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:D has moved to parrymathur.com

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Hi! This site has moved to http://parrymathur.com. See you there!

Written by parrymathur

April 22, 2012 at 121

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Happy New Year!

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Here’s wishing everyone a very Happy New Year 2012!

Written by parrymathur

January 1, 2012 at 727

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Books on a Phone; Bye Bye, Stanza; Hello, Kobo!

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I use my iPhone heavily for reading books. It may sound strange and the general perception of straining your eyes may lead you to think of this as an unhealthy practice. However, on closer examination you would realise that text size on most phones’ eBook readers is scalable, which means that you can resize the font to any level you’re comfortable with. Another reason why people are shy to jump into this domain is because they believe that most phones’ screens are too small to practically read books. In fact, this isn’t the case at all! Most of today’s smartphones are perfect for reading. Think about it; when you’re reading a physical book, your window of attention doesn’t encapsulate the entire page. It doesn’t even cover half the page in most cases. The window of attention is just a tiny block covering four to six words sideways and two to three lines vertically. In this way, a phone’s screen is a very suitable medium to display Books. A third argument people pose against reading eBooks is the concept of the phone emitting harmful rays that damage the eyes. Well, scientific research has shown that this is just a cautionary tale and has no basis to prove its validity. Also, reading in dim light also doesn’t cause any damage to the eyes. Often, my parents tell me to switch on the lights when I’m using my phone in the dark. When I tell them that the light’s purpose is to bounce off non-luminescent objects so that our eyes can perceive them and that phone-screens produce their own light, they don’t seem convinced and remain worried :).

Well, coming back to reading eBooks on one’s phone. If you’re somehow taken by the idea of switching your reading life over to the electronic world, but are inhibited from taking the next step because you don’t have an iPhone or a fancy Android phone, don’t worry! Before I had the iPhone, I had the Sony Ericsson K810i. This phone supports Java applications. There’s a PC application called TequilaCat, which allows you to convert text/doc/pdf files into mini Java apps. You can customise these JARs to the font size, font colour, screen colour and other formatting of your choice. It’s such a wonderful application that I have read at least five books on my K810i without any problems at all. TequilaCat books will work on most phones that support Java apps.


Last night, I upgraded my iPhone to iOS 5. In the process, I lost the untethered jailbreak that I’d been clinging on to since iOS 4.2.1. I didn’t have much to regret, however, since most of the jailbreak features I’d been using on 4.2.1 have now been covered by iOS 5, out of which, notifications is the most important.

However, one thing hit me like a punch to the jaw by Iron Mike: Stanza, my favourite eBook reader no longer worked. On launching, I got an unwelcoming Unhandled Exception popup, which kept reappearing every time I touched Continue. If you haven’t heard of Stanza, understand that it is a beauty of an app. In my opinion, iBooks, Apple’s own eBook reader is a feature-lacking skeuomorph that doesn’t do any justice to book-lovers. It may have a fancy page-turn effect for aesthetics, but what else does it have? The margins on iBooks are too wide and leave very little space for legible text. The page turn effect is irritating to initiate and is very distracting. Moreover, there is no option to turn it off. Stanza, on the other hand, allows to you to choose between a page turn effect, a slide effect (which is what I had used) and no effect at all. It lets you categorise books based on title and author. It allows you to edit book titles, modify author names and download book covers from within the app. Not only this, but it also lets you transfer your ePubs via iTunes file sharing. iBooks, however, relies on the clunky sync-through-iTunes method. It ties you down to one computer. It’s pre-historic and over-promoted. Stanza did everything to satisfy my reading needs. I was not at all prepared for the shock I would receive after the iOS 5 update.

Frantically, I Googled “Stanza iOS 5 Unhandled Exception” and started racing through forum posts to find some answer. Any little fix! There was none. I found out that the developer who created Stanza had been hired a while ago by Amazon – makers of the Kindle eBook reader. Now, Kindle already has an iPhone app and it could have been a conflict of interest situation for the developer to have continued working on Stanza. In effect, this means that Stanza may never recover. However, many forum users pointed out that there’s another app called BlueFire. Although this app isn’t as good as Stanza in terms of editing titles and changing their book-covers, it does the basic job, at least better than iBooks. However, I didn’t like BlueFire enough to make it my prime Reading app. The page sliding was clunky and uncomfortable, the menu was too distracting and the settings were not extensive enough. I needed something that would fill the gap between Bluefire and Stanza.


