On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

The coming of the age, almost autobiographical, story of Vietnamese migrant Little Dog’s journey from war torn Vietnam to Hartford in USA, is a long poem in the guise of a novel. And thank god that this is done by Vuong and not by others. Not many would have produced something as endearing as this novel. Not every author is Ocean Vuong. This might be his debut novel but he is already a celebrated poet and a recipient of numerous awards including MacArthur Genius grant for his poetry/writing.

Little Dog might sound as a strange name but once I read the story behind his name, there was a tender familiarity that seeped through. Little Dog was named so to save him from bad things happening to him; making him undesirable so that death which prefers to take away the precious things ignores him. This is the practice which even I saw in many parts of our hinterland. Parents named their kid, after losing a few kids untimely, with names such as Fekan, Bechan, Lallu.. the most coveted kids had the most unwanted names.

The novel is in the form of a long letter written by Little Dog to his manicurist mother, who could not read. Little Dog and his mother both fought for dignity and self-esteem in an ‘English’ world with very little English in their kitty. But Little Dog grew up and he had a bellyful of English. And, this novel surely suggests the bellyful of English was also the beautiful English.

“In this nail salon, sorry is a tool one uses to pander until the word itself becomes currency. It no longer merely apologies but insists, reminds: I am here, right here, beneath you. It is the lowering of oneself so that client fells right, superior and charitable. In the nail salon, one’s definition of sorry is deranged into a new word entirely, one that’s charged and reused as both power and defacement at once. Being sorry pays, being sorry even, or especially, when one has no fault, is worth every self-deprecating syllable the mouth allows. Because the mouth must eat.” – From On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Little Dog’s fitful account of his life, memories, his sexuality and his rumination on his relationship with his mother and grand-mother is visceral. It is gorgeous not briefly but perennially. Ocean Vuong has poured his yearnings into a book that will be remembered for its sheer power to evoke unique and indescribable mix of emotions.

Working from home and the tech I use

My messy desk

The lock-down has forced us to work from home and while some of us have been used to it (I used to work from home from 2015 to 2018 and still I find working from home more productive!) but a number of my friends have been finding it quite challenging. While there is a mental-shift required to be productive from a place that is typically considered to be a space for you and your family’s private time, there is also a lack of support/infrastructure that poses a challenge to be productive while working from home.

Since I have been experimenting with technology and gadgets to find the best productivity system, I always find that my home setup has been far more productive than my work setup. A lot of people have asked me about my home setup (Warning: I love tinkering with my systems and even an incremental value-add often matters to me. Result — I have many redundancies and multiple devices!) so here is a snapshot of what my work from home setup consists of.

The Hardware

I juggle between multiple machines. But the main workhorse is a desktop Chakra (Yes, my machines have got their own names, ) that I assembled myself; and this is quite a powerful machine for my use (Nova Benchmark Score of 2797). This is connected to a 27inch 4k display. It has 9th Gen Intel i7, 32 GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 1660 Graphics card. The processor and RAM are primarily needed for my occasional Photoshop and Lightroom (I have a massive library of more than 15k photos) work. I have a iMac 27” 5k as backup (I love the Retina display of that machine for colour accuracy) but the fusion drive in that machine sucks. My custom-built desktop has Samsung NVME 770 pro ssd harddrive that makes this whole setup a very zippy. 

I have a couple of (in fact three if I include my office allocated machine) laptops that I use when I am on move. A 13” MacBook Pro Retina (Nandaka, this one quite old but still a great machine and I am waiting for Apple to fix the keyboard on MacBook Pro so that I can upgrade) and MacBook Air 2017 model. Apart from this tow Mac laptops, I have a Dell XPS 13 (Asi) with i7 and QHD touch screen display. While I have multiple machines but I have almost established use (apart from being a backup when one fails) for them.

At home and photo-editing: I need fast processing and a big screen, so it is primarily done on the Desktop.

Professional Travel for a day or two: MacBook Air. There is no better machine than this if you are in Apple ecosystem and crave for a good keyboard.

