Kindle Under Your Nose

Using Design to Surpass My Experience of Reading A Book

Attention to detail. Carved out a notebook handcrafted in India, into an Amazon Kindle book-cover for myself.
Attention to detail. Carved out a notebook handcrafted in India, into an Amazon Kindle book-cover for myself.

You use your nose to read a book.

The faint smell of ink mixed with that sharp note of glue, and of course the woody smell of paper. Your fingers love the assuring texture and of paper as you unfurl your mind and curl up your body with your favourite book. When you finally close your droopy eyelids, you love the book resting on your chest, as if in a gentle embrace, while your imagination expands into your dreams with the fantastic worlds conjured by the living words of the book.

No such magic happens when you read an eBook.

The plasticy feel of the Amazon Kindle clutched in one hand is a barren, stark experience. Geeky perhaps. But shorn of the aesthetic breakthrough Gutenberg achieved with his first printed Bible in hot metal type. Even today, Gutenberg’s Bible is considered a marvel of design, typesetting, and illumination. So what is it that Jeff Bezos lacks with the Amazon Kindle?

Amazonian Jungle of Design

I carefully studied the user-interface design of the Amazon Kindle, now in its 7th incarnation with a touch-screen, 6-inch ink-display. The initial simplicity of design over this Linux-driven device peeks through. Just a screen with text typeset to the font and size of your liking, with margins you can choose, and with a single long-press to look-up the dictionary or a wikipedia-entry. Convenient and intuitive. A gentle tap on either side moves to the previous or the next page. However, with each new feature and extra option added over versions, the patchy, shoe-horned approach to design begins to show its signs. Even after three months of heavy use, I tend to get as lost and bewildered in the rabbit-hole of menus and options, as Alice in a Matrixed-wonderland.

Are You Experienced?

One evening, after the first session of one of my Design workshops, I sat alone, visualizing how I would overhaul the user-interface design of the Kindle for the third decade of the 21st century. Lots more can be achieved by not doing, and by leaving things out, in design. But is it all about the UI bass, no treble? Curious, I called some of my friends who use the Kindle. The response was universal. Each felt disappointed by eBooks and expressed something lacking with reading pixels. That may explain why sales of eBooks have suddenly plateaued across the world and printed books have rebound.

Aha! Here then, is where user-experience is the real bottleneck. I can’t fix the user-interface design of the Kindle as Amazon has locked it all away. But I can certainly fix the user-experience. All I need to do is to focus on the nose.

Hina Khan with the hand-crafted book-cover she made for me.
Hina Khan with the hand-crafted book-cover she made for me.

Notebook by A Student

I got in touch with Hina Khan, one of the students I have been mentoring in design since several years. In the past ten years, Hina has come to me every few years, just to sit and learn over several months, some aspect of design, color, photography, and more recently, typography. Hina is quite a versatile creative-professional, dabbling in many disciplines of art, design, and creativity. So when she ambled in one fine morning for her mentoring session on the complexities of free-culture, I gave her my DRM-ensnared and restrictive Kindle as a side-project.

The brief was simple. Let’s take a beautiful, handmade and organic notebook or diary which is made in India. Carve out the inside pages hollow and glue them, to form a cavity into which the Kindle tucks in. Hold it down with elastic or a thread or something. Embellish the design at will. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is how and what she crafted.

Diary of An Amazonian Madman
Diary of An Amazonian Madman

Hina caught the Delhi Metro to Chandni Chowk to deftly skip back in time by three centuries. She scoured the small by-lanes in search of a handmade notebook or diary of the required size and aesthetics. Surprised at not finding anything worthwhile, she did shop for a variety of exotic hand-made papers and art-supplies for her other various projects. Hina then searched the more artsy Khan Market  where at last she spotted just what she wanted. A notebook with screen-printed inscriptions in Hindi and Urdu, some quite incomprehensible, but nevertheless beautiful in its calligraphic style.

 

Don't judge this book by its cover
Don’t judge this book by its cover

She bought this silky azure ribbon and handed it to a tailor to carefully stitch it around the border.

 

Kindle Book-cover
Kindle Book-cover

From her collection of wood-block prints, Hina stamped a paisley design on front-side of the notebook, and then meticulously painted it in by hand.

 

Illustrated inside-cover of the Kindle book-cover
Illustrated inside-cover of the Kindle book-cover

Why tweet about a book when you can have a birdie in the inside front-cover? Yes! an original illustration by Hina drawn and traced onto that red paper, and then glued to the inside-front of the Kindle cover. The hollowed-out pages of the notebook were glued together and stuck into the inside-back, and then painted orange.

 

Opening an eBook, the organic way
Opening an eBook, the organic way

The final finish of the book-case, with the Kindle embedded.

Niyam Kindle
Niyam Kindle

Hina braided this cord, then punched two holes into the back of the book-cover and tied it in. We noticed the cord holding the Kindle in was a bit bulky as well as loose, causing the device to often fall out of its crevice.

 

Improved design of the Kindle cover
Improved design of the Kindle cover

So Hina promptly replaced it with two elastic bands in white.

 

Magnum opus of design for user-experience
Magnum opus of design for user-experience. Proud of the design and craftmanship of Hina Khan.

 

The New User-Experience of Kindle

Here at last was a Kindle with a spine. That was what was missing in the experience all along. The feel of a real and more importantly, organic, hardbound cover. The flourish of calligraphy with Indic scripts. The touch of silk. The smell of real paint-inks and not just printing inks. And the feel of handmade paper inside.

Now I find offset-printed books too mechanically perfect, machine-made and precisely trimmed. A product of an industrial age that dehumanizes, scales monstrously in the name of economy, and ravages the environment. A machine-made book is not compatible with the new value-systems of the more sensitive 21st century. Why sacrifice a tree for just one, and usually expensive and disposable book, when you can just make one hand-made book-cover, and read thousands of books-as-software inside. All this while enriching and enhancing the ‘real’ experience of reading a ‘real’ book.

 

Free Culture

Speaking of free-culture, should you wish to replicate the design of this ‘Kindle book-cover’, be happy to know it is published under a creative-commons license, specifically the cc0 license. The design of the original handbook may be subject to copyright by its author. What this means is that you may freely replicate this design, modify and adapt it, to make your own Kindle-cover or iPad cover, a book-case or a hide-out case or piggy-bank or anything else you can conjure up. You may choose your own colors and materials, improve upon this, use a different handbook or even a hardbound or paperback book, and kickstart a cottage industry around this. A few are already doing this around the world.

I’d be happy to see your designs. Please share them by posting them on my FaceBook page on design here: fb.com/niyamdive 

So get yourself a Kindle or any other eBook reader, and make this Earth into a lotus-paradise.

 

Everything Will Be Broken into Rules of 3

Handwritten Notes in Niyam's Notebook

One day I just opened this hand-made notebook. Looked at the blank page, and then just started writing this down. It just flowed. I did not have to think this. I also have no idea what it means. And then I just forgot about it, until I opened the notebook again and happened to glance at this page. Am sharing with you. For those who can decipher this message, but only if they can decipher my handwriting, here is what is written:

 

  • Everything will be broken into Rules of 3
  • Three times three will give you nine
  • This nine will give you the answer
  • Nine times three will give you 27
  • 27 will give you love
  • Love is always between 3
    The two who love, and the third
    in who’s abode there is love
  • Tao:
    1. The first is Love
    2. The second is Never Too Much
    3. The third, Never Be The First In the World
  • Laughter.  Tears. Silence
  • Intelligence of the Mind
  • Intelligence of the Heart
  • Intelligence of the Hara-point
  • Live. Love. Laugh

 

 

 

Autobiography of an Android Yogi

Why I’ve Stopped Using A Smartphone, And So Will You.

