The Daily Khan


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15 years

It isn't often that you get the chance to meet somebody 15 years from your past. But so focused and consumed have I been in looking forward, I forgot that it is not only rather pleasant but almost essential to look back and reminisce about the past. Such was my experience a few nights ago when out-of-the-blue I got to meet and reconnect with a friend I had not seen since the turn of the millennium.

In many ways, it was a very surreal experience. To be honest, I was afraid I would have an out-of-body experience over dinner, making what would essentially be an awkward experience even more so. I mean, when has catching up with a distant friend ever been anything other than awkward?

Turns out I needn't have worried. From the get-go we were chatting easily, discussing serious topics like where to have dinner, and finally when we located our eatery of choice and settled in to wait for the chefs to prepare us their culinary masterpieces, we got to exchange the real meaty information; essentially what we were up to for the past 15 years.

Strangely enough I do not quite remember what our friendship was like all those years ago. But walking around Singapore later that night, as he very kindly spent time showing me the city's sights, our conversation and connection seemed a lot more mature and realistic. I don't know if connecting with another individual as an adult is different than it is as a child (I would imagine it is vastly different), but for some reason I remember thinking that we probably, in all our time at school together, never spoke to each other quite like this. This freely and at this depth with this respect. It felt good.

I guess sometimes losing touch with people has it's benefits, if only to reconnect with them on a completely different plane.

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Unchartered

A little over a year ago I found myself, for the first time, in Singapore. For three days I was blown away by the cleanliness, efficiency and the overall good vibes that the city shared with me. It also helped that at the point, I had just quit my job and was sitting on a large pile of savings, waiting to be burnt through. I had also a definite plan of what I was going to do once I returned from Singapore back to Dubai; I was beginning my MBA.

A year later, with the MBA done and the only remaining savings being ashes, I launch myself once again in the known unknown. At this time tomorrow I will be on my way to Singapore again. Except this time my plan is considerably different. I do not have a pile of anything to burn through, let alone cash. I do not have a concrete plan as to what I will do should I have to return earlier than expected.

Instead, I head to Singapore with all the hope and positivity I can muster, confident (or maybe over-confident) that I will be able to organise myself and sort out a career (not a job) over the next four weeks while I am there. Should that not work out? Then I guess I will have to back up and try again.

It's incredible how much difference a year makes. A year ago it felt like doing this would be a really great idea, something to accomplish at some point. Now, literally a day away from doing so, I have to remind myself just how quickly life has a tendency of moving, when you're busy living it. A year from now? Who knows. I only hope I have something to burn through by then.

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The problem with the current smartphone conversation

I caught up with a friend yesterday and as we were supplying each other with details about what we've been up to since we last met (I casually  let drop that I am currently exploring professional opportunities...like I'm doing here), our mutual love of tech led us pretty quickly to the current global state of smartphones. It's a bit difficult not to discuss such things with people nowadays since there isn't really much going on in my life as is.

As with most things, our attention turned to Apple and the whole bendgate fiasco. We both agreed that more disappointing than Apple building a premium phone with soft metals was people's reaction to it. Yes, it is idiotic to try and bend your phone with your hands. But if some people are having functional issues at the most basic level of Apple products, however small that number, why is it not worth talking about it?

I have to hand it to Apple though. They managed to not only disrupt the mobile space with innovative products (like the original iPhone) and original problems (antennagate, bendgate, other possible future gates). It stands to reason that if a brand promotes itself as the ultimate in its category and charges me a premium to use their products, then as a consumer I require it to be absolutely perfect in every conceivable way.

At this point my friend, playing devil's advocate, used the 'Apple is about the experience more so than the specs' argument. That argument may have been a viable one a few years ago, but with Google's latest Nexus devices, along with several Android OEM devices, you get a more complete ecosystem, functionality at a variety of hardware and price-points.

And then you have new launches like Android One, Android L and the ongoing determination of Windows on your phone, essentially ensuring that you are being provided with the same user experiences at a fraction of the cost from a software perspective, coupling this with low-to-mid-to-high range hardware, and still this works out cheaper than iPhones.

Apple customers and fans should be pushing the company to innovate quicker and provide better products for their existing and potential new customers. The idea of defending a company and a brand, while quite common, is still something that I do not fully subscribe to. As a customer, you speak with your wallet. Unless you actively work for or own shares in Apple, it seems like a complete waste of time not calling them out on their weaknesses.