Personal travel for longer duration or vacations: MacBook Pro as I need a bit more firepower for photo editing needs.

The Dell XPS 13 is a backup in most cases or when I need to extract more juice from Excel, which is always better on a Windows machine.

I have a couple of mobile devices that I use along with these machines. I have the latest iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPad Pro (11 inch, 256Gbs) with Apple Pencil 2 and Keyboard. iPad is very handy for all the meetings and note taking. I am considering using this for my work travels for a day or so but did not find it that conducive when I need to work on reports or word docs. But with the mouse support just launched I am going to try this. These days of lockdown and work from home, I often use iPad for my video calls as it is much easier to carry and I use my laptops and desktops to quickly search information or files if needed for these calls. iPad also is my go to device for media consumption and for reading magazines and PDFs.

Apart from these machines, I use Logitech K850 keyboard and mouse combo. The keyboard allows me to wireless connect to 3 machine and I can use this as input to any of my laptops or desktop with just press of one button. I crave for a mechanical keyboard (I have a TVS Gold somewhere in my storage) but there are not many that can give me the ease that Logitech K850 gives. But, this is going to change. I am waiting for Das Keyboard 5Q. Nobody makes keyboards better than Das guys and this one is just drool-worthy.

For all the video calls, I use my Airpods 2 which have far better range and clarity than any other small wireless earphones. Also they seamlessly integrate in Macbook, Ipad, Iphone without any hassle. But these do not have great battery life; they don’t last more than 3 hours. I also have a couple of headphones (Sony WH1000XM3 and V-moda Crossfade Wireless 2) that I use as backup and for listening music. I have been using V-moda for quite sometime for its sound quality and multi-point Bluetooth connectivity. But Sony is the one I use on flights for its noise cancellation. It would replace my V-moda Crossfade the day it gets multipoint Bluetooth connection so that I can pair with a number of devices simultaneously. Sound quality is now almost at par.

The Software

Windows and MacOS: I am love to work on cross platform so I look for those solutions which integrate with multiple mobile and computing platform. Way back in early 2000, I experimented with Linux (Red Hat was the first distro I used) and Windows and got introduced to MacOS in 2007. Since then I have been a multiOS person. But now, it is mainly MacOS and Windows. Linux apart from being open-source does not add much value to my workflow.

Evernote: I have been a power user of Evernote since 2008. It has more than 4000 notes and I use it for file archiving and storing anything that I might need in future. The OCR feature and multi-platform availability makes it almost the best solutions for personal knowledge management. The one feature which is quite handy is that I can directly scan a business card and it stores the information in text format and sends a linked connection request to the person.

Microsoft 365 — While there are multiple word processing software I used in past but this is the gold standard. I have subscription that gives me 1TB of storage space on OneDrive and all the office suite applications. But I use word processing software ‘as word processing software’ for editing my professional documents and not to write things.

I write in Ulysses or Scrivener for long text.

OmniFocus: This is my preferred ToDo list app. But it might get redundant as I am trying to consolidate my workflow and Notion does allow me to manage my ToDo. The only problem with Notion is its mobile app.

Notion: I use Notion for my personal knowledge wiki and management. While earlier I was primarily dependent on Evernote for all the knowledge management needs but gradually I am using Evernote for note taking (with Penultimate it works great) and a lot of my knowledge management is happening on Notion.

Roam Research: This the note taking and personal knowledge management app of the future. But it is still in very early stage of its development. It has immense potential because of its contextual linking of text and bi-directional relationship of notes.

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom: I use Lightroom to process my raw files and organize the photos that I have. I have quite a large library of photos and Lightroom’s catalog organizing capabilities are unparalleled. Adobe Photoshop is very rarely used. In fact, for photo retouching especially the portraits I use Luminar 4, and it is quite amazing for basic retouching.

Affinity Publisher: This is my preferred software (since InDesign is subscription based and I am not keen to pay for a subscription that I barely use) for designing anything. Quite cheap and very capable.

CalibreThe opensource and free software to manage the large library of pdfs and ebooks that I have. It also can run in server mode to help one access these files from anywhere.

