The Daily Khan


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About two weeks ago, my phone died. My beloved Nokia Lumia 920 essentially bit the big one and decided to call it a day. It works now, except the two years of work I put in to personalise it has pretty much evaporated.

That isn't such a bad thing except that it happened just a few months too early. Now, in the interim, I find myself having to use a new phone for the next months, before I actually go out and buy a phone to upgrade myself to the latest and greatest that is/will be available.

See, I like to have a two year phone cycle, and this December makes exactly two years since I bought my Lumia. And it's been a great device. Never slowing down or stuttering, letting me do what I wanted to do, allowing me to organise and save my data the best way I could (which essentially meant I didn't really lose anything important when my phone had to be reset). In many ways, it offers everything my new phone does, except that my new phone does certain things better.

Yes, I have finally succumbed to the Korean chaebol and will be working with a Samsung Galaxy S5 Duo till December (at which point it will go to my mother and I will go out and buy a phone I really want).

Let me be clear though, this is a very good phone. I last used Android two years ago, when my HTC Desire was stuck on v2.2, refusing to be updated. Fed up and in love with the UX of Windows, I decided to jump ship and invested time and effort into this new ecosystem. In many ways, there are lots of things Google can learn from Microsoft. Similarly, there is quite a bit that Microsoft can learn from Google.

For one, Android (post 4.0) has become the most polished and accomplished smartphone OS in the world (I have never used iOS but I cannot possibly imagine it being any way more impressive than Kit Kat). The level of customisation is unparalleled, and this with an OS that is essentially as closed as the other two (Google is moving away from open source slowly but surely). In fact, there just might be too many things going on in Android. I don't really know if I need to hand adjust half the setting on my phone, but I like to know that should I need to access them (and actually figure out what they mean), I can. Otherwise I do not touch them and everything works just fine. Just like my computer.

The parallels between Windows on PC and Android on smartphone are too many to count. But essentially, just as pretty much everything works with my PC, so does everything work with this smartphone. Google has finally figured out how to make good solid software.

Unfortunately, for me, Windows on the smartphone is just a better looking UX. The Live Tiles and the swipes and gestures are a lot more pleasing to my eye than Android's blocky grids. I do not require multiple home screens. I much prefer the 8.1 version of a single vertical tiles layout. It just works much better for checking stuff quickly.

Microsoft also essentially locked their software on OEM devices. Which is something Google is only now getting round to. Admittedly, by giving away their software for free and opening up the source code to anybody and everybody, Google managed to get big very fast. But it still says something when I cannot use the best version of Android on the OS's best selling smartphone brand.

Samsung is many things, and excellent at many of those things, but they are at best an above average software firm, nowhere in the leagues of actual software companies like Google or Microsoft. Using TouchWiz on this device isn't painful or difficult. It is, amongst other things, utterly cluttered and frustrating to know that even though I paid a whole lot of money for my phone, a cheaper Nexus device (which is hard to come by in certain markets, making it not worth the premium you end up paying for it because of exclusivity and shipping) runs the best version of Android.

Having said all this, it is fair to say that my next phone come December, the one I intend to spend the next two years of my life with, will most probably be an Android device.

As much as I love Windows and my heart bleeds at the death of the Nokia brand, the most exciting and bleeding edge developments are happening on Android phones. It's bound to be the case. When so many OEMs are working on differentiating their devices while still trying to offer the best software experience available, you will end up with the best designed, best hardware-d phones, more so than either Microsoft or Apple can do. And with the onslaught of Chinese OEMs, building as good (if not better) phones than the Koreans or Japanese and others, at half the price (which is where I most likely see myself procuring my next handset from), you suddenly start to ask yourself why exactly is it necessary to pay $1,000 for a smartphone that, in all honesty, I will only use for the next two years.

For now though, I still need to get used to the Android grid.

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Smartwhatelse?

For the longest time, it could be argued that despite all the intense competition, Apple was somehow always ahead of the curve with their designs and software utility.

That, in my opinion, ended yesterday.

With the release of larger versions of the iPhone, and a smartwatch, Apple is pretty much saying, "Yes, we are following the competition". It is slightly sad and exciting at the same time, because for the first time in a very long time, Apple has let go of their intellectual property advantage over their competitors. While it lost out to market share to Android a while back, Android's fragmented market and 'open source' software ensured that Google dominated the smartphone arena at all price points in all form-factors possible.

