Notes to self

Not gold alone brought us hither

Feb 16, 2009

LTE – Start imagining the consequences of 100 MBps

LTE (Long Term Evolution), the most popular pet project from 3GPP promises to deliver data speeds upto 100 MBps. And this is in not-so-distant future even by the standards of internet time. They say the first commercial deployments should go live in 2010 and LTE will be mainstream by 2012.

Now, let me start imagining the consequences of having such data speeds available on a wireless medium, when the norm now (in early 2009) is data speeds in the range of a few Kbps on most networks in most places. This is sometimes true even for 3G networks and you can read about one such story inspired by disappointment 3G speeds here.

Even the early commercial deployments of LTE in 2010 are expected to deliver bandwidths of 8 MBps. Eventually, they will reach speeds upto 100 MBps if the designers of LTE did mean that when they wrote the specs. Whats more, this thing is expected to work, albeit with some reduction in performance, for mobile terminal devices moving at speeds of upto 500 Kmph! That’s faster than you can go on Auto Bahns of Germany where they forgot to put a speed limit. Any faster than that, say Schumacher in his racing car, will probably not want to video chat with his friend about how well he is donig in the race, both because he would put his life at risk and also because the poor dude does not race any more since he was asked to retire so other race drivers could wi. Ok, back to our LTE topic…

Here are things that I think will change when LTE will arive with its full force:

  • Handsets will have to evolve to support applications that can benefit from high bandwidth, which means, streaming video will be pretty much the norm in any handset (yes, I know its this way even now, but later it will be impossible to find a handset that will not support video).
  • Services that provide bandwidth intensive content will flourish and TV show production houses will give equal weightage to mobile consumers.
  • Wired broadband providers will eventually become extinct because laying a physical cable all the way to your doorstep will be prohibitively costly in comparision to wireless.
  • There will be an exodus of people from cities to rural areas because it will no longer be required for people to live in cities just to find employment and yet be connected to the world in every possible way.
  • Voice communication will actually become free of charge, once and for all, no matter what device you use.

If you are imagining in what other ways things will change, share your thoughts in the comments below. Until then, happy browsing on your slow internet connection!

Feb 14, 2009

Forming a habit in 21 days

I’ve read references to the researched fact that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. This also applies to breaking an old habit and it can be argued that breaking an old habit is — depending on how you look at it — the same as forming a new habit. Nevertheless, I thought of trying this out and decided to form a habit of running in 21 days.

I’ve been running on and off for the last 6 years, and am much better off because of it. But it could have been even better, only if my running program could have been sustained over these years. Every time I reach a point where I am starting to be satisfied with how well I have been running lately, the inevitable happens. I start taking more off days than I should. ‘A day off will do no harm’, I would tell myself and happily take a few days off. Soon, the realization dawns that I am no longer following the routine and going for a run becomes as difficult as it was when I first started. In short, I find myself always fighting my first battle, and while it does keep me in better shape than not doing anything at all – c’mon, I want to see progress.

Back to my experiment. Here are some observations.

Pros:

  • Gave me a reason to follow a routine for 3 weeks. There were no excuses because I was committed to not miss a single day’s run.
  • I tweeted about my daily run to let people know about my plan and that helped me take my program seriously.
  • I wanted to succeed in my plan because I was almost convinced that there will be no effort after 21 days in sticking to this newly formed habit.

Cons:

  • The last point in the ‘pros’ above is a con too. Let me explain…

During this experiment, I had a mindset that all I needed to do was to stick to my running schedule for 21 days and life will be easy thereafter. I will form the habit, and every morning I will find myself getting up right as the first alarm goes off (without snoozing for many times) and then I will watch my body get up, get ready, get out of the door and start running. I will relax while my body finishes the morning run and I shall just trepeat the routine every day.

Turns out, its not that easy. It does help to put together a plan to help you get started, but even after the initial momentum has been overcome, maintaining a routine does take effort — if not as much, some nonetheless.

After my 21 day program, I am again making excuses to myself. But that’s set to change now. A new source of inspiration has arrived in town: twitter hashtag #running. Every time I read a tweet from somebody who just finished a run, it reminds me of my own runs and makes me feel like running.

BTW, I am going for a long run tomorrow morning. Happy days are here again!

Jan 7, 2009

Told you so

Yesterday I talked about the future of publishing and said plagiarism will be detected early and often due to the possibility of searching the internet, including searching in eBooks. Today, New York Times ran an article which talks about just one such incident where plagiarism has been detected and the guilty has admitted having done that. Though the article does not refer to a ‘book search’ that made it possible, I am guessing that is the case. And note that the culprit does not contest the original author’s accusation. There is no way people will not know plagiarism, just because anybody can verify that claim with a simple book search.

