Nokia and Microsoft partnership – impact analysis

Nokia has historically been the undisputed leader in mobile phones. They did not invent smartphones but were so good at bringing them to market that most consider them to be the father of the smartphone. The Symbian platform based Sony Ericsson and Samsung smartphones were never as popular as the Nokia made devices both in hardware and user interface. This was a time when Nokia meant cutting-edge innovation. This all began to change with the entry of Apple with the iPhone back in 2007. Suddenly touchscreens were considered cool, modern and a must-have feature, forget the fact that touchscreens had been used by a number of Windows Mobile devices as well as a couple of Symbain devices (Sony Ericsson P series). To be fair Apple did bring about a monumental shift in the touchscreen – from stylus-based resistive screens to a simpler and more intuitive finger-based capacitive approach.

Apple’s success sparked off a number of clones and copies from most leading and many unknown manufacturers however is was business as usual for Nokia. They continued to make regular candy-bar smartphones. It was only during the end of 2008 that they released a token touchscreen phone and that too with the now old stylus-based resistive approach. There was little change in the user interface (UI) and hardly any marketing push.

Fast forward to the astronomical growth of Android during 2009 and 2010 with the likes of Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG and HTC all pumping out the best hardware to go with an attractive and powerful operating system (OS) i.e. Google’s Android. Nokia’s answer was the N8 superphone which took 6 months for its release and by that time the competition zipped past with far better hardware. Nokia’s attempts of improving its Symbian UI left a lot to be desired.
Jump to present day and consumers have lost all faith in Nokia’s ability to product class-leading devices. Nokia has no flagship device, no phone that makes the geeks and gadget lovers go weak in the knees. The importance of a flagship device should not be underestimated. By building best-in-class hardware with the Desire and Nexus One, HTC solidified its brand in the minds of consumers. When Samsung, who earlier was considered a manufacturer of budget phones, released the brilliant Galaxy S their brand image shot up tremendously. So strong was the effect of the Galaxy S that is also boosted sales of other Samsung phones in the lower segments. Consumers suddenly began to look at Samsung as a potent device manufacturer and this was further reinforced with the release of the Samsung-built Google Nexus S (successor of the Nexus One).
One look at the products announced at the ongoing MWC and we quickly see trends like dual core 1+Ghz processors, 1Gb RAM, dual camera, 3D displays, high-resolution displays and the rapidly growing tablet variants. However Nokia, for the first time in history, had no new device announcement. A time when the smartphone world is at its competitive peak and the smartphone leader had nothing!

That’s not entirely true; they did have a major announcement – a partnership with Microsoft. In the future most, if not all, Nokia’s high-end smartphones will run on Windows Phone 7. This is possibly the most significant announcement to come out of the Finnish company in years and its impact will be felt for years to come. In a nutshell what this means is that Nokia will cut back on development of Symbian and MeeGo (of which no device has yet been announced). Drastically reduce its R&D budget (staff cuts) and instead pay Microsoft for using Windows Phone 7 on their phones. Its quite possible that licensing WP7 would be cheaper than developing new software in-house. New is the key point here. Nokia for too long has relied on its now aged Symbian platform and only made minor tweaks to their UI and OS. This at a time when competitors have reengineered their OS’s from the ground up. IOS, Android, WebOS, Windows Phone7 and BADA were all built from scratch with elegance and ease of use in mind. Only Nokia and RIM stuck to their ‘old’ OS and it is this lack of keeping up with the times that has reversed their growth.

Nokia + Android = Fail
Many argue that Nokia should have gone with Android like every other manufacturer however that’s precisely why they should not have. Android well on its way to be the phone OS of choice and is outselling its competitors. So strong is the brand image of Android that had Nokia taken it up, they would be swallowed in the sea of devices with no clear differentiator. Nokia would then be in direct competition with other Android based smartphone manufacturers who have a quicker time-to-market, have better hardware, make devices cheaper and have a big head start. Quite clearly Nokia would not be any better off that it’s current state.

Nokia + Windows Phone 7 = Pass (but just about)
Windows Phone 7 is the newest OS on the scene and in its current state does have quite a few limitations (as can be expected with any new OS). That being said it still looks quite impressive, has strong office integration capabilities, has a great gaming potential with Xbox live and Kinect integration, gives users a fresh new UI while taking a radically different approach to iOS and Android. Though HTC, Samsung and LG have adopted Windows Phone 7 they don’t seem to be pushing it as hard as their Android products. This may be due to the lack of OS maturity and issue of licensing costs.

