Apple OS Updates from WWDC 2014

I’ve long given up on reading and being interested in Apple rumors. I rather wait for Apple’s official announcements and keynotes when they unveil all the goodies with specific launch dates. The rumor sites got this WWDC 2014 mostly wrong because apart from the HealthKit, which was a minor feature, they missed most of the awesome features. Perhaps because it is easier to keep software development that happens in Cupertino under wraps than hardware whose supply chain reaches as far as China.

Anyway, this is in no way an overview of the changes in OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 because there are dedicated blogs that do that for a living. And yeah, yeah, lots of these features were available in Android before. I’m just listing some changes or features that are great from my perspective.

OS X Yosemite

Continuity, continuity, continuity – the most exciting feature for average and pro users alike. Your iPhone, iPad, and Mac will now effortlessly talk to each other. You can start writing an email on your phone and continue where you left off on the Mac. Best of all, you can take your phone calls on the Mac and use its speakers/earphones to talk. Similarly, you can make phone calls using your Mac if your phone is nearby.

iCloud Drive – Apple seems to have given up on its efforts to create a space for documents and files without the file-folder hierarchy. Earlier you could open a document only in the app you created it in. Now, iCloud Drive is basically like Dropbox where you can save any kind of document and open it with any application that has access to it. You get 5GB free and can pay $3.99 per month for 200GB. That’s Google-level pricing [1] Of course, iCloud Drive is a OS X and iOS feature.

A New Look – Following the UI overhaul for iOS last year, OS X also got a major UI revamp. Overall, it looks nice but unless I get to use it [2] The default font is now Helvetica, a distinct change from Lucida Grande.

Spotlight – The nifty spotlight feature get placed center stage, like the Alfred app. Now you can quickly launch apps, do searches and “view rich suggestions from Wikipedia, Maps, Bing, App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, top websites, news and movie showtimes.” I use Alfred to do quick calculations and since Spotlight does it too right now, the center placement will make me use Spotlight more often.

Mail and Safari – I’m one of the Mac users who relies on the default Mail app (for work/exchange emails) and Safari app for my Internet browsing needs. I have Chrome and Firefox too but I use them for specific purposes [3]. Most changes are improvements and bug fixes along with nifty features like birds-eye grid view for tabs. I had wished for pinned tabs but guess Apple wants you to scroll thru tabs instead of pinning them.  As they joke, Safari always seems snappier after every update so I hope that’s true this time too. DuckDuckGo as a built-in default search engine is interesting and perhaps worth a try for privacy sake. Previous extensions to make it so weren’t really good. I don’t enable saving my Google Search history anyway and don’t use Google Now either so apart from sheer quality of search results, it may not be different.

iOS 8

Family Sharing – “Family Sharing accounts will get access to purchases made by a family member without having to log into iTunes with the same Apple ID; the same credit card will still be used, but each family member will keep their own Apple ID and won’t have to switch to another account to redownload purchased items for free [MacStories]” This is awesome on so many levels. Ash and I have two different iTunes accounts since our app needs are different. But this feature will let us share some apps that we both love. Perhaps this is the nudge she needed to hop on the 1Password bandwagon.

Touch ID APIs for apps – This change will let developers of third-party apps to use Touch ID as authentication. No longer do we have to tap in 4-digit pass codes in Mint and Betterment and the long master password for 1Password. All you do is hold your finger on the home button and you’re in. Touch ID is one device feature I’m glad Apple implemented and in typical Apple-style, it works smoothly and is something that I can no longer live without on my phone.

App Extensions – This may be the most Android-like feature but it comes with the Apple-backed guarantee of working seamlessly. Basically, it is the ability to use one app’s features within another and customization of the notifications screen with widgets you want. I’m not much of a widgets guy since I keep the apps I frequently use on my home screen but the inter-app compatibility sounds useful.

App Battery Shaming – Although this wasn’t demonstrated on stage, iOS will finally list apps by the degree in which they are consuming battery power. Unless we see a leapfrog development in battery technology, conserving battery is the top priority for all smartphone users.

Homekit – This is a feature that will not see its full potential unless devices and developers tap into it. HomeKit will offer a common network protocol to let iOS apps control compatible locks, lights, cameras, plugs, switches, and more. So now all we have to do is to make all our household devices compatible to the iPhone.

Third-party keyboards – I have heard how third-party keyboards like Swype, Swiftkey, etc. are great on Android. I don’t know how useful they will be until I use them. So I’m just curious at this point.

So it promises to be an exciting fall when both these operating systems come to the devices near you. Hopefully, developers will get going on developing some cool features and even new apps based on slightly-more open Apple.

  1. I’m paying $1.99 per month currently for Google Drive for 100GB. I primarily use it to manually backup my RAW photos and Lightroom catalog. []
  2. Technically, I download a now-available-for-public beta and give it a shot but I don’t have a spare Mac that I can experiment on. My primary one belongs to my employer and my personal one is late-2008 so I doubt it will be the best test machine. []
  3. Firefox is specific to my work-related web data system and Chrome for things that sometimes don’t work in Safari []

Getting Reading Done

Last month, I got an iPad Mini from my workplace. Apart from my work-related apps, I decided to not install Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or any social media apps [1]. Instead first, I choose to install only Kindle, iBooks, and Instapaper apps. Not even Flipboard or Zite that usually has short news stories. I made this decision consciously as I wanted to get back to my long-form reading habit. It’s almost impossible to get any done during the daytime either due to work commitments or other distractions on other devices. I’ve tried the ‘will power’ and ‘self control’ thing [2] but judge me all you want, it doesn’t work for me. So I had to get my reading done at night in bed [3] . That was usually when I wasted time on Reddit. Ick! Now I feel so bad about it.

Second, I made a conscious decision to also leave my personal iPad Air downstairs each night. I got only my phone that I need to charge at my bedside. I carried my iPad Mini to bed so I had no choice but to read only books or long-form articles. I got the iPad on April 24 and I’ve tried to read books every night ever since. So how did I fare?

Books Read Post-iPad Mini

Source: If you know my real name or are my Facebook friend, you can read my ratings/reviews on GoodReads.

