Rants, Smartphones

Stop overreacting. Apple was only trying to stop your phone from randomly turning off

Anti Apple fanboys have been sharing the news about Apple throttling the speed of older phone’s on their walls or commenting about it on all kinds of unrelated posts for weeks now. I get that it’s cool to jump on the bandwagon and a lot of you will just read the headline of this post and call me a fanboy without ever opening it, but just in case you did open it, here goes:

In iOS 10.2.1, Apple made changes in the power management function to prevent unexpected shutdowns when you’re using a phone with an old AND degraded battery. All batteries degrade over time as you run through charge cycles. If you consistently plug the phone in before it runs too low on juice, the battery stays in good condition for much longer- mine is 2.5 years old and in good condition. However if you’re one of those people who waits till your battery is almost dead before charging, your battery probably isn’t in great condition anymore. When your phone tries to hit peak processing power, the battery you abused is not able to provide enough power and your phone turns off suddenly, something I’m sure you wouldn’t enjoy. To stop such shutdowns, Apple made a logical choice to stop the processor from hitting those speeds if it looks like the battery won’t be able to power it, but ONLY at such times. It doesn’t slow down your processor all the time unnecessarily. Think of it like your car had a feature that stopped you from going any faster if the whole thing started shaking like a leaf.

Continue reading “Stop overreacting. Apple was only trying to stop your phone from randomly turning off”

Privacy, Rants

Forget Aadhaar, when did our phone number become mandatory for everything?

Courtesy: A helpful forehead model available nearby, who wasn’t harmed during production

Compared to the rest of the world, Indians assign particularly little value to privacy. Maybe its because we are all used to living in joint families where everyone gets into everyone’s business. In most Indian families, you aren’t allowed to lock your bedroom door till you’re married. And you’re probably not allowed to lock it again after you have a socially acceptable number of kids, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise anybody that we don’t give a rat’s ass about the government or companies tracking us everywhere. In fact, when a company provides us an option to put a tracker on us through which they can watch us day and night to help us reach where we want or to stay safe from criminals, we all get a warm and fuzzy feeling we haven’t got since the days when our mom used to feed us khichdi and tuck us into bed safely. This is of course why the government and mobile companies can blast us with ‘link Aadhaar’ messages through every online and offline channel possible without sparking public outrage. There is one thing that can terrify Indians about the implications of losing privacy though, and that’s the prospect of actually having to pay taxes. As a result, the prospect of linking Aadhaar to all bank accounts and investment accounts have suddenly made many people seek their fundamental right to privacy for the first time.

You would think the newly privacy aware tax dodging populace would now care about other infringements on their privacy but if you want evidence that isn’t happening, just go buy groceries in any big supermarket or to the mall. The cashier scans the bar code on everything in your cart and then matter-of-factly asks for your phone number. If you ask why, the responses range from a puzzled ‘for billing sir’ to ‘loyalty points’ or ‘warranty’. If you look around, you’ll notice that pretty much everyone immediately gives it.The KFC outlet at an airport domestic terminal asked to scan my boarding pass, saying ‘for customer service’ when I asked why. I wonder what service the customer will get from handing over all that data? A discount? Decathlon asks for your number to keep all your purchases linked to your account and provide warranty using just that information. Some would argue that some of these are legitimate use cases and that you are free to say no. I would agree if you always had that option but worryingly, a phone number is now mandatory in the billing software systems used in many places.

Continue reading “Forget Aadhaar, when did our phone number become mandatory for everything?”

Aadhaar, Rants

Why on earth do we need to update our credit cards with Aadhaar numbers?