Nokia’s move to develop high-end phones running on Windows Phone 7 means that the company will go all out to make and market these devices. They are also the only manufacturer with permission to modify/customize (so some extent) the OS for their devices. This would give Nokia an edge over the competition as they would possess the much coveted OS differentiation which many seek.
As mentioned earlier Windows Phone 7 was not a runaway hit, in spite of its impressive UI and capabilities. Likewise Nokia was losing ground fast, in spite of its strong market presence and brand image. Divided and both could end up as failures however united and they can leverage each other’s strengths to come out with winning products and services in all markets. The all markets bit is significant as Nokia is very strong in Europe and Asia but not North America. Microsoft on the other hand has got a strong presence in the North American market but not so much in Europe and Asia. This partnership would open Nokia to North America and Microsoft to Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East (where Nokia has operator and distributor partnerships).
Another important fact about the partnership is that Microsoft will pay for and implement Nokia’s navigation and mapping services. This would open up a new revenue stream for Nokia and bring about the possibility of enhanced location based services across a number of geographies.

The Intel angle
Another important aspect not mentioned is Intel. In my opinion this is a key point to note. Intel is looking for a chance to enter the lucrative mobile chipset market (currently dominated by Qualcomm, ARM, Samsung). Recent IDC report says that Smartphones shipments were higher than Computers (first time in history) so clearly this is a volume market. Nokia has already partnered with Intel in the joint development of MeeGo (Maemo + Moblin) so they do have a history together. Then Microsoft and Intel have long been partnering in the PC segment. With the Nokia+Micrsoft joint effort Intel will have the perfect launchpad to the mobile chipset market.

Final thoughts
At this point it does look like Microsoft is getting the better part of the deal however this is still a good deal for Nokia. The company can shed its excess weight and morph into a service provider that makes handsets rather than a handset manufacturer that provides services. I personally see the union bring out devices with good (not great) hardware along with strong, reliable services and a robust ecosystem. I see future Nokia devices with best-in-class location based services (courtesy Navteq and Bing) and best-in-class office integration (courtesy Microsoft) and best-in-class imaging (courtesy N8-like sensor design team) and great build quality (like many Nokia phones of the past). Interestingly Nokia also has one of the best display technologies i.e the Nokia clear black AMOLED displays. This is the joining of three giants – Nokia (device hardware and marketing reach); Microsoft (device software and integrated PC services) and Intel (processors and graphics)

Yes it is … and No I’m NOT – pt 1

Have you ever felt the universe was playing a cruel joke on you? That the people around you are all involved in some elaborate practical joke? Ever felt that your most innocent of actions will be misinterpreted with repercussions hilarious to all but yourself? …..  O just me then :(

Following are a snapshot of a few unfortunate incidents that seem to transcend the fabric of space/time and friend circles and come back to haunt me time and time again. For years I tried to avoid being put in that situation however when I least expect it … there it is and there I am again, the laughing stock of the lot.

From now on I intend to walk around with a banner that reads – ‘Yes it is … and No I’m NOT!!’ Read on to find out why –

It all began back in the year 2004 when I went to Bangalore with my cousin Dan, my neighbor Abi. We were there for the weekend and decided to drop in at one of the nearby pubs. Dan and Abi ordered their usual poisons however as I did not drink I was a bit lost in the alcohol menu. That menu to me was like a broken pencil – pointless! Noticing my clear confusion (oxymoron anyone) the waiter approached. Then as soon as I told him that I was a teetotaler his expression changed from genuine concern to absolute disgust –“but … but this is a bar” he said. I shrugged my shoulders and sank into my bar stool (which is not as easy as it sounds). After a quick pause he suggests I go in for a mocktail, something known as the bartenders special to be precise. I nodded in agreement. Not a puppy dog nod or an epileptic nod, but a manly nod – short, quick and very subtle (ladies do not read into that I was only referring to the nod). Soon the drinks arrived, well theirs did anyway; mine was late. I looked about impatiently as I know from past experiences that the guy not holding a drink in a bar stands out like a sore thumb. Little did I know that things were about to get worse, much worse.

By this time my cousin Dan and Abi were halfway down their beers when they stopped and stared out into the dimly lit bar. One of the waiters appeared to be holding something; something positively revolting. It was a fluorescing shade of pink and seemed to be dancing in the strobe lights. It had a long multicolored straw projecting well above the brim. The straw was flanked by two rather large strawberries which were in turn covered with a light sprinkling of whipped cream. Even the glass containing this bizarre concoction was oddly curvy in a very impractical yet suggestive way. It took me whole 20 seconds to take in how incredibly girly that drink was and was sure it could only be ordered be some really tacky girl with the need to OD on pink. It took my cousin and friend all of three seconds to realize that that it was my drink. Then it arrived … pinker and more girly that it appeared across the bar. Suddenly it sank in --- this was my drink. THIS WAS MY DRINK!! This was the bartenders special; Special What? Special Humiliation for coming to a bar and not ordering alcohol. 