I surprised myself by completing 8 books; more than I had read in the eight months prior to that. Of course, most were non-fiction but I prefer those nowadays over fiction. I wasn’t tried to speed-read so I was also surprised that I could read just as quickly as before. I’m glad to know that this skill doesn’t diminish over time due to lack of practice. I’m trying to get back into reading fiction. Thankfully Ash reads a lot of fiction and knows my preferences so recommends books that I’ll enjoy. The benefits of this re-discovered albeit forced habit of reading books are the usual and obvious ones. As an added benefit, I can now fall asleep much quicker and often sleep better. I used to be an insomniac but it looks like those days are past me. Ash is a voracious reader too so our Kindle app is always bursting with new books [4]. I’ve started frequenting our public library often too. Luckily, Austin’s public library has a lot more ebooks available that you can directly download to your Kindle app. Two of the above eight books were paper books so it’s not like I’m completely relying on eBooks.

I would heartily recommend following my method. If you don’t have the luxury of owning two iPads, you can always delete the social media off your primary iPad and rely on your phone. Or simply buy the Kindle device. It’s well worth it. Happy reading!

  1. My workplace doesn’t explicitly disallow us from installing or using them on work devices. As long as you get your work done, no one really cares what you do []
  2. I don’t mean the apps that disbar you from accessing sites for a fixed period of time []
  3. Nope, the screen neither troubles me nor affects my sleep. In fact, I fall to asleep quicker and sleep better after reading books. []
  4. She has finally moved past paper books to ebooks simply due to the convenience factor although she uses Kindle device and not the app []

Modi-fied India

May 16th, 2014 was the day when India gave a clear mandate to Modi’s BJP. I say, Modi’s BJP and not just BJP because it’s abundantly clear that this is his achievement, whether you agree with him or not. BJP is the first non-Congress party to gain an absolute majority[1] in the Indian parliament (282 seats). The enormity of this result can only be felt after two and half decades of coalition governments.

My experience of witnessing Indian politics, as far as I remember, has always been that of coalition governments. Witnessing the frequent fall of governments especially of the Vajpayee government in 1998 by a single vote after Jayalalitha’s AIADMK pulled support, was a particular low point. In that respect, I’m glad some party has won a clear mandate and doesn’t have to indulge in horse trading with minor regional parties just to govern. Better still, it’s not Congress. It also puts the onus and responsibility on the BJP to govern and own responsibility followed by credit or blame depending on the outcome. Coalitions sometimes act like an effective checks and balances within the government although progress on legislation is slower. But this time around, BJP doesn’t even need to rely on its pre-poll partners like Shiv Sena and TDP which received the second-highest and third-highest seats within the NDA. Basically, it has the mandate to do whatever it believes in; Rajya Sabha dissent notwithstanding.

However, more than the joy about BJP winning an absolute majority, I think almost everyone is overjoyed that the Congress has been dealt such a humiliating blow. It won only 44 seats, the lowest it has ever since India won independence. Personally, more than Modi or the BJP winning, I am more glad about Rahul Gandhi and his sycophantic ilk been booted out. Congress has been responsible for untold economic damage for India. Seven times, it won more seats than BJP did this time, including Rajiv Gandhi’s thumping 404-seat majority in 1984 but India’s economic growth was perennially stagnant. Imagine having that mandate seven times and doing almost nothing to grow India’s economy!

So is it all joy and happiness? Unfortunately nope. This was how I felt after hearing the result:

What problem do I have with Modi? Well, of course, there is that whole post-Godra thing but that’s not the only thing. If it was, then I would have a problem with almost every politician/party in India. My fears are generally more about the tolerance for dissent and respect for democratic values. More on that later. But first on the most obvious and talked-about criticism. His lack of respect for India’s largest minority i.e. the Muslims seems to derive from the few extremist and violent representatives/incidents. Most Muslims I know or even the ones you know have been extremely distrustful of any government because of institutional discrimination. So for any politician to openly neglect them, makes them even more fearful.

It’s akin to Republicans in the U.S. exhorting African Americans to work harder when in fact the things that are holding them back are systemic poverty and institutional discrimination that needs to be addressed first. Modi may not have been directly responsible for the post-Godra riots but his stubborn refusal to even address much less apologize for the horrific incidents that occurred on his watch speaks volumes. You may argue that the Gandhis never apologized for the 1984 riots. Well, that’s one of the reason why we and most of all, Sikhs still hate them. Do we really want to excuse Modi’s behavior by comparing him with the Gandhis when in fact, his stature is based on being everything that the Gandhis are not? Moreover, Modi’s control over Gujarat is considered complete. Almost nothing happens without his consent or rather nothing happens if he doesn’t permit it to happen. This has worked great when it comes to ensuring good governance and strict adherence to rules. But on the flip side, to keep the base happy, he may have let them run amok for a few days just so that “Muslims could be taught a lesson”.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. – Edmund Burke.

It’s a very primal power move. Bal Thackeray used it adroitly in Mumbai so that’s why he is either revered or passionately hated in Mumbai (I’m belong to the latter, if you had any doubts). Anyway, I remain suspicious but I will not brand him guilty because the courts haven’t found him as such. It’s just like, I wouldn’t trust a black teenage male to be around George Zimmerman.

For the long term, all I ask is for a honest and open debate on addressing the numerous inequalities in Indian society and making opportunity equal across all strata of society. But of course, for that to happen, the deep-rooted bigotry and distrust for Muslims among most Hindus must be addressed. Otherwise they’ll continue voting in people who send out religion-based dog whistles. Dissent is something that’s not easily tolerated in India and even more so among right-wing groups like the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

In Maharashtra, we’ve had more experience with the Shiv Sena. If you agree with all their views, you’re their best friend and they’ll pull all stops to ensure you get your way. But express dissent or even disagree a little, they’ll make your life hell. That’s why even Shekhar Suman during the height of his ‘Movers and Shakers’ popularity never dared mock Bal Thackeray. Nikhil Wagle got his offices burnt for publishing dissent in his newspaper. So you can imagine the state of the common citizen. After all can we blame people if they value their life and property over political opinion.

Similarly for people who hold views similar to Modi, he’s the perfect solution for India. But a little criticism and you can see him bristle and his online hordes, most of them who ironically live in the U.S. are more than willing to rip you a new one. For me, more than him, it’s his impassioned supporters who see him do no wrong that scare me[2].

But that may be the worst case scenario and Modi may simply choose to act in his self-interest, like most politicians do, and focus on development and rein in his supporters on the religion aspect. For India’s sake, let’s hope he focuses on fixing the various economic problems that plague India and hopefully work with the U.S. on raising India’s profile on the world stage.