Autobiography of a Lenovo Yogi
Why I stopped using a smartphone. While being irreverent to one who is irreverent. With my Lenovo Yoga 2 tablet and a Moto 360 smartwatch, circa December 2014 onwards.

 

The increasing momentum of my digital life, personal and professional, was suddenly hurled over a precipice into a beep-less, soundless, vacuum. All thanks to my Samsung Galaxy Note. One moment it was an artsy, smartsy phablet. The next moment it frapped into an inert, lifeless brick while in the middle of a battery-recharge. As abruptly simple as that. The experience reminded me of one of my favourite meditation techniques: The Stop Exercise by the mystic master, Gurdjieff. The great aspect of the Stop! Meditation is when you re-emerge from it, something intrinsically changes in you. Maybe that explains why I wish to explore a new way of living and working digitally without a traditional smartphone.

 

Yoga: The Alpha and the OMG!

What’s better than using a smartphone? In fact, what is it that a smartphone aspires to be? A tablet, of course. So I immediately started researching on the most suitable tablet for my needs, one which can also handle voice-calls and SMS-texting. That immediately ruled out the Apple iPad. Try this experiment for yourself: Look at the price of an Apple iPhone 6 plus. Then look at the price of a 7-inch iPad. Do you realize a 7-inch iPad is nothing but a larger 5.5-inch iPhone, with similar or same features, the same iOS, the same apps, but with voice-calling disabled? It still has cellular network connectivity, mind you. So then exactly what is it that merits an iPhone to be so expensive? Your hypnotism that a smartphone is meant to be expensive, while a tablet is meant to be a cheaper alternative to a laptop. If anything, the iPad should have actually been more expensive than the iPhone 6 plus, given the larger screen. Yet in a rather twisted way, the top-end iPhone 6 plus can be 250% to 300% more expensive than the price of an iPad mini. Emphasis on the hundreds of percent here, for the same tech.

 

The other thing I want is freedom. The freedom to have a micro-SD card in which I may freely drag-and-drop all my music, photos, and videos, and carry it around. Good luck with that shiny Apple thingie. First, you don’t even get a micro-SD card. And forget about the woes of using iTunes. I love the simplicity of using a pen-drive or a micro-SD card to manage my music-collection. My way. The lack of a micro-SD port on the new Google Nexus also puts it to shame, and out of this race. Again, do note how much you pay for a 32GB or 64 GB microSD card or pen-drive. Then take a look at how much Apple charges you for moving up from a 16GB Apple iPhone to a 64GB one. Har! Har! No wonder they don’t want to offer you a micro-SD port.

Okay, so everything I need in a smartphone, I have here. Rear and front-facing cameras. GPS for navigation, audio-jack, microUSB, sensors, Bluetooth. The battery especially is impressive at 6400mAh which can even be used to charge your other devices. The greatest joy is I get to install all my favourite apps from the Android store. Can you imagine the experience of WhatsApp, Telegram, FaceBook, web-browsing, Google Maps, on a gigantic 8-inch screen at full HD resolution? You may never want to look at your scrawny 5-inch smartphone screen again.

 

Witnessing the Watch

For a phablet that large, my life has surprisingly become so hands-free. I feel freed from the tyranny of having to constantly clutch a smartphone, or pull out one about a hundred times a day to glance and respond to the constant stream of interruptions. I carry the Yoga tablet 2 in a smart and artsy sling-back, which was originally meant to be an iPad slingbag. Often, I just dump it in my laptop bag, or leave it aside on the co-passenger seat or even the backseat while driving. No more distractions. A discreet bluetooth headset perched on my ear allows me to make and receive calls.

The jewel is of course the Moto 360. All incoming calls, tweets, facebook messages, emails, WhatsApp and Telegram messages, SMS-texts, and several other types of notifications from many other apps, land straight on my wrist. Just a glance is enough, followed by a swipe or two on the watch screen. The battery on both devices lasts me a full day of solid work with no need to recharge. I pair my interaction with the devices using Google talk. It still has issues in recognizing Indian names to call, so am waiting for that experience to improve. A smartwatch is a winner of an idea. While people are predicting the failure of the Apple watch, am quite confident the market for smartwatches is going to explode. The smartphone does need a smartwatch. There are new paradigms at work here. Apple may emerge the top smartwatch maker in the world, but Android will have the largest marketshare by far. Don’t kid yourself about a smartwatch. This paradigm-shift is here to stay.

Suffice to say I get a complete 100% overlap of all the features and tasks I expect from a smartphone. Now comes the stimulating part, the extra and new experiences and discoveries I couldn’t even have imagined. And which take me into a new leagues with experiencing smart mobile devices.

 

Beyond The SmartPhone

The first experience which is completely new for me, is the lavish 8-inch screen on which to surf the web and watch videos, at full HD quality. It’s like moving out of a congested single-room apartment into a mansion with gardens. This is not an incremental jump from a 4-inch screen to a 5-inch one or 5.5-inch screen. My first Apple Macintosh computer, the Mac 512K launched in 1985, had a 9-inch greyscale screen, with less than one-fourth the resolution of this Yoga tablet.

Then comes the music. The Lenovo Yoga tablet 2 ships with large, stereo speakers built-in, and with Wolfson audio-processing and Dolby. The sound, though near-field and moderate in volume, has to be heard to be believed. At my table at work, the side-table at night, or even at impromptu moments, I just prop up the Yoga and play some music. When I wish. It’s so personal. Indeed, I bought the first Yoga tablet in April of 2014 for my mother, as a personal music-player and iPod-replacement. Take a look at the pic here, with the two Yoga tablets. The ease with which I can manage my music-collection, share files, look up and play music, find albums, just cannot be beaten by an Apple iPod or iTunes. That era is finally over.

Excellent replacement to an iPod. The external 64GB card holds a massive collection of music, especially music for active meditations and a huge selection of English and Hindi discourses from Osho. As well as eBooks and a smattering of videoes.
Excellent replacement for an apple iPod. The external 64GB card holds a massive collection of music, especially music for active meditations and a huge selection of English and Hindi discourses from Osho. As well as eBooks in both languages and a smattering of videoes.

 

The Lenovo Yoga 8 as a replacement for an Apple iPod goes further. Using the new dual-plug microUSB pen-drives, you know the types that have a standard USB plug on one side, and a microUSB plug on the other, I can effortlessly and seamlessly transfer music on-the-go back and forth between my tablet and my laptop and even to or from another smartphone. While listening to an Osho discourse, if I find the mp3 file suffering from audio problems, I can just launch the web-browser, and download a newer version of the file from the Oshoworld.com site. I’ve set up a sleep timer that switches off the music or the discourse automatically after 45 minutes. And auto-starts with a playlist of music with which to start the day early in the morning. I can freely create my own playlists with gaps of silence, for meditations when requested. Indeed, my mother uses the Yoga tablet without a SIM card, and as a dedicated music-player, which in her own words, has a gorgeous, large, and colorful user-interface and a user-experience that is far more delightful, and easier, to use than an iPod.

The cylindrical housing of the battery is a unique aspect of the design. It offers a better grip than the tiring one required to hold a razor-thin tablet or smartphone for longer durations. It feels like a curled book or magazine. Indeed, the Yoga tablet offers a great experience for reading eBooks.

