7 days with the Apple Watch

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I was recently gifted the Apple Watch by a dear friend and despite my initial apprehensions, I love having this device strapped to my wrist. I was test-driving the Pebble watch before this and I have an analog and a digital watch I alternated between before that. But the Apple Watch definitely has blown all of those out of the water.

As my brother Nipun once said –

But how was my first week with the Apple Watch? I tracked the experience with daily entries to the DayOne app, made not using the Apple Watch but my iPhone in the usual way. Here are the entries, with modifications and notes in brackets –

 

Apple Watch Day 1:
Got this watch as a gift. I have been apprehensive about this watch since it came out. But having it on my wrist felt amazing!

I couldn’t believe the amazing software that has gone into making the watch. To sync the watch with my phone, I held the watch in front of my phone and the phone’s camera read some kind of pairing animation from the watch screen. This synced the two devices. The initial setup was simple and somewhat boring. Since I had way too many apps that support the watch (I’m so late to this game), it took a while for all the apps to transfer over to the watch over Bluetooth.

But once it was done, boy the experience! I started off with the standard watchface and the standard apps and I haven’t had reason to stray beyond them since then!

iMessage has many cool features associated with the watch but, as expected, it still doesn’t do voice to text very well. The feature where it reads through a text and understands the question (and prompts me to pick one) is just mind-blowing!

Late into the evening, the watch reminded me to get up and walk around as I’d been stationary for too long.

Of course, Apple maps still sucks. But the interface for using maps on the watch is amazing!

I’ve also installed shazam on the watch and hope to use it soon!

This entry was started on the watch, since I checked in at some random location through the watch. But the writing was done solely on my phone.

Check-in @ 9198 NE 9th St, Bellevue, Washington, United States

 

Apple Watch Day 2:

Charged my watch last night and the magnetic charger, though a tad bit flimsy, works wonderfully well. It charged the watch rather quickly.
Wore it in the morning after getting dressed. I needed to take an uber to the office but realized that there’s no uber app on the watch (of course there is. I was wrong on this point), so took out my phone. Realized that before this point, the idea that to use some services, an app had to be installed on the phone was the biggest irk (as opposed to using the mobile web) but now it’ll be the watch which will face this fate.

It’s been working pretty well all day. I turned it to silent and toned down the haptic feedback. Both those things are rather loud, something I didn’t expect from a watch.

Rearranged some apps and some glances. Then, an update for DayOne came through and I installed it. It seemed to be taking too long and I realized this must be because the phone is updating the watch DayOne app too. Something happened and the watch app is stuck in updating mode right now. I guess I’ll restart the phone and the watch to see if the update goes through.

Canceling notifications is not easy on the watch. It’s a slow two-step process and the animations make it rather slow. But then I realized I shouldn’t be doing that at all. All notification cancellation should happen on my phone.

Still haven’t changed my watchface. Not sure I want to. But then I realized that the default watchface gives too much attention to calendar events and not enough space to the time. I don’t have a lot of calendar events in my work, so I guess I should change the watch face. Also, it’s painfully difficult to get to the watchface modification screen. I guess I don’t have the gesture down correctly. (turns out that I’d forgotten that I need to force touch the screen to get to the edit screen)

Also, whatsapp notifications are useless on the watch. Oh, and, I’ve moved the apple watch app from somewhere in the boonies to the second page of my phone. I guess I’ll be using it a lot more now.

I also noticed the Apple logo on powering up the watch. It. Is. Marvelous.

 

Apple Watch Day 3:

Lady in the elevator noticed my watch when I approached to pet her dog. She asked me how I’m liking it and I told her frankly that it was only my third day but I was already loving it.

Also, I didn’t charge my watch last night. But had to charge my phone. So as of right now, my watch has run longer than my phone. That’s good enough battery life in my opinion. I’m not using it any different from my Pebble watch and that was giving me dismal battery life according to expectations.

I’ve received about 300 whatsapp messages since I charged the watch last and I’ve installed apps, updated them and let most features run rampant. I’ve not used glances much, and I reckon that’s what sucks the battery dry. I glance at the time just as often as I do on a standard watch. Since I sit in a cubicle, I muted my watch both days, so maybe not having to inform me loudly about every single thing is helping the battery.

I’ve not bothered with the heartbeat monitor either, though I hope it’s been recording the data regularly, since I did some brisk walking earlier and I hope that got accounted for.

The watch screen has not yet been scratched like my phone, but it gets smudgy easily.

