Friday, July 28, 2006

All-in-one Alamelu - My dream device

This post is partly inspired by Chennai Living and his rant about different devices having their own proprietary charges and connectors, eventually leading to a tangle of mile-long cable that cannot be reasonably handled by any grown man (as women everywhere can attest!).

I've given a lot of thought to this as well. But I've always wanted to go one step ahead and eliminate the need for multiple palmtop devices, and integrate all their functionality into one manageable device. These days, when I go to a party or an outing, I prefer wearing cargo pants. Not because it provides more breathing space for my boys than a pair of jeans, but because it has more number of pockets. So apart from my wallet, keys and ever-present cell phone, I can also comfortably carry my video iPod, digital camera, and if necessary, the connector for the former and the charger for the latter. On long drives, I also walk out with my FM transmitter which enables me to play my iPod through my car radio system. Obviously, once I get down to my garage, I inevitably realize that I've forgotten some gadget. And it usually takes a couple of trips up and down the flight of stairs, before I am all packed for my evening and good to go. Ofcourse, I do need to wear a strong belt to keep my cargo pants in place, what with the half ton of silicon jingling in various pockets.

So let me describe here my dream gadget and what all it needs to integrate. For want of a better name, let me call it all-in-one Alamelu, or simply Alamelu for short:

#1 Alamelu will predominantly be a cell phone, with excellent voice clarity and small and easy to handle.

#2 Alamelu should also work as an organizer, preferably something like a Palm without all of its hardware problems. Needless to say it will need to have a slide-in qwerty keyboard. (For palm lovers who snicker at me, you just need to try calling my room-mate. The background noise is like a rock concert, if he happens to be standing in the vicinity of a computer or other source of EM or radio waves. Its pathetic!)

#3 Alamelu should have an integrated digi cam. Not the useless 1 mepapix cams that come with cell phones, but I need one with all the features and look and feel of my Canon SD400 (Digital Elph).

#4 Alamelu should have a built-in mp3 player. Ideally, I would like to have my video iPod integrated, with a high clarity screen to watch videos, easy to navigate menus and a 30 GB hard disk that can also be used like a flash drive.

Okay, now that we have a basic Alamelu that takes care of most problems, let's see how we could make our lives even more comfortable.

#5 I don't want to carry my wallet with all the credit cards, ATM cards, drivers' license and miscellaneous forms of ID, auto insurance, health insurance, preferred customer cards for various grocery stores and zero cash. I want alamelu to handle all this for me. Ideally, when someone wants to issue a card or some form of Id for me, they'll just give me a code that I program onto alamelu. So if I want to pay for something, they just scan Alamelu after I click on the button that let's me decide which card I would like to use. At grocery stores, I would just scan alamelu to put in my preferred customer card number and they'll stop torturing me to sign up for replcement cards. At my doctors' office or when I get pulled over by a cop (both of which seem to happen with an alarming frequency, more than I wish to care for!), I could simply flash out Alamelu, click on the button and the appropriate ID gets displayed on the screen. I should also be able to scan various coupons and use them when appropriate (they get applied automatically). If you are the sentimental type and like to carry pictures of various family members (Arumugam uncle, Ambika aunty etc.), you can scan these pictures into Alamelu as well. As you can see, I'll have no more use for my wallet anymore.

Ahh... now things are getting very very cosy. Let me see if I can make this even better.

#6 Next step would be to integrate all my keys and key cards into Alamelu. Ofcourse, this would require a change of locks in my house, car etc. But this would be a small price to pay for the convenience, for the confidence that goes with knowing that you'll never forget any key ever again. All you need to do is program Alamelu with the appropriate key code, and voila, you have a master key that opens everything. To make this secure, we can borrow the RSA Secure ID scheme that has a constantly changing code, which you combine with a 4-digit pin code that you remember. This way, you can protect yourself if you lose Alamelu. At the very least, it will atleast buy you some time while the thief tries various pin codes from 0-9999.

Excellent. Now I have my dream device. There's only one last thing left.