See? I told you so.

Jan 6, 2009

Future of publishing

Books used to be precious commodities when there were only printed copies of them. Even the authors had only one or two carbon copies of the original manuscript which they painstakingly created by typing on paper sheets with carbon papers sandwiched in between those pages. I guess the criteria to determine the number of carbon copies would have been authors’ age and the strength of his fingers because the harder he can type, the more copies he can create.

But things have changed now, since there are eBooks available for most printed books. The manuscript itself is electronic but that was not the case always. It started with enthusiasts keying in entire books onto their computers and publishing them on Project Gutenberg. Now the likes of books.google.com scan the books and the software reads the text from the scanned copies. This makes it possible to make the contents of the book searchable.

Well, we all know that but this introduction was necessary to make my point which I shall proceed to do now…

The way authors present their material has changed based on the technology used to create, distribute and reproduce their work. This is especially true for non-fiction books where it is sometimes helpful or even necessary to provide illustrations, annotations and supplementary information in order to make a point. I have observed the following trends as technology has evolved:

  1. Early printing press: Most content was text with some rudimentary illustrations
  2. Laser printer (circa 1969 as per Wikipedia): Emphasis on quality of paper and colorful images
  3. Digital press (1990s): Digitization of books begins and the focus shifts to text again
  4. Book search (21st Century): It’s possible to search into a growing number of books now hosted on books.google.com

The now possible search is going to radically change the way authors will organize and present their material. Readers are now able to directly seek the section in the book that satisfies their need or curiosity, and with this new behavior, the days of long drawn text are numbered. Authors will now keep their work concise and search friendly. They will use different words that mean the same thing and in doing so, maximize the possibility of their text getting included in a variety of search results. The use of illustrations and images will also decline; at least until image search matures to a point that it becomes useful. Attributions will rise steeply; maybe it already has, because it is easier to detect plagiarism. And, fewer people will read books cover to cover.

Finally, a growing number of authors will chose to not print a book, but just publish a soft copy. As an added advantage, the world will be a wee bit greener.

Dec 27, 2008

Audio books

The pleasure of reading — nothing can beat that. The comparison is with the alternative, i.e. listening, which is gaining popularity. I have been listening to podcasts for a while now and I do enjoy the experience. However, when it comes to listing to audio books, thats quite a different thing. After trying to listen to an audio book, I gave up after the first two chapters, and after that trial I did not try doing that again. Here are some of the reasons why I find the idea of listening to audio books obnoxious:

  1. Its much easier to say “yeah, I’ve read that book” than “yeah, I have listened to that book”
  2. Until I change my mind, I think books are supposed to be read, not listened to, unless you are a toddler and are yet to learn how to read
  3. When I reach a point in the book where the author just finished making a point, I like to pause and chew on it. That’s the pleasure of reading and is impossible to experience when you are listening to an audio book.
  4. A well written book has annotations, footnotes, images, sketches interwoven into the narrative, which cannot be captured in the audio book.
  5. The all important “Appendix” gives you pointers to the articles, books and other sources that the author got her references from, and you will just skip that part in the audio book. Do audio books even have an Appendix?
  6. You can change your pace as you read based on how heavy the material is, which cannot be controlled in an audio book. The audio just goes at one pace which the reader chose to pick and you are stuck with that pace, while you can read at your own pace.
  7. You can highlight or mark the text in a book and reference it later. You can even add your own notes in the book and that enhances the value of the book.
  8. When I am reading a book, I am engaged in an activity which my brain associates with something creative. But when I am listening to the audio, I am actually doing nothing. My eyes see something which is not a book and creates distractions. Also, my hands are free to start fiddling with whatever is accessible and thats another distraction. Soon, I reach a point where I am not paying any attention to the audio which is streaming through the ear phones and there ends my curiosity about the book.
  9. Last but not the least, I tend to fall asleep when listening to the audio book.

Probably, this is the reason why my friend did not enjoy Malcom Gladwell’s new book — Outliers, but I liked it a lot. He listened to the audio book, while I read it. I had enough time to pause and think about things while he had to keep up with the audio, which would have prevented him from taking the time to soak in the good words author had to offer in the book.

Dec 14, 2008

Gotta blog

Ok, I am set for blogging and I am doing this for — I don’t know how many times — now. Since I keep coming back to the idea of starting a blog, this is my one more effort. Lets see how this goes. For now, all I say is: I shall blog. Thats it for today. Wait for more messages in the near future.