Woven: This is in beta Calendar application that has some great features. I use this is to sync my Google Calendar.

The Enablers

Two internet connections (one with static IP address): I had learnt my lessons early when I started working from home. You cannot trust on one Internet connection. Airtel, one of the main service providers in my area has good reliability but it speed is yet not there. They are upgrading but not yet fully functional. So I have an Airtel which is only used for video calling and backup when my other connection does not work. The other connection has 300mbps speed. I also got a dedicated IP address which allows me to access my home cam and document library from anywhere. The high speed connection is hooked into Netgear Orbi ( a mesh router with one satellite) that has a lot of capabilities and provides very reliable connectivity in multiple rooms without any dead zones.

Private Internet AccessI have a subscription for a VPN service that allows me to use public wifi (hotels) cafe etc. without any security concerns. Not many people know but you are at great risk of losing your privacy and key data when you access any public wifi.

Apple Time Machine and One Drive: I have Apple Time Machine (Airport Extreme 2TB) and OneDrive configured to sync and backup all my key folders. This also allows me to seamlessly work from any device and not worry about duplication and data loss.

Apart from these online backups I do a regular offline backup almost every month on physical hard drive to ensure that I have a copy of my key files.

What I read in 2019

This was a post I used to write typically in the first or second week of January. But recently things have not been going in the usual way. I also used to provide a couple of line summaries and my take on the books that I read but that too seemed too much of effort. But I want to make sure that the list is here for archives and I get on with the things. This post was holding back a number of things that I wanted to write about.
While I am not going to write about each book that I read, however, there are somethings that can be generalized about my last year’s reading.
  • I did not get much time to read non-fiction. For me, non-fiction is serious reading and I do dedicate some time in my day for that but last year was a test for my time-management skills. While I completed only three books in the non-fiction category, I have a number of them unfinished. Last year, we had gone to Ramana Maharishi’s ashram and picked up a bagful of books. Ramana Maharishi is probably the only modern time sage who attracts me and evokes respect. So I spent good amount of time reading his books and his life story. The other theme that I read a lot (does not indicate in the list of books here as many of those books did not get completed) was climate change and air-pollution: these are not only my personal interest areas but also professional needs. But again, out of 10-15 books that I had planned to read last year on this topic, I could finish only three.
  • In the fiction category, there has been a conscious effort to read more Hindi books. And, I managed to read four books, including the epic-length Mujhe Chand Chahiye. I also risked picking up a book by young Hindi writers or Nayi Hindi authors and was quite surprised by Aughad.
  • Majority of fiction that I read this year were my flight reads or bedtime reading and I tried to finish some of the series that I was following, including a great series that turned into a disappointment by Dean Koontz. I also attempted an Indian crime fiction/whodunit by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay and it was good. Nine Perfect Strangers was a big disappointment and so was Blue Moon and The Silent Patient.
  • The two standout books of this year for me were Laburnum for My Head,  a collection of short stories by Temsula Ao and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Eleanor Oliphant has been a rage last year so it got on my reading list but Temsula Ao was a finding from some random search and glad that I got this.
Fiction
  • The Silent Patient By Alex Michaelides
  • Blue Moon By Lee Child
  • Laburnum for My Head By Temsula Ao
  • Mujhe Chand Chahiye (Hindi) By Surendra Varma
  • Tell No One By Harlan Coben
  • Rehan Par Raghu(Hindi) By Kashinath Singh
  • The Arsonist By Kiran Nagarkar
  • The Girl Who Lived Twice By David Lagercrantz
  • Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine By Gail Honeyman
  • Penumbra By Bhaskar Chattopadhyay
  • Aughad (Hindi) By Nilotpal Mrinal
  • The Night Window By Dean Koontz
  • Mayapuri (Hindi)By Shivani
  • The Lost Man By Jane Harper
  • Debris Line By Matthew Fitzsimmons
  • Nine Perfect Strangers By Liane Moriarty
  • Newcomer By Keigo Higashino
  • Out of Dark By Gregg Hurwitz
Non-fiction
  • The Great Derangement By Amitav Ghosh
  • The Collected Works of Ramana Mahirishi
  • Looking Within Life Lessons From Lal Ded

Tapri, Jaipur – The cool ‘hangout’

Finding a place that gives you a space to think, great ‘chai’ and good inspiration is an indescribable pleasure. Tapri in Jaipur (www.tapri.net) is one such place.

