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It is an autumn afternoon, a Saturday, perhaps. Sitting by the balcony of the first floor apartment, one looks over the kids who have just come out and are trying to agree on a game they’d all like to play. It has just stopped raining. The scent of the moist earth evokes memories of the times bygone and one is suddenly teleported to a world where scenes from the past – distant and recent, real and imagined – come to life and serenade the senses.

It is the same poignant magic that Kazuo Ishiguro’s stories create as they meander through labyrinths of mementos. Mementos carved not out of extravagance or flamboyance but out of the monotony of everyday life. Not in Technicolor but in sepia! A cup of tea turned cold. A conversation oft’ imagined and rehearsed but never performed. Things left unsaid or undone because they seemed too out of place in the grind of the passing of days.

Almost nothing of significance ever happens in these tales. Nothing that can not be dismissed as ordinary. At least when put into perspective through the lenses of the ordinary man – a distant observer who considers it not his place to philosophize over the political, historical, ethical, or moral repercussions of what goes on in the world at large. There are no heroes in these stories and no villains. Just ordinary people going through their lives as ordinary people should. They don’t put up a fight – not in any obvious manner, at least. They don’t strive to change the world or even their own lives but carry on, accepting things the way they are. And there is nothing to suggest that this is not a good way to lead one’s life. The characters are not ashamed of who they are, not ashamed of their insignificance, happy to play their parts according to the script that has been handed out to them.

The stories celebrate melancholy. The passage of time. Twilight. Reflections. Experiences. Memories. Regrets. What ifs. Rued chances. Opportunities not taken. Potentials not reached. Promises not made, nor kept. Yet, lives well lived with simplicity, restraint and honesty! Like Mr. Stevens, when he remarks about the English landscape (in The remains of the day),

“I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it.”

Or like Kathy, when she describes her fantasy (in Never let me go),

“as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing, because this was Norfolk after all… and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it… The fantasy never got beyond that –I didn’t let it– and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”

These are worlds we can all easily imagine to live in. The world we all live in, the vignettes of a people we all are! Like Kathy and Tommy, we all look for our Norfolk – a place where everything we have ever lost in life is washed ashore and gathered for us to find! And like Kathy sums up,

“We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.”

P.S.

Nocturnes – a collection of five stories of “music and nightfall” was my introduction to the worlds and stories of Kazuo Ishiguro. ‘The remains of the day’ and ‘Never let me go’ followed (both of which won the Booker prize and have also been made into movies with ‘The remains of the day’ being one of the finest adaptations I have ever seen). I’m currently reading ‘An artist of the floating world’ & ‘A pale view of hills’.

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Customer Satisfaction is one thing. Customer Delight is a different level altogether!

Folks at Cleartrip.com have pleasantly surprised and even delighted me recently with the user experience on their site and their innovative features. After quite a while in my personal experience have I come across an application of technology which I would have been proud to call ‘My Creation’ as a software engineer!

I first took notice of Cleartrip when they launched Train Reservations recently. I was so fed up of the IRCTC’s painfully unusable site (you really have to use it to feel the pain!) that I was sure cleartrip would be better – that was expected. However, cleartrip exceeded my expectations with its simple, clean, clutter-free and fast interface. Here are just some of the things I liked about the interface:-

  • As already mentioned, it’s Clean, Simple, Clutter-Free and Fast
  • You don’t need to register to be able to book a ticket (unlike irctc)
  • Even if you decide to register, registration is simple requiring you to provide only a valid email-id to start with. All the other profile details are optional and you can fill them up later, out of band
  • The ‘All Stations’ option in the station selection drop down (wish they added “All Classes” as well)
  • Availaibility Calendar for train bookings is cool
  • Air Fare Calendar for flights

Then, a few days ago, they bowled me over again with the Cleartrip Chat-Bot for train bookings. I immediately invited the bot to gtalk and played with a few commands and queries and voila! It was simple, fast and fun!

I also discovered that they exposed web api’s for Flights and Hotels. I guess they are probably the first Indian travel services company to do so.

Frankly, I did not expect such sophisticated and innovative application of technology from what I thought was, primarily, a travel services company. (And was I wrong! How could I forget Amazon!)

Kudos Cleartrip! Keep it up!

P.S.