I sat there, staring at the drink. Its rainbow colored straw staring back at me. Its whipped cream coated strawberries bobbing on either side of it. The incredible pinkness amplified and fluorescing by the UV lighting and dim surroundings. Laughter at the bar. Laughter so loud that no matter how hard you try, you cannot look away. Laughter by your own cousin and you best friend. I felt the walls close in on me. The music dimmed, faces disappeared (except mine thanks to the light next to my head). Whispers were heard (above the laughter) fingers were pointing, grinning teeth were seen, the two at my table were still laughing. Finally I had had it. Sat up straight, looking across at the crowded tables on either side of me I said – “Yes it is… and No I’m Not”. Then proceeded to take a sip of the drink, after moving the strawberries out of the way. It turned out that I hated the taste of the drink but no one believed me than and I’m sure they would not believe me now.

This was just the beginning… There is more … Much more… watch this space!

Review – Blackberry 8820

I am not a big fan of Blackberry especially not their earlier models. Due to an odd twist of fate (see ‘Quest for a Camera-Less Phone’) I ended up with a blackberry 8820. Since the phone has been around for a while and has been discontinued from production it’s a bit too late to come up with a review for this phone. However I am not one to let trivial facts prevent me from posting my thoughts. Lets dive right in.

The Blackberry 8820, like its poorer cousin 8800, is a pretty handsome phone. It looks very professional and has a good build quality. It’s full QWERTY keyboard looks a bit cramped with no space between the keys, but let me assure you they are one of the best I’ve used. Something about the shape of the keys and the placement of the ridges that make hitting the precise key you were gunning for. Typing long messages or emails are quite simple and the spell check is also fairly good (however I do miss predictive text). Menu options are quite basic I have to say I quite like the trackball navigation. It’s very accurate and takes up only a small amount of real-estate. It’s a pity that the trackball is such a dust magnet and cleaning it could be a pain.

The Blackberry 8820 has a single (mono) speaker on top of the phone. It’s a pretty loud and clear speaker and is more than sufficient for a speakerphone call or listing to music. The media capabilities of the device are rather poor. It can only play a thin list of formats so most of your videos will need to be trans-coded for the device. Audio quality through the supplied headphones and about average. They can go quite loud but bass reproduction is severely limited. There another major negative point to be noted. The phone comes with a 2.5mm audio jack as opposed to the standard 3.5mm jack. Also this 2.5mm jack only supports blackberry and Motorola handsfree sets and not the Nokia ones so availability of replacement headphones will be another pain point. I personally suggest option for a good pair of Bluetooth headphones. I use Motorola S9 stereo Bluetooth headphones. They are very comfortable, give a good bass response but need to be changed frequently (because I use them a lot).

There are a number of applications and games for the blackberry 8820 however very few of them are free. Another issue is that most of the applications need BIS to be activated in order to function properly. As I did not do so I cannot comment on the apps. On the gaming front, from what I can tell blackberry’s cupboard is quite bare. Yes this is a business-centric phone but that’s no excuse not to have some fun fast paced action games on the phone. No wait I forgot, the hardware can’t take it. Yes the hardware is pretty low spec. Essentially packman is about as good as it gets.

Customizations – there are a number of themes for the device however most of the good ones are not free. In conclusion this is not for the young media consuming music playing mobile phone customizing gaming junkie but rather for a simple professional who just wants email, listen to the occasional tune and not bother about touch screens or sliding out keypads.

GPRS without BIS on a Blackberry

There exists a definite hype surrounding Blackberry devices. Now many may argue that the hype is well warranted as Blackberry devices are the pinnacle of mobile engineering. To which I simple say “No they are not!!” Their secure and reliable services are definitely a plus however their device hardware is a significant let down for ‘some users’. The cost of their blackberry internet service also makes it unviable for a number of users.
That being said I still see a number of people itching to buy a blackberry handset in the hopes of seamlessly accessing the net. Many of my peer group have bought one or planning to buy one as they believe it offers them a desktop-like email experience and keeps them connected from a social-networking standpoint. Is that true? Well yes and no.
Blackberry devices are certainly a lot more powerful and feature rich then they were two short years ago, however what many don’t account for is the added expense of the Blackberry Internet Service. Without BIS you will not be able to use most of the Blackberry services and features. A vast majority of the Blackberry tailored apps requires a fully functional BIS in order to work. Even the core functionality of email will not function without it. Keep in mind that BIS rentals are usually significantly higher then your regular GPRS / data rentals and it is this steep monthly rental that keeps many people from opting for it.
Another issue (probably more relevant to emerging markets) is that Blackberry internet services are rarely offered on prepaid plans. This means that if you are a prepaid subscriber and have bought a shiny new blackberry specifically for your email/IM/social networking then what you have is a rather expensive paperweight. You could always switch to postpaid, activate BIS and cough up the monthly rental and never miss an email or status update again.
I however do not fall into that category. I do not want to be always connected and have work follow me where ever I go. As I am not the type to spend many hours browsing, chatting of emailing from my phone I did not see the point in activating BIS. Unfortunately for me (and many others out there) my telecom operator does not support GPRS on blackberry. Had I been using any other phone GPRS activation would be a snap but not on the Blackberry. Essentially ‘they’ want you to use BIS, that’s where the money is at.
There is a workaround however you would be limited to using a third party browser and no blackberry applications support. I have used Opera mini (4.2 and 5) however I believe the Bolt browser also works. First activate GPRS on your SIM card. Then go to your access point settings and type out the access point settings for your operator. Install the browser from your comp or download it OTA via WIFi. Once installed the browser will attempt to connect using the edited access point details. If it does not work try a battery pull. Switch the phone back on and try again. This worked for me and I am now able to browse on my Blackberry (8820). I can’t use the G-talk/Facebook or even the built-in browser however I can go to any website or check my email on the fly. It’s good enough for the casual user and let’s face it, most of our personal emails are spam or forwards anyway. If anyone figures out how to get a chat app to work without BIS do let me know. Remember consider your usage patterns before buying a Blackberry device. Hope this was helpful.