I just finished reading ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ on the Yoga. This is the book by Paramahansa Yogananda that Steve Jobs had willed to be gifted to everyone who attended his funeral. More on this book someday perhaps in another blog-post. I find reading books on Yoga a joy. Okay, that’s a pun, I obviously mean the tablet, not just the topic. Then there’s Zinio and the ability to read all my favourite magazines in a digital format. The large screen is just so much more comfortable.

 

The Path of Renunciation

There are still a few minor things to sort out. I still  haven’t found a suitable tablet-holder with which to affix my Yoga tablet in the car while driving. That’s also because I haven’t looked hard. But that’s the point. Google’s voice-recognition is still awkward and clumsy at times. For names it just can’t recognize, I memorize the numbers and then spell out the numbers alone to dial. Clumsy. The rear-camera does not have a flash though it can click in very low light. People did complain about the software being buggy, but that was at its launch. A couple of updates later the software works fine for my needs, but there are still a few annoyances which I’ve just taken in my stride for the moment.

The one negative aspect that I truly dislike, is the apparent renunciation of Yoga for MHL support. For the uninitiated, MHL stands for Mobile High-Definition Link. That means, with a nifty little adapter, you can mirror what’s on the Yoga tablet’s screen on to an HDMI-enabled device like a large LCD or LED screen, or an overhead projector. Most needed for a guy like me into professional and corporate training and workshops around design, design-think, and creativity. So far, tech-support in India seems clueless about its support, and the few adaptors I’ve tried don’t work. I do know the previous version supports MHL so am hugely disappointed this one does not.

I hope Lenovo fixes these problems in the next version, while Google refines its voice-recognition considerably, as am probably going to stay on the path of Yoga for sometime.

 

So that’s it. That’s my story. Hidden in this is of course the concepts of design-think used to find a creative approach to selecting my next smartphone. I love to think of everything as a design problem, and try to use a creative approach to find an alternative solution each time. So why don’t you read this post again, this time from the perspective of design-think. Makes the journey more rewarding.

Note to Self: A Whole New Galaxy of Creativity

At last, the first smart phone for creative people is here: The Samsung Galaxy Note.

Circle This

What is the one, exclusive, killer-feature of the Samsung Galaxy Note that endears it, right out of the box, to creative professionals like me? The pure simplicity with which I can open any web-design or user-interface screen, encircle elements and scribble over them with a stylus pen. Then add notes to it, and send it across to my colleagues or clients. That’s it. And what’s the next? The legendary use of the paper napkin for scribbling logo designs for startups and million-dollar companies can now move to a digital incarnation, in this the second decade of the 21st century.

How to Handle Pressure

Turns out there’s lots a creative professional can do with this smartphone. The stylus is pressure-sensitive. Hence it mimics shades, tints, and variations of shapes and shades as you draw, sketch, and illustrate. The screen-resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels equals the resolution of most netbooks, so you can assess how your designs will render in that ratio. But what’s really impressive, is that the 1280 x 800 resolution fits into a dazzling super-AMOLED screen of just 5.3 inches, in 16 million vibrant colors, at a pixel-density of 285ppi. My first Mac in 1985, had a 9-inch black and white screen, at 72 ppi. Which is why the world is still stuck to the  now mythical 72ppi. Grow up, people.

I love the rendering of fonts on this display. Reading books and periodicals is such a joy. Have just been looking for fonts and typography apps to relish the crispness of typography. Those of you who’ve grown up with the coarseness of mobilephone font-renderings that lasted nearly 15 years, will know what I mean here. This phone makes owning the Kindle Fire redundant. I’ve got the Amazon app here, plus a few more apps for eBooks and magazines. But it’s the feel of typography, the comfort and smoothness and attention-to-detail that my much-neglected eyes experience with this display.

The large screen manages HD video playback with no latency or dropped-frames, thanks to its dual-core 1.4 Ghz ARM Cortex chip. You read that right, this beauty comes with a dual-core CPU. Plus a Mali-400MP Graphics Processor Unit. The result is a smartphone not just for authoring, but for pure inspiration. I have a live wallpaper with floating fish in a pond. A tap or a touch on the screen creates ripples and refraction-effects in the water that is just breathtaking.



All this consumes battery. The Note ships with a Li-On 2500 mAh battery. That’s huge. But given the bandwidth-leech that I’ve become, and the heavy geeky use that I extract from all my devices, it’s surprising how the battery lasts a day for me, and sometimes more. your mileage will vary. Mine does, every day. I carry my micro-USB cable with me in my laptop bag, have a separate charger in the car, and generally move to places not far from the grid. Knowing how to throttle your power-consumption is an art every geek must know, and it’s not just true for this phone. Secondly, with the growing gaggle of gadgets I find myself carrying every day, I’ve decided to invest in a battery power-brick. Am still deciding on an Amzer or an Eto, or something else. Given the abundant sunshine I get in the Indian capital, I’ll settle for the one with the added solar-panel, like the Amzer.

Is it a phone for folks like Sudev Barar, who tend to motor their muscle-cars out into the Indian sub-continent’s harsh climates and tend to veer off far away from the grid? As a GPS device mounted inside the car, most definitely yes. Digital-freedom lovin’ folk like Sudev will especially appreciate its support for both A-GPS and GLONASS. Though rather unfortunately named, GLONASS is what you’ll run to should the powers-that-be decide to abruptly switch off your access to GPS satellites and imagery and ask you to kiss their ass. I have yet to play around with GLONASS, but I hope Sudev does us all the honour of a thorough testing of GLONASS on the Samsung Note with his sojourns across the majestic terrains of our sub-continent.

The in-built video-editing software is another marvel of engineering and software interface-design. I could never have imagined non-linear video-editing would come down from its lofty heights of high-end workstations costing millions of dollars and several hundred thousands of dollars in training, to handheld devices for folks to use with nothing more than a swipe and a thumb. Am utterly overwhelmed here.

Sentimental Note for the Newton

Then there’s the handwriting recognition. I must admit, the moment I unboxed the Samsung Galaxy Note, a wave of nostalgia overwhelmed me. I went back to the time I unboxed my Apple Newton 120 in circa 1997. Having endured the idiosyncrasies of the Apple Newton’s infamous handwriting recognition engine, I found myself delighted with the generations of evolution am inheriting here. It’s been just three days with the Note, and I’ve eagerly abandoned all other forms of input, and am always tapping and scribbling furiously away with my stylus. I hope I soon forget how to use QWERTY keypads on mobile-screens. The arrow of technology is going to come full-circle. At least for me. So far, all my new contacts, memo notes, expense sheets, web-forms, emails, text-messages, and other forms of verbose text are handled entirely using the handwriting recognition of the stylus.

Okay, I know, I do need to write another blog-post, in which I’ll share all the apps and widgets I use, plus the techniques and workflows, for handling some aspects of professional user-interface and UX design on the Galaxy Note. Pause, I’ll just make a note of this. There! I’m back.

Let’s talk about how the Galaxy Note disappoints. Unless you’re a large-sized Gorilla who’s adopted Tarzan the man-child as your son, there’s no way you can clutch, and use your fingers, all using just one hand. We take this for granted with other phones, but don’t try this at home, at office, at your studio, or anywhere else. I can live with that, as it is like a small moleskin digital diary for artists, designers, poets, and dreamers. But here’s the huge design failure I refuse to forgive. It has no eyelet for a lanyard. Yup! No way for you to hang it from your wrist, should you need your hand to grasp something else, or for those awkward moments when it falls. The question with the Galaxy Note is not if it will fall or slip out of your hands, but when. Thankfully, for mere humans like us with puny hands, Samsung compensates with its wildly successful Gorilla Glass. The smooth and shiny screen can take a few nicks and bumps and falls without even a scratch.