  1. Some say that absolute majority implies 2/3rds majority so this qualifies as a simple majority. I used the general definition of an absolute majority that states “a number of votes totalling over 50 per cent, such as the total number of votes or seats obtained by a party that beats the combined opposition.” So in terms of seats, BJP has an absolute majority but in terms of votes, a simple majority []
  2. The lack of humility and gloating is all over the Internet []

Election Season in India

In a week’s time, election season will finally end in India although that doesn’t always mean we’ll soon have a government. India’s had a history of hung parliaments and more stuff happens behind the scenes post-elections than in the election campaign itself. That may probably shake your belief in the whole ‘world’s largest democracy’ but don’t let it. That’s how it is and probably will be even in many developed countries. That’s a well known bug in Democracy 4.21 and until someone comes up with a patch, it’s not gonna change. You could change to any other system but let’s be honest, there’s nothing out there half as good. Your choices are communism (Cuba, China, etc.), monarchy (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brunei, etc.), dictatorship (North Korea, etc.), or pure chaos and anarchy (Pakistan, Somalia, etc.). Democracy or at least the way it is practiced in India or even the U.S. is the least worst option.

Anyway, after the mother of all segues there (not surprising, right?), whatever happens in India, it is almost assured via opinion polls that the Congress won’t be forming the government. For a change, I have been largely disengaged this time from the election fever. I remember the time in mid- and late-90s, when I used to stay up late night listening to the news and waiting for election results feverishly tracking my eyes on the rapidly-scrolling news ticker. This time, the people contesting the elections have not impressed. The three primary candidates – Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi, and Arvind Kejriwal – have been lackluster, threatening, and disappointing respectively. It may eventually turn out that we may have someone else as a Prime Minister in the end. Remember Deve Gowda, Chandrashekhar, and IK Gujral? Did anyone envision them to be Prime Ministers? But now, after their brief stint, they get all the perks of ex-PMs in their retirement. Man, what a con!

Just because I’ve been disinterested doesn’t mean everyone else is. In fact, everyone else is super gung-ho this time or maybe Twitter and Facebook has given them the illusion that people actually give a shit about what they think. Criticize Modi and hordes of his followers will drag your mother-sister through the muck. Support Gandhi and people laugh at you for being a brown-nose (let’s admit it, everyone criticizes Gandhi. He’s so easy to.) Support Kejriwal and…wait, why is anyone still buying his BS?

Anyway, whatever happens in a week, it will be definitely exciting. I just hope Modi doesn’t celebrate by doing what he does best (you know what I mean). Ab ki baar…Gujarat may get a bar?

Violation of Free Speech – the Mozilla CEO resignation

Much has been said about how the termination of the recently-appointed Mozilla CEO was in violation of his free speech rights. In a nutshell, he made a donation of $1000 to Prop.8, a measure that ultimately passed in 2008 banning gay marriage in California. It has since been deemed unconstitutional and overturned by a federal court. The revelation of this donation had people up in arms clamoring for his resignation which they eventually got. Many complained that this would have a chilling effect on people’s free speech rights and make them hesitant to donate to or voice their support for their causes. Even people like Andrew Sullivan who ought to know better.

Most people often misunderstand that protesting against views or actions that they don’t like is not infringing on the other person’s right to free speech. It is only when the government steps in that it becomes such. In fact, as long as violence is not threatened or you don’t physically prevent the other person from voicing their unpopular opinion, expressing disapproval and protesting is also a form of free speech. People protesting Westboro Church’s protests at funerals were never deemed to violate the church’s free speech. In fact, that’s exactly how you protest against hateful speech. As long as you don’t get the government to prevent the Westboro church from traveling and protesting, it is not a violation of their free speech rights.

Similarly, protesting against the Mozilla CEO’s donation and threatening to abandon your development of their products is not gay-bullying. It is simply an act of taking your business elsewhere by voicing your protest against the actions of a symbolic head of an open-source corporation. The protests in fact started right within Mozilla when three of their board members quit [1] and several of their employees protested against the appointment even to the extent of going on unpaid leave. In such a case, you would wonder how did the CEO even get offered and appointed to his post. Also, the public protests against Mozilla was significant due to the nature of the corporation’s existence, as Farhad Manjoo explains. If you live by the public’s good-natured sentiments, then you also die by it. Any other corporation can just ask the protesters to fuck off and they’ll be fully entitled to. Heck, even Mozilla can do that although to a greater peril of their existence.

Corporations are free to bend to the will of their customers if they consider the protests will result in a significant downtick to their business. The caveat here being that the protests are from their customers and not just anyone random who thinks their feelings are being hurt. The government can only provide assurance that no violence occurs and no one is being intimidated with physical harm. Apart from that, if the government stays away, it is not an violation of free speech.

Update: Coincidentally, xkcd – the famous explainer of all things Internet – has an apt comic:

free speech xkcd

  1. There were six board members at Mozilla so how the heck did he even get appointed if three disagreed? []

Killing the SLR

In the same way that the transition from film to digital is now taken for granted, the shift from cameras to networked devices with lenses should be obvious. While we’ve long obsessed over the size of the film and image sensors, today we mainly view photos on networked screens—often tiny ones, regardless of how the image was captured—and networked photography provides access to forms of data that go beyond pixels.

[source: The New Yorker].

Hardly a week goes by before someone declares the beloved SLR[1] to be dead; more often than not, at the hands of the ubiquitous smartphone cameras. While I’m a firm believer in the adage – the best camera is the one you have – I still stop short at saying that its the best camera all the time. Even though I shoot most of my photos these days with an iPhone 5S, I still rely on my recently upgraded Nikon D7100 to shoot the memorable photos that will last me a lifetime. Smartphone cameras have been improving at a tremendous pace and the iPhone 5S now packs a device nearly as good as a regular point-and-shoot. However, there are two reasons I believe that the SLR is still not dead.

RAW format

Admittedly, I discovered the versatility of RAW format late in my photography life but once I realized its potential, I cannot live without it. Not only does the traditional SLR give you power of customization on the fly but also lets you correct any missteps you may have taken in the field during post-processing [2]. Some ultra purists look down at customization but for me, it frees me from remembering infinite customizations to simply focusing on framing and composing the shot. I consider photography to be an art form in a way that it isn’t always meant to capture reality as it exists but to evoke intrigue, seek the viewer to ask questions and interpret the image in their own way. It is perhaps the modern architect in me that shies away from symbolism and classical realism.

The RAW format captures all the information digitally in a photo letting you play around for hours and create umpteen interpretations with a single photo. This range of tones, colors, and light doesn’t come easy and often a single image is nearly 15-20 MB but thanks to cheap external storage, this is no longer a problem. You can bring out details from the shadows that you may have missed while in the field or add gradients to the sky for a more dramatic effect. Obviously, the extent of post processing you do depends on the time you are willing to invest and the effect you want to achieve. If you overdo it, you will be informed rather quickly by others.