The best smart-phone of Mid 2010 – a feature wish-list

There has been much talk about smartphones and their ever-growing capabilities. While Nokia has for many years now, dominated the smartphone arena, other manufacturers are quickly getting on board, and how. In the past year and a bit we have seen, apart from the usual suspects (Nokia, RIM-blackberry, HTC etc) we now have quite a few more smartphone heavyweights – Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG, Google and Apple. Even almost forgotten manufacturers Palm and Motorola have come out with some very high spec devices to possibly turn their fortunes. 

The number of smartphone operating systems have also mushroomed with the birth of Android, WebOS, OS X, Maemo, to join the ranks of Symbian, Blackberry OS and Windows Mobile. Now I will not get into which operating system is the best as quite frankly that is a topic of much debate. Here’s my two cents worth – don’t judge as operating system by its out-of-the box functionality alone. A good operating system should obviously come with tones of functionality and features but it should also have a well stocked collection of constantly updated 3rd party applications (a good number free). It should also have a large developer community to bring in fresh ideas, applications and games to the device. They say all operating systems are equal. I’d say some are more equal than others. 

Finally after rambling on for two paragraphs I am all set to dive into my topic of choice i.e. what would be the features I would look out for a phone in the middle of this year. For those of you still living in a hole that would be June 2010. I am choosing mid 2010 because most of the features I am about to talk about are currently available, just not on the same device :( My guess is that hopefully one of the manufacturers will pick up on this post and act upon it. These features mentioned below are not arranged in any particular order. The design I have in mind is a keypad-less full touchscreen phone like the iphone, Google Nexus One, HTC Desire, SE Xperia X10 etc. Though I like the tactile feedback of hardware keys, improvements in capacitive multi-touch and haptic feedback one can do without hardware keys (for the most part). 

1. Operating System:
  • Android –I’d prefer the phone run Android for three simple reasons (i) Growing 3rd party apps (most of them free); (ii) Large and constantly growing developer community (iii) likelihood of many new updates coming soon; Ok all three are kinda related but you get the idea.

2. Display:
  • Super AMOLED display (Samsung Beam) – AMOLED displays give a better contrast (deeper blacks and rich colors). Samsung has recently come out with a few phones (Wave, Beam) with these displays and from what I’ve seen they seem stunning.
  • Oleo-phobic coating on display (Iphone 3GS) – this fancy name simply means coating the screen with a chemical that repels oils. So say good bye to ugly fingerprints and messy oil marks on the screen. (very important if you have oily skin on your face (you know who you are) as you hold the phone pressed to your cheek while talking.
  • 3.7 to 4 inch screen (SE X10) – as there would be no hardware keys the screen can and should dominate the entire face of the phone. I find that a display upto 4inchs would be ideal, anything larger and it may become a bit too wide to use – especially when placed against your ear.
  • Resolution – 800X480 sounds about right (the Xperia X10 is a bit higher). At this resolution browsing web pages natively will be a breeze (note-you may have to squint a bit).
  • Pixel Qi functionality – low power E reader display with backlight off for extended battery life.

3. Input method:
  • Capacitive multi-touch – I know it’s almost commonplace now but I still feel it should be mentioned.
  • Trackball (Nexus One) – I know many feel this would be redundant on a full touchscreen but there are times where you don’t want to touch the screen; its easier to move the curser while typing in a text box; its small, hardly takes up much space, provides brilliant tactile feedback, can double as a status indicator. A negative to note it that it does pick up dirt and may need a bit of care.