Another thing. Most dealers will play to your insecurity, and insist you buy a screen protector. Don’t. All you’ll get are tiny air-bubbles if not applied well, and a less responsive stylus. This is Gorilla Glass, remember. To be inspired by Gora Mohanty’s favaourite aphorism: “Lipstick on a pig”, sticking that flimsy plastic to this is like applying a UV sunscreen lotion to a polar bear.

The Gamma Ray professor reminds me, I’d better look up the impact of the phone’s microwave radiation on the human body. This impact is known more popularly as the SARS rating. Can’t seem to find reliable data at the moment, so someone please post here, but the Note seems to be actually better in some cases, with lowered SARS rating, than an iPhone 4s. That’s a real wow! if that’s correct. Anyways, keeping it away from my pocket or person when I’m not moving is what I do.

Face-Palm

Okay, so how should you use this moleskin diary of a thingie, as a phone? Holding it against my cheek and talking to it is akin to experiencing a face-palm in mid-sentence. I for one pocket it in specially tailored trousers I anyways fashion myself. The headset wire then runs under my clothing from my ears to my pocket. There, I’ve got my hands free, but Alas! The headset provided by Samsung has an omni mic that picks up all the ambient sounds and noise around you and pumps it into the ears of your caller miles away. I’ve spent three days researching and finally ordered myself a Plantronics 903+ bluetooth headset, so I can hopefully pair it later with my iPhone 4S as well. Thanks to Vivek Puri, who lived up to his “And now for something different” clarion-call by pushing me to the Plantronics rather than some run of the motormouth.

The sound-quality, as expected, is tuned for the human-voice. Call-quality is good, actually great on the phone, but listening to music is a real ear-sore. Anyways, I’ve segregated my music-listening to the vastly superior Creative Zen xi-fi. When I say “vastly superior”, fellow audiophiles know which devices I’m comparing this to. But let’s not get into that discussion, fanboys.

The microphone is surprisingly sensitive. Too sensitive in fact. Coupled with bad software-engineering, the voice-recognition is a huge failure for me. The software does not compensate for the mic’s sensitivity to pick up ambient noise, so the monitors keep trembling. Takes it quite a while to end its scanning and start processing the audio data. By that time I’ve lost interest and am quietly waiting in amusement to listen to the rubbish the voice-recognition will dole out.

The other major design-flaw, is the Note’s less than mediocre lense and camera quality. Creative professionals long know that a higher megapixel camera means nothing, unless you’ve got great glass and algorithmic goodness to bring out the subtle nuances of photography. The Galaxy Note is a classic example of how Samsung’s goofed up major-time on this. Hey! Samsung, Apple and the rest of the mobilephone market just nailed Kodak to the cross-hairs of their viewfinder. Flickr and Picasa revel in how the Apple iPhone is the camera of choice. A nice and buzzing cottage-industry has sprung up around the iPhone, selling custom lenses to fit over the phone. Samsung’s totally lost it on this one. So get it right folks.

The Note comes with no manual. I just googled for it, and downloaded it. Incidentally, the smartphone’s got 1 GB RAM, and 16 GB internal storage of which 11 GB is free. I’ve also added an 8GB microSD card for good measure. The Android Gingerbread 2.3 OS on it works smoothly. The other reason I bought the Note was that I knew this would easily upgrade or update to Android 4.0, just when I’ll be finally settling into my soup of OS and apps on 2.3. That’s the way the cookie crumbles for me. But love it.

I’m using Ubuntu 9.04 on my Apple MacBook Pro 5,1 for the moment. Connecting the Note over a USB cable automagically mounts its storage, but strangely, I cannot find the photos and videos I’ve clicked to drag-and-drop around. Thinking it could be a kick-in-the-tyres that Ubuntu needs, I just did a double-check under the Mac OS. Same story. More on this in some time once I’ve figured out what’s happening.

End-Note:

Having played around with enough smartphones and tablets, I find the Samsung Galaxy Note is a surprising joy and delight to use. It’s a whole different way of looking at smartphones again. I’m sure Atul wants to know what I did to my beloved Bada phone. I gave it a Wave of goodbye, of course. Heck! I just got inspired and remembered a nice joke must scribble it to Atul right away. Meanwhile Apple, keep banning Samsung. They’ve become too innovative and creative and I wouldn’t be surprised if people want to step out of their iOS cages and stretch their limbs with superbly designed Android experiences. How I wish the battle between Apple and Android was not about market-share, but about freedom.

I’m Hiring. Are You Looking For A Web-Designer Job?

Am looking for a web-designer to work full-time with me.
You should be young and hard-working, and you wish to work with me because you love design and the web.

Web-Designer (1 or 2 openings)
You’re going to work on some rather exciting projects in:

  • Website design
  • Web user-interface design

Your Location of Work:

South Delhi.

Your Qualifications

Minimum: a certificate, diploma, or a degree in web-design, graphic-design, fine-arts, or any creative field. Those with a diploma or a certificate must also be a graduate with a degree in any discipline.

What’s Your Experience:
None? One year? Two? Even more? Okay, I’ll let that pass if you have a real kick-ass portfolio.

Your Skills:

Ability to author a design in pixels and shapes. Then convert it into a web-page. You should be comfortable in customizing the visual-theme to some extent, of at least one Content Management System, such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla.

In addition, you must have:

  • Sense of design and of what looks good.
  • A good command over spoken English.
  • Your written English should be devoid of SMS-spellings, and easily comprehensible.

Your Software Skills

  • GIMP (or Photoshop): for photo-editing and pixel-imagery.
  • Inkscape (Or Illustrator, CorelDraw) for arm-twisting those beziers.
  • HTML, CSS. You should be able to write good, clean markup.
  • Knowing how to strive for browser-compatibility.
  • Theme-customization of at least one Content Management System: WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla.



Your Optional Skills That’ll Get You Noticed:

  • Understanding and use of UI-widgets, like JQuery-UI among others.
  • Javascript, or any other web-scripting language.
  • PHP
  • Wire-framing.
  • WordPress theme-customization.
  • Getin’ your feet wet with HTML5, and newer experiments in CSS3.
  • Designing for mobiles and tablets.
  • Some familiarity with using Linux, such as Ubuntu for example. Or else, some familiarity with Apple Mac.
  • Personal or professional interest in any creative skill or discipline. Do mention if you have any.
  • Some familiarity with Django, or other similar frameworks.

Your Gear:

  • Your own Laptop of any brand. The model should not be more than two-years-old. Must support a resolution of 1280 pixels or higher. These two factors because your laptop should be able to run the latest versions of modern browsers. Candidates with an Apple laptop will have a definite advantage.
  • Roaming internet datacard. Those with a broadband connection preferred.
  • Would be good if you have your own vehicle.
  • Mobile-phone.
  • If you use GNU/Linux, I’ll buy you the first round of coffee. In Linux, any variation or flavour of Ubuntu or Debian preferred. The release should not be more than two years old.