However, smartphones currently do not shoot in RAW and often and especially low light images are noisy and grainy beyond any salvage. In bright sunlight outdoors, smartphones perform remarkably well but unless you’re always going to be satisfied with the image you get immediately after you shoot it, you’ll quickly realize the limitations.

Manual Customization

The SLR really shines when you’ve the time and inclination to tinker with the umpteen settings at hand. With the smartphone, you’ve a fixed aperture of f/2 or lower and the software adjusts the rest. Although the software is rapidly catching up and letting you create excellent HDR that earlier needed SLRs so this point is rapidly getting eroded.

But long exposure times to capture the night sky for example or light trails or multiple shots of fireworks and lighting are still best captured by SLRs. More than half of the people who own SLRs still haven’t tapped the entire potential of the customizations their camera offers them and I still discover something new each time I crack open my manual or read about a technique on a photo tutorial blog.

But that said, I still believe that smartphones have a firm footing in the camera business. One, you always have it on you so a photo-worthy moment is rarely missed. Second, you can instantly share what you capture across various social networks. After all, what good is a photo if you don’t share it, right? Often when I’m out with my SLR, I still shoot some photos with my iPhone so I can instantly share them on Instagram or Facebook. I’m sure those photos are viewed by more people than my carefully-edited and post-processed photos on Flickr. But in the end, we do what we have to do.

  1. I include the digital versions of the SLR too. []
  2. I use Lightroom 5 []

Traveling to Ithaca & Upstate New York

Making a trip to New England or at least the Northeast to experience the fall colors has been on my bucket list for a long time. Living in Texas makes you completely oblivious to the fall season which lasts for about 3-4 weeks when it goes from being unbearably hot to pleasantly cool to frigid cold (no snow though). We took advantage of the fact that Ash’s sister attended Cornell University which is in Ithaca, right in central upstate New York. We were told that fall colors are brilliant and while it’s no Vermont, it promised to be a great experience. We just had to get the timing right.

I even moved up my plans for a long-overdue DSLR upgrade to Nikon D7100 just before we left on the trip. Getting away from the stifling Texas heat even as October dawned was only just below seeing fall colors. But as luck would have it, Ithaca was unseasonably warm so we almost never wore our warm coats that we packed. But warm by Ithaca standards is quite pleasant and cool by Texas standards so we were not complaining. People in Ithaca were in fact cheering the unseasonable warm weather and it helped them get out in droves for the Apple Harvest Fest.

Bridge Over Fall Colors

Triphammer Falls, Ithaca

We started off by visiting the Cornell campus that’s inconveniently located at the top of a hill so unless you’ve strong legs, it makes sense to take the bus up there. The views are definitely worth it too. ‘Ithaca is gorges’ is the official city slogan which apart from being a good pun is true. You don’t have to walk too far to see brilliant gorges that reveal layers and layers of sedimentary rocks carved by glaciers in the ice age. The second photo at the top is right in the middle of Cornell campus and my sister-in-law said, she walks by it every day without stopping to admire the sheer beauty of it. I guess, living and studying on one of the most prettiest campus can do that to you.

The campus by itself even without the fall colors is beautiful with college-catalog-type buildings. You know, the ones that you see on a typical college brochure in India but then end up landing at an urban campus in the middle of the city.

view from Cornell

Cornell Library

One of the libraries is something like Robert Landgon would run through in a hurry to find secrets of the Illuminati. Old Gothic style buildings that’ve been retrofitted to modern standards sit right next to modern architecture structures designed by Rem Koolhaas. But of course, we weren’t here to see the campus but to enjoy fall in its full glory.

To enjoy Ithaca and its surroundings, all you have to do is to drive to the umpteen state parks that surround beautiful waterfalls. Be it the majestic Taughnnock Falls or the cascading Buttermilk Falls, both offer very different landscapes that offer the best fall season has to offer. In any other place, Ithaca Falls (third photo below), mere walking distance from downtown Ithaca, would be a grand spot full of tourists but here it takes a backseat to its more impressive cousins.

Taughnnock Falls

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Ithaca Falls

Heck, even the kid who is otherwise bouncing off the walls these days took a moment to stand and stare at the beautiful colors all around him.

Enjoying the Fall colors

Walking through Ithaca in the fall is like walking through a plethora of photo moments. Armed with a brand new more-robust camera, I couldn’t help but go shutter-crazy. I’m all for enjoying the moment but I rather enjoy it and then stay a while to capture it in pixels. Even the simple walks from picturesque lakes back to the bus stop make you stop, turn around, and marvel at the colors.

Driving thru fall

Hobbit Tunnel

Fall Church

I couldn’t impress upon you the sheer number of beautiful places you see even as you drive through the countryside. I would’ve 10x more pictures if I had indeed stopped at all the places I went whoa!

Apple’s Gamble

I’m neither a Wall Street analyst nor a MBA-types who knows much about running successful companies. So the following arguments about Apple can be taken with a grain of salt or you can stop reading now to avoid thinking how much more stupid I can get.

Everyone was surprised (not in a good way) when Apple announced a new ‘cheaper’ version of its flagship product, the iPhone and called it the iPhone 5C. Some had hoped the ‘C’ stood for cheap but perhaps Apple meant it as color. It is priced at $99 for its base model under a two-year contract or for $549 unsubsidized. People had expected it to be much lower; some even posited that it would be as much as an iPod Touch ~$250-300. For months leading up to the keynote, rumors floated around first on the product specs starting with the existence of a plastic (actually polycarbonate) around a steel-reinforced frame. If you see the video of its manufacturing, it is pretty cool. But it is still a plastic iPhone even though Jonny Ive calls it ‘unapologetically plastic’. After the existence of the plastic iPhone were almost confirmed prior to the keynote, the rumor blogs moved on to why was Apple doing it? And this is where the wheels come off.

iPhone 5c Colors

Tech blogs are great at reviewing technical specifications and analyzing OS features but in judging and predicting business strategy especially for Apple, it doesn’t have even a modicum of success. Not just Apple, the tech pundits have no clue why Amazon enjoys unprecedented trust from its investors in spite of zero profits. But then if everyone could tell what made a successful business, we all would’ve had successful businesses. So after the plastic iPhone was near-confirmed, people rumored that perhaps Apple was targeting China and India where most smartphones are sold unsubsidized and need to be cheap. Based on my anecdotal evidence when I was visiting India and spent 10 minutes in a cell phone shop, the first thing new customers (almost 10 people) mentioned was their budget and asked to see what phones were available in that budget.

