iPhone vs Android

Google is releasing Android, an open source platform for handheld devices. They will not manufacture devices but will license it to vendors. Sounds like the Apple v Microsoft days of the ’80s. iPhone will have an advantage of tightly integrated interface with the phone/pda to create a product(s) which is sleek and easy to use, whereas Android will try to be ubiquitous but every vendor will close it the way they want to.

As a first reaction, Steve Jobs has done well in slashing iPhone to $199, a move which Apple had missed during the early Macintosh days. However, since Android will be Java/Open Source based you can expect portability with genuinely different hardware, not like DOS/Windows on PC clones which were not offering a compelling difference as such.

Are we entering the Golden Era of Personal Computing and Communication?
Proprietary gadgets to offer seamless and customized functionality for a given task, whereas Java based devices to help deploy variety of useful and general purpose products to meet flexible demands.

Perhaps, hopefully…

6 July 2008

Excelling in society is different from sport…IPL T20

Privatisation of cricket is here to stay in a big way. The Indian Premier League has succeded in creating 8 teams of market value. Now cricketers will know what responsibility and accountabilty are, is what all are saying- since so far they reported to national and state governing bodies, who perhaps accept defeat or lack lustre performances as part of the game.

But the private owners also have to understand what it is to compete in sport vs other walks of life. I have disucssed this issue in my Cricket book in the preface. In most careers and industries we all have to excel- but we need not be the top 5 or even top 100 worldwide, to earn a great living. In sport Anju Bobby George who was amongst the top 5 long jumpers in the world was always seen by the media as returning with her hands empty. Sania Mirza, beats the competition back home by a mile and is amongst the top 30 odd women tennis players of the world. Most Indians see her as a glamor icon. Just remember that Anju, Sania and so do our cricketers are measured amongst standards worldwide. Not many of the very best engineers, lawyers, doctors, film stars and industrialists are likely to be in the best 100 of the world but get respect and fame (and fortune) as top class citizens.

Coming to the point- Dr. Mallya now owns Bangalore’s IPL Cricket Team. He is known to be one of India’s pioneering and competitive industry leaders with guts to own an airline as well- apart from a beer brand. He well and truly deserves the respect he gets for being a proactive industialist and having a vision to try new ideas.

However, are his airline or his beer in the top 8 of the world? The fact of the matter is that they need not be. In all walks of life you can get away being just about good or above par not just internationally but even locally. How many of them has Dr. Mallya fired because his brand is perhaps not amongst the most desired brands in say Germany (which would be like beating Australia in Australia in cricket).

Most of us in society have not competed perhaps a tenth as much say Anju or Sania, because we do not need to. Excelling in Society is different from sport- because you can get away with being just very good and that too not in an international sense.

Surely Bangalore Royal Challengers deserve and should have done better. But being ‘last’ or 8th in sport is again a fact which comes under the radar in sport. But not even trying to be amongst the top 10 or 100 in the world in other walks of life will perhaps not even be expected.

Welcome to the World of Real Competition Dr. Mallya. Not this year, but in coming years your Bangalore Team may win or be a top team. Will your beer be the best in the world too? It most likely will not matter.

Mumbai, 14 May 208
btw- I do not drink alcohol, so I would not really know. But you need not be the best 10 bloggers even in your own neighborhood to blog…

To click or not to click

Good introductory books, as in Chess (Capablanca, Nimzowitsch), Math-Logic (Russell, Godel) or Physics (Stephen Hawking), work well with online resources such as the Wikipedia.

The printed book actually helps you keep a tab on the hyperlinking on the web resource, since classics are always well organized in their chapter sequence and will include the key or mandatory points which a reader must know before knowing something else which is more advanced. The web resource is then better used as a tool to clarify and enlist details which you need to know more about, rather than get lost in surfing around in circles.

So a mode of reading which does not have clicking options (print) or has restricted clicking (audio, video), is perhaps necessary to control our usage of a point and click medium- such as the web.

Some ideas for ebooks or an ipod touch … as an entry device to the web.

4th Feb 2008

Destiny pays tribute to Bobby Fischer, 1943-2008

Robert James Fischer, one of the greatest Chess Legends of all time has passed away. Just would like to post a blog in his honour. Besides, being a tactical genius in regular chess, he also formalized Random Chess.