Also, is it me or does the Nest app not have an Apple watch app? #opportunitylost

My watch nudged me to get up since I’ve been sitting since some time. I had ignored its request last night, so I obliged this time. After I’d walked out to the lobby to get some water, my watch nudged me again, this time to congratulate me on ‘having done it!’ It seems that standing up and moving around is an achievement of some kind. That’s good to know! :)

 

Apple Watch Day 4:

So, it rained today when I was coming back from lunch. Not rain rain, Seattle rain. So I guess I could have just ignored it. But then I thought of this expensive piece of electronics on my wrist that I would like to keep dry. I just turned my wrist upside down and the few molecules of water that must have touched the watch (that’s how much it rains in Seattle nowadays) surely did not affect it.

Sitting in a Starbucks, I heard a song I wanted to identify. I’ve been streamlining my shazam process (moved the shazam glance to a more appropriate spot) to make it ever more easier for me to get to it quickly. But then, when I needed it, two things happened –

  1. I realized that glances are really not that good at shifting from one screen to the next. Most of the time when I’m moving from one glance to another, it skips a screen. This happened just then too.
  2. Shazam, in the eternal crappiness that will forever define song identification, cannot listen-in from a glance. Tapping the shazam icon took me to the shazam ‘app’ (this did not try to open the shazam app on the phone, thank god for that, because that in itself is a whole new level of disaster) but on the watch itself. That means shazam launched on the watch, contacted the phone over Bluetooth and then got ready to listen to the music I needed. The song had finished by then.

Good thing the next song which played was also something I wanted to identify (no I did not. I knew the song. It’s the powerpuff girls theme song which was inexplicably playing on Starbucks radio. But once shazam has been beckoned, it’s a shame to not use it, much like a sword that once unsheathed must draw blood.)

As I walked home, the watch nudged me to tell me that I had completed the day’s calorie goal. That’s awesome! I want to screenshot that! Wait, can I even screenshot on the watch? Intuitively I pressed the dial button and friends button together and voila, screenshot automatically saved to the phone’s library! Thank you Apple for consistent user experiences.

 

Apple Watch Day 5:

As I drowse off, I realize that my watch is at 30% and I’ve not set it to ‘watch-only’ mode. Let’s see what happens to it tomorrow.

 

Apple Watch Day 6:
So yeah, woke up and the watch was dead. Wore it anyway and kept the charger with me to charge in the office.

It rained today, the heavy kind and I specifically took a sheltered path to go for lunch instead of running across the yard as I would have done had I been wearing a normal watch.

I’ve noticed that I’m not really doing a lot with the watch any more. I turned off whatsapp notifications, so at least now my wrist isn’t constantly buzzing. The only main notifications I get are Gmail and iMessage. There are a few others but I mostly ignore them.

While walking briskly, I tried lifting my wrist to see the time but the watch just wouldn’t come on. I tried it a few times and it didn’t respond the way it does when at rest. So I guess walking at a specific pace negates the motion the watch needs to activate the screen. Interesting problem to have.

I also feel that the basic watchfaces are really not that useful to me. I seriously have maybe 2 calendar events a week, so the default watchface just doesn’t make sense. I like to have my time at the center of the watch, with all other complications to the side. And I prefer digital time over analog. So I’m not sure any of the watchfaces fulfill my needs. I hope Apple lets third parties make watchfaces (or comes up with better watchfaces). Some serious innovation needed in this sphere. It’s quite apparent that for all the innovation they’ve put in the Motion watchface, among others, it’s just too personal a thing that Apple shouldn’t be controlling so much.

 

Apple Watch Day 7:

So, I took my watch for a hike today. It was an interesting experience. First of all, it’s fun to track your physical activity and heart rate with friends. I was constantly updating them about how much I was going above and beyond my daily activity. My watch was telling me at frequent intervals that I had completed 200, 300 and 400% of my day’s exercise goal (a fact I more than compensated for my doing absolutely no exercise over the next week). I also showed them how the heart rate monitor works and it led to some good discussion about the merits of the watch, which soon devolved into Apple vs Android, so there’s that.

The watch performed exceptionally well throughout the journey. I was using the Walkmeter app on my phone and using my watch to monitor the progress. Both devices worked wonderfully in conjunction, specially since I saw rather happily that the watch was not being used by the Walkmeter app to do any tracking, only reporting (because smartwatches are notoriously bad at tracking steps). As soon as I went to the app on my watch, it contacted its master on my phone to get the latest stats.

Sadly enough, my phone was not at full charge at the beginning of the hike and so, at somewhere just after the 5th mile, my phone died and my watch became orphaned for the time. It could not report the weather on the basic watchface and I think that had I turned on one of the apps, it would have turned me away, reminding me that the phone is not available. I did not try because I was dead tired from that long hike and least bothered with such issues as what the watch would say if I tried to make it do something it could not.