So Apple targeting these huge growing market almost seemed obvious. Of course, known for their secrecy, Apple said nothing. This supposed foray into India and China was based on the assumption that Apple needed to expand marketshare after Samsung was handily beating them. Apple still said nothing. If it needs to expand marketshare, Apple needs to sell a cheaper iPhone because that’s what most customers in India and China will buy. Apple still said nothing. The near-confirmed iPhone 5C will be the cheaper iPhone and price points ranging from $200 to $350 were being floated in spite of having no knowledge or understanding of the manufacturing cost, supply chain management, and ability to maintain high profit margins. So now the stage was set – Apple was going to announce a plastic iPhone 5C costing somewhere between $200-$350 aimed at China and India to expand marketshare. All this time, Apple still hadn’t even hinted at anything being discussed furiously online.

The disappointment and fall in stock price was almost as unexpected as the continued high price of the iPhone 5C. Even I was disappointed.

You may argue that Apple’s secrecy that had served so well in the past is now biting them in the ass and setting unrealistic expectations that they repeatedly fail to meet. But was Apple really aiming for India or China to expand their marketshare? Does it really need to?

Sameer Singh makes the case that it was never aimed at emerging markets[1]:

The iPhone 5C effectively replaces the iPhone 5 as Apple’s new “mid-range” device and retains the same subsidized/unsubsidized pricing structure of $99/$549. The most obvious question to ask is why Apple felt the need to replace the iPhone 5 with the 5C when they’re practically the same device, at the same price.

I believe the answer is related to the level of cannibalization caused by the iPad Mini. Apple was spooked when it saw a “new”, “good enough” product sharply eat into sales of their flagship tablet. As a result, Apple attempted to minimize the pricing gap between the two “new” iPhones and attempted to differentiate them based on casing and color. Therefore, I don’t believe the iPhone 5C is targeted at emerging markets at all, but is an attempt to defend the iPhone’s margins & ASP in subsidized markets.

Apple furiously guards its margins that generates tremendous amount of profit to the tune of $500+ per iPhone sold. It is also its luxury and premium brand status that still makes it special. Contrary to popular opinion, it was never the most popular smartphone. It was always Nokia and Blackberry and then when those declined, Android-powered Samsung phones took over. As crass as it may sound, perhaps Apple is not interested in diminishing its brand value by flooding the market and joining the ranks of cheap smartphones. As in any product category (clothing, cars, etc.), there is a luxury segment and brands in those segments do exceedingly well.Something that 37signals argued several years ago:

If you try to please everyone, you won’t please anyone. When we built Basecamp we focused our marketing on design firms. By narrowing our market this way, we made it more likely to attract passionate customers who, in turn, would evan gelize the product. Know who your app is really intended for and focus on pleasing them.

Perhaps Apple is better off with not having a large marketshare and tons of more customers for cheaper iPhones. More customers means more infrastructure in handling their needs and keeping them happy. You attract a certain segment of the market whose first criteria is not product quality but price then you’re never going to keep them happy. So why should Apple take a hit on its profit margins to attract more customers who are more likely to be unhappy? When Apple was silent on all this speculation of expanding into emerging markets, it perhaps was not. If you think about it from that sense, the iPhone 5C pricing is right where Apple’s prices usually are. The iPhone 5 is discontinued and its innards are put in a new plastic shell and sold for $100 less than its premier product, the iPhone 5S.

Now Apple may choose to do a complete about-turn and in fact, trade profits for marketshare next year. After all, this year’s iPhones 5C will be a year old and can be sold for cheap. But considering the iPhone 4 still sells for $420 in China, I’ll be surprised. Then again, as I mentioned, I’m no business guru.

From a personal perspective, why should you be worry about a company expanding its marketshare just because you bought a phone from them? As long as you can buy it for a reasonable price in your country, why should it matter to you if they sell a cheaper one in India or China? Most people making prognostications aren’t even Apple stockholders. I own shares in a mutual fund in which 3% are Apple stocks. Given the amount I’ve invested in the mutual fund, I’m sure I own less than 10%…of a single Apple share. I couldn’t care less what its stock price is as long as the iPhone I buy every two years serves me good. I care about the customer service they provide me and not how many customers they will gain in India. In fact, I don’t want them to serve more customers than they can reasonably handle. I’ll gift an iPad to my parents so we can FaceTime once a week but otherwise, even your family in India not owning an iPhone is no biggie.

Why anyone gets into serious Apple-Android debates is beyond me. I like to tweet out a few zingers on Twitter but you should know better than to take me seriously on there. You buy the phone you like the best and might better your life. At most, you can influence your immediate family because it may make things easier to share (Shared Photostream, FaceTime, etc.) but apart from that, it shouldn’t matter if a hundred million more people in a faraway country also use the same phone as you do. If your phone is discontinued or the company shuts down due to bad business decisions (like not selling for customers in India or China), you can always buy a phone from its erstwhile competitor. It’s not like your investment of less than 10% of a single share in the market capitalization of the said company will ruin your life. It will be sad to see a design-conscious company decline (and it isn’t really any time soon) but there will always be others.

  1. strange term now after the economies have stopped growing as rapidly []

Honing Portrait Photography Skills

Photography is one of the few hobbies I have managed to keep up with in spite of numerous other distractions. Of course, I haven’t been able to shoot as much as I like to but hopefully our move to Austin will let me explore better parts of Texas around here. In the meantime, I’ve been shooting my son as he grows up and between Instagram, I’ve managed to amass quite a decent collection of memories. However, at times I feel I’m just using my gut instinct and intuition to shoot what looks best. If something doesn’t, then I just fix it in Lightroom. But as any photographer will tell you, it is part art and part science. It is essential to be cognizant of the rule of photography even if you end up breaking them. After all, you can alter the laws of physics by making light behave different than it does.

Moving to Austin has in a way helped me reach out to opportunities that weren’t available in College Station. Living in a big city obviously has its perks and one such perk is the access to community of any interest you may hold. Moreover, Austin has the distinction of being a liberal city in a conservative state so there are a wide variety of activities and interests for everyone. I had tried looking up photography clubs in College Station but apart from a defunct one, I had no luck.