I’ve been meaning to write about Aadhaar for a while but never got around to it. But then today morning I got this message from my bank.

credit card

We have already linked our PAN cards with Aadhaar. Credit card companies already do their own checks to ensure you are credit worthy. No one gives you money without checking if you can pay it back. So how is this justified in any way? I posted this on Reddit today morning and of course Younews.in and the India Community Digest Facebook page lifted it by evening and acted like its their own post without ever crediting the India sub-reddit as usual. Anyway, on the original Reddit thread, there were over a 100 comments with different viewpoints. Let me summarize some of the views supporting this move and give my thoughts on each:

1. It helps detect fraud:

My response: No doubt it will. But the question is if the benefit outweighs the risks. I don’t think so. How about if I said we should give the keys to our front doors to the government or tap all our phones to make sure the cops can detect any wrong doing? The problem with these things is that you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there will be some criminals you can find and catch by making everything and everyone track-able, but such a surveillance system can also be misused against everyday people, journalists, whistleblowers and anyone who gets on the wrong side of the ‘system’, whether its their fault or not. Who will watch the watchers?

2. This is just to verify your identity. Credit card companies use this to check who you are. The info is not collected by the government

My response: I’m not saying the government is building a database of your credit card transactions with Aadhaar numbers. Not yet at least. But, when you link your Aadhaar to your credit card, bank accounts, phone number and so on, what’s to stop the government or someone in power from asking credit card companies for transaction data with the Aadhaar number filled in and search for someones Aadhaar number to track all their purchases? Or do the same with mobile number to track all their calls? Are there safeguards in place against such things? Has this been thought through? At the pace at which Aadhaar is being seeded into everything, I really doubt anyone is taking the time to plug vulnerabilities in each one. Can we trust that banks and credit card companies will keep the data safe? There have been so many cases where I applied for a credit card and immediately started getting spam calls for all kinds of financial products from every company. There’s obviously leaks, especially in PSU banks. How do you make sure an employee doesn’t leak Aadhaar number along with phone number of target customers? What if an insurance company got that data and started using it to decide whether you should be given a health care coverage policy? Same question about telecom companies- what systems do they have in place to control all this? Even if some of them do have systems in place, do all of them have them? Who is checking the quality of each system? What legal protections do we have against such misuse of data?

3. In the U.S.A, social security numbers need to be given for credit card

My response: The U.S.A is not the panacea for all evils. What they do there is not necessarily the best way to do things. They have major problems with burgeoning domestic surveillance themselves. Lets try to stop our country from becoming a surveillance state instead of saying its OK if other countries have already done it. And if we are comparing, the U.S chose not to link things like fingerprints and biometric data to social security numbers due to privacy risks. Why aren’t we emulating that too

My biggest problem with all of this that none of this matches the official ‘Aadhaar is voluntary, not mandatory’ slogan. How is it not mandatory when you cannot have a bank account, mobile connection or credit card without it? How many things will require this before we start calling it mandatory? Will we one day need it to eat out, buy food or get treatment? Will we call it ‘mandatory’ only once someone says it is mandatory to have Aadhaar to breathe? Or will we still say ‘well, you don’t HAVE to live. Its your choice’?

I’m not saying a national system to authenticate citizen’s ID has no merits. Using it to make sure government welfare goes to the right people seems fair, although there has to be mechanisms to address cases where your fingerprints have faded and things like that. Using it to get things the government is offering for free is still fair. But I have to add a disclaimer that I’m not sure it is. It looks like that to me but if someone had put me in charge of deciding whether to make it mandatory for government welfare, I would try listening to people who caution against it instead of thinking whatever idea I had was sent down from heaven by the gods.

Seeding Aadhaar into every aspect of life is a sure fire way of making sure our lives are completely ruled by a number. I don’t think it is even possible to build in safeguards against misuse given the current scope of usage. Limit usage, build safeguards and expand only if you can figure out safeguards for expanded use. Don’t act like everything is a nail just because you have a hammer to hit them with.

If you want to see the original Reddit discussion, here’s the link: https://www.reddit.com/r/india/comments/7csv46/why_do_we_have_to_link_credit_cards_to_aadhaar/

I’ll be writing more about Aadhaar on this blog from now as well.

City In Space
Rants, Science Fiction

Why do we like science fiction?