When I finished the trek and got back home and finally put everything to charge, my phone came back and one of the first notifications I got was from the Jawbone UP app, congratulating me on the awesome 18 mile hike I went for today. Clearly, the app was very confused and probably using multiple sources and depending on faulty GPS data. Turns out, the faulty data was coming from my watch, which it seems, got confused from all the movement I was doing. It reported that I took 30,377 steps and that equated to 18.48 miles somehow. The Walkmeter app, on the other hand, was able to get a pretty good estimate of 5.76 miles before my phone died. I’m sure I covered at least 2 miles after that. Lesson from that is that a professional app like Walkmeter using the phone as its primary source will definitely do better than the watch for movement tracking and so, unless Apple can solve that problem, they should allow for Watch tracking to defer to third-party app tracking based on my approval, so I can get more accurate readings for my activities.

Later, sitting with friends, I was tinkering with my watch and I realized that I had turned on the passcode when I had first setup the watch. I tried turning it off but it turns out the option is disabled on my watch (and the watch management app). This seems to be in deference to my phone. Since my phone has company email and I can’t turn off the passcode there, my watch is forced to keep the passcode on as well. This is only because of mail, which sends notifications to the watch.

 

Final verdict:

I have always enjoyed owning a watch. I see a lot of Apple watch reviews from people who had abandoned watches completely and so, for them, it is more a tech gadget than a watch. Not so for me. A watch occupies an important space on my wrist and in my consciousness and so it must do important things. I love how I don’t have to flick my wrist to see the time (as I had to in the Pebble). I can simply turn it around to face me and all the information I could ask for is right there.

I’m not completely happy with it. I would love it if there was a watchface that put digital time in the center, with all complications on the side, including the calendar, instead of relegating time to the side the way the watch does in all digital watchfaces. I have played with other watchfaces but Utility and Modular remain my go-to, with Utility and it’s beautiful analog dial playing my current favorite. I have never really been a fan of the sweeping seconds hand, primary because when silence falls, I enjoy listening to the seconds tick away on my wrist, but with the silence of the modern mobile era, I’ve gotten used to my devices not making any sounds and thus Utility fits in perfectly.

One of the things I do with my non-IOT time pieces is that I push them a few minutes ahead from the actual time. This gives me the small advantage of being a little ahead of my appointments and deadlines. It’s just my simple way of getting some discipline in my life. When my dependence on my phone grew, the importance of automatically syncing timezone and daylight savings caused me to really think about what to do here. I decided that I would let my phone tell me the absolute right time while my wristwatch would lie to me as I needed it to.

With the Pebble, again, the importance of synced time took over and when I got the Apple Watch, I had this dread that I would not be able to maintain that habit I so enjoy. Imagine my surprise, then, when I noticed a small feature in the watch settings. I have the option of moving the time on the watch by a few minutes in either direction. Now, the same feature technically exists in my phone and Pebble watch, but in what form? If I set the time manually in those devices, it becomes static, ignoring time zones and DST. It would also affect alarms and thus be more pain than good.

But the Apple Watch promises that I will get notifications on the correct time and I suspect this means that any time the time changes, the watch will overlay my preferences on top of that. I cannot stress how much I am blown away from this feature. I love it. This alone makes this watch worth it, simply because you know that the design team sitting in Apple’s offices is smart enough to study human behavior and inculcate it into this infinitely personal device. This respect that they have shown for the ways of the old is amazing and worthy of noticing.

So, is the Apple Watch worth it? I’m not sure I am fit to answer that question, since it was gifted to me. But is the Apple Watch good? Yes. There’s no other way of putting it. It manages to show me notifications in a predictable and comfortable fashion. It alerts me to phone calls when my phone is on the table or deep in my pockets and I’m busy with something. It shows me the time in a very elegant and very real manner, something I expected of Apple, but haven’t seen in a long time, since their time display on the iPhone is a static digital watch that I have no control over.

It even has some quirky and interesting features. My brother was pointing out to me the other day that the dial is on the right, which means it’s for people who wear the watch on their left hands. It didn’t strike me right then, but if I change the orientation, I can flip the watch around and wear it on my right wrist too. There’s a lot for me to still figure out about this device. There’s watchOS 2 coming out soon and I’m sure there are some rather interesting features for me to discover there too. But as a watch? As a watch, I’ve figured it out. It’s a great watch. That’s all you really need to know.

Apple needs to release a Mind-Body-Soul LifeKit

 
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How many miles did you walk today?
How long did you sleep?
What was your calorie intake and expenditure over the weekend?

These are questions that your iPhone can answer right now.

How many pages of a book have you read in the last week?
How much time have you spent meditating using one of the meditation apps on your iPad?
How much time have you spent on twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Reddit today?
Are your iMessages mostly positive or negative?

These are some of the questions that Apple’s iOS cannot answer right now.

As we spend more time than ever on our mobile devices and as we use them in new and innovative ways to do anything and everything, the need and benefits of being aware of every aspect of our association with them increases. Apple has done well by introducing HealthKit, a way to tie all fitness apps together in iOS 8, as a way for us to be more aware of what we’re doing throughout the day.