Kobo. Kobo is an eBook reader made by Toronto based Kobo Inc. Kobo is an anagram of Book. Very pretty. Kobo, however isn’t nonsense. I had heard of the app before, but had never bothered to download it since I had Stanza to do my bidding. Last night, I reached out to this neglected child after the first born had abandoned me :) . Kobo has proved to be an exceptional eReader app. I must confess that it’s better looking than Stanza. It’s got a good choice of settings where I can change the font size and brightness. It lets me flip to night-mode (light text on a dark background) and a sepia background. In addition to that, you have a choice of four fonts. The text renders beautifully and the app hasn’t crashed (yet!) However, the thing that I like most about this app is the vertical scrolling ability! I can’t tell you how badly I wanted this. Every other eBook reader has a somehow inexplicable page-turn concept, where after finishing a block of text on the screen, you have to swipe horizontally to encounter another block. On a psychological level, this didn’t feel very satisfying and it fragmented my reading experience. I had previously read many books on my computer. There, the natural tendency for me was to scroll vertically. Why would I ever want to flip horizontally across unsatisfying chunks of text? The good people at Kobo somehow read my mind and their app lets you scroll vertically for the entirety of a whole chapter, after which, you touch the > button to go to the next chapter and start the process all over again.

One shortcoming I noticed in Kobo was the inability to search books. Yes. You can’t do a random search via text. You have to scroll through your book-list. You can’t sort by author and you most definitely can’t edit book-info and author-info. Downloading book covers is out of the question. However, as I have mentioned above, I was looking for something that filled the gap between BlueFire and Stanza. Had Kobo been as good as Stanza, it would’ve been number one since the beginning, as it scores better in the looks department. However, now that big brother is ill, little brother can have its moment in the sun. Let’s hope the developers see this as an opportunity and enhance the app. So, until the next big thing comes out, Kobo is my eBook app of choice, and it may even continue to be so because of its vertical scrolling feature.

If you have tried any of these apps or know about a better eBook app, please do share your experience. Also, do let me know what you feel about reading eBooks in general. Do you find reading eBooks emotionally satisfying? Or do you prefer the charm of flipping pages while sipping on a coffee, never worrying about running out of battery?

Written by parrymathur

October 15, 2011 at 1534

Posted in tech

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Because He Was There…

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Because He Was There: My Video Tribute to Steve Jobs.

This video is a walk in time, showing each era’s contemporary products that could have stayed, had Apple not come up with something “insanely great”.

Because Steve was there, so many of today’s wonderful electronic devices and software applications came to be.

It’s hard to imagine what the world would have been like had he not been there.

Written by parrymathur

October 6, 2011 at 2347

Posted in Uncategorized

Steve Jobs

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RIP Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

The Man who Changed the Way we Live

Written by parrymathur

October 6, 2011 at 738

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Almost Iced Americano

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I have access to ice-cubes at work. I use them to prepare Iced Americano (well, something resembling it, at least!), which makes a cool summer drink. I fill one cup till the top with ice cubes, and then pour on it one-and-a-half hot espresso shots taken from the coffee-machine (without diluting, as done with regular Americano). In about 30 seconds, the drink is ice-cold.

Written by parrymathur

July 11, 2011 at 1756

Google+: Not Falling Flat on its Face

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Yes. As many people have observed and commented, Google+ lacks a solid differentiator that can drive people away from Facebook. The circles concept – although new – isn’t strong enough to make people abandon Facebook in favour of Google+. However, seeing the past few weeks’ trends, Google+ members are actively using the product.

Remember the time when Google Wave launched with an invite-based registration? The demand for invites was so much as to create a market for them on eBay, with invites selling for sky-high prices. After the crowd had joined in, though, everything fizzled out. People couldn’t understand how the product worked, or rather how they could make it work. The hype around Google+ is in many ways similar to that that was around Google Wave. The results, however, should be different this time.

First, we must not suppose that Google+’s immediate motive is to drive people away from Facebook. Rather, Google wants people to adopt their platform and stick around for a while. Facebook can be dealt with a little later. With such a perception, we can get a clearer understanding of why Google+ is not going to be as big a catastrophe as many are predicting it may be.

