11 Jun 2012

Better than animals

“Even when they don’t know much—or not at all—about Americans, many Indians think that Indians are generally better than Americans.  Do you think it’s correct to think that way?”  When I ask people this question, they almost always say “No, it’s not appropriate to think ill of others without knowing them well”.  Or they’d say “It’s incorrect to generalise all Americans or Indians that way”.

However, when I discuss morality with them, an argument they love to put forth is that “We are humans, shouldn’t we be better than animals?”  I just don’t understand why.  Vast majority of us don’t know much about the lives animals live.  We don’t know why individual’s free will should yield to society’s morals.  We can’t be sure if we are actually better than animals to begin with.  But somehow we as a society have to live “better” than animals!

10 Jun 2012

Why I think new Android menus are broken

Up until Android 2.3, Android devices required a hardware “menu button”.  Pressing the menu button was the standard way of accessing the functions provided by apps.  Quite a few people  complained that this model is broken because sometimes users wouldn’t think that they can press the menu button to find actions they can perform.  Google “fixed” this problem in Android 3.0.
In Android 3.0, menu button became obsolete, and Google asked developers to use other on-screen UI elements to provide access to app features.  But the issue now is that actions are in two different menus.  Take Google Maps, for instance. If you want to check into a place, that option is available from the drop-down on the top-left:
But let’s say you want to change the Google account used for Latitude.  For that, you’d need to choose Settings from the bottom-right menu:
Similarly, Google+ app has its options split across two different menus.  Some options on the left:
And some on the right:
I know this is not plain madness, and there are reasons behind this UI change.  There are recommendations in Android Developer (or Design) Guide to help developers decide which options belong in the top-left menu and which options on the other one (called Action Bar).  But the issue is, any large app like Google Maps or Gmail or Google+ is going to have a large number of possible operations, and only when you know a good amount of it you can correctly guess which menu has the option you are looking for.  Expecting a common user to guess that correctly is unfair.

After having used my Android 4.0 phone for about 6 months, I’m giving a Thumbs Down to the new menus.

7 Jun 2012

Visible and invisible

This is a picture of earth from moon (source).  What I find interesting in this is that it’s all pitch-dark around earth.  But space on at least one side of earth must be filled with sunlight.
If we cannot see anything, it’s not always because there’s no “light”... sometimes it’s because there’s no dark, light-reflecting object.  In other words, all we see is contrast.

6 Jun 2012

Purpose, happiness, and Buddhism

Days with nothing to do are not always great.  Last weekend wasn’t great either.  There wasn’t anything specific that made me feel less-than-happy, but I wasn’t consciously happy either.  Monday morning, in the time between the start of my commute and the end of it, my mind had come back to its normal happiness.  Because there was work to do; something meaningful to do.  Looks like the mind needs to see some purpose in how I spend my time to decide to be happy in general.

This reminded me immediately of Poythevu, one of my favourite Tamil novels.  The title would translate to False God.  The crux of the novel is that each mind is seeking its own false god, and a minds that knows its false god is at peace because it has something to attain to.  My false god yesterday was the pending work I had to complete.

In sharp contrast is the Buddhist thought on purpose.  Alan Watts says “Fundamental principle in Buddhism is ‘no purpose’.  When you drop fart, you don’t say, at 9 o’ clock I dropped fart.  It happened of itself.”  If practising Buddhism means training oneself to renounce all purpose in life, that’s going to be a dramatic shift for someone like me.