I have written some comparisions about symmetry of skills in various different sports, in my book Dot Chess-The Cricket in Between. Cricket is asymmetric, since one side bowls and the other bats- and bowling and batting are radically different skills. Chess as such is symmetric (comparing pieces to players), and the way the pieces are maneuvered are same for White or Black, though White starts and gets a partial lead in tempo. Chess players, in fact have to introduce imbalance in the positions, so that favorable activity which can lead to advanatges or an initiative can be given a chance.

In Fischer Random Chess, chess pieces are shuffled in the back rank of White and then pieces are mirrored for Black- to maintain symmetry but to achieve a board which has a different strating line-up in each game. Bobby Fischer pioneered this format- to overcome the memorizing of openings and excessive theory that developed on account of the starting line up of pieces being fixed in conventional or ‘old’ chess (The King, Queen, rooks, knights and bishops have the same ‘home’ square in conventional chess in every game- not so in Fischer Random or Shuffle chess).

Unfortunately, the genius had an imbalanced and asymmetric journey in both phases of his life- in his glory days of chess and then later when he lead a strange life- always amidst controversies beyond chess. It is said that he only had one interest- to play chess and excel at it. For sure, within the realms of the 64-squares of the chess board – he was a fascinating genius and regarded as one the greatest ever by chess analysts and players. Was it then his fate that he did not reach the age of 65?

Perhaps Destiny has paid her tribute to the genius by devoting a chess square to each year of his life.

Peace be with him.

Twenty20 Cricket vs Blitz Chess?

India have just made it into the T20 Cricket World Cup Semi-Finals.

Since I written about Chess in Cricket (Tests/ODIs)- the theory for the 20 over format is still to be developed. It is the beginner’s mind- as Zen followers would perhaps call.

Yes shorter versions are possible but…
So is this format a valid competition or just a circus of sorts?
Well, there are many ways to answer this and as I have hinted in my book, there are many ways to create shorter versions of any sport. Just reducing the duration (overs in cricket), may not be the answer. However, one thing is sure that the answer to the validitiy of T20 as a real competition, does not lie in the often cited argument -but flawed- that people said similar things about ODIs when they became popular the 1970s, and today we accept it as a valid variant of cricket (so we should accept T20 as well). Then why not have a 10over match after a few more years, and accept it as well?

The fact is that every sport has certain skills to be tested, and that test takes some minimum time depending on the nature of the skills.

How much is that ‘some minimum’ time?
For Olympic throw/jump events, it means a few attempts- typically 3 to 6, before we can spot the winner. This will last perhaps less than an hour (depending on number of participants). So why does this seem fine? Because what we are testing is ‘can’ the contestant maximize a feat. Six attempts may be enough to test that.

In contrast, Classical Billiards (the English sport, which Indians love just as much)- can be set up for multiple sessions of 2 hours each. Why this long? Well, in this sport the key thing is how the cueist can demonstrate delicate control of seemingly repetitive shots- again and again. Players often have breaks (unbroken sequence of shots) of 100-200 shots without losing control. This means that adequate time must be allocated for both players to demonstrate their abilities to repeat subtle sequences- typically at the top of the table (yes, they are messing this sport as well with 150 point formats).

In my book I have explained why a 5 day Test Cricket is not too much longer than a 90 mins soccer game (the logic is based on man hours involved. Cricket being a ‘one at a time’ participation- for batting and bowling, versus soccer being near simultaneous, means the man hours per player in cricket is not too far apart from soccer)….

In chess, they did have timeless games, and today Classical Chess is a few hour game- which is considered a fair test of depth of knowledge as well as spontaneous skills. There are Rapid and Blitz formats which last a few dozen minutes. Usually such games throw up errors – often from both players – as they have to beat the clock. However, like the ODI and T20 versions, there can be uncanny and exciting lines of play- tactical and often by instinct- rather than deeper calculation or positional depth. It does test what one ‘can go for’ even if it is not so sound in a longer format.