On the other hand, Austin has several and in fact, has one for each aspect of photography. I found several via Meetup and joined a portrait photography group because it offered interesting-sounding workshops. The next available one was titled, ‘Portraits without Flash’ which was exactly what I wanted because I hate flash photography for its tendency to make images look flat [1]. But the fact that it cost $119 to attend gave me pause. I asked around and found it wasn’t uncommon for Meetup groups to charge for attending workshops; in fact, it was the sign of being a quality workshop.

I attended the workshop along with two other photographers who had been attending such workshops for a while. In fact, it was my first formal workshop if you don’t count the undergraduate photography course I took for fun while in grad school in Atlanta. We were led by a professional photographer in his house which practically was a photo studio with professional lights and backgrounds. He had even invited a professional model to pose for us so we would actually be shooting her to practice our skills. She had makeup done professionally and knew exactly how to pose when instructed by the photographer.

We first practiced in natural light from a large window and he showed us little tricks in getting the best side of a woman [2]. He showed us how to not fight the light but in fact use it to make the model look beautiful. By using the qualities of light – intensity, direction, color, and amount – we can dramatically alter the mood of any image. By using reflectors and the right white balance, you can improve the quality of your portrait significantly; so much so that your subjects will think you’re some kind of magician.

After natural lighting, he proceeded to bring out his studio lights in ascending order of size and complexity and asked us to shoot the model to create different moods from soft glamor to harsh intense profiles. Although, as he said, women shy away from shadows on their face, you can use them to create a more grim and stark mood. The aim of portrait photography however is not to show off your photographic skills but simply to make the subject look beautiful. If the first impression of your portrait by a viewer is on how skilled the photographer must have been and not how beautiful (or whatever mood the intent was) the subject is, then you’ve failed.

Every face has a structure and relates very specifically to light in creating a pattern of light and shadows on their face. It can highlight, no pun intended, their features and bring out their beauty that is otherwise not noticed in unflattering light. The job of the photographers is to study their subject’s face and use their understanding of light and knowledge of art to create a significantly better portrait than what may exist in real life. Partly deceptive but photography is not always about realism (that went out after the Renaissance period) but about creating a beautiful image.

The manner in which he dealt with the model was also insightful. Always respectful but never too deferential. After all, it was her job to pose for us and he didn’t try to make her comfortable. In fact, most of the poses, he said, are uncomfortable but are meant to hold for as long as it takes to capture that photograph. Also, you can’t go into a shoot and ask the model to do what she thinks is good. Most people even models are not aware so photographers are partly choreographers that set up their creation to shoot. He taught us several posing techniques that are flattering to a woman and drastically alter the way they look. The transformation is almost magical. A significantly experienced model is like putty in the hands of a skilled photographer. However, these skills are not learned overnight and needs practice and confidence.

I couldn’t even begin to direct the model partly because I felt awkward and partly because I didn’t know what the heck would look sexy. You also have to communicate with the model bluntly and not mince words. He was casually talking about accentuating her curves, asking her to push her bust out or telling her to move her hips back. His tone was professional yet firm and whenever he touched her, he told her he was going to touch her. The model too was very accommodating and didn’t show any sense of being uncomfortable. All this was very new to the introvert me. I can’t ask my wife to push her bust out for a photo let alone ask a beautiful woman who is a complete stranger.

There are plenty other tips that cannot be put in words but make perfect sense while shooting portraits. As one of the participant said, most of the things we learned seemed obvious in the hindsight but to actually have them demonstrated and having us capture them made all the difference. I was definitely very impressed with the workshop and it was the best $119 I spent.

In fact, I am now tempted to upgrade my camera gear and household high command approval pending, invest in a small studio light to set up in our garage. After the workshop, I chatted for a while with the photographer who gave me more tips on bettering my skills and invited me to engage with the community more often. I’ll definitely be attending more meetups.

I’m listing some of the portraits I took below. Rest are available on Flickr. None of these have been touched up in Lightroom and are direct transfers from my camera, something that is rare for me these days.

Ann Portrait Workshop

Ann Cambell Portrait Workshop

Ann Cambell Portrait Workshop

Ann Cambell Portrait Workshop

Ann Cambell Portrait Workshop

  1. I learned during the workshop that my perception wasn’t all that accurate []
  2. portrait photography is very gender-specific []

The Future of Work

When we moved to Austin after Ash also got a job here, I expected to work more often in the office. However, I realized that even my boss had no such expectations. He said, you’re free to come every day but even I wouldn’t be here every day. That made me think about how the nature of work, even in our field that changes slowly, has evolved. We Indians, as my dad instilled in me, have this intrinsic need to work hard and long hours to consider having put a honest day’s work in. But for educated folks like us, that has never been true. We never had to actually work all eight hours of the day. We worked in short bursts; some days were longer than others but you never had a typical day. So why did we even pretend to be at one place in order to do work?

My previous workplace needed us to be in office although some of my colleagues routinely went off to coffee shops. But it was always frowned upon so I never dared. But in this new workplace, it was encouraged. Partly, because they do not have the space if all staff showed up to work. But if that may have been the primary reason, I think eventually they realized that work still got done. And that’s all that mattered. Even though now we live in Austin, I still go to office only twice a week. I have realized that I only need the office space if I need to print or scan or need to collaborate with my teammates or we have that ‘lets catch up on what we’re up to’ staff meeting. Others in my team do the same except for the office manager who needs to be in every day for routine paperwork, travel bookings, etc.

When I first joined this job, my boss leaned in and said, let me offer you one bit of advice when you work from home. I thought, he’s going to tell me not to slack off. Instead he said, you’ve to be very careful not to overwork yourself. Having rarely ‘worked from home’, I thought that would never be a problem but as time passed, I saw what he meant. You never really had an off time i.e. if you worked from home and had your phone connected to the office email, you could ‘never go home from work’. You had to set limits on your work hours. You had to tear away yourself from working too long especially if you were on a roll.

The best part of working from home is the flexibility it gives you in prioritizing your tasks. You start off by checking your emails in the morning and replying to the most important ones. You get work done in the order of importance. You don’t have to remain glued to your desk. You can even work from a coffee shop, which I often do. If you need to take a break, you can simply head out and do some errands/shopping and get back with a renewed vigor. You can play music, listen to podcasts, adjust the temperature, and be dressed as comfortably as you can when you’re working from home. You can brew your own special brand of coffee, if you like. I find myself achieving much more and being more efficient in getting things done. I’m not only more productive at work but also in terms of household chores. Doing the latter is effectively a break from work [1]. I have a 20 MBps Internet connection at home. I can connect to the university VPN when I want access to restricted resources. Not being physically at work has never impeded my work. If I have to actually do something that needs office resources, I either plan it for the two days I’m at the office or simply drive down to the office and get out as soon as I’m done. You don’t have to lounge around wasting time just because your boss is making the rounds to check if everyone’s at their desk (it happened in my previous workplace!)

