a simple question, and a confession

A lot has changed since I wrote last, the most significant being a relocation from India to the nucleus of the tech world in the Silicon Valley.

Anyway, I kick off this new phase of the blog with a simple question: “What drives you?” The answers could be many—money, fame, creativity, social good—neither of which is right or wrong, nor mutually exclusive at times. However, my question goes a little beyond that to a core, rather psychological (for the lack of a better word) level. Take a step back from all the social, cultural, and economic rigmarole, and reflect on what you will answer at a deeper, personal level.

*Yeah, I can be quite cryptic and nonsensical at times with my thoughts, not to mention the rough edges I am trying to smooth out as I resume writing*

blue red pillTo make it a little easier, I’ll give you two choices. Is it a fear of failure or an anticipation of success? Is it the blue pill or the red pill?

It is not as simple as characterizing yourself into being a pessimist or an optimist. I know many eternal optimists (yours truly included) who have been through morbid times just waiting for the bubble to burst anytime. On the other hand, there are pessimists who will probably wonder if things could go any worse, and in the process actually end up succeeding.

Before I get any more random, let me justify the reason to reflect on this question and the two choices. For years now, I have been toying with the idea of taking the plunge and going on my own professionally, but have not been able to. In the classic anatomical conflict, the heart says yes, but the head puts up a barricade.

The head often succeeds because as we grow older, the creative childlike spirit gets crushed under the distorted (although rational) logic that education teaches us and the liabilities that we pick up. Nonetheless, being an optimist that I am, I said ‘often’ and not ‘always,’ which gives me hope. It gives me hope that someday my mind will be able to look beyond the potential short-term failures and drool at the success that lies thereafter. Hopefully, the creator inside me (and all of us) will find a way to convince my mind that it is ok to fail sometimes. That it will after all be able to overcome a lifetime of conditioning around material achievements that you probably chose as your initial answers – money, fame, etc. That the material gains should be the outcomes, and not the objectives.

The more I think about this question and my own honest answer, the more my respect grows for those who chose the red pill. But be honest as you answer this question for yourself, and not for anyone else. And if your answer is still yes, give yourself a pat on the back and keep it going. In choosing to go after success, you have stayed true to yourself and your ideas, and it takes balls of steel to do that. And whenever you feel the gut wrenching weightlessness in turbulent times, think about this question, and remind yourself of your honest answer.

I am still waiting for my gut to be prepared for that leap of faith.

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apple’s latest event was more than just about the new iPad

So the Apple event finally happened, putting to rest rumors and speculations about a certain ‘iPad 3′. And surprise, Tim Cook chose to defy one and all by calling it something different altogether – “the new iPad”. How original!

Unlike some of the most memorable editions in the past with Steve Jobs, the March 2012 event was on relatively predictable lines, and not very different in feel from the iPhone 4s launch in late 2011. Nonetheless, the company made all tech enthusiasts, journalists, and fanboys (including cynical ones like me) across the globe stay riveted to live text updates on leading tech websites as the plot unfolded.

Here’s a roundup—with my opinion—of what the event unveiled in its elegantly pompous, and yet unimitated, style.

The whole thing was like a well choreographed dance (albeit to the tunes of Adele this time) that reaffirmed faith in the behemoth’s still nimble innards. The absolutely synchronized and punctual Houdini act by the website/store, and the seamlessness of all the upgrades screamed Apple from the word go.

The company announced the new iPad with a retina display, which packs in far too many pixels than one thought was possible (that’s what they said). But then, the modern tech consumer is a pixel-whore (or at least made out to be). Even if we wonder whether we need them, we do seem to need them. Apparently, this was the highlight of the evening. Yes thank you, so let’s move on. The optics got a facelift, although I still question the rationale of clicking pictures with a book-like slab instead of a camera or even a phone. The processor upgrade to the A5X was expected as well, and so was the 4G-LTE compatibility (an iPad 3 armed with 4G and not just 3G could have been confusing – was that the reason for the creative naming?). Anyway, once you think of all these power-hungry features, the battery life being comparable to the iPad 2 is a nice touch, but leaves one wanting more. With some of the new ultrabooks touching 8-9 hours, one would ideally demand more from a tablet. But then, one look at the closest competition (is there any?) and you’d probably feel at ease. Other minor things included the retention of the dock connector – thank heavens! The nominal increase in girth and weight was rather unexpected, so Apple did manage to surprise on this account, unlike its past track record of making its components feel as claustrophobic as it could.

The new dictation capability on the keypad sounds promising, but the absence of a full-blown Siri is disappointing, and yet not surprising. How else do you think we will get a “the new iPad S” later this year?

Yet another predictable outcome was the new iPad pricing and the associated iPad 2 price drop, followed by the absence of the 32 and 64 GB models from the store. It simply means that if you are keen on saving a few bucks and feel that the new iPad is not the massive leap that you wished it to be, rush to the physical store nearby and get your iPad 2 before the pending inventories run out (a sense of deja vu sweeps over as I recall my iPhone 4 32 GB purchase after three days of the iPhone 4S launch).