But HealthKit only addresses physical action (or inaction) and does not address very important components of our health – mental and spiritual growth. While it may seem more difficult to measure these, simple factors such as how much time we spend reading, playing games, chatting on social media or watching Netflix on our devices and how much time did we meditate, how our mood is (tracked using your heart beat or entered manually) and what kind of music we’ve been listening to, can point out some rather interesting facets of our personality and overall health. Also, games and services that allow us to improve our memory retention, mental acuity and ward off mental illness can add to the mix and allow users to truly track their mental health.

Quantified self encourages the need to answer some of these questions and reading has long been believed to have a bevy of mental and emotional health related benefits. These measurements should be included in the HealthKit that Apple releases next (perhaps iOS 10, when it comes out) so Apple can once again change the way we use their devices and how we can improve ourselves as human beings too.

Most companies out there love getting their hands on this information. Your Spotify listening habits, your online reading list and your mood swings are already quantified and collected by advertisers. At least if Apple does it, on our own devices, with your permission, you’ll be able to use that information for your own growth.

Apple’s current HealthKit focuses only on our bodies. Hopefully HealthKit 2.0 (or LifeKit as my brother Nipun called it) will help improve our minds and souls too.

8 years of blogging

 
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I missed a rather important anniversary over the weekend. I just noticed that WordPress wished me a few days ago for being with them since 8 years. Of course, I’ve been writing since long before that, but most of my writing was read only by my family and the greatest achievement of my writing then was when my parents published my writing in a small book which they presented to me on my birthday. With blogging, I was still being read mostly by my family, but online and I had a sense of achievement in that I was hitting publish every time I completed a blog post, thereby putting it out there for everyone to read, if they so chose to.

My earliest blog is on wordpress.com here. I have tried a variety of platforms over time but WordPress just seems to be the right one for me. Of course, I left that blog some years ago and came to nitinkhanna.com (by way of blog.nitinkhanna.com) and self-hosted WordPress. But all that matters is that on-and-off, here-and-there, I was writing and I was publishing. I seem to have been able to average a post per month or so, though please don’t hold me to that standard (my last post here was more than a month ago and I’ve not had much to write in that intermediate time). But I am proud that I have a cumulative 1,37,361 words published on my blog (with some 66 posts sitting in drafts)

My writing style is highly personal and discursive since I write for myself and I don’t have an editor. Sometimes, I feel like writing while addressing you, the reader and sometimes I write-through some random thought I’ve been cultivating (those being the posts that are barely read). Some of my most successful posts have been tech posts such as this one about consoling to a network device from the OS X Terminal app using an RS-232 to USB adapter. But there are others that I am more proud of, such as this one since it’s the longest fiction piece that I’ve published here (3,334 words) or this one since it was a prediction about Facebook that came true.

I’ve had exactly 1 guest author – my dear friend Anurag. He wrote a short piece here back in 2009 about India Gate and Indian bureaucracy, remnants of an age of oppression. Though he came back to my blog to help me out in other ways, I’ve dropped the idea of guest authors since no one in my friends circle seems particularly interested in blogging anyways. I’ve had a few guest editors here, including my dear brother Nipun, but I’m so lazy that I’ve managed not to tag those posts correctly and can’t reproduce those links for you here, oh reader. Perhaps one day I’ll go back and look for those posts.

A lot has happened since that hot August of 2007 when I started blogging, probably from my hostel in Engineering college. I’ve shifted countries, jobs, ideologies and friends but for all that is lost and all that is gained, I’m glad I’ve had this constant companion. I’m glad I have something to tinker with, to learn from, to lean on and grow with. A public journal if there ever was one, I’m glad I have this blog to keep me company whenever I have an idea that I want the world to see.

So today, a little late, but a lot grateful, I thank WordPress and I thank the Internet for being there, for caring, sometimes a lot and sometimes frustratingly not enough. For reading my silly stories, and serious articles. For treating my word as Like-worthy and Share-worthy and Ignore-worthy. I’ll keep writing and hopefully you’ll keep reading. Here’s to many more years of words showing up on these pages.

Cheers!

Nitin

Word of the Day: sabre-rattling

 
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Sabre-rattling, according to Wiktionary, is from the early 20th century when a military officer would threaten to draw his sabre as part of an argument. But the metaphorical meaning is an overt show of military strength to prove a point or to imply a threat. It was recently used by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, to accuse Russia of unwarranted “sabre rattling” when Russia declared that it would be adding forty Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to its nuclear arsenal this year. That, of course, in response to increased US activity in NATO allied eastern European countries, which of course, Putin sees as a threat.

“This nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia is unjustified. This is something we are addressing, and it’s also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces,” Stoltenberg said.