Despite all this though, all reviews will tell you that, by some sheer coincidence, the iPhone 6 is the best smartphone in the world. And the new Moto X is the best Android device in the world. I refuse to believe that in 2014, two American brands somehow have the best smartphones in the world. And that's another problem. The reality is that the the most important smartphone market is still the United States, and there exists an understandable bias when it comes to American tech reviewers reviewing American brands. I see the same thing when Top Gear (a TV show I adore) reviews British cars. Suddenly all the positives are perfect and the negatives are negligible.

The asinine chest-thumping and online arguments used to be interesting, but nowadays it does not come across as anything more than vapid and myopic. If these really are smartphones, then let's have a smart conversation about them.

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NINJA

At an alumni event last night, I got into a rather highly intellectually elevated conversation with a good friend of mine as we discussed our future plans post graduation. Predictably, both of us are still trying to figure out what exactly it is we wanted to do with our lives (you'd think after two degrees we would have a better idea) and how much money we wanted, but at least it felt good to know that I wasn't the only one having trouble pinpointing these things for myself.

I spoke to him about my pending move to SEA, and he was, befittingly, happy for me. At which point he asked me the million dollar question:

 

So, do you have an offer already or are you going there to explore options?

Which is a nice way of asking:

 

Do you know what you're doing?

I confessed, that while I did not have anything concrete in hand, my trip to Singapore would be a follow up on several promising leads. Which is a nice way of saying:

 

No income, no job, no assets.

At this point we got into a half hour discussion about how millennials (meaning people born between the early 80's and early 00's) like ourselves are more than willing to throw everything out of the window and try something purely for the experience. The Experience Economy as my distinguished friend put it. The NINJA generation (no income, no job, no assets) has been growing steadily, and now I was in a room of NINJAs. True, some people did have jobs and incomes and assets, but even these who did were those who had moved to this city in the hope of making a go of it, essentially building everything from scratch. It's a strange contrast to say, a generation ago, when the only reason my family would move to a new country without securing employment first was because the situation was so bad back home, being unemployed in a new country actually made better sense.

Without realising it, I can safely say that I am a proud NINJA, amongst all the other NINJAs I know. That boyhood dream of calling myself a ninja has been fulfilled...maybe not exactly as how I'd pictured it, but close enough really. Let's see for how much longer I can call myself a NINJA and truly mean it.

I hope it's not too long.

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Mission to move

Over the past few weeks I've been actively working towards making sure that a random thought that occurred to me a little over a year ago turns into a full blown reality. As surprising as it would seem, I am actually looking to leave Dubai and venture forth into the unknown. Well, not all that unknown, but different none-the-less.

South East Asia is beckoning and I am all but there. In fact, come October and I should find myself in that part of the world, hopefully on a one way ticket. As an only child, taking such steps come with a fair amount of trepidation. Considering that I am 28, some may wonder how I waited this long to leave the nest. Others still may wonder why I even want to leave a city like Dubai (which, everything said and done, I adore dearly and owe a lot to).

It's difficult to explain why, but for whatever reasons, right now seems to be the best time for me to jump headfirst into something new and sink or swim (hopefully swim). Part of me feels considerably excited and I would be lying if I was not a bit naive. Try as I might, I have certain expectations about my life and a part of me feels like I'm setting myself up for a fall. The ultimate bachelor life with a high disposable income and a sweet house in a new city, with lots of good food and travelling all over at the drop of a hat. Yes, let's see what exactly I'm able to do about that.

Then, there's the other part of me that's inherently terrified of what is to come. I could very well sink. That's the last thing I want to happen. And whenever I think of that, I think that maybe it's better to be comfortable. And then I remember all the things I've said over the last year to my colleagues about taking risks and not being comfortable and I realise if I don't do this I will be the world's biggest hypocrite.

And then, just to give me that extra boost, I woke up this morning to read about India's first successful attempt at launching a Martian orbiter. Unbelievable. At $70m, in their first attempt. Embarrassingly, as an Indian, I had no idea all this was going on, but as is usually the case, the first success brings all the attention. I can't remember the last time I was this proud. While some might say it is ridiculous to be proud of where you're from, considering that being from a country was a complete fluke, I would disagree. The person I am now could only be possible had I been my parents son, from India. Were I born elsewhere, I would've been a completely different person. Not me, but somebody else.

So who I am ties in very strongly to where I'm from.

If we can send an orbiter to Mars, then seriously, what am I so worried about staying on Earth?

Congratulations to ISRO and the Mangalyaan team.

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Switch

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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