Over the past year, Apple’s focus on fostering the iOS ecosystem has become quite evident, to put it mildly. While my expectations of a significant upgrade to the iOS 5.1 were crushed, the company stayed true to its strategy by dishing out some of its blockbuster software suites like iWork and iLife on the iOS. Yes, please note these are available on the iOS, and not just on the new iPad, which means you can use all of these on your existing iPad 2. All the fancy iMovie and iPhoto demos yesterday morning were not exclusive to the new iPad – something the end-user should take note of when deciding which iPad version to buy. However, if you take the iPad out of this equation, it clearly shows Apple’s focus on generating a larger share of its revenue pie from non-hardware sources. Still clearer was the company’s push toward taking on its arch rivals (you know who I’m talking about!) in multimedia editing, among other things. As far as the whole video gaming extravaganza is concerned, I’ll choose to stay away and let the professional/casual gamers decide what the new developments mean to them. As a neutral no-brainer, I’d say the enhanced display and processing naturally translate into crisper gaming. Commercially speaking, the new games being exclusive to the new iPad will hardly be a game-changing differentiator for a general tech user.

In continuation to the software story, Apple chose to reveal the new Apple TV ahead of the anticipated iPad (possibly to avoid having to utter the cliched “last but not the least” phrase). No real beef-ups here, except for the 1080p resolution upgrade. Being able to get your iTunes playlists through the iCloud is hardly an engineering feat.

Don’t get me wrong! I remain an Apple fan, since I bought my first device 6 months ago (I guess that puts me at the cusp of the late adopters and laggards). Nonetheless, as a tech observer and user, I believe that exponential innovations are an exception and not a norm. With Steve Jobs’ larger than life image and Apple’s record of wowing and wooing, we have gotten used to expecting the world every time. What still wows me about the company is its ability to still be larger than the sum of all its parts that seem to function in harmony despite all the chaos around. Despite all the skepticism, nobody can deny the frenzy that awaits March 16 when the new iPad will be made available to the public.

Posted in techtonic shift, two cents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Ideas to Execution Weekly (Jul 25, 2011)

A better way to cool LEDs gets attention from GE: Overheating electronics and lighting: it’s the bane of laptop and light bulb users everywhere. But a better way to cool electronics and LED lighting systems is getting attention from GE and a group of VCs. On Tuesday, electronics cooling startup Nuventix announced that GE’s lighting unit has entered into a licensing agreement for its LED cooling tech, and at the same time, GE and a group of VCs have invested $10 million into the company.

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The Dream of Becoming an Ivy League Drop-Out: Through the launch of his 20 Under 20 Fellowship initiative, billionaire entrepreneur and hedge funder Peter Thiel is engaging in one of the most radical experiments yet about the future of American higher education. He is, essentially, paying 20 of the best and brightest students in the country to drop out of college and, instead, to move to Silicon Valley to pursue their personal entrepreneurial passions for two years. He is bankrolling each of the students to the tune of $100,000 each, hoping that the combination of youth, passion, genius and a significant amount of capital backing will result in truly world-changing innovations. Instead of getting tied down with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, these college students will have two years of freedom to pursue their entrepreneurial passion. Is this the new American dream?

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45 Mile Wi-Fi Range is Now Possible with Lower Power Consumption: On-Ramp Wireless has invented a new way to transmit Wi-Fi signals that actually less power to strengthen the signal. Wi-Fi signals become more and more distorted as they travel through the air and, of course, after a while they become too distorted to be useful (after one-twentieth of a mile) due to noise.

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Mitsubishi Unveils Solar-Powered Vehicle Charging Station: Driving an electric vehicle (EV) can be a source of personal pride and a strong statement of how you see yourself in the world. Unfortunately, it can also be a little stressful if you have to worry about your car’s charge running out in the middle of nowhere. Enter Mitsubishi, who has recently announced the debut of a solar-powered charging station at their headquarters in Cypress, California. Preceding the launch of the new Mitsubishi i electric vehicle in November, the opening of this charging station is designed to show the company’s commitment to improving the national infrastructure for EV drivers.

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GE’s Holographic Storage Tech Enabling 500GB Discs Steps Closer to Commercialization: GE’s research team has successfully demonstrated a micro-holographic material that can support data recording at the same speed as Blu-ray discs. GE plans to start sampling the new discs and optical drives to interested parties in the coming months. GE’s breakthrough material, when used in a disc, will match the capacity of 20 single-layer Blu-ray discs, 100 DVDs or the hard drive of most laptop computers. Ultimately, the team is working toward micro-holographic discs that can store more than 1TB of data.

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3-D Printing – Bringing Digital Fabrication Into Every Home: It just may be the oldest technology of which you’ve never heard. And now it may become the newest addition to the list of home gadgets you simply must have. Commonly called a 3-D printer, this exciting machine is more a fabricator than a printer in the traditional sense of the word. 3-D printers have been used in the manufacturing world for more than twenty-five years, with multi-million dollar machines punching out prototype parts primarily in the aerospace and automotive arenas. Technological advances have pushed the price of these printers down to a point where it is now possible to envision a model designed as a personal home accessory available for under $1,000.

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