 

What’s interesting about this whole debacle is that despite sanctions, despite constant pressure from the world, Russia is just marching forward without any regard for International rights. Putin’s plans, whatever they may be, have not been shaken by any level of threats from the US or any other country and it seems they’ll keep escalating till either the world watches as Russia assimilates eastern Europe back into its territories or someone lights a match and the whole barn goes up in flames.

But, till that happens, we can sit on the sidelines and watch as Russia continues to be defiant, Europe continues to be eloquent (who else uses sabre-rattling in speech any more?) and the US continues to be equally dull –

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern over Putin‘s missile announcement and said no one wanted to see backsliding “to a kind of a Cold War status.”

 

Of course, this word is interesting to me not just because of its infrequent use but also its origins. There was a time when military officers used to carry sabres or other types of swords and the threat of a drawing of weapons used to be a very real one. This is one of those iconic things that make future generations scratch their heads, much like why the phone icon is this weird looking receiver thingy and why when we end a call, we say “hang up”.

While the nuclear threat (and the territorial threat) from Russia is very real, we must remember that there are countries that have been dealing with Russia’s ‘sabre-rattling’ since decades, if not centuries. So, if and when the threat becomes real, there’ll be a little less sabre-rattling and a lot more sabre-drawing to deal with it.

P.S. Some of you might think, “aha! That’s not a single word, so how can it be word of the day?” Well, to you I have only two words to say – compound words.

The Secret History of Blah

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Let us begin.

The world is full of interesting things. Wonderful creations that change your lives, make it easier to reach for the stars or talk to your loved ones. There are countless people toiling away in garages, labs, offices, and corners of public spaces, working on their masterpiece. They will soon release their creation into the world and you will wonder, “how was that even made? What was the process of the creation of this marvelous thing?”

In comes a journalist. She’s got a wonderful tool called ‘access’. She brings knowledge and seeks enlightenment. She interviews the maker about their invention. She then goes on to write a glowing article about the wonderful and surprising process that needed to take place in order for this amazing thing to exist. Then, she goes on to hit publish. But there’s one step left – the title. She carefully chooses an interesting title and sends it off to the editor. The editor publishes. The reader reads. But in between, a magical, almost mystical process happens –

Linkbait.

The title of the article changes from meaningful to crappy. The description changes from something interesting to “You’ll never believe…”. Oh, silly goose. But I will believe.

One such linkbait is the “Secret History” title. I hate those. They’re so ugly and uninformative. It’s really not proper for journalists and editors to use it. Yet, they do.

The secret history of women‘s football

The Secret History Of Seal Team 6

The secret history of 19th century cyclists

The Secret History of Ultimate Marvel, the Experiment That Changed Superheroes Forever

The Secret History of Wonderland

Heirloom tomatoes’ bizarre evolution: The secret history of the tastiest summer treat

 

Seriously, what’s wrong with these people?

There’s even books out now –

The Secret History of the World

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from How Dogs Learn

 

Someone needs to tell them to quit while they’re ahead. I wonder who that someone will be? Hmmmm. Maybe it has to be me. OK, let’s take care of this once and for all.

Say hello to the @SecretHistoryOf twitter account. Every once in a while, when an article that misuses this stupid linkbait-y title will come out, we will shame them. Go then, follow the account, join in the fun.

Let us begin.

Just another iOS bug

 
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Be on iOS 8.3, Be friends with someone who’s shared their location with you through iMessages, Open iMessages, Click on Details, Click on the Map, Lock the screen.

Unlock, Messages has crashed.

iOS 8.3 did nothing for me. Nothing. It was the the most worthless upgrade I’ve done in iOS.

A note about rain

 
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I was not able to sleep properly a few weeks ago. It was weird. I felt sleepy, but my normal routine of keeping my eyes closed and clearing my head of all thoughts didn’t help. I began to feel restless. So I looked towards other means that could calm me and lull me into a deep peaceful sleep. The pitter-patter of raindrops is a soothing sound that always helps me. I tend to associate rain with the idea of a sleepy summer afternoon, where I tend to drowse off regardless of what I’m doing.

I turned to my phone and looked up the rain sounds apps. I have 3 such apps installed on my phone right now. My favorites – Thunderspace and rainymood are not on my phone right now. Instead of downloading them and wasting precious sleeping time, I decided to give the other ones a go. The latest one, “Raining – relax yourself“, has a few presets – Summer rain, Dripping rain, Forest rain and Rain on window. I like the sound of rain on a window but it’s not exactly my favorite. I tried all the presets but didn’t like any of them. Remind me to delete that and make some room for Thunderspace.

The next one, called Ambience, allows you to pick and choose multiple sounds to play. I could select the volume of four sounds – rain, fire, thunder and waves. I set rain to about forty percent and thunder to about sixty percent. No good. The rain sound is pretty dull, almost a forest rain. That’s boring! The app has other sounds that are available through an in-app purchase. Sounds such as coffee shop, birds, crickets etc. I don’t care for insect sounds and if I really want coffee shop sounds, I’ll just download the coffitivity app. I was no longer sure if I would get any good sleep for the night.