Science fiction, a genre that was once considered to be just a source of comfort and imaginary friendships for the earlier despised and now celebrated human sub-species known as nerds. I’m not sure exactly when nerds became cool. Maybe when guys who looked like they will never get laid started making million dollar companies from their garages. I personally think Hugh Jackman definitely played a role by making comic book superheroes seem cool, unlike the kids who read the comics before they were made into movies. I was personally unaffected by the anti nerd mentality of the time because of my remarkable lack of respect for academic achievement, but even my friends thought my taste in movies and books was kind of weird.

Nowadays though, superhero movies, Star Trek movies, Star Wars movies are all accepted and mainstream. The big money of course brought bigger on screen explosions and hotter actresses. But there was a time before people got to ogle Megan Fox in a movie about space robots that look like sports cars. In the pilot of the original Star Trek series (which I saw recently on a dull Sunday), a beauty who was stranded on Talos IV did an utterly cringe worthy dance in green paint, which was apparently supposed to be seductive.

Look at her, she's glistening greenI'm glistening green

And yet, there were sci-fi fans even back then. Even now, there are movies which do not have enough action or sex or drama to sell a lot but still get a flock of devotees. What then is the true allure of science fiction books or movies apart from entertainment value, which works universally?

An article I read recently made a distinction between science fiction and fantasy which made me think about this. It argues that true science fiction according to authors of that genre takes up a big scientific advancement or discovery and uses that as a lens to examine the true nature of things we are already used to. Fantasy stories on the other hand merely sets the story in a fantasy world which might or might not be a futuristic one. The key difference is that the science or tech in that is not integral to the story. The article argues that Star Wars is a space fantasy movie and not a science fiction movie, although I think that will be debated to the end of the world and back through a time loop. Leaving aside the debate about which movies qualify, lets focus on the idea that science fiction is a premise to look at our own world and lives.

mild spoilers for Blade Runner 2049 and Her ahead

Continue reading “Why do we like science fiction?”

Rants, Smartphones

Its the season to fight over iPhones and Android again

Every September or October, people start debating one of the most important choices in their lives – iPhone or Android. Already Apple haters reading this post are thinking of making a witty crack about how the price of an iPhone makes the decision a choice between food and clothing for a year vs. a half eaten apple you can’t even finish and therefore an important one.

To avowed Android fans, the eagerness exhibited by many to buy an iPhone represents everything wrong in the world. They consider the devices overpriced and the people who buy them snobbish fools who pay more for outdated tech. Apple fans on the other hand say they love the Apple experience and that Apple ‘does it right’, even if some of the features arrived first on Android. Android users tend to proclaim judgment about the people who buy into Apple a lot more than the other way around. As an Android ‘fan’ who switched to Apple a couple of years ago, I speak from personal experience. After years of being an advocate of Android, I put my beloved Nexus 4 in the cupboard and bought an iPhone 6. What surprised me more than how much I liked the phone was reactions from people around me. To many, it was nothing short of betrayal. They called me a sell out and declared that I had gone over to the dark side. Most of it was light hearted, but at least a couple of people really took it seriously and seemed to have changed their entire opinion about me based on my choice of phone. Most people never listened to my rationale for the switch but now that another iPhone and iOS version launched, the “you were one of us!” chorus has started again, so here it is:-

I used to really like Android. I would root every phone I bought and change the ROM faster than some people would change their socks. I would install apps to automate all kinds of weird things and even change the kernel to try and improve battery life or performance or whatever. Many a nights I would go home late from work, get bored in 20 minutes and then get to work installing a new custom ROM, only to have something go wrong and end up staying awake most of the night trying to make my phone functional again. It was pure tinkering joy at times and as good as a whiskey and a sad song at other times. The takeaway from this story is, I was NOT a casual Android user. When self proclaimed Android ‘fans’ come at me for my choice to switch, I look at them like how Amitabh Bachchan in Agneepath would look at Hrithik Roshan in Agneepath, or how Sylvestor Stallone in Rambo would look at Tiger Shroff in Rambo (yes, that’s coming soon, believe it or not).