4. CPU/RAM/Memory:
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 1 GHz processor
  • Atleast 512 MB RAM & ROM (Nexus One) - future proof; future android apps and games are going to be more resource hungry than current apps.
  • In-built memory – alteast 2GB (more emphasis on hot swappable high capacity SD cards – 32GB)

5. Camera/Video/Audio:
  • 5MP to 8MP with dual LED and possibly a Xenon thrown in - for all possible shooting conditions. Yes yes I know. There are 12 MP camera phones in the market but honestly I’d prefer better optics on a 5MP camera then a mediocre quality 12MP camera sensor. Those familiar with photography will tell you that “It’s not the size of the resolution that matters but how the optics use it”. Seriously a 12MP sensor is about the same size as a 5MP sensor but crams more pixels causing reduced image quality in certain shooting environments. Ditch pushing for more pixels but rather add-in functionality like face/smile detection, fast burst mode, more filters, quick auto-focus response etc.
  • Internal zoom lens – this is such a simple concept I don’t know why no manufacturer had built one in yet. There are quite a few point-and-shoot cameras that have an internal zoom lens. Simple put the components move within the camera housing eliminating the need for a telescopic lens array. Yes the zoom may be limited to 3x or 5x but its still optical 3x which is 3 times better that any phone lens out there.
  • D1 or WVGA video resolution with atleast 24 fps. Video light. continuous focus. Also add the ability to zoom (using the above mentioned internal zoom lens) while recording video.
  • DivX support - either out of the box of through free 3rd party app.
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS - never know when you need it.
  • FM transmitter (N900) - good to have and lets you play your music on a normal boom box - wirelessly.
  • Loud and clear stereo speakers with Good quality audio playback with equalizer and bass boost functions.
  • 3.5mm audio jack (all phones) – Let’s face it most headphones provided in the box are below par. Also most of us have our favorite headphones.
  • TV out through standard 3.5mm port.
  • Possibly DVB T/H - though at present there are hardly any places where DVB transmissions work but you never know what the future holds.
6. Connectivity/Browser/Misc. features:

  • All manner of connectivity – GSM (all bands), UMTS, WiFi (all bands), GPS, A-GPS, SatNav software, IR Port (again never know what magic developers can do with it), Mini USB (mico USB is just too fiddly)
  • Full flash/ajax support on browse, with tabbed browsing and add-ons (essentially firefox)
  • 3D hardware accelerator chip (Nokia n95) – for games and flash heavy sites.
  • Li-Po 1500 or more mAh would be about nice. (Removable battery necessary).
  • Pico Projector – if it’s not too bulky or power hungry. Perhaps the microvision’s model which does not require focusing optics.
  • Digital compass, Image editor, social networking clients, office editors, good email and IM clients, actually there are way too many to list but I am sure that all of them would be available so no need to go into specifics.
Issues to be concerned about – Heat build-up due to compact size and powerful (from a mobile perspective) electronics. Battery life for the previously mentioned reasons.
This is still a working wish-list and may/will be modified occasionally. Readers are welcome to comment of any feature I have mentioned or any feature I have left out.For more updates - watch this space !!

A guy’s review of Twilight

Overlook the hype, ignore the screaming female fans, suspend logical reasoning and most of all - forget everything you knew about vampires. Now you are prepared to objectively look at the movie Twilight and its sequel New Moon and irrevocably utter the words WTF !!!
Now it would not be fair to review both movies separately, as well, not much happened in either to warrant the creation of two separate blog-posts so allow me to give you the story of twit-fight and ‘twit-fight same-tune’, as I saw it. Disclaimer: - I have not read the book and hopefully never will, so my thoughts/opinions are only directed towards the movie and the hysteria it has generated.
The movie ‘twit-fight’ begins like most movies … with the opening credits. Soon after that however things  gets really boring. The story (continuing story) is once again about a tragic love story (between the undead and the wish-she-was-dead). The main character is (the jury is still out if whether he has character or not) called ‘Head-weird Dull-hen’ a manic-depressed, anorexic, make-up wearing, overly dramatic vampire with suicidal tendencies and road kill for a toupee. He (or a she trapped in a he’s body) is chemically attracted to ‘Bella Yawn’ a hormonally imbalanced, whiney, overly dramatic ‘wannabe-a vampire’ girl with the sex appeal of a fungal spore being ingested by a fruit fly sitting on a mound of animal fecal matter floating on a swap at the wrong end of a sewage treatment plant. Now as if that was not enough we have another potential suitor for the less-than-ideal Bella Yawn. Enter Gay-cub Black, a steroid overdosed dog with a phobia of shirts and a penchant for barking up the wrong tree (in this case Bella Yawn as she does have the personality of a coconut tree, and is also clearly nuts).
Now that you are familiar with the characters and plot outline of Twit-fight let me tell you a bit more about the movies. So let see.. Bella Yawn cries, … then a bit later Head-weird Dull-hen cries, .. Then Bella Yawn cries some more, … then Gay-cub Black cries a bit, … old man dies (of a heart attack and not a vampire bite/werewolf attack like other normal movies of the genre). Yupp … that’s about it ... O yea and A-lice Dull-hen, sister of Head-weird Dull-hen drives a Porsche 911 turbo. Now that pretty much sums up the movie for me, that and the fact that in twit-fight the werewolves were in fact slightly obese dogs.  There were a few key parts missing from this vampire movie like the blazing guns, huge explosions, fast cars (besides the Porsche), hot women, tight leather outfits, sun glasses, swords, dead bodies and bad language.. The movie did not even show any blood which is pretty lame for a vampire movie. That would be like watching gone in 60 seconds without any actual cars in the movie.. Just endless talk and no action.