It was an interesting strategy that established Android as a large and dominant force. And, as with most market leaders, it looks like Google (and to a large extent Samsung) have also wrestled the responsibility of pushing the industry forward with new innovations and technologies.

And while it is embarrassing to see the press fawn over the new Apple products in the most childish way possible, my opinion on the matter is diametrically opposite. The new iPhones are ugly. The design of the iPhone 5S and 5C were pretty much as perfect as iPhone designs could get. Now they just do not look like premium devices. Instead, we are left with thin phones (but not quite as thin as Huawei's Ascend line) with large screens (but not quite as large or HD as the offerings from practically all Android OEMs and Windows OEMs).

To top it off, we have a bulbous, oddly interfaced (with UI very similar to the Pacemaker), that is being marketed as a piece of jewellery. Much after Android came out with several models.

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are not nicer looking than Sony's Z3 line, or the Huawei Ascend P7, or the LG G3. The Apple Watch is not nicer looking than the Moto 360. From a hardware and design perspective, Apple seems to have gone a few steps backwards. None of their new products come across as premium. They just don't seem Apple.

It's quite obvious that the Apple Watch is Tim Cook's baby, and that's absolutely fine. He runs one of the largest companies in the world, it's only reasonable that he would want to make something from scratch. But the competition right now is incredibly fierce. With Google's new Android L right around the corner, and more and more Chinese OEMs showing how to make high quality phones at half the price, Apple may be facing an issue that Microsoft has been dealing with for a while now; the battle for relevance.

I personally hope Apple is able to compete. After all, as a capitalist consumer, what is better for the marketplace than competition? But Apple may have to finally figure out how to compete from a weaker position. Something that they haven't had to do in years.

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Digital Detox

Since Saturday, I've been without my phone. It's been a strangely cathartic experience. Every day, without fail, I call up the service centre in the hope that today will be the day they release my phone back into the wild. But still...I wait patiently.

In the time since, my main device of communication has switched to my laptop. Not quite as easy to carry around, but it is the only device that allows me to Skype, email, chat, google and generally communicate with the rest of the world, the way my phone let me do.

This is the second time it has happened to me in the last two years. The first time was, admittedly, my own doing. Dropping your phone screen-first into concrete is not the smartest thing to do, even if it is built out of reinforced monkey glass.

But this time? A software update.

The most annoying thing about the whole experience is that I was planning on upgrading my phone this December. You know, a little gift to myself for the holidays. Instead I now keep running to my laptop, trying to connect with people and ensuring my life doesn't come to a standstill.

It is strange though how much more efficiently I am using my laptop to communicate with people. Certain things are beginning to gain more importance. For example, take this blog. Just a few hours ago, I managed to establish contact with a great contact in a different country, simply because he came across my blog. Not something I could've done on Whatsapp.

Even updating this blog has to be through my laptop. It cannot be done through the phone, irrespective of how fast Microsoft says their new keyboard is. And while I do appreciate my phone, and it does feel like I've lost a limb, the phone is my filter to the world. In many ways, it dictates my entire interaction with my entire universe.

My laptop? This device lets me breathe. It lets me take things a little bit further. It lets me explore and analyze and think and respond in more measured tones. If anything, I've learnt to love my laptop all over again having lost my phone.

But it would be nice to have it back, safely nestled in my pocket.

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Goodbyes and Good Lucks

Ever since graduation, it's been more or less meetings with colleagues and friends, celebrating the end of one adventure and the beginning of another. Most conversations follow a set pattern:

 

Great to see you buddy! Can't believe it's over!
So, what plans after graduation?
Are you staying or going back home or elsewhere?

To be honest, it is a great change to see everybody relaxed and happy, with a smug look of accomplishment on their faces. If there's anytime to be smug, it's this. But it is a bit odd to think that the people I spent the last 12 months pulling and pushing and fighting and supporting and leaning on and being carried by are all going off their separate ways, to bigger and better things.

In the midst of these pangs of melancholy, I am often hit with this statement:

 

Yes I'm actually starting work next week.

Dammit.

Suddenly all that melancholy gives way to insecurity, panic and just the tiniest bit of jealousy. What exactly have I been doing while my peers have already secured employment? What does this mean about my own abilities?