Continue reading “Its the season to fight over iPhones and Android again”

Modern Code of Conduct, Rants

Kids These Days ~ Aaj Kal Ke Bacche

If there’s one thing several generations can agree on, its that the next generation is headed down the wrong path. Of course, each successive generation will disagree if they hear the previous one say it but if you manage to get them all to say it at once, you will then get to see them look at each other in shock before the older generation starts admonishing the next one for speaking out of turn, which they never used to do back in the day.

Douglas Adams, genius author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a man who knew where his towel was had this to say about the subject:

“Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

I disagree with that last bit. We usually start doing it way before 35. When I was in 2nd year of college, we were talking about how the new kids just don’t get it. But I guess that could be because I didn’t have a way of making a career out of the new stuff that the first years brought with them. Now I’m literally making a career out of technology that was developed after I was 15 so I guess I have another 5 years before I can find my high horse.

Continue reading “Kids These Days ~ Aaj Kal Ke Bacche”


Air Vistara’s condescending women’s day gesture is surprisingly popular among women

Air Vistara has launched #VistaraWomanFlyer, an initiative supposedly launched in March, 2017 in association with women’s day, but hitting the newsreels in late July for some reason. According to the Vistara website, they will ensure that “only a window or aisle seat is assigned at check-in”, and make sure that “uniformed Vistara staff will be available at the baggage claim area holding #VistaraWomanFlyer Arrivals Assistance placards, to assist women travelers with their luggage and with the booking of airport-authorized taxis, as well as escort such customers up to the taxi stand upon their request”.

Reflect on that for a moment. They will have staff with placards implying that a ‘woman traveler’ automatically needs assistance with just about every aspect of traveling. If you’re a woman and thinking that this is chivalrous instead of condescending, ask yourself if you would mind if someone stood outside a shopping mall parking area with a placard offering to help women with parking or at a car rental place with a placard offering help with driving. How about tuition centers offering free special classes for math then? Doesn’t sound as great does it? Gender stereotyping doesn’t stop being ridiculous just because it is sugar coated with the appearance of chivalry.

Do only women need assistance with luggage or car rentals in a new city? What about an elderly man with a walking stick? If asked this question, the airline will definitely say that their staff would help elderly men or disabled men as well on a case by case basis. Why not do that for women as well then, instead of waving placards to reinforce stereotypes?

Continue reading “Air Vistara’s condescending women’s day gesture is surprisingly popular among women”

Rants, Uncategorized

The Apathetic Indian

In December 2012, I was on vacation, traveling from one town to another in my home state of Kerala after visiting some friends. I tried to get an AC chair car but the train was too packed, and the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) refused to let me convert my ticket. So I decided not to take the train and went to get an AC Volvo instead. The bus was late for hours, and then they told me it got canceled, so I ended up traveling in a normal bus. But as I waited and sweated in the sweltering heat, and watched people go about their daily lives around me, I started to see a side of my country I had chosen to forget. A good looking and fashionably dressed girl passed by. I noticed her, yes, but so did a group of guys standing there. I overheard the way they leered at her, the language they used to describe her in detail, a manner of talk that took passing appreciation and turned it into something vile. I saw the root cause of the outrage caused by the recent Delhi rape case. It wasn’t lack of strong laws or commitment from the cops. Yes, those had a part to play but the problem was more deep rooted than that. It was rooted in the degeneration of the moral fiber of a nation, the defilement of a legacy left by great men and women. It was rooted in the desperation of the collective consciousness of a nation of one billion people who no longer had anything to believe in.

I felt an outrage, a suppressed scream in my soul that needed an outlet. But the tragedy was that this too would pass. I thought of writing this then but true to the title of this write up, I didn’t do it for the next four months. For I am the Apathetic Indian..