 Since I still have your attention let me put out a question to you all… When did vampires go from being deadly, blood thirsty, tough-as-nails guys and smoking hot vampire girls in skin tight leather … to emotionally depressed, dull, boring, sappy, whiney, attention seeking losers whose apparent weakness is that their skin becomes shiny when they step out in daylight !!! I mean come on, Shiny sparkly skin … that’s what the sun does to these freaks … no burning fireballs, no explosions, no instant vaporization hell not even a spark … shiny f#$&@ skin. Now that’s something a regular oil control cream should take care off. Hmmm I’m thinking this could be a whole new market for cosmetic companies. How about this for starters:--

“Nivea for Vampires - Oil control Moisturiser” with natural tanning elements. Now step out into the sun with confidence. Never will you be stared at again. Nivea for Vampires - Oil control Moisturiser gently removes the shiny ‘undead’ skin while coating the pores with natural pigment extracted from your latest victims. Never has vampire skin looked so human. Try it today and take the ten day challenge. If you don’t see results then drop into any one of our outlets and help yourself to our staff. This is a public service announcement.

In conclusion, while the actors in the movie may actually have some talent and probably look presentable in real life, their on-screen characters certainly do not deserve the hype. But then again I’m sure the demograph that this movie is directed at will not take to kindly to the likes of the Blade or Underworld series. It all boils down to what you find entertaining … whether it be glorifying a strange obsessive and unhealthy sexual relationship in confusing times OR mindless violence being dished out by good looking people with deadly toys and killer punch lines … to each their own.

Buyers guide – digital cameras

I consider myself a bit of a techie with a penchant for consumer electronics. It is this self-proclaimed status that often places me in a situation where friends, family, co-workers and random strangers seek my consultation on any and all electronic purchases. Noticing that I often repeat my suggestions I decided it would be far easier if I discussed some basic points in my blog and then direct all queries to it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of my voice, but to repeat the same set of suggestions tends to become a bit annoying. In this post I will go over a few basic specifications to look out for while buying a digital camera. Please note that I am no expert but am merely giving my suggestions based on my experiences and common sense.

The first thing a camera-buying hopeful always tells me is that they want to go in for a camera they saw advertised somewhere because it has 10 or 12 megapixel or 5x digital zoom, or has 100MB etc. if it very easy to get caught up in marketing hype but honestly what is it most of us need from a camera.

(i) Forget Megapixel – in my experience most of us take snaps and then upload then on facebook/picasa. Occasionally we print out a few but that too only in regular postcard size or smaller. If this is true with you then what good is a 12 MP sensor? At best you will be looking at the photo on your computer monitor so technically a 2MP image would be more than sufficient. For those moments when you want to zoom/crop the image perhaps a 4MP may be more appropriate. Another issue with high MP count is the image size, it is practically impossible to send more than a handful via email and that does take a while to upload in the first place.

(ii) Forget digital zoom – digitally zooming into your subject while taking the snap will actually cause loss in detail and clarity. The greater the digital zoom, lower the quality of your image. Read the following point on optical zoom.

(iii) Ignore on-board memory – When all cameras come with memory extension card slots coupled with the low cost of high capacity SD cards, why bother with internal memory of the device. when buying your camera ask the dealer to throw in a high capacity SC card (SDHC) or just buy one separately, they are fairly cheap and make transferring your snaps a breeze. Yes – transferring your snaps. Don’t bother with the proprietary data transfer cables and clunky pc-suite shipped by the manufacturer. Once done taking snaps just pop your SD card into a card-reader (either inbuilt into your comp, or just buy one – cheap). It’s much faster and a lot more convenient.

(iv) Look for optical zoom – an extremely important specification especially if you want to get closer to your subject than physically possible. Additionally quality loss is minimal with optical zoom as opposed to digital zoom. I will not get into the details of how this is established (just wiki optical zoom, aperture and telephoto lens). Also the amount of zoom you need will factor into the type of camera you need to buy. Typical point and shoot cameras have about 3x to 5x optical zoom. Bigger-prosumer-cameras typically have mega-zoom bodies i.e. a zoom anywhere from 10x to 26x. They are usually more expensive, heavier and pack a lot more features (close to DSLR cameras in features but with a much smaller sensor and fixed lens).