When we walked into this place, it was just starting its morning hours and it has an ethereal charm of unoccupied, beautifully decorated space.  The seats next to the big-windows overlooking a large open greanspace amidst of which Indian flag was swaying..  this was quite a site.

But what impressed me most is the dash of humour and a lot of thinking that Tapri has put into making their operation more environment friendly. We had paper straw, lampshades made of earthenware, chairs from locally available materials…  Great work Tapri team.

The interior..

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The green tea that came with timer..20190904-Jaipur Tapri-6

The earthen lampshades..

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Be couregeous!20190904-Jaipur Tapri-10

Kanwar Yatra

Captured this from my car window while traveling from Rishikesh to Delhi. Right from Rishikesh to Delhi, the road was full of colorful Kanwars and Kanwariys. Dancing, chanting, running.. this was a sight to behold.

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The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh

As a bibliophile who has been working on climate change for more than a decade, I found it surprising that there are very few books, especially mainstream books that talks about climate change. Well, this question bothered Amitav Ghosh as well and the result is a very erudite and immensely readable book: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. He asks one overarching question: Why our mainstream authors are writing on climate change?

“Let us make no mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis fo culture and thus of the imagination.” – Amitav Ghosh

It is not that there are no books on climate change but they are far and few and often in science fiction category. Ghosh wants climate change, one of the biggest phenomenon affecting humanity, to find more prominence in mainstream literature.

“When we see a green lawn that has been watered with desalinated water, in Abu Dhabi or Southern California or some other environment where people had once been content to spend their water thrifty in nurturing a single vine or shrub, we are looking at an expression of a yearning that may have been midwifed in the novels of Jane Austen” – Amitav Ghosh

But this books is not all about the above-mentioned question. Ghosh explores climate change and its portrayal in history and culture. And, his exploration is a brilliant read. His first hand experience of storm in his student life in Delhi in 1978, to his rumination over Mumbai and its vulnerability showcase what an accomplished author can do when they decide to write about a topic that is often confined to technical reports and scientific journals.

His take on role of liberal individualism, colonisations, imperialism and the greed for “Power” and their impact on climate change spans an entire section of the book. This is very educative for those who have not been immersed in the climate change and politics of climate change.

There is also a very interesting comparison of IPCC and Laudata Si– Pope Francis’s letter to all churches. Ghosh analyses these two documents, both published in 2015. The result is very interesting read!

Bottomline, if you are afraid of reading the boring, jargon-strewn drab narration on climate change, this is the book that you must read.

Dell XPS 13 – Display driver issues and blank screen fix

Dell XPS 13 is the best windows laptop that you can buy, this is what every review said when it was launched. Still, you google the best laptop and you are bound to see this laptop in almost every list on the net. But the reality is different. Reviews don’t give you the real picture. In fact, most of the reviewers, claiming to be tech guru, just read out the spec sheet and do the comparison.

Dell XPS 13 range is marred with numerous problems right from the first edition to the latest model. I have written about the keyboard problem, the wifi problem, the sound card problem and what not. The sad part is that the solution provided by Dell is to replace the keyboard, or the motherboard if your device is in the warranty. But the warranty is only for a year. Recently, I struggled with my laptop when it display just went blank. The external monitor worked very well but not the inbuilt monitor. The online forums suggested many fixes: update the graphics driver, fresh installation, removing the battery, motherboard replacement.. .

Well, nothing worked perfectly other than the motherboard replacement, and that costs 200-400 USD. Forget about the solution, Dell guys are not able to figure out the problem. I found out a very low cost and effective solution if you are out of warranty and do not want to invest in a new motherboard. Get your motherboard completely cleaned, in fact, washed. You should not try to do it yourself but get a laptop technicians to do that. This solves the problem perfectly.


