December 17, 2014

First week with my Moto X

I have been using my Moto X for about a week now. Thought of recording some initial impressions.

About me
First, some background on me. I used the G1 when it came out. Ever since Nexus One, I have been using a Nexus phone. Except for Nexus 5, I upgraded to every single Nexus phone as it came out. Moto X is the first ever non-Nexus Android phone I have used.

Why Moto X?
I had been using a Nexus 4 since it came out in 2012. I wanted to upgrade to a newer hardware. I didn’t go with the Nexus 6 because it’s too big. Also, Motorola has a good track record when it comes to pushing new versions of Android more quickly than other OEMs. Getting updates quickly is critical to me.

A month or so ago, a coworker brought a 2014 Moto X with him. I held the phone for about a minute in my hand, and immediately wanted to get one myself. From MKBHD’s review, I learned the Moto X’s camera is not all that bad. Overall, Moto X satisfied many of my requirements, so I decided to buy it. (I got a $140 discount on the phone’s price, which was icing on the cake.)

Ordering the phone
Moto Maker is awesome. Designing and ordering the phone was a breeze. I got to pick and choose colours, which was amazing. All Nexus phones have an all-black front, but with the Moto X, I was able to get a white front... something I have always wanted.

Hardware
The phone is very fast. Surprisingly, Moto X boots a lot faster than its more powerful sibling Nexus 6. (Maybe it’s because of the Nexus 6’s encrypted storage, which is known to slow things down.) In my usage, I never had to wait for the phone; it was fast in everything it did.

The screen is gorgeous. Upgrading from Nexus 4’s dull screen, this is a pleasure to look at. I’d put this screen above the Nexus 9’s screen (the other Android I use on a daily basis). The camera is passable (sample pictures).

With the top and bottom looking almost the same, it’s kinda hard to tell if you’re holding the phone upside down. But you’d quickly learn to orient the phone correctly. The edges are metal, which made it uncomfortable to hold the phone while talking. Maybe this is another thing that I’ll get used to over time.

The phone does not have a stereo speaker like the Nexus 6, but it’s pretty loud. Notifications and phone calls are also much louder than the Nexus 4. Finally, I can hear when my phone rings in the next room. In-call sound clarity was also noticeably better than the Nexus 4.

Software
This is the first time I use a non-Nexus phone, so I wasn’t sure how Motorola’s software additions will affect the experience. So far, I have been fairly happy with what Motorola has chosen to add to the phone.

The phone has infrared sensors to detect when you reach for the phone. The moment I am going to grab the phone, screen turns on automatically. I never have to press the power button to turn the screen on. It saves maybe half a second, which may not seem like a lot. But it does matter because I know I am annoyed when my Nexus 9 doesn’t automatically wake up when I want to use it.

Similarly good is “shake to open camera” gesture. With my previous phones, I’d have to press the power button, open camera by sliding the lock screen, and then start shooting. Now I can simply shake without even having to look and the camera is ready. I really like it. The camera is supposed to capture more shots than the ones you take and suggest you to keep the better shot. I haven’t had the phone long enough to actually need that feature yet.

Possibly my most favourite feature is you can customize the “Okay Google” phrase and choose anything you like. I have never liked saying Okay Google, so this is a big plus for me. Speech recognition is good, and voice commands are useful. When I need to do something quick — like a unit conversion or adding a reminder — I turn to my phone and ask it to do it. No need to wake it up; no need to unlock the phone. It just works.

Motorola slowly teaches you how to effectively use the phone by showing notifications about new features every once in a while. It’s way better than dumping everything at you while setting up the phone.

Gripes
Nexus phones come with a dialer app that has two nifty features: you can search for local businesses from within the dialer and it does reverse business lookup when you are making or receiving a call. If I want to call Pizza Hut, I can type Pizza Hut in the search box of the dialer app and it’ll find local Pizza Hut’s phone number. Similarly, if Fedex calls me to alert me about a package, caller ID would show “Fedex” instead of the number they are calling from. Moto X does not come with this dialer, which is a bit of a letdown.