A big difference between Google Wave/Buzz and Google+ is that this time, people do understand how Google+ works. They are familiar with the platform. In my opinion, Google’s lazy copy-pasting from Facebook wasn’t a dumb move. It was a smart one. Had they designed a radically new interface just to be different from the Big-F, they might have been faced with a Wave-like scenario again. On parallel lines, Microsoft has been repetitively accused of copying the Macintosh’s interface into its Windows operating system. (Remember when New York Times’ David Pogue released a funny video laced with sarcasm that explained why Windows Vista did not steal ideas from Mac OS X?). Yet, people have readily embraced Windows, which is currently the market-leader in desktop operating systems. So, people have a basic idea of the surroundings and are not going to whine about the product’s usability.  However, a familiar environment is not exactly an indicator of an application’s sustainability. Why, then are those people going to stick around and actually use Google+ for more than say, two weeks?

“Stagnation?”, you ask? “People need Change?”, you ask? “Is that all you could come up with?”, you ask? “Yes”, I reply. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that Google+ will take the baton from an aging Facebook and run away miles ahead. Making such a prediction at this stage would be taking a shot in the dark. Judging by people’s Google+ posts, however, I can say that many members are actually finding the experience pleasant and that they are willing to stay. With one basic need satisfied (a familiar environment) another factor kicks in: a sparser and more comfortable community. Right now, most members of Google+ are apparently below 35. They’ve landed up there though invites from their actual friends. Not some distant-college-guy-they’ve-seen-twice-in-four-years or some-long-lost-uncle-who-lives-2000-miles-away-and-last-saw-you-when-you-were-a-baby. The current Google+ users are young and they’re away from their parents/uncles/aunts/grandparents. They’re in a comfy couch. In contrast, people on Facebook have so many friends they’re really not really friends with. They’re more acquaintances than friends (Yes; Circles let you differentiate between the two, but that point is not relevant at this nascent stage). In general, people have a stronger desire to share and express whenever they’re among familiar company as opposed to when they’re always on the podium, speaking out to a large, mostly unknown audience. At present, the Facebook community has a lesser sense of being closely-knit. Again, in general, people’s posts and comments get actively noticed more when those comments are posted in a relevant or in a smaller, more familiar world. A post by me will be certainly clicked-on, if not read, by people whom I regularly interact with. On Facebook, however, people currently just glance past their news-feeds. Most of the posts look like trash. They look like trash not because they are bad in quality, but because they have been posted in a lazy manner by people we don’t closely relate with. Most Facebook users would skip past a post about a unique method to brew a cup of coffee, if it is published as a broadcast (in the wild). If, however, it is published in a forum dedicated to coffee lovers, many more members would be curious-enough to read that post. An indicator of the prevalence of such a feeling is the success of smaller, more targeted social networks such as Ravelry – a community for knitters. So far, Google+ is in a stage where your public posts are not considered to be in the wild, since your audience consists of people you’re more familiar with. With that, we can establish that overcrowding on social networks may lead to stagnation. “But surely”, you may ask, “once the invite-based system ends, all the parents/grandparents/uncles/have-seen-your-face-once-befores are going to come flooding into my circles. What then?”. Well, that’s beside the point. By then, the sparser and more familiar community would have already sown the seeds of fixation to Google+. People would already have gotten into the zone by the time the oldies kick in. In my opinion, Google+ should delay its public-launch for a while and should continue with the invite-only system for longer. This will help maintain an aura of exclusivity for long enough to get people addicted to the product.

If Google+ maintains this position, we may soon see people maintaining two active profiles in parallel – one on Facebook and another on Google+. Of course, Google will have to come up with a differentiator to gain an edge in the long run. After a brief honeymoon period, Facebook will be a big threat. Possibly, we may also see a tennis match between both parties, where one will try to gain an upper hand by pulling a shinier rabbit out of its hat each time the other pulls out its own. A new and cool feature from Google+ that Facebook won’t be able to copy (patents, anyone?) may prove to be the latter’s coup de grâce. It is still early to predict whether Google+ will be able to gain a significant edge over Facebook once the former has run the distance; however, given the premise of sound strategy, it will certainly not pop out as soon as its critics are predicting that it will.

Written by parrymathur

July 11, 2011 at 1754

Posted in Uncategorized

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