Google Pixel 3XL – Why You Should Not Buy This Phone

While Google might have pulled off all its magic to design their best possible consumer device, Google Pixel 3 but I would not recommend this phone for any Indian buyer. Their customer service is just pathetic.

I got Pixel 3XL on the day of its launch as my secondary device. Yes, Pixel or any android phone has a long way to go before it makes me switch completely from iPhone. The camera and the joy of using pure Android were two main reasons why I bought the phone. I had some manufacturing issue with my Original Pixel but luckily this was not having any manufacturing problem but I got some other problems.

The glass back panel is super fragile and all it took was one drop to get shattered. It got multiple cracks on its back cover, luckily there was a screen guard on my phone so display was not affected. I reached out to customer care and as I expected the back cover replacement was not part of the warranty; the cost of back cover replacement was approximately INR 4800. And, there was no way to get this done in Delhi. The device was to be sent back to Mumbai (the only repair centre in India) and it was expected to take 7 working days.

I place the order and it forget about 7 days it is more than 2 weeks and I am still waiting for the device. Had it been an iPhone, it would have been a complete different experience. Google has a service partnership with B2X.com which provide customer care support to several brands in much better way than Google has negotiated it for its Pixel phone.

If Google has to really make a dent in premier smart phone market they have to not only make a good product but ensure that overall experience they provide for the customer is a great one.

What I read in 2018 (fiction)

This list consists of the usual comfort and light reading (read crime fiction and thrillers). Yet, this year I tried to explore a few new authors and read a couple of Hindi books. There were two failed attempts at War and Peace and I managed to finish a couple of chapters of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaurd but really could not sustain the interest and enthusiasm for long in both the books. But they are still on my list for future. Someday! On the other front, I failed to go beyond my kindle and several books awaiting on my bookshelf remained untouched. Although, I did manage to read 3-4 books in their real form.

  • After the Crash by Michel Bussi: I spotted this book in Delhi World Book Fair. I had never read Michel Bussi but the glowing reviews made me pick it. The book did not disappoint. As the title suggest, the story revolves around a plane crash which left only one survivor: a baby girl. No body could ascertain the identity of this miracle baby but suddenly after 18 years of the crash the story took a very different turn. A good one time read with some good twists.
  • Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz: The Orphan X saga continues. My childhood love of action comics got rekindled with Orphan X series. This is fast, hyperbolic and action packed series where you know that you have an invincible hero; yet I love this series. I rate Orphan X better than Mitch Repp, Scot Harvath and other of that ilks. Looking to pick the next one as well in this series.
  • Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly: A typical Harry Bosch affair. Harry Bosch is undercover fighting ‘pill mills’. Harry Bosch and Michael Connelly do not disappoint usually. This one too did not.
  • Sanskaar by UR Ananthmurthy: This classic, originally written in Kannada, is thought provoking commentary on our traditions, rituals, moral and a society in transition. A Brahmin majority village struggles to deal with the death and last rites of a reprobate, rogue Brahmin who lived his life in complete opposition of what Brahmins preached.
  • The Whispering Room and The Crooked Staircase both by Dean Koontz: Both these books, part of the Jane Hawk series which started with a bang. The suspense and the plot got me hooked and I picked up one book after another. I am usually a character person so when I love a great character I often stick to the series. But in this case despite a good character like Jane Hawk I left the series midway. In The Crooked Staircase, when I came across two Indian characters Sanjay and Tanuja using dialogues such as “dear baap ji” some real gibberish Hindi sentences .. I was puzzled. Who talks like that! A little bit of research and feedback from any Indian would have given much more credibility. This puts a serious question mark on the research Dean did for his characters.
  • The Fallen by David Baldacci: The Amos Decker (Memory Man) series’s new instalment. Another pick just because I liked the character and had read all the previous books. Amos Decker series is turning out to be the best series by David Baldacci.
  • The Outsider by Stephen King: The latest from the master of horror and suspense, a police procedural with a super-natural angle to it. There is not much that goes wrong with a Stephen King book and this is no exception. A police procedural with kicking suspense.
  • A Killer’s Mind by Mike Omer: A new author and a new series. This is an okay read. I am not waiting for the next one.
  • The Escape by David Baldacci: My introduction to John Puller series. Cliched a bit but engaging. Average read.
  • Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent: This story of a possessive mother has a twist in the end that is worth the wait.
  • Perfect People by Peter James: This was an average sci-fi suspense (published in 2011) that I read this year. It was a strange coincidence because just a few weeks after this whole issue of gene-editing (gene-editing Chinese scientist) got the global attention. A rogue scientist creating Perfect People by gene-editing, this was the plot of this book! The book was quiet ahead of its time.

