July 17, 2005

The Hungry Tide - Amitava Ghosh

A book that falls short of my expectations. Perhaps my expectations were too high or that of the reviewers who had fanned my interest were too low or perhaps this is the benchmark of current Indian English literature .... you could look at it in any which way you choose.

This is a book crafted in a workshop, not created in the crucible of imagination or ecstasy. It is meticulous no doubt, with the stamp of scholarship of someone who has had the luxury of spending a lot of time to do research on (a) the geographics and demographics of the Tide Country ( aka the Sundarbans ) and (b) the behavioural characteristics of the river dolphin. Good topics of research no doubt but hey I am interested in a reading novel, not a thesis.

Coming down to the novel itself ....it is nice no doubt. Not much of a plot but more of a framework that the author needed to hang his twin theses on ! I like Fokir for his rustic simplicity but would have been happier if he could have raised himself out his mundane lifestyle to deliver some kind of a message ( or did he try and fail ?) to the paper tigers that haunt the tide country .... the incredibly inane Nirmal and his virtuous do-gooder wife Nilima, the patently fraudulent Kanai and the impossibility of Piya. Actually Fokir, his mother Kusum and their shrine at Garjontola could have been the axis of a wonderful story that was unfortunately hijacked by the city slickers and finally blown up in an act of desperation by an author who ran out of ideas.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on this novel. It is a good time pass and there is a structure but what really got my goat was that the loose ends got tied up all too elegantly in the end. That is not what happens in real life.

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book purchased at Delhi Airport before flight boarding flight 9W 911 to Calcutta on 13th July 2005

July 03, 2005

CellPhones : The Next Generation

But for the world-wide-web, the biggest innovation that the world has seen in the field of communications has been the ubiquitous cell-phone. From being a humble device to talk from the field, it has enlarged itself -- functionally -- to accomodate a diverse range of facilities : PDA, organiser, camera, music, web access .... and no one knows what next.

However there is one aspect of the cellphone that is very troublesome : its need to balance size with functionality. As functionality increased, size increased and then technology advanced to bring the size back .... but there is a limit that is imposed not by technology but by human ability. The real pain is the size of the screen. How I wish I could not only browse the web but also open and READ files ... but to do so I would have to squint and strain and in the end it is simply not worth the trouble.

So here are my suggestions for tackling this problem.

1] Delink the display ( that needs to be large ) from the 'machine' that needs to be small. Have a tiny intelligent 'CPU' and an equally small display, for normal use, BUT have a small projector that will project the image on the wall. The same lens that is used by the camera to bring the large image of the world into a small image inside the machine can be used to project that small image that is formed inside. The first problem would be adequate power to project an image bright enough. I am sure that this would be solved through better batteries. The second problem is to find a wall good enough to project on .. something that is difficult inside a car or an airplane. [ you can also think of putting something of a serial port to connect to an ancient CRT / LCD device ... but that is to mundane a thing to do with something as glitzy and glamorous as a cellphone !!]

So here is my second big idea

2] Create a pair of spectacles where the stick that goes behind the ear carries a miniature (a) speaker ... for listening and (b) a contact microphone .. to pick up voice. This can connect to the 'intelligent' CPU in your pocket through BlueTooth. A primitive and clumsy version of this is available from Nokia today ... only that it is not integrated with your spectacles .. and so stands out like a sore-thumb. But that takes care of the voice communication .. so what about the display ? For that we need a small 'heads-up-display' style device that is being talked about in military technology and in wearable computers.

This technology is almost there .. and consists of a tiny projection device that projects an image directly on the retina and as a result the person sees what seems to be a big image.

Net-net : the combination of a smart 'pocket' device that packs in the full functionality in a miniature together with a separate user-interface device ( for video and audio data ) is the way to solve the problem ( reminds me of normalisation of RDBMS data !!)

Initially the display can be a projection on the wall ( imagine what it can to you PowerPoint presentation ) but in the long run it has be integrated with something that people are used to wearing near the eye and the ear : and the only artefact that meets that specification is a pair of spectacles.

Is is time to invest in RayBan shares ?

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