I’m sure this is nothing new for those of you who work in the technology sector. You must have gotten there long before we did. But for a public university in social sciences [2], this is pretty revolutionary. But there is a gradual acceptance of the fact that this style of working can in fact be more efficient. I still submit timesheets that say I have worked 40 hours a week. Some weeks I don’t and on some weeks, it’s more. I wonder how long before all the (white collar) workplace rules evolve to not how many hours or even where you work but rather to what have you achieved. You do it quicker than others but you’ll be eventually judged on the outcomes, not the effort you put in.

  1. Writing this post has also been a quick break from work []
  2. Not all departments have made this change so I know I’m lucky []

Futile Efforts: Immigration Reform

There was much hope and optimism for a comprehensive immigration reform after Mitt Romney got romped in the Presidential elections. Republicans including the usual nut jobs like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly were coming to terms with the fact that they might have to reach out to the Hispanics. So the sense of hope for a solution wasn’t misplaced. But I was always a bit skeptical since the bill that tried to eliminate per-country quota died in the Senate, thanks to Chuck Grassley’s hold.

After months of negotiating and amendments, the Senate finally passed a bill that addressed most of the concerns from the perspective of skilled immigrants and the undocumented immigrants. It passed with a 67-23 vote that counts as overwhelmingly bipartisan in these frustrating times. All 23 No votes however came from Republicans. The bill then moved to the House that has a Republican majority. The House right now is practically defunct with even the usually bipartisan Farm Bill failing a vote. A bill to repeal Obamacare has been voted on 37 times and so have other bills on abortion and gay marriage. However, due to some strange machinations in the background, the Republicans now feel that they no longer have to court the Hispanic vote but in fact have to only convince more whites to vote for them. How is that a genuine long-term strategy is beyond me. Not all whites are racist conservative ideologues. Heck, even gay marriage enjoys majority support now across all race and ethnicities. In fact, even among the GOP representatives in the House, nearly 50% support immigration reform.

So why will the immigration bill fail if nearly all Democrats who hold 201 votes and 50% of Republicans who hold 234 votes support the bill? By simple math, that makes up nearly 300 votes and you need only 218 to pass a bill. Well, in a rational and logical democracy that would be the case. Not in a dysfunctional chaos that is now the U.S. Congress for whom denying Obama any legislative progress or modicum of governing is the goal. The bill will only get a vote if the Speaker brings it to the floor and he says, he won’t bring it to the floor unless a majority of Republicans support it. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why. He invokes a bizzarro rule called the Hastert Rule that is some kinda unwritten rule that a bill should have the majority of the majority party in favor.

If you really want to trace back the origin of the rot, it is not just the irrational hatred for Obama but the political process that makes such hatred potent. Gerrymandering, or using your party’s whims on redrawing the Congressional Districts is mostly to blame for this impasse. Any student of political science will tell you that the primary goal of an elected official is not to influence public policy or public service but simply to get reelected. Even the ones with noble intentions offer this excuse that in order to do good work, they’ve to be first reelected. Soon that goal becomes and end in itself. Congressmen smartly redraw the Congressional boundaries to ensure their victory so as not to rely on voters whims. Nearly 85% of Congressmen are elected from such districts. It’s only the other 15% that result in any turnover so you can imagine most Congressmen have lived in Washington forever. When you redraw the districts to suit your purpose, you can safely exclude people from other races and ethnicities that you know will not vote for you. You can then safely bash them and say the most racist things without any consequence. There are districts that are 95% white and with as much segregation that exists in this country, it is nearly impossible to exclude minorities unless you draw boundaries that shamelessly exclude them.

Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this though. It doesn’t help to have a black or Hispanic-dominated districts because of course, the Congressman will protect their interest. The real skill in politics should be striking a balance and looking after the interests of all people in your constituency. So in terms of this immigration bill, you have Congressmen like Louie Gohmert from Texas and Peter King from Iowa saying the most outrageously racist things but they don’t have to fear any electoral consequences because they come from dominant white and conservative districts that in fact, like them saying such things. Add up such Congressmen and they make up enough to create noise to derail sensible bipartisan legislation. And guess what, this gerrymandering is perfectly legal and constitutional.

Even god cannot help this country in face of such tiring circumstances.

How to use #TWSS or #TWHS

Few weeks ago, Fluffy or as most of us originally know him, Curious Gawker corrected me on my usage of the #humblebrag tag on Twitter. Considering I am either humble or extremely pretentious on Twitter, he definitely caught me trying to tread the middle ground. I like to pretend I’m cool like the kids so a lesson here and there helps. That and also, I hate seeing terms or the craze of our generation, the hashtags, being misused. That brings me to how people use or rather misuse the #TWSS or #TWHS, which stands for ‘That’s What She Said’ and ‘Thats What He Said’. The former is the original and the latter was invented by women who wanted to be as crass as most guys.

Instead of attempting to explain what the term means, let me simply defer to that all-knowing source on the Internet that is called Urban Dictionary [1]. It defines TWSS as:

A phrase used to turn a simple comment into a sexual joke

E.g. “This Math exam. Man, it’s so hard!” .. “that’s what she said”

More complex: “every time I pull it out I almost break my back” .. “that’s what she said”

Basically, the idea is to insert sexual innuendo when people are least expecting it thereby introducing awkwardness or disgust in the people who said it. It also usually has the added benefit of showing you in a good light sexually unless your brand of humor is be self-deprecating. Also, the joke is funnier if the sexual pun is not evident or obvious.

However, the way I have seen people use it on Twitter is to use TWSS if a woman says the original sentence or TWHS if a man says the original sentence. Such usage simply makes me #facepalm (look, another hashtag; more on that next time). If a guy ends up using TWHS or if a woman uses TWSS, then it automatically implies that they are gay which I know for a fact for some people that they are not. So unless they’re being sexually self-deprecating to a great extent or are simply clueless, don’t use the hashtags this way please. I’ve DM-ed (not a sexual act but simply means direct-messaged someone on Twitter) some people I know well [2] and asked them if that’s what they meant. Almost always their reaction is that they didn’t know that’s how you use TWSS or TWHS. Just because a guy said it doesn’t qualify it for TWHS and vice versa for a woman.

I hope that cleared up lots of misconceptions. Next Twitter lesson: TBD.