What I read in 2018 (Non-fiction)

This post is almost a couple of months late. It was begging attention in my draft folder for at least six weeks. Finally here is the list of books that I manage to finish last year.

  • Conflicts of Interest by Sunita Narain : One of the most engaging and informative book that I read last year! Sunita Narain gave first person account of her fight against the corporate lobbies for better air quality, for saving environment and for our health. I would recommend everyone to read this book. Here is an interview that she gave about the book for more information. This book is also my favourite because it talks about many of the things that I have been working in different capacities in my professional life and I could connect very well with what she achieved and challenges she overcame.
  • Skin in the Game by Nicholas Nassim Taleb: This one is really hard hitting and showed mirror to experts and consultant in us. In one line, it told us to not give a hoot to anyone who does not have any skin in the game. This books if full of quotable quotes and can change the way you deal with your life and people around you. He also touched some controversial topics. For example, he minced no words in warning us agains the minority appeasement and how whole population is forced to submit to preferences of a tiny minority.
  • Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker: Taleb attacked Steven Pinker in his latest book “Skin in the Game” and I read these two books back to back. In fact, I read this one before Taleb’s. Taleb made some strong arguments and was brutal in his criticism of Pinker but this book is a rare achievement in scope and relevancy in today’s time. However, there is =a word of caution, Pinker has used his intellectual muscle power (and often questionable quantitative data) to give sanctity to some shitty rhetoric on pressing topics. He presents a very optimistic view of the world, yet misses some key concerns and challenges. For example, in is view we should be optimistic (and not feel guilty) that we would be able to solve climate change problem by geo-engineering.
  • Nine Alogrithms That Changed the Future by John MacCormick: Those who work on computer programming or are technology enthusiast will find the book very informative. I enjoyed reading about how search engine indexing, page ranking and public-key cryptography algos were developed.
  • Now: The Physics of Time by Richard Muller: One of those books that require attention and effort to justice to authors efforts and erudition. Richard Muller gives us the basics of space-time and then goes on to unfurl many topics from quantum physics, different space-time theories and then proposes his own theory of space-time. Highly recommended for anyone looking to get a more detailed understanding of space-time, physical theory of universe, blackholes..etc.

Rural kids need a better education

We have made some good progress in improving our literacy levels, sending more children to schools and reducing the percentage of dropouts. However, the quality of rural education remains a cause of concern (ASER 2017).

The quality of primary education is one of the most critical factors in shaping one’s life. Unfortunately, the quality of primary education in rural India is abysmal. Right from poor infrastructure to poor quality of teaching to indifferent attitude of teachers towards young students all are contributing to this horrible scenario.

Governments, corporates CSR wings, civil society institutions all have been doing their bits for improving quality of education but it is too little and mostly ineffective. These things achieve the marginal improvement but by no stretch of imagination you can see quality of primary schooling in rural India matching that of the urban counterparts. I am not talking about the big fancy, air-conditioned corporate backed up schools where kids go in chauffeur driven cars and their monthly fees is as high as salaries of general teachers. I am talking about just average urban schools.

Only 45 percent schools have more than two teachers. Only 55.8 percent schools in rural areas have functional electricity and merely 11 percent schools have functional computers (the numbers are for 2016-17, but situation has not improved much).

If you are a student studying in these government run primary schools in villages, you need to fight against all odds to get ahead in life. By sheer determination and hard-work many negate these obstacles and move ahead in life but a large majority of these student succumb to these systemic problems. It would not be an exaggeration to say that your primary education can define your future career and life.