(v) Battery type – most compact cameras (point-and-shoot) come with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries which are pretty good however I still prefer ones that run on standard AA size batteries. My reasons are simple – if run out of juice and don’t have my charger with me (which happens to most of us) I simply walk into any nearby store and buy regular AA batteries. If you are going in for a camera powered by regular batteries then my suggestion would be to buy a pair of NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) cells and a charger. Also go in for the highest milli-amps your camera will support. This should give you an excellent battery life and the rechargeable factor makes it cheaper in the long run.

(vi) Form-factor and size – this could be an important factor to take in to account. Many times my lady-friends would only want to carry a ridiculously slam purse (something about looks over practicality) so a boxy prosumer camera is a no go. Guys also may want to just put their camera in their pocket while going out so here again form-factor plays an important part (you would not want to be charged with conspiracy to impress women).

(vii) Online reviews – owner reviews are an excellent way to learn the pros and cons of a camera well before you buy it. One site I often visit is It provides useful reviews on most of the popular models and allows you to generate detailed tabulated comparison of different camera models.

(viii) Other less known tech-specs to look out for are: Image stabilization – this is an extremely important feature especially if you are planning to take snaps at on a high zoom level as hand jitter is amplified through the lens and the images would turn out blurry. Look for cameras that offer dual IS (image stabilization) as only digital image stabilization is not nearly as good as optical stabilization or a combination of the two. Flash recycle time – which is the time it takes to recharge the flash between snaps; shot-to-shot time – minimum time the camera takes to capture successive snaps; flash distance – most smaller cameras only have an effective flash distance of a few meters which may not be suitable if you want to take snaps of say people in an open-air gathering.

Hope this helps you in your camera purchasing ordeal and remember the time you spend ‘researching’ for the perfect camera will greatly add to your satisfaction once you buy it. Readers are welcome to leave their suggestions on what other features buyers should look for.

License to Wed - Part 3

Cont.. Before you begin reading this article do read part 1 and part 2, mentioned earlier in this blog.

Day two of marriage counseling began with another rant by some religious fanatic on the ‘superiority’ on this particular religion over ‘all’ others. I did not even bother listening so I have nothing much to report. The post lunch session was on the medical aspects of marriage and was conducted by lady who was a retired gynecologist by day and an aging religious fanatic by night. The old lady started by drawing the male and female genital organs on the board (did I mention how much like a classroom this was). Now one would safely assume that a room full of soon to be married people will be fully aware about their anatomy as well as the anatomy of the opposite sex. Turns out one would be wrong. Yes there were a number of people taking down notes and copying the drawing in their books. Imaging these same losers flipping through their notes on their honeymoon to make sure they know where to put it. I mean honestly where do they find these people.

On completion of the anatomy class the next point of conversation was contraceptives and how they inspire the devil in our loins. You see boys and girls, this lady was another who subscribed to the philosophy that intercourse should only be performed in order to beget children. Therefore the act of using contraceptives was frowned upon. Now I’m not going to get into a discussion on this for I fear that there are many out there who feel the same to some capacity. Day two draw to a close.

Day three. This day was set aside for the examination of the legal aspects of marriage. Let me remind you about the environment. This was a claustrophobic room filled with about a hundred conventional couples (here conventional means male-female and no other combination). Bering that in mind this senior preacher in the religious institute decided to lecture us for about two and a half hours on the ‘evils’ of homosexuality. WFT, where’s the relevance you are. None whatsoever would be the response. This old fart went on forever on how the ‘love of a man should not be expressed to another man’ bla bla bla. Then he opened a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of various articles of homosexual-phobia and started reading each one out. If this was not painful enough he started telling us how societies abroad have brought in homosexuality to this country (which is a load of rubbish) and how legalizing such ‘unnatural’ activities will lead to the ultimate degradation of our society (more rubbish). Did I mention how much I hate bigots, religious bigots even more so. Some the guys priceless statements were – “mans inclination towards another man is accidental, it is abnormal. If it happens then the institute of marriage will be in the dustbin”. Another rather vague statement went along as follows- “the whole of life should not have any reserved places. It should remain open”. Now I’m not quite sure what the message was but I am assuming the word being spoken of was whole (i.e. with a ‘w’) and not hole coz then its just nasty. Some more random statements are to follow.

“marriage and only marriage allows the procreation of sess (sex) and sess should only be done to beget children. In that was we differ from animals.” (not really, if you think about it, I mean how many monkeys do you know if that wear a condom or dogs that go on the pill to avoid an unplanned pregnancy).

“Exchange of sexual love atleast once after mutual consent will ratify the marriage”. Gotta love theological terms, they’re just so clinical you cant take them seriously. So finally we draw to an end on the last day of marriage counseling and I have to admit, it was worse than I thought. My strong advice to all those on the verge of getting married, don’t do it man.. life is too beautiful to throw it away .. on marriage counseling.