I am mostly used to it now, but I sometimes find the phone a little too large to hold and use. Especially when I have to use it one handedly.

Conclusion
Overall, I have been very happy with the Moto X. If you are on the fence on buying this phone, I’d urge you to just buy it. You may not even want to go back to a Nexus phone in the future. :)

December 03, 2014

Skipping lines is for jerks

It’s been raining this week, so I have been driving to work since yesterday. Driving to work means I need to take the Shoreline Boulevard exit from 101N freeway. Turning right after the exit takes you to Google offices, while turning left takes you away from Google. Naturally, there’s a very long line on the right turn lanes while left turn lanes are almost empty.

When coming to work this morning, I thought I would turn left from the exit and then take a U turn after so I don’t have to wait on Shoreline exit. I had passed about half of the line on right-hand side lanes when I spotted a gap in the line. I squeezed in and started waiting in there. That’s when I realised I was being a jerk. Everyone in the line has joined at the end and moved forward slowly. Jumping the line and joining in the middle is impolite. We won’t do that where people stand on the line — they’ll give us a dirty look and quite possibly ask us to join the line from the end. But because they cannot do anything when everyone is sitting inside a car, it doesn’t suddenly become okay to not follow etiquette.

I felt bad enough to leave the right turn lane and go with my original plan. I took a left, took a U turn, and got to work. Maybe it took me a bit longer, but I don’t feel like a jerk. That’s a good thing.

October 20, 2014

I'm a puppet

It's unbelievable how much my spirit depends on external events. Hearing good news makes me happy; hearing bad news makes me unhappy. Not in a shallow way, but in a deep, uncontrollable way.

Back when I was a kid, I remember reading stuff like "a yogi is someone who can be alone in crowd, and can be amidst people when alone". I understood what that meant at an exterior, shallow level. But when I see myself dancing to the tunes of external events, I realise how qualitatively different being a yogi is. I also see clearly how I'm nowhere close to being one.

Back in the days, when I read about the concepts of yoga, enlightenment, etc. I would think that I'm so close to attaining all that. Deep down I would know I don't even know what those words really mean, but I'd suppress that awareness with my desire to attain those ideals. But today, I see I'm way outside the league. I don't have much desire to attain any of it either. Now, I'm just amazed how much of a puppet I really am. Nothing more.

October 09, 2014

Economics: supply and demand

I have been listening to Economics, a lecture series by Professor Timothy Taylor. I am learning quite a few new ideas from it. Going to write them down here on my blog so I have someplace to review them later if/when I need to.

  • When price goes up, units supplied goes up. When price goes down, units supplied goes down, too. Because when the price is more, suppliers can make more money from sale.
  • When price goes up, units demanded goes down. Likewise, when price goes down units demanded goes up.
  • When price is too low or too high, market moves the price to a state where units supplied is equal to units demanded. This state is known as equilibrium. Market always moves toward equilibrium.
  • Attempts to arbitrarily move price away from equilibrium — such as setting a price ceiling or price floor will very likely fail. That’s just how market works.
  • Elasticity of demand (or supply) specifies how much demand (or supply) can change when price changes by a specified amount.
  • If demand for a certain product is elastic, it means changing the price will affect how much it is demanded in the market. Demand (or supply) for some products are elastic in any given market, or inelastic. What’s elastic in one market may not be elastic in a different market, or in the same market at a different time. When fixing prices, a firm should consider if the demand is elastic or not.

June 15, 2014

Things that surprise(d) me

Certain things surprised me when I found them out for the first time.
  • I used to enjoy being miserable. Only wanting to not be miserable was sufficient to start being happy.
  • It takes effort to relax. By default we’re stressed both physically and mentally. (It takes awareness, to be precise. But for many, awareness requires effort.)
  • Often, not yielding to peer pressure and following your instinct is the right thing to do. But it takes courage to follow your instincts especially your belief contradicts popular beliefs.
  • Accepting misery is a path to joy.
  • Even after so much change, I still haven’t accepted myself just as what I am.
  • I have become, or I am doing, everything I used to hate in the past. Yet, it’s not all that bad.