My Hiring Process

  • Send me only a PDF-file of your C.V.
  • In your mail and your PDF, please share links to some samples of your work online. Please don’t send me your portfolio via attachments or even on a disc.
  • I’ll just glance at your qualifications, experience, and references, but will dive into your portfolio. It is okay to include tutorials and exercises in your portfolio, but I may quiz you on them.
  • Am looking for a portfolio that shows a decent understanding of HTML-markup, use of CSS, and an ability to convert websketches into markup or themes.
  • If you do get shortlisted, I’ll call you over for an interview, and if you look promising, you’ll have to sit for a short 30-minute test of your skills. So bring your gear.
  • If you qualify, I’ll sign you up for an initial probation-period which should lead you up to a renewable annual contract.


I’m Hiring. Do You Understand Design?

I’m looking for a graphic-designer willing to work with me full-time.
You should be young, hard-working, and you wish to work and grow because you love design. You are going to work with me at the cuttin’-edge of design, as we move away from the creative restrictions of the 20th century, into the brave new-world of design and creativity as it unfolds before our eyes in the 21st century. You therefore have to be willing to study and work on your own, learn and grasp new concepts and paradigms, and follow design-trends and analysis.

Graphic Designer ( 1 or 2 openings)

You’re going to work with me on my projects in:
  • Graphic-Design
  • Logo and Branding design
  • Web-design
  • User-Interface design (UX)
  • Illustrations, info-graphics, and imagery.

Your Location:
Delhi.

Your Qualifications:
Minimum: a certificate, diploma, or a degree in design, web-design, graphic-design, or fine-arts. Those with a diploma or a certificate must also be a graduate with a degree in any discipline.

What’s Your Experience:
None? One year? Two? Even more? Okay, I’ll let that pass if you have a real kick-ass portfolio.

Your Skills:
Have a fundamental understanding of the four pillars of design, Yes, you will be quizzed, and your portfolio evaluated on these:

  • Color
  • Typography
  • Illustration
  • Photography

In addition, you must have:

  • A good command over spoken English. Your pronunciation and fluency over English should reflect your refined cultural-background and the polish of your education.
  • Your written English should be devoid of SMS-spellings, free of grammatical mistakes, and easily comprehensible.
  • You should be able to handle cursory sub-edits.
  • Those with a flair for creative-writing will be preferred.

Your Software Skills:

  • GIMP: for photo-editing and pixel-imagery.
  • Inkscape: for arm-twisting those beziers.
  • HTML, CSS.
  • [Just in case you want to know: rigid, legacy, and proprietary bloatware like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, are so last century. Move on.
  • Note: It’s okay if your existing skills and portfolio are based around Adobe and/or Corel software. However, I do want to see work you’ve authored that shows you’ve dabbled around, and kicked-some-tyres in Inkscape and GIMP, and optionally the software mentioned below.

Your Optional Skills That’ll Get You Noticed:

  • Understanding and use of UI-widgets as a designer, like JQuery-UI among others.
  • WordPress theme-customization.
  • Ability to learn how to customize the look-and-feel of any CMS.
  • Having taken Bluefish-editor or Kompozer out for a spin
  • Basic video-editing.
  • Basics of 3D modeling and animation. Familiarity with Blender3D software preferred.

Your Gear:

  • Digital Camera: point-and-shoot would do, but a dSLR camera even if an entry-level model, preferred.
  • Your own Laptop. Any mainstream brand: Dell, Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, Acer, Sony…, whatever catches your fancy. The model should not be more than two-years-old. Must support a resolution of 1440 pixels or higher. Candidates with an Apple laptop will have a definite advantage, you’re a designer, right?
  • If you have an Apple laptop, your Mac OS should be an updated Leopard, Snow-Leopard, or Lion.
  • If you use Windows, your OS should be authorised, updated, and secured.
  • If you use GNU/Linux, I’ll buy you the first round of coffee. In Linux, any variation or flavour of Ubuntu or Debian preferred. The release should not be more than a year old.
  • If you don’t have Linux installed on your laptop, you must have it installed before you commence work with me.
  • Roaming internet datacard. Those with a broadband connection preferred.
  • Wrist-watch that shows the accurate time. Your internal time-clock should be calibrated to Delhi’s traffic so you stay punctual. Surprising how many ‘five-minute-distances’ in Delhi have slowed down to take 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Would be good if you have your own vehicle.
  • Mobile-phone. Ideally, it should be smart enough to do a little more than just voice-calls and SMS.
  • You should have an interest in gadgets that are impacted by graphic-design. Over time you may have to dabble with iPads, iPhone apps, Android-tablets, eBook readers, higher-end smartphones, and whatever else blends with culture and technology.

My Hiring Process

  • Send me only a PDF-file of your C.V. Please note if you have your C.V. authored as a *.doc file, then you must convert it to PDF before sending it to me. A filter in my mailbox will delete your *.doc file and your application will be automatically rejected.
  • In your mail and your PDF, please share links to your online portfolio. Please don’t send me your portfolio via attachments or even on a disc. If you don’t yet have your portfolio online, this job is naturally not for you.
  • I’ll just glance at your qualifications, experience, and references, but go with a toothcomb through your portfolio. Tutorials and exercises are okay, but for artworks and design authored by you, will check your work for plagiarism. Yes, when I say I want sincere and genuine people who have a love for design, I mean it.
  • Am looking for a portfolio that shows a high-level of creativity and innovation, shows your ability to solve design problems, and resonates with your sense of aesthetics and design.
  • If you do get shortlisted, I’ll call you over for an interview, and if you look promising, you’ll have to sit for a short 30-minute test of your skills. So bring your gear.
  • If you qualify, I’ll sign you up for an initial probation-period which should lead you up to an initial 6-month contract.

So Why Is My Website Looking So Tattered?

Get hired. There are dozens of projects to complete.
This one is just one of them.

Living In A Trance-port: Life in Delhi

Saturday-afternoons in Delhi are beautiful in January, especially with the golden sunshine of winters, and less traffic. So, like on most lazy Saturday afternoons, took my six-year-old on a trip to his library in my car. The distance from Greater Kailash 2 to his library in South Extension is six kilometres (3.7 miles). As we neared our destination, my heart sank to see a total jam at the entrance to the South Ex market. Hmmm! Must be the result of the winter-sale season, I wondered. Cars spilled out from the jammed parking lots onto the Ring-Road. Yes, there were cars on the Ring-Road, waiting in queue with engines switched off. Helpless traffic-cops just stood by. I waited for ten minutes, but saw not a car move even far into the parking-lot.

I’m Feeling Lucky

“Let’s do something crazy and inspiring” I told my six-year-old. I pulled out of the queue, and drove all the way to Nehru Place, which is about six kilometres away (3.7 miles), carefully noticing I could find not a single parking-spot on this entire route. Parked my car in the lot of The Delhi Metro Station, which was also nearly full. The assistant informed me today was a lucky day as there were less cars due to the weekend. In Delhi, It’s not unusual to hand over your keys to the attendant so he may keep shuffling your car around in the driveways of an overflowing parking-lot. I didn’t have to today.

Nehru-Place is the nearest metro-station from my home, and Moolchand is the closest station to South-Extension on the violet-line. I bought two metro tickets from Nehru-Place to Moolchand, for Rs 20 (43 cents). The distance from Moolchand to South-Extension is about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 miles). I could have easily walked this last mile, but not in Delhi’s pollution and noise, and certainly not with a six-year-old. Please search the web to discover the alarming levels of Delhi’s air-pollution, and how Delhi records the highest cases of respiratory diseases and infections in its population. So I decided to catch an auto-rickshaw for this short distance. He charged me Rs 40 (87 cents). Wow!