It is not that the things cannot be changed, it is just that it has never been a high priority for policymakers. The attempts are half-hearted and ad-hoc.

The rural students, who need best of the teachers and the best teaching methodology to negate factors such as poor infrastructure, apathy of parents and poor affordability for any other remedial measures (such as tuitions, technology access etc) are taught by the poorest quality of teachers. One just needs to look at the quality of para-teachers and performance of full-time teachers in internal assessments. These kids don’t require temporary and inadequately trained para-teachers (Shiksamitras) but teachers who specially trained and qualified for improving learning outcomes.

The rural students hardly get any exposure to extra-curricular activities, labs or reading content to develop their personality. We surely can manage budget for ensuring the basic infrastructure such as a library, a basic science education kit.

The other major problem is the evaluation system in these schools. Students get to know where they stand only in matriculation examination. Before that, the assessments are just an eyewash. We need a third party assessment periodically at least once a year to understand their progress and take remedial measures.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home – The right smart speaker for you

India’s is often a neglected market for high-end and innovative consumer tech products. But gradually this is changing. Many of the latest consumer tech products are available in India after a few months oAmazon-Echo-Plus.jpegf global launch. But for one of the hottest and fast-growing consumer product ‘smart speakers’, it is quite a delayed launch in India. Amazon Echo was launched in November 214 and Google Home was launched in US in November 2016. Both of these smart speakers were not available officially in India till 2017.
Now, suddenly things have changed. Both Google Home and Amazon Echo are available in India and soon we may have Apple Homepod making an entry.
Now if you are looking to get your first smart speaker here in India, here are a few things that can help you in making an informed choice.
  • Not for audiophiles: First of all, if you are an audiophile, love your music pristine and high quality, these speakers are not meant for you. But these are good enough for most of the casual listeners and music lovers.
  • Unlimited music streaming: Both the speakers Google Home and Amazon Echo, have their in-house music streaming service: Google Music and Amazon Music. But both of these do not match the music collection of Saavn, which is available for both the speakers. Although for an ad-free music streaming experience you need to shell out 100-150 per month for these services. Amazon Music is available free for Amazon Prime members (Amazon speakers come with one year free Amazon Prime subscription).
  • Google Home is much more conversational and easy to converse with: Google Home beats Amazon Echo in its conversational ease. It leverages Google’s ecosystem and all the data Google has on you to provide you more relevant and accurate responses. You can get traffic details, weather, your google calendar integration etc. Amazon Echo does most of these things but Google Home is way ahead. Both of these are quite good at handling our Indian accent but initially, you may have to struggle a bit. But this should improve as both these companies are focusing on the Indian market.
  • Sound Quality: Out of all the smart speakers launched so far the best sounding smart speakers are Google Max and Apple Homepod. You can toss a coin to select one if you are bothered about which ecosystem (Google Vs Apple) you want to step in. But both of these are not yet launched. Out of all the versions that are available in India, Amazon Echo Plus sounds best. Google Home is decent but both Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Plus have superior sound quality.
  • Smart Home Capabilities: Both of these have quite advanced capabilities for interacting with our smart home devices (lights, air-conditioners, cctvs, streaming devices, smart tvs etc). But Amazon Echo Plus has an inbuilt hub for connecting many smart devices and Google Home does not have a hub. If you are relying on IFTT (www.iftt.com) for your automation, then you can read this article to know more about how these devices support IFTT.
  • Privacy Concerns: If you are concerned about privacy, my take is to go with Apple Homepod. Google is in data business and thrives on getting as much data as possible. Amazon data practices are not that great either. The only company that has a relatively better policy on privacy and willing to go an extra mile to save your data is Apple. However, you can see these links ( https://www.wired.com/story/amazon-echo-and-google-home-voice-data-delete/, https://fieldguide.gizmodo.com/how-to-lock-down-your-privacy-on-the-amazon-echo-and-go-1794697554,) for more information on how to safeguard your privacy while using these smart speakers.