holborn.  The pub was pretty full when I got there and only got fuller by 6:30.  If I revisit this pub, it will have to be on an slow afternoon where I can enjoy a few quiet hours tasting beers and enjoying conversations.