Even as I was typing this, cleartrip came out with Dynamic Fares. Haven’t tested this yet but sounds like another cool feature.

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I have my foot in my mouth (again 🙂 ).

Here I was, going about bashing the recently announced ‘Live Mesh’ every time a discussion around Microsoft’s online story came up, without actually having used the service! (Yes, I know I work at Microsoft but then, being “Self-Critical” is a company value around here 😉 ). Now that I have actually used it, I stand corrected! I actually like it (though the UI could be better), and am finding it pretty useful (especially the folder synchronization part).

For the uninitiated, Live Mesh is being positioned as Microsoft’s platform for enabling ‘Anywhere Access’ to users’ data and applications. The philosophy is that the user owns the data (and the software applications). He should be able to access it seamlessly, irrespective of the device and / or place. A user can add the devices and /or applications he owns to his “Mesh”. The “Mesh” abstracts the fragmentation of user’s data stored in isolated devices (or even the cloud) so that, for the user, his/her data is now accessible from any device connected to the mesh. For example, you start preparing a presentation for a meeting on your office desktop, go home, start your PC, continue from where you left off in the office and complete the presentation, go straight to the meeting the next day and project the slides from your smart phone!

But this is already possible, right? You could as well have emailed the slide deck to yourself and accessed it, isn’t it? Well, yes, it is doable that way. In fact this was exactly the argument I used to make in support of my stand above. But you really have to try out the folder sync feature to be able to appreciate the experience it provides. (Which means, you have to wait 🙂 Live Mesh is currently in limited tech-preview).
Using email for doing this once in a while is probably Ok, but what if you had to do this day-in and day-out? It’s at least an order of magnitude simpler to have all your devices automatically synced, based on the rules you specify, but without being bothered every time and without you having to consciously attach and send mails.

In it’s first avatar, Live Mesh will offer two services: Folder Synchronization (which enables scenarios like the one illustrated above) and Remote Desktop. If things go well, we may see a number of existing applications becoming “mesh-enabled” and perhaps a sizeable number of new applications built on the platform.

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Indic transliteration is another product (after search and gmail) from Google which has all the characteristics (you can argue about my choice of criteria but then this is my blog 😉 ) of brilliant software – No frills, doesn’t attempt to do a lot of things but does what it is supposed to do really well.

One, it’s fast. It doesn’t make you realize that it’s running in the cloud and not on your box. More importantly however, I was amazed by the accuracy of transliteration. Don’t believe me when I say it’s really really good, try it! (At least the Hindi transliteration works super, I can’t comment on other languages)

I tried being smart by throwing different ‘potential’ english representations of the words but it recognized almost all of them without any pains. Comparing it to some other transliteration softwares I have used in the past, I would rate this way above any of them.

Kudos and thanks to Google for this 🙂

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Atom Life

I have a new Atom Life (WM 6 version).

It was kind of a spot decision – I had been thinking of a Touch Dual for weeks and I actually walked up to the WM stall at TechReady (more coming on TechReady and Office Dev-Con soon) last week hoping to buy one but after comparing the specs, I decided to settle for Atom Life instead. Though, admittedly, the Touch series is prettier and I had to give up on the ‘Touch-Flo’ interface, here’s what helped nail my decision in favor of Atom Life:-

  • Touch Dual doesn’t have Wi-Fi
  • This one has a faster processor (At 624 Mhz, it’s actually faster than my first PC, a 500 Mhz PIII!)
  • Dual was costlier by almost $150
  • It has a separate headphone socket (unfortunately it’s 2.5mm – still better than a single ‘multipurpose’ socket like on the Touch series or on my old W700i)

As for the cons, there are a few. Most importantly, the buttons for volume control are inconveniently located and I almost always have to make a conscious effort to press them. Infact, the tactile control/feedback for most of the buttons is not very great. Also, the overall WM experience is not as intuitive as that for a Windows PC. However, given the challenge that the small screen form factor is, it’s not bad at all and I guess, will improve over time.

 Overall, I am more than happy with the device so far. It looks pretty (that is, if you don’t keep it side be side with a Touch 🙂 ). Music is at par with my W700i (which I anyway rate as ‘at par with or better than’ an i-pod). But what really took me by surprise and has had me hooked is the handwriting recognition in Windows Mobile. It just works! Amazingly neat.

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