  1. Don’t be addicted to this site. There is a perverse meaning to everything innocent you say []
  2. see, @c_gawker, I don’t shame people publicly. Hrmph! []

What prompts a change of heart in public policy issues?

This week, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on Proposition 8 in California that banned gay marriage. Rumors are circulating that if nothing else, the SCOTUS will not uphold Prop.8, which if you’re aware of the composition of the Court is surprising. Over the past couple of years, gay marriage has reached a tipping point in public opinion with a majority supporting it. Only as recent as 2004, opposition to gay marriage was so strong that it was credited to have reelected George W. Bush.Merely having it on the ballot of battleground states brought out hordes of conservative hell bent on preserving ‘traditional’ marriage [1].

It is 2013 now and nearly 67% of Californians and more than a majority across the nation support gay marriage. The tipping point, I think, was when the Vice President Joe Biden came out in favor which led to President Obama also overcoming his reluctant opposition. This admittedly may have been due to overwhelming pressure from big donors in Hollywood and NYC who are dedicated to the cause. Earlier this month, the governor of Senator from Ohio, a perennial battleground state, Rob Portman, also came out in favor of gay marriage. However, his motivations, at least publicly, were different. His son is gay and he considered his personal duty to support gay marriage.

Comparing the motivations of these two groups i.e. Biden-Obama and Portman, the latter’s change of heart seems genuine and as a better catalyst for a change in heart. But in terms of public policy and civil rights, is it really? In terms of advocacy and bringing about change among elected officials, what would you prefer to be a more desirable process? Although we look down upon politicians and their changing ways, it is an integral part of a democratic process. Politicians are motivated by their chances of getting reelected and their legacy, if under a term-limit. Most politicians want to be in the forefront of an inevitable wave of change. The public cannot be fooled by someone who just jumps on a bandwagon. At the same time, the politician has to be careful so as to not bet on change that may happen. It is a carefully calculated risk.

In terms of influencing change either through lobbying efforts or threatening to not donate to their next campaign, people can cause politicians to hasten their decision. Although money gets a bad rap, it is often a powerful tool, if harnessed correctly, in the hands of the people. Either that or using tools of publicity campaigns through social media. Politicians respond to external influences. That’s how the political and democratic process work. At least in such case, we know we have a chance.

Now if you consider Rob Portman’s influences, it was personal. It was his son who came out to him as gay and in turn brought him in touch with the issues that face the gay community. He would’ve no chance of knowing that had his son not been gay. So as a public, how are we supposed to deal with such influencing factors? Should we hope that children of politicians who make policy that affect millions are gay? or unemployed? or poor? or disabled? For them to support those issues. There are no external factors that aid us in changing the minds of such politicians. Dick Cheney famously was in favor of gay marriage way back in 2004 coincidentally also because his daughter was gay. But apart from saying so, he didn’t do anything about it. Given our experience with the Iraq war, we know that his voice wasn’t one of the less influential ones in the White House and the policy makers of that time.

While it is appreciable that both Biden-Obama and Portman chose to support gay marriage, it is also important to understand the motivations and subsequently, the opportunities in the future, for influencing such motivations.

  1. all puns not intended []

Freedom to create discomfort

ARTICLE 19 (A) of the Constitution enshrines our right to free speech. But Article 19.2 restricts it on the grounds of public order, morality and decency, security of the State, sedition, friendly relations with foreign countries, defamation, contempt of court and incitement to an offence. Unfortunately, these clauses are very loosely worded and have become a baggy hideout for weak governments. If we are to preserve our precious right to freedom of speech, then, we must debate 19.2 and narrow its meaning more precisely. Or insist governments emerge from its shadows.

Source: Tehelka.

The above-quoted paragraph highlights what is the key issue in rampant and often random restrictions on free speech in India. I have written on this in the past. The other reason is the reluctance to charge the ones acting on the speech with violence. It needs to be inculcated that no matter how gravely you’re offended, if you resort to violence or issue a actionable threat to do so, you will be dealt with first. There should be no tolerance for violence regardless of the incitement. Start enforcing this law strictly and uniformly and you’ll see how quickly people will stop being offended. Most offenses taken are purely for publicity sake which in turn they use for political gain. Clamp down on this behavior and we may have a semblance of reasonable discussion in the country. One of my ex-professors suggested this:

And I agree.

Loss of Urban Life

On Twitter today, I spotted this image that epitomizes the problems women face in Delhi.

At first glance, most will agree with the sentiments expressed by the person sharing the image. But then you think beyond the rage that certain current events in Delhi have wrought upon the nation and you begin to understand the gradual yet unmistakable tearing of the urban fabric. Looking past the misguided message that the sign implies (why should the leecher go home and stare at his sister?), it indicates problems that may soon be the undoing of a great city like Delhi. No longer do people perceive it safe for anyone let alone women to be out in the streets. I have always thought the situation to be a bit overblown but as Gone Native suggests, it might not be so:

The situation in Delhi now assumes all men are lecherous. If you even happen to look at a woman for a second longer, you might be a potential rapist. There is no way any settlement will remain amicable if you view your fellow denizens suspiciously. If safety is the first thought that pops in your head after a simple and innocent act of simply looking at a person then any further contact is automatically voided. We live in dense cities because we value human companionship and being social animals, we thrive by being around people, even the ones we know nothing about. It is this unspoken camaraderie that defines any city’s social fabric and attracts people from other places. At times, these relationships are economic, and at times, they are cultural but nevertheless social interaction is what keeps people living next to each other in close quarters. Otherwise, this earth is large enough to have more than a dozen acres for each one of Earth’s seven billion people.

But when half of the population i.e. the women are compelled to view the other half i.e. men suspiciously all the time, like it seems to be in Delhi right now, there is an unmistakable tear in the invisible ties that bind us. If safety is our only motive then security check-points at every public square or cops swarming any public park would be considered optimal but would we want to hang out in such a public square or amble along in such a pubic park? Soon the city will wither away and die a slow and sad death.

I have no definite solution for this problem and for the sake of Delhi, I hope they find one soon. Perhaps the answer lies in strict and reliable law enforcement that will win back the confidence of the people. Ensuring safety and well-being without having to look over your shoulder is the primary responsibility of the state. It is why we pay taxes and obey laws. But when the state fails at this basic duty, society begins to unravel. Delhi has always been a resilient city and has withstood worse problems but mostly, those threats have been external. These problems fester within and the responsibility of regaining Delhi’s spirit lies with its people as much as it does with the state governing it. I hope they succeed.