Finally, I tried the oldest rain sounds app I have on my phone right now. I’d tried it long ago and was unsure of it. It’s called Rain Sounds HQ, and because of that imaginative name, I really expected the developers to know what they’re doing. I fired up the first preset – Cologne Thunderstorm. Instantly, I was at ease! I love a good thunderstorm. Although the preset was exactly what I needed, I tried the other presets too – Oregon Coastal Rainforest, Rain in Washington Forest, Small River in Scotland etc. None of them matched the power of the Cologne Thunderstorm. They’re all soft sounds and lack a punch. So I switched back to Cologne Thunderstorm and turned to my side, grabbed a pillow and dozed off. The sound was not distractingly loud, but soft enough to calm my senses into a lull.

I expect rain to make its presence felt. I believe rain should have character. It needs to be strong, loud enough to grab attention and weighty enough to soak you in minutes. A windy thunderstorm without rain is irritating. However a soft, dull rain that slowly seeps into everything is way more annoying. In this regard, the rain that I’ve experienced in Seattle is rather bland. It’s soft and quiet. It has never been accompanied by thunder. It’s boring! Reminds me of the time I spent in Shillong. The light drizzles in Shillong are constant and soundless, and present for a major part of the day.

The size of the drops also matters a lot in my book. When it rains, the drops should make a splash and actually make a sound when they hit the ground beneath your feet. If the raindrops just land softly on the ground, I can’t call it good rain. Seattle and Shillong have tiny rain drops and the drops just gently come to rest on the surface. The drops also stick to the windows without a sound and that’s just faux rain to me. Rain should have strength and a life-affirming sound associated to it. Unfortunately, the rain I’ve seen of late doesn’t.

The reason I like Thunderspace so much is because it is a complete package. It controls the flash on your phone and can connect to a Belkin WeMo switch further connected to table fans to give you a more complete feeling of rain, thunder and windy weather. I suppose it should be used mostly by people to whom rain is a therapy. I enjoy the rich sound of rain that they’ve captured, with vigorous thunder and light wind to accompany it.

My other favourite, rainymood would be well-known to people who enjoy listening to rain. It’s a beautiful rain sound, with the site depicting just a plain window covered with rain drops, creating the illusion of sitting at your window, listening to the rain and thunder as they dance across the sky and the drops gently pattering on the glass nearby. I noticed today that they’ve added a new feature where you can watch YouTube videos along with the rain sounds. That’s pretty amazing! However, rainymood does have a different tone than other apps. While others seem to have a sort of optimism in the rain; a sort of crescendo if you will (especially, Thunderspace); rainymood is quite the opposite. It has a melancholy sound. I can’t explain why, but when I’m in one of my sadder moods, my browser automatically directs itself to rainymood and simply reinforces the sadness. Fortunately, it wasn’t the one I was listening to that night.

I slept well thanks to Rain Sounds and had a rather interesting dream. Perhaps I’ll write about that next, probably while listening to Coffitivity.

Author’s note – This article was edited by my long-time good friend Anurag Saxena. Apart from being a really good writer and software engineer, Anurag is also an Ingress aficionado. He blogs about his experiences in that world here.

PostScript – I have a beautiful memory of my entire family sitting in our car on the hillsides of Ooty, with rain pattering on the windows while we’re inside, enjoying home-cooked food passed out by my Mom. Enjoying the delicious taste and aroma of that food, with the wonderful sights and sounds of Ooty rain is one of the most wonderful remembrances I have of my childhood. Ah, those were the days!

Update – In a conversation with an Uber driver recently, I heard an interesting story. He was talking about a month-long trip he made to Malaysia and one of the things that surprised him there was the rain. Every day at 12:45 pm, he would see clouds rolling in, dark and full of potency. This would start the communal event of shops being shuttered and people rushing to their homes and latching everything down. Then at precisely 1:30 pm, the rain would start. It would be strong and harsh, with huge drops that could hurt a person. Of course, being from Seattle, any monsoon rain would seem harsh to the fellow. Within a forty-five minute period, the rain would stop, as if the water tanks above their heads had flushed out everything they had and it was clearly time to dissipate. He then described how the Sun would hop out almost instantly and when he ventured out next, he realized that the ground was extremely dry, as if the rain had not even touched the surface! The Earth was so parched that even the grass could not retain the water, everything would seep in. In fact, he tried to walk on the grass barefoot after one such rain and all he felt was dry leaves pricking his soles. It was a wonderful conversation about rain in Malaysia.

Mobile Internet, learn this from your predecessors

 
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tl;dr – mobile web should show ads between text, not as weird popups.