Actually, it means nothing. All it means that some people got there before I did, as is usual with several things in my life. This is just another thing to add to my list of getting there late.

A recent conversation I had with an alumni said that the hardest thing about trying to do something new or different with your career post graduation is that it takes time. While others in your class will be working and more, chances are you will still be trying to push things into place in the best way possible. But, of course, that is your choice, nobody is forcing you to act as such.

So, to my peers, colleagues and friends, the very best of luck in the future. I wish you the greatest success (you certainly deserve it). And should any of you be able to, do feel free to give The Daily Khan a leg up. It would certainly come in handy.

 

 

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Now what?

I've spent the major part of the past two days trawling through my news feed on Facebook, looking at all the pictures and comments and likes that people have been sharing ever since graduation on Saturday. For me, the end of the MBA has several implications; for one, I actually achieve a degree. Secondly, I have to move on to other things, like JOB and ADULT LIFE. Ugh.

Most importantly though, I'm facing a mini-crisis on stories and unique experiences. For a whole year I've been able to fall back on my entire student year to write about all kinds of things (including trips to Brazil and China). What am I supposed to write about now?

I've also realised a truth about myself; I'm more willing to do things just for the story if no other earthly or logical reason is available to me. I'm not sure when exactly this change happened, but it did and for the time being I'm sticking to it like glue. If it makes for a good story, screw logic. As long as nobody dies of course. At least not me.

It does feel good though. Ticking this off my bucket list. Knowing that I have actual friends and connections in all corners of the globe. If anything, I feel more sure than before that the stories will only get bigger and better. Everything seems to be lined up exactly for that to happen. Now all that's left, is for me to make it happen.

...but I think I deserve a nap first.

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Why home is home

It's been less than a week since I came back home and I already feel like I was never away. Shanghai was so different and such an assault on the senses, and suddenly back home I'm just...back home.

I was wondering if I would have any issues to drive. As soon as sat in the driver's seat, muscle memory took over; I wasn't even thinking about what I was doing, even though it was the first time in weeks since I was driving. I know exactly where stuff is in my house, and I know exactly what to do and where to go should I need anything. I know the exact route to campus, and I know where to park and which elevators to take...where people sit and whom to say hello to at what time of day.

Familiarity. It's amazing how certain things get stored in your sub-conscience when you do it often enough, without even trying to get used to it. While I was in Shanghai, I had gotten used to riding the metro and jostling with the crowds during rush hour. Now that I'm back home, I'm used to driving everywhere and being stuck in traffic during rush hour.

Certain things are so ingrained that I don't even feel like my brain is doing the controlling, it's just my muscles that seem to know what to do. It amazes and saddens me at the same time. Being outside my comfort zone, which a lot of this year was for me, actually had all my senses fully activated and optimised to make sure I consciously knew what I was doing. Nothing came naturally, I had to make it happen. Which made me feel like I was on the bleeding edge of my own self awareness and ability. Being comfortable, which to be honest, most people strive for, doesn't seem to have that level of adrenaline that I not only got used to, but a certain part of me feels addicted to. I blame the MBA for that. I blame Shanghai even more.

Home is home because it's comfortable, it's easy. Having met so many great people who have done so many great things over the last year, it seems almost insulting to fall back into that comfort. Where I end up and what I end up doing post graduation is still up in the air, but the more I think about it, the more I want to be uncomfortable. Not miserable or unhappy or completely lost. Just uncomfortable enough for me to take risks and do stupid things because my priority is to get things done, things I've never done before.

I think, at some level, we all feel that way. Now is just the beginning for lots of stupid things.  

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Shanghai - Day 37 to 41 - The End

There's been a bit of a change in my behavior off late. This last week has been slightly strange, considering that I moved into a hotel for the last three days just to feel like I was on a holiday. But the difference is that even at the hotel, six hours before I fly out of Shanghai, that feeling of newness has somehow evaporated. Suddenly those non-stop smiles and polite 'no's' that I would usually give to people on the street trying to sell me knock-off goods (amongst other things), have given way to more brusque and hurried brushing off. So while I sit here at 2 in the morning, eating some really good room service pizza, I realise that this city has become extremely familiar to me. Not that I've seen everything there is to see in this city. I've probably seen 10% of Shanghai, and less than 1% of China. But in my short time here, I've come to understand a little bit of this place, and things don't seem to surprise/shock me quite the way they would before.