I am 26 years old, educated and working in a big IT company. I sit in my air conditioned office and come home to my well-kept apartment. I catch up with friends over a beer or a cup of coffee in a pub or a cafe, probably air conditioned. And yet, every day, on my way to work or to a movie, I see the underbelly of our great and growing economy. On my way to the gym in the morning, I pass through a slum, where kids play in the dust, in close proximity to several pigs. I see people fighting on the road. I see trees cut down. I’m thinking of buying a plant and sheltering it inside my apartment, watered every day in a bit of dirt that nobody will dig up to make an illegal water connection, because that is the only place where I am not powerless to guard things which must be guarded. From my balcony, I saw a four year old child breaking bricks with a hammer. At first I thought he was working but then I saw his parents building a wall nearby. It was his version of make believe play, on a Thursday morning when other kids his age would be in school. I felt powerless again and took a few pictures to bear witness.

Every day I see my country limp on while bleeding from a thousand wounds. I know that this country was built on lofty ideals and the sacrifices of heroes, because I have read about it in history classes. I know that men and women gave up their lives for the country and thought it an honor to do so. But I have only read about it. My teachers told me that this was the legacy I inherited from my forefathers. And now, every day I see that legacy tarnished but I have learnt not to notice it on most days.

I live a cocooned life. I’m part of ‘modern’ India. In the places I studied and worked, there are people in charge, cabs to drop the girl’s home, with security guards as escorts. We have Ombudsmen to investigate any instances of sexual harassment. We try to be green. We turn off unnecessary lights and conduct CSR drives to clean up lakes. We have charity sales; even I donate personally from time to time. We do our bit, with more will than the government at least but I know it is not enough.

The country bleeds from a thousand wounds and good people across the country do their bit to dress up the wounds. Their scattered efforts keep the country limping along but they are losing. We are all losing. When we are faced with such a vast problem, and feel helpless to do anything, we retreat to our shells, as a defense mechanism. We try to protect our families, our friends. We try to clean up our apartments and offices. We try to get a semblance of control in a world that seems out of our control, but once in a while something like the Delhi rape happens. And we all understand how unsafe we really are, even in our cocoons. We realize that the ground is falling away under us, just like it is falling away from under the poor and the downtrodden.

Some of my friends and family commented about how they can’t understand some parts of the Delhi protests. The sympathized with the cause but they were wondering why people are protesting after the accused were arrested and trials had started. Protests are supposed to have a specific objective or demand, they said. I told them they are not campaigning for a specific objective. They are congregating with placards and slogans because they saw somebody raising a voice and they had a chance to rally behind a cause. The slogans might be about the Delhi rape but it was about more than that. It was the outcry of a generation that felt helpless as they saw their world crumble around them. It was the guilt of a people who knew they were doing nothing to stop the desecration of their inheritance and knew that the dreams of their ancestors were falling apart on their watch. They lent their voices when they finally saw some cause to believe in, even if it addresses only some of their problems. They protested as long as they could, before that voice would fade as well.

There is an old quote, “The only thing required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing”. The recent spates of protests were the confessions of a generation who did nothing. Even when they want to, they do not know how to. Elections are now a deliberate exercise to vote for the lesser evil, unless they decide they are all equally bad and stay at home to watch a movie
They say that people who want power never deserve power and people who deserve power never want it. But maybe we have a responsibility to take up responsibility when the ones we put in charge have neither the will nor the moral fiber to act. I put off writing this for months because I retreated into my apathy. Then today, a friend of mine, as powerless as I am spoke up in a Facebook post. I finally felt the chains of complacency loosen their hold a little.

I thought, if I can lend my voice to his, and someone else can lend a voice to mine, maybe we won’t be as powerless. In each other’s sense of outrage, maybe we can find hope. In each other’s voice, maybe we can find something to believe in again.

(Originally written in 2013. The response to this post inspired me to take up writing more seriously but true to the title, I stopped again for years)