June 02, 2014

From a Mike Robbins talk

I listened to a talk by Mike Robbins. Two points that I found interesting from the talk:
  • One of the most selfish things you can do is to be miserable. You’ll make everyone who cares about you unhappy, just by being unhappy yourself.
  • The answer is always a ‘No’ if you don’t ask.

May 16, 2014

JavaDoc for methods

If you find it hard to write JavaDoc for your method, it’s a sign that you should rethink what your method does. Most likely your method is doing way too many things and you should break it into multiple methods.

May 06, 2014

Life as a video game

Distance between “real life” and video games is shrinking. When I was a kid, my father worked 6 days a week, got a cash envelope every month which was later used to buy food and stuff for the family. You had to move physical things around to make things happen in the physical world.

Ever since I left college, I have never once gotten a cash envelope. When it’s pay day, a number on my internet banking site goes up... like getting a health pack in a video game. Every time I buy something, like being hit by monsters, that number goes down a bit. You often try to get things done with little loss to that number.

Most important goal of the game is to make sure that that number stays positive as you get things you want to get. And then there are all sorts of things you can do to artificially increase that number — for example you can get a loan which you’d pay back over years. There are also “danger zones” which suck your health points super rapidly (scams!) which you take great care to avoid.

It’s crazy how life changes right in front of our eyes and we barely notice it, if ever!

April 01, 2014

The US tax system and me

What is my “default” reaction when things don’t go the way I want them to? Anger. I get angry that things are messed up. This pretty much ruined my happiness in Hyderabad. I hated Hyderabad pretty much every day; I am not sure what good came of that hatred.

Now that I have just moved to California, I am angry again. Both in India and Australia, you don’t have to choose how much tax you want to pay. Your employer deducts the right amount of taxes from your salary and you get exactly what you should get. But in the US, I need to decide how many “deductions” I “claim”, how much extra tax I want to pay, etc. There is a long form to work out all these numbers.

Impatient and irritable, like my usual self, I don’t want to think about money. Even today, I haven’t learned about or made an informed choice on these numbers. I am not even sure if I am underpaying or overpaying my taxes. One thing I know for sure is that taxes are more taxing here than in any other country I have lived in.

Every once in a while, I hate this country for doing taxes differently, especially when I feel like I am paying way too much in taxes. Unlike in Hyderabad, however, here I am a bit more conscious of my hatred. Also, moving to California was a choice I made; not something imposed on me. Maybe I should relent and get familiar with this tax system. That would end this hatred for ever.

March 24, 2014

Sleep deprivation + driving = not good

While driving, I made two stupid mistakes this morning within a few hours. I have been sleep deprived for a few days now, and I think that has elevated my response time. It’s scary when this happens. I need to sleep well this week.

February 04, 2014

Driving on the freeways

I have always considered driving on the highways easier than driving in the streets. There’s a lot of space for yourself and a lot less possibilities for a collision. Every time people expressed their view that driving on the freeways in the US was a little dangerous, I refused to accept it. What happened yesterday and today has made me think again.

I was on a ramp connecting CA-85N to US-101N. The ramp was mostly empty, and I was driving at around 50mph. There was a Honda Accord to my right just ahead of me. I wasn’t paying much attention to my own lane because I was busy looking at the fine details of the Accord’s body. Only after a second or so I saw that my lane had completely stopped with cars queueing up. I stepped on the brake and thank god my car stopped without colliding into the car before me.

On the same road today, (US-101N) I was merging onto the right-most lane so I could take the next exit. Traffic was moving at around 30mph or so. In the one second I turned my head to look at my blind spot, the lane had completely stopped and there was hardly a second for me to stop. I jammed the brake again, and my car stopped just at the right time.

It’s crazy how unpredictable traffic on freeways is!

February 01, 2014

Fear of Unknown

If there’s one thing that’s consistently keeping me from reaching my goals, it’s this: Fear of Unknown.