Anyways, business done in South-Extension, we walked back to the Ring-Road, and this time I decided to catch a bus to the Moolchand Metro station. A spanking new Redline Bus came by, and we hopped abroad. This was my first trip on these new buses. The conductor charged us Rs 50 (USD 1.08) for this short ride. That’s more than what the auto-rickshaw charged me, and that too for an even shorter distance as we had to take no U-turn on this route. Lesson learned. Next time, I’ll try the green-line.

The bus dropped us at a bus-stop about 400 metres away from the metro-station, and we carefully walked our way through the Moochand crossing with its dangerous and bewildering BRT crossings. Another set of metro-tickets for Rs 20 (43 cents) got us back to Nehru-Place, where I paid another Rs 10 (21 cents) for the car-parking. Then spent another ten minutes in the traffic to get back home.

Neurotic Standards

I spent Rs 140 (USD 3.04) for a return-journey for two by public-transport, for about 12 kilometres total, that took a total-time of 90 minutes of commuting, including walking and waiting. Rupees 140 is high, even by Delhi’s mad and neurotic standards. I don’t know whether for the same amount I could have covered this round-trip by auto-rickshaws. For that kind of money, my auto-rickshaw driver quipped, I could buy bus-tickets for two from the Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT) to head out far into the countryside.

On such days, maybe I could have my driver drop me at South-Extension, find parking in a two kilometre radius, or else drive back home, and in either case wait for me to call him over his mobile-phone to pick me up. Sinful.

I do want to switch to public-transport. That’s what I use when I travel anywhere else in the world. And Delhi’s metro service is indeed impressive, as is the redline-bus. Am eager to see better solutions emerge for this route and other short but equally congested distances near me. Let’s see. Oh! And by the way, must confess I did have quite a lot of fun doing this today. Expect to see me hop on-board the metro and even the red-line buses more frequently.

[ends]

The Dangers of Listening to Osho

Osho has a tendency, where something he says,
usually a long time ago, hammers home.

Stays and grows with you, like a thorn in the side.

First you take no note of it, as it sounded fun and casual
back then, and at best forgotten.
Then you discover it stays there as a harmless residue.
Soon you discover it starts to gnaw at you.
Over time, other things you may have initially missed
about what he was trying to say, start flowing in as well.
Soon you discover you can no longer ignore it,
as you start feeling its devastating impact.
You want to go back, but you don’t know what is back
and how did you get away from it.
Much less how to get back to it.
You have no option but to let the change happen.
And you discover you’ve changed.
Something you did not even know
you were holding on to so tightly,
you realize you have had to let go.
Irrevocably.

How to Quickly Make Paper Texture in GIMP

Realistic paper-textures! They look so cool in the background of sophisticated website designs, mobile-applications, desktops, in brochures and print-production design, and for interesting user-interface design. Better than using just a plain white background, or a background with black-to-white gradients that often remind me of retro-1980s design. I prefer realistic-looking paper that is subtle, and use it with sensitivity to draw a viewer’s attention to the content.

GIMP is a free and powerful alternative to Photoshop software. When I say ‘free’, I mean muft and mukt. GIMP is available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, from http://www.gimp.org/downloads/ so get your copy and let’s get started.

Step 1: Launch GIMP, and select File-menu > New. Choose the height and width of your paper in pixels, and press ‘OK’.

Step 2: Select Filters-menu > Noise… and choose ‘RGB Noise’. Apart from ‘Preview’ make sure all other check-boxes are unchecked.

Step 3: Do you want your paper to be smooth, or would you like to have a texture that’s tad stronger? Take your pick as you slide the tab on ‘Red’ ‘Green’ or ‘Blue’ between 0.20 to 0.69. Do notice how all three values move in tandem. Check out the preview which may show granular dots increase or decrease in density. I prefer values between 0.20 to 0.32. Once you find a pattern to your taste, click ‘OK’.

Step 4: Go to Image-menu > Mode > Grayscale. This one step will make the dots appear more textured, and shrink your file to one-third its size in kilobytes or megabytes, which is a good thing.

Step 5: Go to Filters-menu > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Choose a value between 3 and 9 on the slider below. Check out the ‘Preview’ to see what suits your taste, and click ‘OK. You’re done. If required, you may re-apply Gaussian Blur with a different value, for an even smoother finish.

Save your file in the format of your choice, and you’re done.

Further tips:

Use the Color-menu > Brightness-Contrast slider to set the tonality of your paper.

I use the muft and mukt illustration-design software, Inkscape, for authoring user-interface designs. You may find it for free download and use for your platform here: http://inkscape.org/

Import your paper-texture into Inkscape, then draw your interface elements over it using Inkscape’s tools.

Hope you find this quick tutorial useful. It’s a Christmas gift for a client.

:-)

Sync Your Mobile while Saying Bye-Bye to MS Outlook

I just bought myself a Samsung Wave mobile, a stunningly beautiful phone with engineering that’s even more delightful. I had my wallet out of my pocket, seconds away from buying a Nokia E72, when I spotted the Samsung Wave. Wallet back in my pocket, went home to research if the Wave is as promising as it looks, or should I look for a third option. First stop, the reliable review-aggregator website alatest.com that showed both the Nokia E72 and the Wave were equally matched. Next stop, YouTube, where I checked reviews and hands-on demos by geeks and reviewers. Then I went through the official website, and then scoured through the Samsung Apps website to check for available software for the smartphone: samsungapps.com. The underlying platform, called Bada, is indeed open-source and totally rocks.

Wave Goodbye to Nokia

My only worry though, was how to transfer my contacts and calendar from my old and battered Nokia E61i, to the new Wave. For the record, I use Ubuntu Linux 9.04 on my MacBookPro laptop, which also has Mac OS X installed separately on the hard-disk. No Microsoft Windows on my machine. The Wave ships with a software called ‘Kiet’ that syncs contacts between the mobile and MS Outlook which obviously only runs under Windows. Digging deeper I discovered FoneSync, a Euro 19.95 utility from Nova Software that syncs the Wave with the address book and the calendar of Mac OS X. A few users’ comments elsewhere on the web alluded to some bugs and issues with it. Hmmm. No support or software or hack for Ubuntu Linux users. Time to shift to the cloud.

First, I used a free plug-in for iSync under Mac OS X, that syncs contacts and calendars between the Nokia E61i and the Mac OS X. Once I got the data into my laptop, I then opened the Address Book of the Mac, and exported all my contacts into a single file, once as a *.abbu file, and again as a *.vcf file which is a vCard file. Similarly, I exported all my calendar events as an *.icf file.

Booted into Ubuntu Linux and imported these into Evolution, which is a free, muft-and-mukt alternative to MS Outlook for Linux users. Now I could happily deposit the E61i in the new ‘ecology-recycle’ bins dotting every good mobile-store in Delhi. If you have old mobile power-adaptors and phones, please do consider depositing them here rather than throw them away with regular trash. Anyways, back to the cloud-sync.

I then opened my Gmail account, clicked on the ‘Contacts’ link in the left-pane, and then clicked on ‘Import…’ to pull in all my contacts into Gmail. Similarly, imported all my calender-events into Gmail’s Calendar. So now, apart from backups on my Mac OS X and Ubuntu Linux partitions, I also have my mobile data backed up in the cloud. I can connect into it from anywhere and sync any of my devices whenever I wish.