I'm convinced that I will return to Shanghai and China. It's just that I haven't really had a chance to see and do a lot of the things I would've liked to have done while I was here. As with all things, I wish I had a little more time. I think that's my problem, I keep complaining about not having enough time all the time, yet I never seem to learn from my own scheduling.

I've met some really great people and had some really valuable conversations. One of these great people I met shared some really great advice with me; the story that I will keep telling people about my MBA will be my rotation story. My trip to China.

Shanghai is a city everybody should visit, at least once. It's unbelievable what 30 million people are doing here, making things work. It's a great city for many many reasons. But for me, this is a great city because of the brilliant people I met. And just how this city made me feel. Like an outsider, but a welcome outsider. Somebody who came in completely unprepared and left knowing a little bit more than when I came in. Maybe at some point in my life I will come to Shanghai to work and to live, who knows.

Hopefully by then my Chinese will be more than just two words. Thank you Shanghai, it's been fun. Here's to my next adventure.

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100%

I'm staring at my computer screen because I cannot believe what I've just done. Staring back at me are 20 slides of the purest strategic brand communication the world has ever seen. At least, I hope. As a single presentation, it's not really that great of an achievement, but this particular presentation holds special meaning for me personally; this is my very last assignment for my MBA.

Yes, difficult as it may be to believe, 7th August 2014 was my very last MBA class. Today, I completed my very last MBA assignment. And...that's it. No more.

No more deadlines. No more early morning class. No more late night team meetings. No more juggling schedules and projects and people's feelings. No more trying to have a life outside the MBA. No more required courses. No more electives. No more feedback sessions, arguing over grades or presentations. No more academics. No more MBA.

And suddenly, I feel a little empty. What pretty much took over my entire life over the last 12 months has rather abruptly come to an end. I mean, I always knew this was going to happen. I even know when it was going to happen. I had all the details and the timetable. And yet, I don't feel completely comfortable.

Part of this has to do with my future. I'm not sure what I'm going to do post graduation, or where I'm going to do it. Part of me is also exhausted. When they say 1 year MBA, they don't quite tell you what exactly that means. In fact, had I know just how much work and effort this was going to require, I may not have been quite so willing to jump into this head first all those months ago.

Mostly though, it's a mixture of relief and nostalgia. Relief because a huge personal goal has been ticked off my list. I don't really have to think about this again. Nostalgia because this means the end of my class. Soon we will all be in different parts of the world, doing our own things, achieving our dreams and raising our families. This one year of us sticking together and being students, for some of us, the very last time, will be something I will terribly miss.

In a few weeks I will (I hope) be walking up the much travelled road of the graduate, collecting my degree and moving on with my life. Lots of things to do, lots of places to see, and lots of people to meet. And of course, lots of relationships to maintain, and fall back on, every time I find things too difficult. A whole new adventure awaits. Question is, will it top the one we just completed?

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Shanghai - Day 27 to 36 - The Last Leg

It's been over a month of me in China, and the only regret I have is that I don't have more time. In a week's time, I will be leaving Shanghai and heading back home to Dubai, with some new friends and some special memories under my belt. In fact, all that I had come to Shanghai to achieve, all those credits and conversations, all that is...done. Yup. The last week was an all out assault of classes and I am happy to say I somehow survived.

On the very last day, I realised that I would never have to do the commute from residence to metro station to switching trains and walking up to school in a hurry in the morning ever again. Ever. In fact, if I needed to go to school from now on, it would be on my own time and for reasons that do have stakes quite as high as acquiring an MBA. It would be because I wanted to be there for my own personal reasons.

Pushing two electives together over 7 days is not only intense, it's also a bit crazy. In fact, for the first four days, when I was involved with Strategic Brand Management, I think I understood for the first time what it must be like to have a child. No me time, only it time. Four hours of sleep a night was a luxury, and gift, to thank a superior power for. I was sitting in school from 8:30am till 12:30am pretty much. And I got to go home late at night during the week for the first time.