January 26, 2014

2011 BMW X3: first impressions

I have been driving a 2011 BMW X3 for 3.5 days now. Thought of recording my initial impressions with the car. (I know it’s not technically a car, but calling it a car makes talking about it easy.)
I was driving a rental Chevy Sonic Hatchback until I got the X3. Switching from this puny car, I didn’t like the X3’s handling in the first two days. The car felt massive and heavy. I think I am starting to get used to the bigger car now.
Compared to the Jeep Cherokee I test drove, however, the X3 was nicer to drive. The X3 had a lot less body roll, and the suspension was a lot smoother on the X3. Cherokee screams “utility” wherever you look. It had plenty of storage space; it had a wireless charger in-built; it had a 110V plug point. X3 doesn’t have as much storage space, which is a bit inconvenient at times.
I didn’t get to choose the features of my X3 because it was a used car. But I’m quite happy with the feature set my X3 has. Putting essentials like bluetooth audio streaming, navigation, etc. aside, the first thing I liked about it was keyless entry. I can open, drive, and lock the car with the key in my pocket. I don’t even have to touch the key. This is liberating, and I love it. The next thing I noticed was that it has auto-dimming mirrors. Looking in the mirrors at night is very pleasant. When I was driving inside Yosemite National Park last night, my car’s headlights turned in the direction of the steering wheel so I could see what was on the road before the car turned. This is a nicety that you won’t much notice when you have it, but a pain when you don’t have it. I’m glad my car has it.

The car’s engine response is good. Cruise control is great too. When the car is on cruise control, the speed never fluctuates no matter how the road is. It climbs up or down the hill with no change in speed — very impressive.

In the last two days, the car’s overall fuel consumption has been 27.2 mpg (11.56 kmpl), which is better than the quoted numbers (19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway).
Overall, the car has been good, I am happy with the purchase. Although my plans to try off-roading may not work out well with this AWD car.

January 16, 2014

Buying my first car

New SUVs, used SUVs, new cheap petrol sedans, moderately expensive hybrid sedans, almost new used cars, super-old used cars... there are tons of options for someone looking to buy a car. For the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about what I should get. You could even say I was overthinking it.

I have had an eye on the new Jeep Cherokee ever since I came across it. It’s feature-packed at an affordable cost. Doesn’t look boxy like a conventional Jeep. 9-speed automatic transmission sounds excitingly crazy. But there is a bunch of reasons why the Cherokee may not be a good choice. It’s not at all fuel-efficient. (I’m comparing it with Honda Civics and Toyota Priuses, mind you.) The cost of the car is high. It’s unclear what the resale value would be when I sell it off in a few years. It’s unclear if I need an SUV or a 4x4 at all! I somehow couldn’t bring myself to buy a Civic, although I wish the Jeep had some of the fancy features the Civic has.

Having slept over the pros and cons of the cars for over a week, today I feel like I have made up my mind. I think I’ll get the Jeep. I have never gone off-roading. I don’t know how to use a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Now is a good time for me to learn to use a 4-wheel drive and have some fun driving on less travelled roads. I think I’ll take this opportunity even if it means it’s going to cost some money. I’m sure the new roads and the learning experience will all be worth it.

January 13, 2014

Distracted

Buying a car is a tiring exercise. Especially when you don’t have the money to get the car you want. These days, irrespective of what I do I am unconsciously thinking about which specific car I’d buy, how I’d manage to pay for it, if I am getting the right car for me, am I getting a good deal, and so on. Naturally, this makes me distracted and I am not doing things particularly well.

This morning on my way to work, a car behind me bumped into another car when switching lanes. Maybe that driver was distracted too, thinking about something.

Right now, I just wish I could finish this car business and get on with life. I have been in similar situations before. I’d be trying hard to choose the best possible option and I’d exhaust myself in the process. Eventually, it’ll all be too much to think about and I’d go with something my heart wants without listening to the brain too much. Not once have I regretted such a decision. But it seems like somehow this ‘burning-yourself-out-thinking-through-the-possibilities’ is an essential before switching to the ‘just-pick-something-and-move-on’ mindset.

PS: I don’t really like the way I have written this post. I am sure I can articulate better if I tried. I’m just going to blame it on the car distraction and click the Publish button.