#7 The connector should be USB based, so I don't have to carry a cable around. It also goes without saying that Alamelu will require only one charger.

Following are some optional features that would make Alamelu even more beautiful!

#8 The scanner should have an integrated optical reader that I can use to scan books/papers and store them as text that I can read it at my leisure.

#9 A dictaphone with a great software that converts my speech to text accurately (an example), which I can later download onto Word on my laptop.

#10 Some great video games ofcourse. Would be nice if it would connect to your TV and replace all those xboxes and playstations.

Alright. Party! party! I have everything I need in the device. The high-level requirements are complete. Now, if only some genius comes with a design to actually implement the damned thing, the world would be abetter place to live in, without all the devices, connectors/cables, chargers, associated warranties etc. Any takers?

Needless to say, such a device has probably been already envisioned, a market survey done, and then the idea thrown aside as being financially unsound, since this will rob the electronic giants from making money off of their various products (in adiditon to running lock makers out of business). But it still feels good to dream about this. Of a day when I can wear any pair of jeans I want without worrying about the room and pockets to store all my gadgets, never having to worry about forgetting/misplacing my keys, having the world at my finger tips... You can already smell the flowers and feel the warm sunshine on your skin, can't you?

PS: I know some of you smart-asses are going to say "Hey, what of I lose Alamelu? I'll lose everything, and it'll be a long hard road to replacing everything!". To all you people, my reply is "harrummpppphhhh". If you cannot take care of one device, you don't deserve my Alamelu!

PPS: If any of you can think of adding more functionality to Alamelu, leave a comment. It will be added after appropriate scrutiny from ADAB (Alamelu Design and Acceptance Board).

(Updated with comments from readers about what features they would like to see in Alamelu)

#1 Remote car un/lock. (Funkaboy)
#2 Electric razor - Not anything fancy. Should be suited for quick trims of 5'o clock shadows (Funkaboy)
#3 A built-in projector - Since the screen is too small to support all the functionality we are integrating into Alamelu, we should have the option of projecting the contents on a bigger screen (Funkaboy)
#4 Since we have so much riding on all the data we pile on alamelu, this data should be automatically and wirelessly backed up regularly on remote servers. These back ups themselves should be backed up periodically ofcourse. (Dinesh)
#5 A built-in GPRS locator (can be tracked through a web-site maybe?), add a garage door opener capability (or any other remote openers for that matter) as well as instant data deactivation through a web-site (if it gets lost) (Anonymous)
#6 iPhisher feature (Hit the club, see a chick, scared to ask her #? Fear no more. Flash alamelu at her fone and get the vital stats via iPhisher :)) (~ET~)
#7 Masalaboard integrated ;)))) Must auto download new videos everyday, sort them based on size and store them on ur digi iPod! (~ET~)
#8 Lie detector :)) Think a girl's playin games wit u? Slap that alamelu shit on her wrist and get your game back on :P (~ET~)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Some advice for my brother!

My dear kid brother is leaving home this week for the first time in his 24 years on Earth. Yeah okay, he's no kid! More like a 'full-grown buffalo' as we lovingly refer to such types in Tamil. And I didn't mean like 'leaving home to shop' or something like that. Ofcourse, he's been away from home on vacations and such. What I meant was that he's going to be leaving home for an extended period of time - 2 years to be exact. He's going to be in Bangalore persuing his MTech. And I for one, cannot be any happier for him. Despite the home-cooking, free laundry and zero-rent policy at home, it does pay to leave home and see the world for yourself.

And who would be better qualified than me to comment on the topic? I haven't been home for the last 11 Diwalis, or the last 11 birthdays or the last 11 New Years. After my high school, I packed my bags and left home for good. Though I had a few regrets, I was really looking forward to the freedom and fun that a college/hostel combo promises. Ofcourse, I hadn't accounted for the prolonged periods of loneliness, bouts of regret and extensive self-analysis. In the end, I believe it makes you a better person. But ofcourse, I didn't know it at the time. And though I hated it at first, the tiny little village of Pilani ended up being my home away from home, and one of my most favorite places on earth.