License to Wed - Part 2

Cont.. Before you begin reading this article do read part 1, mentioned earlier in this blog.

Day one of the counseling class began with the religious aspects of marriage. This was a FOUR HOUR lecture about the origin and evolution of … Religion!!! What nothing bout marriage, nope.. religion and a particular sect of religion, its merits over other ‘lesser religions’ and so on. This greatly irritated me on two counts. (i) this had absolutely no relevance to marriage but just appeared to be a pretext to preach, and (ii) it was wasting a perfectly good Saturday morning attending marriage counseling (this is an underlying theme of my rant throughout this post). My girlfriend had put her head on my shoulder and had long since drifted off into a world far more pleasant that the one I currently occupied. I on the other hand was unable to fall asleep. Perhaps it was the old man’s droning voice or the heat from a room packed with 200 people or the fact that I was ‘a perfectly good Saturday morning attending marriage counseling’.

After much pleading the guy let us off for a quick lunch. The girlfriend and I were strongly considering not coming back but assuming that it could not get much worse we decided to return. Big mistake. The post lunch session was on the psychology of marriage. Here a short balding man attempted to tell us that marriage will fuck you up emotionally but its worth is coz you get to have kids. (Not exactly the best sales pitch but I do give him credit for trying). The disturbing part was when he started telling us how his wedding night went. Now I’m sure the guy was quite excited bout finally losing his virginity but honestly we were not the least bit interested in how it went. I’m not going to get into details because frankly I don’t hate you so much. The summary of the lecture was that psychologically we NEED to get married else we cannot satisfy our sexual (or as he put it sesual) desires. The man refused to acknowledge that sex without marriage even exists. Finally after much argument he said that ‘sess’ could be ‘purchased’ but that is lust.
After that ‘hot’ debate he went on to tell us how he is a famous (if not modest) psychologist and how we should go to him when we have marriage problems. Now logically if he did his job right the first time we would not have any psychological marriage problems in the first place and secondly if we did have psychological problems with marriage then why would we go to someone who did not help us in the first place. But then again this is marriage counseling (on a perfectly good weekend I might add) so logic ceases to exist. To sum up this weirdo’s ‘teachings’ its something along these lines- “one must keep things exciting, try different ‘techniques’… like buying jasmine flowers for the hair; take bath together on one bathroom, bite, nibble but don’t cause physical pain” (yes that was randomly mentioned) and was followed by an awkward silence. Eventually this ended bringing day one to a much deserved end.

Cont. Part three. – Medical aspect of marriage and Legal aspects of marriage.

License to Wed - Part 1

We had a plan, we would go late.. Really late. That way we would reduce the ill effects of this prolonged torture. The torture I speak of is a series of lectures spread across three days that purportedly prepare one for wedlock. There goes two perfectly good weekends that I’ll never get back. Now these are not just any ordinary lectures, no, that would be bearable. These were the most incredibly boring, highly annoying, ridiculously redundant one-sided discussions about the ‘gift’ of marriage. The end result of which had a fair number of us re-considering our decision of taking the plunge. Yes I am talking about the dreaded Marriage Counseling.

Marriage Counseling is this strange phenomenon where unmarried virgin holy men talk at you for hours imparting what little they know about marriage, sex, bringing up children and other significant events which are completely alien to them. Does anyone else see the irony here? Now don’t get me wrong, I am not one to shy away from ‘sex talk’ however when the ones spearheading the talk are:- (i) a short balding troll, (ii) a priest with a superiority complex (iii) and a frail old lady, things start to get a bit awkward. Added to that was a room full of about a hundred enthusiastic young couples diligently taking down notes like their life depended on it.

The first day of ‘marriage-prep’ boot camp began with the religious aspect of marriage. Apparently a number of marriages breakup because the woman claim to have found god and the men realize its not them. Moving on, the guy talks endlessly about religion, how one particular religion is better than another, how he has been studying religion for many years. How his religion was blab la bla. (Sorry folks, I fell unconscious by this point). When I woke up, which was a good one hour later, the man was still at it trying to preach rather that teach. Frankly it made me a bit sick. I’m not a religious man but I think its important to respect others religious beliefs. I just cant bring myself to respect someone who cant respect another’s religious beliefs any tries to portray his as superior. Anyway I’m drifting so back to the story.

The course was split into four major sections:-

(i) The religious part of marriage
(ii) The psychological effect of marriage
(iii) The medical aspect of marriage
(iv) The legal aspects of marriage

The entire session was spread across three full days of mindless boredom. For the sake of sanity I decided to split this article into two parts. The first (i.e. this one) provides the back-story, brief overview and structure of events to follow. The next part will highlight some of the key learning’s of the counseling sessions and would conclude with my take on the whole affair. So watch this space.