The Internet has superseded the rest of the mediums – newspapers, magazines, books in most ways. But there’s one thing that all of those older technologies did better than the Internet – show ads. The ads in a newspaper are perfectly placed, extremely clear in their presentation and positioning and incredibly non-invasive. Of course, it’s an apples to oranges comparison ever since the advent of video ads and GIF eyeball grabbers on the Internet.

And to an extent, desktop Internet has done well in terms of their placement of ads, but the absolute loser in that respect is the mobile Internet. So much so that this is the best description of the mobile web experience –

What the mobile web needs to learn from all it’s predecessors (and even desktop Internet) is that the right way to show ads is still to use the white space. Don’t bog us down with crappy popups that are difficult to close and app offers we don’t care about. We care about the content. Give it to us. 

In between the blocks of text, throw in any kind of ads, GIFs, crappy video and app offers that you want. But the first and foremost thing we expect to see on our mobile phones is the content. Do not hide that from us. If you do (and you do), we’ll remember never to visit your site again (and we do).

कुक्कुराणां वनं

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Every once in a while, we ask ourselves, “Why the heck did I ever waste my time on that?” Two of the prime candidates for that question for our generation are Calculus and Sanskrit. Two years of Calculus and two years of Sanskrit seem to be too much of a waste to me.

Now, the first, even I understand. I know no one who uses Calculus. I’ve not used it once since I got out of Engineering and even in there, most of the work purported to be done by hand was deftly dealt with by my calculator. But the latter, well, is more of a mystery. There’s a peep every now and then about Sanskrit. It’s in the news either because the German government is doing too much for it or because the Indian government is doing too little. Either because someone discovers some long-lost formula in those dusty tomes that seems to prove that all math and science in the world was first developed by Bharat or because somewhere or another, I find reference of oddities and extremities that I didn’t know about our motherland (I enjoy wikisurfing far too much).

Regardless, one always asks that aforementioned question, often suffixing it with a near-truth statement – “it’s not like we’re going to use it anywhere.” I say near-truth, because as it happens, a colleague came up to me the other day, and asked a rather curious thing. Paraphrasing his words, he started off something like this –

“So, my friend in Germany has recently bought a large piece of forest land, several hectares, in fact, because she wanted a place for her dogs to play. She wants to name it ‘Dogs’ Forest’, but in Sanskrit. Can you help me with that?”

I look at him, stumped. My mind is racing towards my first thought about his query and soon, it comes to my lips –

“So, your friend has bought forest land?”
“Yes.”
“Lots of it?”
“Yes.”
“For her… dogs to play in?”
“Yes,” he chuckles. “She’s rather rich.”

At this point I’m thinking, “damn, rich people are weird! But in that case, she must have a bunch of translators sitting in some German University already working on this problem. Why the heck am I being pulled into this?” But I say the more polite thing, “sure, I’ll help you. What exactly does she want to name it?”

“Dogs’ Forest.”

Now, those who know me well will probably know what I’m thinking. I’m thinking something along the lines of, “what the heck are the hindi words for ‘dog’ and ‘forest’?”

But here’s the catch. I’m fairly certain that even if the words do somehow come to me, I’ll have absolutely no idea how to string them together, since grammar is something I’m so bad at, that I never even bothered to learn English grammar properly, let alone Hindi or Sanskrit grammar. But, being the feisty Indians that we are, I take up the problem from the top.

“Ok, let’s take the problem from the top. First of all, let’s find a Sanskrit dictionary.”

As I start typing ‘Sanskrit dictionary’ into the search bar, my colleague politely informs me that he’s been trying to make head or tail of the foremost Sanskrit dictionary online since an hour or so and hasn’t made much progress. That is a nice way of saying, “I didn’t get it. Neither will you.”

“No worries, we can figure this out!” I blab, as I type the word ‘dog’ into spokensanskrit.de, expecting the website to deliver words straight out of the rig veda into my lap. But, my hopes are dashed when the results come back with a measly ‘कुक्कुर’ and a dozen other results that I’m fairly certain have nothing to do with dogs. I look at the page blankly, reminiscing that the Sanskrit word for dog is ‘कुक्कुर’, as opposed to the Hindi word for it, ‘कुत्ता’. Clearly, I have nowhere to go from here.

Just then, my other colleague walks past and his rich history of being an Indian flashes in front of my eyes. I stop him with nothing short of a ‘hurrah!’ and explain the circumstances to him. He’s confused about the situation, but rather clear about the translation. Taking to a nearby whiteboard, he quickly jots down the familiar table that I had lost to the ravages of not-caring-so-much-about-Sanskrit. It goes something like –

रामः रामौ रामाः
रामं रामौ रामान्

Within a minute, he furnishes prior knowledge of the word ‘कुक्कुर’ and the word ‘वनं’ (Oh, that’s what a forest is called in Sanskrit! Dang!) and attaching them together, gives the result as –

कुक्कुरस्य: वनं
kukkurasya vanam

He passes off the translation to our curious colleague (the one with the seriously rich friend) and we all call it a day on that subject.