So this would be the right time to share my wisdom with my bro and anyone else there looking for unsolicited, utterly redundant, self-conflicting and eventually destructive advice. Since everyone believes in making lists with rounded numbers (top 10, top 25 etc.), I'm going to make this a top 11 just so I can prove I can be different and daring! So without further ado, here goes in no particular order:

#1 Make a monthly budget, and try to stick to it. I mean 'try' because its almost always impossible to stick to a budget. My take is 'budgets are meant to be broken', particularly if you have your parents to take care of your deficits. But the effort still has to be made, or atleast the associated image has to be projected.

#2 Keep a sense of personal hygiene. Shower regularly (I mean everyday) and keep your socks and innerwear clean and smell-free. You might think of this as trivial, but I can assure you its not. I can't begin to describe how many good kids got left out of groups and looked down upon because their entry into a room was preceded by the stench of their footwear.

#3 Even though you will live only a bus-ride or train-ride away from home, avoid the temptation to visit home every weekend. Weekends are when you enjoy the true bliss of a bachelor/single life. You get to mingle, make new friends and to indulge in new activities (mind what you smoke though!). But once you start going home every weekend, you'll start living your hostel life from one home visit to another, and your colleagues will always be strangers to you.

#4 Never hesitate to spend money on books and food. When you have a new book, it gives you extra motivation to actually use it just so you get some value for the money. Its called the theory of 'sunk cost'. And though its a fallacy, its still a strong psychological motivator. And about the food part, you'll be in Bangalore dammit! Its the food haven of South India. Indulge yourself!

#5 Attend class regularly. Even if your school might not have a compulsory attendance policy. Remember you're paying good money to get these professors and facilities, and make sure you use them. One thing I repent about my BITS Pilani stint is the number of classes I missed sleeping or hanging out with friends, just because the college did not have an attendance requirement.

#6 Noone can teach you if you don't want to learn. Remember that old adage "You can take a pony to the pond, but you cannot make it drink"? Its very true. You should want to learn, if your brain needs to have any chance of absorbing all the stuff that gets dished out in a regular school day.

#7 Stay fit. Take time out to work out, run, play a few sports. In the land of pubs and fast food, this is extremely important. Ofcourse, poker or carrom at home over a few beers do not exactly qualify as an active sport. Neither do wine-tasting, girl-chasing or pub-hopping.

#8 Some essential stuff you should always have in your room - A good working alarm clock that will refuse to snooze and infact increase in volume everytime you try. Emergency money that should never be used except for, well, emergency. An audio system, mp3 player, or at the very least, a walkman (there will be times when you just gotta have some music!). And ofcourse, don't forget a picture of your elder brother ;-)

#9 Have fun. This is mandatory, but most people grossly underestimate the importance of this. However hard you need to work, you still have to take time out to have fun. Indulge in your passion, get a hobby, sit around with friends and chat about random topics, go watch a movie. Whatever tickles you. But make sure you allocate some time for fun each week.

#10 Don't be scared to self-introspect. Its amazing how much you can learn about yourself when you are alone for an extended period of time. You can actually hear yourself think without your mom yelling from the kitchen that your coffee is ready or your dad calling out for help with this car or the steady stream of Sun TV soap operas your grand parents watch.

#11 And finally - Be yourself. You are a good person. I like you this way. Don't change.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sathanur Days - Part 6: Women and special days

For an introduction to this series, please start here

When I was a kid visiting my native village 'Sathanur' every summer, the house was also filled with women of all sorts - mom, aunts and family friends. The house echoed with their voices, laughters and gossips. But every so often, I used to find one of the women suddenly separate from the pack and sit by herself in a separate room. She was not allowed to cook or pray, steaming hot food would be served to her on a tray, and she could sleep all she wanted. In short, it appeared to be a dream vacation for most of them. This trend usually lasted for 3-4 days after which they would join the regular household and resume their normal lifestyle as if nothing had happened. Only to be replaced by someone else soon after.