Finally, on the Samsung Wave, here are the steps to follow:

1. Press the main-menu button to display all your software and applications.

2. Press the ‘My Accounts’ icon.

3. Press [Exchange ActiveSync]

4. Type your email ID “xyz@gmail.com”

5. User name will appear as “xyz”

6. Type your password

7. DO NOT enter anything in domain field.

8. Press [Done] and let it process

9. Type “m.google.com” for server URL

10. Enable “Use SSL”

11. Press [Set]

12. There you go, select anything which you want to sync.

I’ve compiled these steps from the helpful info provided here: http://www.google.td/support/forum/p/Google+Mobile/thread?tid=1b80c29b961dfa61&hl=en
This obviously assumes you’ve got internet-access activated on your mobile-account, or else have access via Wi-Fi.
Cleverly enough, the Samsung Wave links multiple records of the same person into one consolidated entry in the phone’s address book.
Plus, for the first time, I can see just how hyper-connected I’ve become: click on a contact’s name and view all calls, sms-messages, facebook messages, tweets, direct-messages on twitter, emails, and IM chats, in just one place.
The Samsung Wave GT S8500 is a great phone. I especially love it’s voice-quality and ability to hold on to weak signals. My ears feel better since I’ve switched. And of course, the touch-screen experience on a vibrant AMOLED screen is sensational. It’s 5 MP camera, and HD-Video capture is impressive. A built-in video-edit software can also add captions to video-segments, and an optional cable outputs to a TV. Everyone, from little children, grandmas, Blackberry-enthusiasts, iPhone-users, to uber-geeks I’ve shown the phone, appreciates the beauty and design of this phone. The only thing that beats it currently, is the Samsung Galaxy, and the newer and newer models of top-end Android smartphones, which of course, cost a great deal more.
[ends]

Navigating with Stars Far into My Mind

Ancient algorithms in my contemporary world

Sometimes, late into the night when I enter my bedroom, I find it plunged pitch-black in total darkness. The experience is rather delightful. The sense of space suddenly disappears. I don’t know what’s ahead, above, sideways, or below. I just know I am there but I can’t see anything about myself either. From within my body I can feel my hands and limbs moving without being able to see them move, and I bring all my attention to my movements, warily observing if I touch, bump, or brush against something in this abyss.

The only orientation I can deduce initially, is the sense of my standing upright, thanks to the constant pull of gravity I feel through the soles of my feet and across the various postures of my body. If I don’t feel my head being pulled down and my entire body pushing it further down behind it, then I must not be falling down. It’s really that simple.

No Thing

I pause to appreciate all the vibrant colors that cover every surface in my bedroom are no longer available to my brain to recognize. The color-cones within my eyes capture nothing. The subtle play of lights and shadows, which helps my mind perceive depth and distance around me is also gone. The rods within my eyes capture no ‘concurrent monotone textures’ with which I understand 3D and spatial distances. In fact, there is not even enough ambient light for me to at least see objects where ‘color constancy’ has drained all sense of color from their surfaces. Finally, I can’t even see any sillhouettes of my bed, chairs, tables, jutting into the darkness. My mind cognizes no shapes. As I said, it’s all pitch-black.

Depraved

Well, nearly. The only things my eyes see, are pinpoints of three to four lights. These are the standby lights emitting from the LEDs of my gear. The TV’s red-colored standby light. The Home Theater System’s standby Red light, the TV set-top box’s amber-green light. Up above on the side, the AC unit’s neon-blue light, and in another area, a larger red-dot from the AC’s stabilizer. All these small dots of colored light, look like starlight to my mind depraved of all sense of dimension and space. Interestingly, the color from these LED dots, is sensed by the cones in my eyes, and apart from each one’s inherent shape as a dot or a small-circle, my brain picks up no other shape. As far as my mind is concerned, these could be star-light that travelled millions of years ago, from exotic stars, millions of light-years away on a night horizon.

Within a few moments, I marvel at how my mind auto-magically rummages through its couldron of experiences and memories, of how it has cognized the room’s dimensions and spaces during normal daylight or artificial light moments. My mind draws a mental map as it were, of the entire room, and overlaps it in 3D over those pinpoints of LED lights. It then orients my position, and lets me ‘know’ I am five steps to the right of my bed, after I make a subtle swaying movement to dodge a table-edge jutting out on the right. I thus navigate myself through various obstacles, literally on an invisible path, safely to my bed, using nothing but nearly dimensionless points of light.

Ancient Algorithms

As I rest my head on my pillow, I always wonder at the ancient antecedents of this algorithm in my mind. It must be buried somewhere, deep in our collective consciousness, used by ancient travellers navigating their way across the shifting and rolling landscapes of deserts or vast oceans, using nothing but stars to point them to their destinations. Thankfully, no ancient traveller lived for hundreds of thousands of years to observe the gradual shifting of the night-horizon. Thus, those stars were the most permanent navigation points, in an impermanent and ever-changing land or seascape. But, the ‘LED stars’ in my bedroom can be hacked. If someone were to move my gear around a bit, and I were to enter the room without prior knowledge of this, would I stumble through the room? With each bump and knock, how hastily would my mind create a new version of object-placement and my orientation in the room?

As I slowly drift into the inner darkness of sleep, I can only wonder: The accuracy of the mind’s navigation-map has to be sensitively appreciated as well. To test it, I have often shut my eyes tight and moved through the physical space in my room, guided only by the mental space conjured by the mind. It works flawlessly. Static shape dissolves into fluid motion, and the pillow under my head reminds the mind to unravel and repose in its secrets far away from my conscious self.

[ends]

My Flight into Music

‘Flight’ is a music-track I composed, arranged, mixed and produced in 2007. The music emerged towards the end of an intense three years of active meditations. ‘Flight’ is authored using 100% Free and OpenSource Software (FOSS). More specifically, used a Linux-based OS, called UbuntuStudio.

Excerpts from ‘Flight’ were later used as background music for a short-film published from Los Angeles. Was even more thrilled when I also got paid for it. :-)

You are encouraged to download, share, mix, re-mix, and have fun with ‘Flight’ for commercial or non-commercial purposes, provided you respect its copyright and creative-commons license, which is cc-by-sa-2.5 india. Here is a simple-to-understand version of this specific CreativeCommons license.

Taking Flight
In 2007, Was also invited to conduct a small workshop on ‘Digital Sound’ at a leading national FOSS event, called freed.in. You may view a blurry picture of UbuntuStudio with a sound software. Then in 2008, was invited to another National FOSS event, called FOSSMEET at NITC in Calicut, where I delivered a talk “How to design sound, compose music, and master your album.” Ended the talk with ‘Flight’ which received a huge ovation, and hours after the talk the participants lingered around and discussed all things from music to FOSS. That was quite an experience. You may view a photo of the audio, sound, and music talk at fossmeet here. Finally, on 28 March 2010, I released ‘Flight’ at the CreativeCommons Salon event held in Delhi. Discover more about this event on twitter using the id ‘ccsdel’.
Flight into Jamendo
‘Flight’ is published on Jamendo.org, a wonderful website for musicians and music-lovers who wish to share muft and mukt music. This is my first album published here. Within a few days will also publish another album of dance-music composed more recently. Discover my artist page at Niyam on Jamendo where I intend to publish even more tracks and albums over the coming months. You may also soon find me dabbling at ccmixter.org.
Soaring with Freedom
All the sounds you hear have been designed in a software-synth with quite a tongue-twister of a name: ZynAddSubFX. This software-synth was plugged into a software that handles virtually unlimited multi-track recording. Called ardour, it is more specifically, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Even more interesting is how almost all the sound-based software plug into one another under UbuntuStudio. Mimicking the coils of cables, plugs, and connectors found in a real-world sound-studio, is a software sound-patch, called Jack Audio Connection Kit. A lot of sound-effects and the pre and post-processing of sound were handled using myriad sound-FX plug-ins, from LADSPA. You may find thousands of free sound-effects from LADSPA. The final and minor tweaks and exports were handled in the audio-editing software Audacity.