Except, maybe not. Something doesn’t sit right for me. I need to do this translation myself. I sleep on it and the next day, I look online for that table, which my Sanskrit teacher had tried so hard to burn into my brain (“रामः रामौ रामाः, it went, didn’t it?”)

Luckily, there’s a WordPress blog called sanskritinstitute.wordpress.com, which has not only the table, but also explanations for what those words actually mean. It explains that the possessive words are

“रामस्य रामयोः रामाणां”

This is the sixth line in the table. There is no power on this blue marble that we call Earth which could have made me remember all the way down to the sixth line of this table. Not then, not now.

But here’s the kicker, Ramasya means “Ram’s”. But, as my friends-with-rich-woman colleague explained, she doesn’t want to name it “Dog’s Forest”, but “Dogs’ Forest”.

Aha! You silly apostrophe, you! For those of you who didn’t study English as steadfastly as I did, when you’re talking about something belonging to a single entity, you say Dog’s, but when it’s owned by multiple entities, you use the plural of the entity and throw in the apostrophe at the end, so, Dogs’.

Funny thing, English. But Sanskrit is rather clear. There’s no way someone can mistake Ramasya for Ramanam. No one can claim that someone else told them that this forest belongs to multiple dogs and he didn’t understand.

So, I pull out a pen and some paper and write it out boldly,

कुक्कुराणां वनं
kukkuranam vanam

I rush to my colleague and explain to him why our well-versed-in-Hindi colleague might have been wrong and how the actual translation comes out to the above. We have a hearty laugh about it all and he regales me with tales of how Chess Masters study Sanskrit so they can read Vedic Strategy and understand how to win at Chess and I tell him how ancient sutras have the oldest recorded version of the Pythagorean Theorem long before Pythagoras breathed first. We talk some more and I joke that as kids, we Indians often ask ourselves, “what was the point of rote-learning all this Sanskrit when we’re not even going to use it anywhere?” Well, now I have an answer, that “fifteen years from now, someone in America will ask you to translate some innocuous phrase from English to Sanskrit. That’s when you’ll use that learning.”

Before I walk away, I remind him to tell his friend the phrase, as I’m sure she’d appreciate giving her dogs’ forest an accurate name.

The thing is, I’m not sure I’ve done the translation right. Have I?

“Which way to Svoboda?”

 
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I was reading a BBC news report of how, recently, pro-Russian sites are popping up in the Czech web sphere, which could allude to some serious USSR-style propaganda. The article referenced the 1968 Prague Spring, which was when the then Czechoslovakia government tried to establish reforms which would lead to freedoms to the press and private sector, the division of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia and a general upliftment of the people who were suffering cruelly under the rule of the Soviet Bloc. Needless to say, Soviet Russia didn’t take kindly to this and, along with their friends of the Warsaw Pact (Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and East Germany) attacked Czechoslovakia to take back control.

Of course, they won. Even with the way things were under the USSR, they had tanks, weaponry and manpower and Czechoslovakia had, well, a leader who told his people not to resist. But resist they did. Without the necessary means to win the war, they resisted in the only other noble way – confound the heck out of the enemy. In the most peaceful way, road and street signs across the country were painted over or removed so as to completely confuse the incoming force.

The result was hilarious. Supposedly, one could see troops stopped in rural areas trying to study maps and making sense of how every village they’d visited was called either Dubček or Svoboda (which means freedom). Road signs were painted over, except those that led to Moscow. The result of that was that an invading force from Poland spent a day roaming around before being routed out of the country, empty-handed.

Now, these reports come from Wikipedia and further from two separate sources, but I’d say you should take them with a grain of salt regarding their veracity. However, the point to understand is that in those days, it was possible to confound an incoming force by the sheer ingenuity of changing your road signs and hiding all the maps. Of course, today’s military will simply whip out their iPhones and tell you where to invade next. But this episode lends importance to the idea that with the accumulation of power so dependent on finding your enemy, it is important to also control the means of finding the enemy in the first place. This is obviously the reason why countries like Russia, China and India as well as the EU are working to create their own version of the GPS system (which, mind you, is owned by the US Government).

Clearly, in tomorrow’s war, one of the first efforts will be to either block the enemy’s signals, thereby preventing them from finding our accurate locations. The other, more radical one, would be to try to shoot down their navigation satellites, a scenario that has given birth to more science fiction movies than we care to admit.

But, going back to that wondrous time when people still had to use maps and ask for directions from locals, I must say that it is remarkable that someone thought of the simple idea that perhaps one way of stalling the enemy is to paint over the signs which will tell them how to get to the capital. That’s your trivia for the day.