This brought about something new in my self actualisation. Every day, those late night taxi rides home...I was not nervous. At some point over the last month, Shanghai went from a fascinating alien city to a familiar city I live in. It usually takes much longer for such things to kick in, but with Shanghai I was lucky enough to get that feeling within a month. It felt special. Were it another city, I would've had some fear for my personal safety, trouping around the city at that time of the night. But when you descend onto the streets of Shanghai at 1 in the morning, and realise that the whole world seems to be awake with you, it doesn't seem quite so scary at all.

The last week has been one of the most intensive of my MBA. Even though I was at the fag end of my degree, I still managed to pack in lots of new theory and skills that I hadn't learnt before. Even at this stage, when I can, in many ways, call myself an MBA, it's sobering to know just how much I still have to learn about everything.

In one of my classes, I met an alumni who was also attending class (for the knowledge, not the grade). A graduate from last year, she told me that once you leave school, the want/need to learn increases. So typically human. When I was working, I wanted to go back to school. Now that I'm here, I want to get back to work. I bet in a month's time it will switch all over again.

I've also begun to predict Shanghai's weather. As in, it rains during the weekends and bright sunshine accompanies the week. I'm sure there's a logical scientific explanation for this, but it still annoys me a bit. But I can't really complain about the rain. I love it.

So, in a week's time I should be heading back to Dubai. The Great Chinese Adventure will be over, and terribly lacking. I feel like the only thing I know for sure right now is that I have to come back to Shanghai, to China, to the East. It doesn't feel alien any more.

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Shanghai - Day 21 to 26 - Readings, Rain and Mr. Ma.

One of the annoying realities about travelling to new places while not on a holiday, is that at some point you have to put stuff away and get to work. Which has essentially been my regime for the past week or so, as I do my best at preparing myself for my last two classes in my MBA, and still managing to get my brain to function and myself to care. It's really difficult considering how much I really just want this to be over with. Not that I have anything against the MBA or Hult, but I'm ready for graduation now. Ready to get on with the rest of my life.

And while my travels around the city have been limited this past week, I have managed to enjoy a small variety of Shanghai's more cutting edge English print t-shirts and caps. Here is a selection of what I've seen people wearing on their clothes in public:

PERVERT (seen behind a boy's football jersey)

I LOVE KUSH (seen on a girls cap on the metro)

I sometimes wonder if they really know what they're wearing.

Another reality I have come to understand about Shanghai is that it doesn't rain here. It's either bright sunshine with blue skies or apocalyptic thundering rain and epilepsy inducing lightening. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground to the summer's in Shanghai. Though I am told that this is unusual for this city at this time of the year, it seems to be a weekly occurrence ever since I've been here.

But, sometimes, you do get to engage in really interesting cultural experiences that you couldn't even dream of. Take today for example. After having lunch with an old professor from Shanghai, I was lucky enough to encounter probably the most unique cultural experience of my life.

A little background is required though.

Yesterday, we were informed by two MBA students (one of whom is Italian), that today we were to be serenaded by Mr. Ma. Who is Mr. Ma? Well, turns out Mr. Ma works in security in the building in which Hult has its campus. And after a chance meeting with the these two students in the building, he invited them downstairs in the underground locker rooms to perform Italian opera for them.

So moved were these two (being sung to in a shady room with other naked Chinese men), that they set up a performance for Hult students today on campus. Good music, good wine and good people; what more could you possibly ask for?

Mr. Ma is a retired teacher who now works in security. He also sings Chinese opera, as he did two songs for us today. Much more unexpectedly, he also sings Italian opera, of which he performed two songs for us as well. Considering that he does not even speak the language, it was by far one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.

Mr. Ma didn't speak English, and we didn't speak his language. Most of us didn't even understand the language he was singing in, and neither did he. Yet for those 45 minutes, we were all connected in some indescribable way, respectful, engaged and appreciative that we managed to relate in, what for many of us, is an alien city, and for him, with an alien audience. It felt good, concrete, worthwhile. It was a small part of my entire Shanghai experience, but it is a memory I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Mr. Ma was gracious and kind, and incredibly talented. He was also warm and generous, willing to share his great talent with the rest of us, so that for one evening, for less than an hour, we could all forget about all that was happening around us and all that we needed to do, and just appreciate each other and enjoy each other's company.

The world needs more Mr. Ma's.

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