Surprisingly enough, did not use any of my other favourite free software for this project, especially Hydrogen: The Advanced Drum-Machine for Linux, as well as the music-sequencing software RoseGarden.

Earlier Sounds
In October 2006, also published an entire album of sound-field recordings made in the middle of the night and at dawn, in remote mountains while living in a stone-cottage next to a stream. Thousands of people have downloaded the audio-files from this album, a few have re-mixed these in their works, and some I know held a group-meditation based around the album. You may discover the sound-field recordings at Niyam on freesound.org. Plus, discover some drum-loops published around the same time creativedot though the site seems to go down every once in a while.

Stay tuned for more sound and music, especially since I love authoring in diverse genres.

Bird’s Eye-view: To Bee or Not to Bee Saving Tigers.

Mobile-Towers May Be Endangering Species of Birds Across India and Threatening Bees.

How do you poach customers in a battle for survival and marketshare? An Indian mobile-telephony company, Aircel, may have hit upon a new idea for big-game hunting. Aircel has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India, in a strategic campaign to save the declining population of tigers in India. Why save half a paisa on talk-time, when you can go save a tiger? You may join the initiative here: www.saveourtigers.com

In one leap, the company has earned good karma points by creating a growing social-buzz around its campaign in new-media such as facebook, twitter, and online blogs, and most importantly, by generating market-conversations around its brand. City-wide hoardings, and ads in traditional media are further fueling their buzz. Suddenly, people are emotionally-charged and galvanized, and funds and support are pouring in to save the tiger. This is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at its best. I wish every corporate in India feels inspired to devote a huge chunk of their marketing funds and warfare at similar causes that matter to us.

Save Our Birds and Bees

But who will save species of birds and even bees endangered by the harmful radiation emitted by mobile cell-towers? According to several media reports, the ElectroMagnetic Radiation (EMR) from cell-towers can damage eggs and embryos of birds, and may have caused the rapidly-declining numbers in the bird-population across regions. “It’s almost like being microwaved”, says a researcher involved with the study on the impact of EMR from these towers.

Here’s a report from the Times of India from 3 October 2008, on various researchers that seem to concur on their findings: http://bit.ly/CellTwrBirds

Another report, carried by AFP and published at PhysOrg, mentions the deadly impact of EMR on the population of bees in India: http://bit.ly/CellTwrBees

We must save tigers. But we must also save these birds and bees. Even if it means the cell-tower as we know it has to become extinct. Smarter Corporate Social Responsibility, not just from Aircel, but any other corporate, should urgently address this issue. As an individual, you can generate enough buzz around this issue to galvanize the powers-that-be to take positive and affirmative action. You can buzz about bees on blogs, chirp about birds on twitter, and use the power of the social-web to make all mobile-telephony companies wake up to the call of our winged living beings.

The first mobile-telephony company to take on this urgent cause will unleash a brilliant marketing strategy that will not only save these precious species, but also improve the current technologies used in mobile telephony to make them safer. Oh! And along the way, poach millions of customers away from its rivals. Now that is predator-thinking.

[ends]

The New ‘Avatar’ of Mysticism

Neyetri from Avatar 3D, with bioluminescent points on her face.

Look carefully. The Na’vi people portrayed in James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ sit cross-legged on the ground, hold hands, and rotate their bodies from their bellies in a circular movement. All this in a deeply-meditative trance under the guidance of their chief Shaman and High-Priestess.

Mandala Meditation

The sequence closely resembles an actual technique of meditation, devised by Osho called Mandala. From its official website:

“Mandala means circle. Every circle contains a center. The aim of this technique is to create a circle of energy so that centering results naturally. At the end, one is left in absolute stillness, absolute silence.”

The specific technique is in the second stage of this meditation, described as follows:

“Sit with your eyes closed and mouth open and loose. Gently rotate your body from the belly, like a reed blowing in the wind. Feel the wind blowing you from side to side, back and forth, around and around. This will bring your awakened energies to the navel center.”

Meridien Points of Acupressure

As darkness falls, or during moments of dramatic stress, the beautiful blue-toned bodies of the avatars gently glow with tiny points of bioluminescent light. In some scenes these points appear on the face, in other scenes on the forearm, or on the torso. These points are reminiscent of ‘meridien points’ from traditional Chinese acupuncture. According to wikipedia:

“The meridian … is a concept central to traditional Chinese medical techniques such as acupuncture, and to martial arts such as tai chi and qigong. According to these practices, there are channels along which the energy or qi of the psychophysical system is considered to flow. Such techniques are said to achieve their effects by manipulation and, ideally, balancing of the energy running through a network of complex bodily patterns.”

Deep Forest

While immersed in 3D, keep your ears wide open. You will hear several types of tribal instruments playing soothing, calming, and rather evocative tribal music, even during the call for war. Pay attention to the didjiridoo, which plays for a short while but at the most pertinent moment. Something uncannily familiar about the music kept haunting me, like a fading memory. A few days later, in the silence of the night, I suddenly remembered! This music reminds me of my favourite album from 1998, ‘Deep Forest’, an album on which I’ve danced and meditated through several years of my life, all the way till 2006-ish. Early the next morning I rummaged through my collection, pulled it out, and danced for an hour in my room, delighted to have re-discovered it through a regression into my past from a 3D-conjured future.

The movie has several other allusions to mystical concepts and practices, but I leave the joy of more discovery to your search. At a more basic level, the film also alludes to many Hindu philosophy and religious concepts, starting from the obvious concept of the ‘avatar’. The astral-body and astral-travel of hinduism and buddhism is re-invented by Cameron as a DNA-mutated 10-feet tall living organism. Plugging into other living beings through the ‘queue’, which are the neural strands within the hair-braid of the Na’vi, is a creative interpretation of the ‘hara’ point in zen and buddhism.

The genius of the film lies not just in its technological-marvel, but in James Cameron as a shaman of our new age, channeling truths through a conjured world, unplugging us from the rigor-mortis of mankind’s decaying religions and spirital-values, navigating us in 3D back to our present-day world to our eternal truths.

This is the mark of genius, the revolution of consciousness over computers and CGI.

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Really Bad Parenting Advice is Good.

Whew! I’ve finally made it to ‘Really Bad Parenting Advice’. Am sure when my kid grows up he’ll be real proud of me. Check this out: this cheeky website’s used a photo of me telling a dinosaur story to my little kid, with a hilarious twist. ReallyBadParenting.Com

Reminds me of the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where his dad fills Calvin with all sorts of nonsense about the setting sun. I think all parents must laugh at themselves more often. Okay, now excuse me while I pick up more tips from this fabulous website.

[Update: Here’s a link to Calvin & Hobbes, where Calvin’s dad tries to explain old black and white photography: Calvin-dad-on-black-and-white-photos. ]

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“Genesis Takes Place Continually in Nirvana” – Physicist Dr. Michio Kaku

Physics in the 21st century is finally beginning to speak the language of mysticism. Dr. Michio Kaku is an American theoretical physicist, who speaks of Science unravelling not one, but several universes, or ‘multiverses’. The first time I heard this term and its explanation was not in this century, but the previous, and not from a physicist, but an enlightened mystic master, Osho. Watch this excerpt from an episode, posted on YouTube, where Dr. Michio Kaku expresses with child-like enthusiasm how our whole understanding of the universe is going to fundamentally change again:

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