After watching this event unfold time and again for several years, I couldn't stand the suspense any longer. So I went over to my best friend Sai's (who was also my neighbor) house and posed the question to his mom. As she tried to light up and flame her primitive stove with a a flute and let out a few coughs, she came up with an explanation. The conversation went something like this:

She: Every so often, God appears in our dreams and asks us to undertake this 3-day separation as a sort of prayer.

Me: But why doesn't God come in my dream, or for that matter, any of the men in my household.

She (with a smile): No, women are special and God appears only in womens' dreams.

Me: But Sugan (my inseparable cousin) has never mentioned anything like that. Doesn't God appear in her dream?

She: You have to be a little grown up before God starts appearing...

By now, I'm kind of satisfied with this explanation and turned my attention to the fresh coconut and jaggary combo that Sai was getting ready for me. When I went back home, I told my grandmom with a smirk that I knew her secret. When I explained to her what I had just learnt, she just smiled, patted me on my back and went on her way. For the next few days, I couldn't help thinking that God was being inherently unfair to us men. After all, wouldn't I like to have such a carefree (pardon the pun!) mini-vacation in the middle of my summer vacation? But soon after, I realized that I wouldn't be able to spend 3 days in the same spot in any case, and so pushed the thought out of my head.

Its amazing how impressionable we are as kids. That conversation with my neighbor, and the resulting image in my head of God appearing and talking to women in their dreams, stayed with me for a long long time. It was only years later that I realized what the 3-day thing was all about. My mind went back to the conversation I had had with my neighbor and realized how ingenious she had been in tackling such a sensitive issue with a hyper-curious kid. No doubt she and my grandmom would have had a good laugh over a glass of sweet lassi that evening...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Zidane Zidane everywhere!

Random conversations overheard the day after the Football World Cup:

Couple of 2-year olds at a playhouse: Give me my pencil back, or else I'll headbutt you!
One motorist to another at a traffic intersection: Get out of my way. You want me to headbutt my car into yours?
Girlfriend to Boyfriend: Don't bother staying over. You're going to get neither 'head' nor 'butt' today!

Okay, maybe not all this is first-hand information. But come one, Zidane's now infamous headbutt is all anyone can talk about after the finals. Agreed, Italy did not deserve to win the finals after the way they played, just relying on their solid defence, and hardly having possession of the ball throughout. But that still does not take away from the fact that they out-slugged France fo the title. But does anybody want to talk about them? No. All we hear is how Zidane went out in disgrace and why would such a great player stoop so low and what a shame this is. And all the while, we're all smacking our lips in glee because it gives us a chance to trash a modern day great.

But think about this. What would we commoners do if we get into a fight or want to hurt someone? Use our hands, nails, legs, teeth... But what does Zidane do? He goes and headbutts the person. Well, I saw the incident. And man, what a headbutt it was! Perfectly timed and placed. Poor Materazzi did not have a chance. Why can't people just stop to admire a perfectly well-executed move instead of defiling him for it.

The other source of complaint is that Zidane wasted an opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory. I don't think so. 20 years from now, no one's even going to remember who won this World Cup. But I'm sure everyone will remember the headbutt and the man behind it. Zidane's legacy will live on as the owner of a strong head and an unsound temperament. This was the perfect way to end his career - a good conversation (some say argument!), a solid well-executed headbutt when officials are not looking, a good amount of confusion, a well-deserved redcard and then you walk out to the sound of boos and trumpets. Can retirement get better than this?

Now speculation is rife about what could Materazzi have said to provoke Zidane to go to such extreme? Did he call him a monkey? A racist? A terrorist? Lean in and let me tell you a secret "IT DOES NOT MATTER?". Whatever Materazzi could have said could not be any worse than the abuse that is routinely shelled out in European leagues. And it does not matter once bit, and does not excuse Zidane for such foul behavior.

So let's just accept this for what it is - an unsporting behavior that got the red card it deserved. And let's talk about Italy and how their fairy tale win regalvanized a nation after the corruption scandal had pervaded everything back home and noone gave them a chance.