So is T20 like blitz chess?
As mentioned, there will be flaws and holes in games in this format like in blitz chess and there will be something nifty and brilliant as well- as we saw the clean hitting when Yuvraj launched six sixes in an over, just the last match.

But there is a fundamental difference between cricket and blitz chess. It is in the nature of skills involved. Cricket is not a symmetric format – batting and bowling are radically different disciplines, as compared to chess skills- where both players have the same pieces and attempt to gain material or attack the opponent’s king using skills to maneuver pieces which are same (although the overall approach for black and white is different, because white makes the first move).

Once we understand this, then we can appreciate that ‘the minimum’ time required to test certain skills will differ between chess and cricket (obviously we cannot test all classical skills in short forms, either in cricket or in chess).

a) The first fact in Test cricket is that scoring for a batsman is ‘dense’ whereas it is ‘sparse’ for bowlers. What this means is that batsmen – although they can get out on first mistake – have more options to score regularly such as a single, two, four or six, (and even legbyes), whereas a bowler in test cricket usually gets a wicket every 50-60 balls. Moreover, bowlers score no points for beating the bat or inducing edges or other instances when they got the better of the batsman. They have to get the better by some degree and then they may get a wicket. This is Test cricket.

Now in ODIs, bowlers do get 60 balls/bowler. This is a fair number of balls to ‘earn’ a wicket on their own merit, not by a batsmen’s blunder or rash stroke. So in an ODI, if a bowler bowls well, he can earn two wickets and get more due to pressure of dot balls. There is something in it for bowlers- in terms of economy and wickets. For batsmen, they have the same old scoring options, and can try to innovate once they earn their position by holding wickets and scoring briskly. ODIs in fact offer both batsmen and bowlers to exhibit those skills, which may not be of direct impact in Tests (economy skills for bowlers and few big shots for batsmen). But ODI has contributed to Tests indirectly. This is why Richie Benaud is of the opinion that he would welcome new versions of cricket if they enhance certain Test skills as well- such as accurate bowling, sound improvised shots, and athletic abilities in fielding- which ODIs did in some manner.

Now, let’s see where Twenty20 fits in.
A bowler gets 24 balls each (4 overs). This may not be the ideal ‘minimum’ number of balls a bowler can get a wicket, on his merit. Sure there will be days when a bowler does knock a few batsmen over (as RP Singh did brilliantly today against South Africa- those balls would have got him wickets in Test as well). But when pitches are not really juicy for bowlers, this format fails the test. Bowlers may get wickets, and so might the batsmen who bowl.

Whereas, batsmen still have ‘dense’ scoring options, just as regularly and perhaps a lot more since it may take them 2-3 overs only to ensure the wickets column is not falling apart. I think the regularity with which batsmen score cannot be taken away, since a scoring shot is a scoring shot, and there will be many in this format. However, there is a possibility to compress the scoring pattern a bit.

b) Does there have to be six different levels of scoring in Batting?
As I have explained in my book, since the scoring format – the numbers attached to a shot – was created in cricket over 100 years ago, it need not be valid with modern bats and smaller grounds – especially in a format where 10 wickets are squeezed in 20 overs.

Is a ‘six’ still six times more difficult than a ‘single’ (it must have been 100 years ago, and in a format where batsmen’s wicket was worth gold). Today, is a one-bounce-four, really twice as difficult as a well earned two? These numbers were created by humans, and just as we create compressed formats, we need to look again to the numbers we attach to the shots.

I like the fact that in Billiards and in Baksketball the points given are two and three for a scoring shot. It does not favor a particular type of shot too much. What if they made a three pointer in basketball worth 9? (this a long range shot into the basket from outside the ‘D’). The game would change for sure and Michael Jordan would begin to look mortal, averaging just 30 points per game.

This in my view needs to be addressed in compressed formats of cricket, since the risks on batsmen getting out are different from Tests and ODIs.

Ask your self- is a six worth 3 twos or 6 singles today. Likewise, should bowlers be given some more rewards, since scoring (wickets) is by nature, sparse in their art compared to batsmen (it was nice to note Harsha Bhogale hint that this format seems more exciting if there is something in the pitch for bowlers. This means that on such pitches wicket taking is not as sparse).

Blitz Chess is far more sound!?
As you can see, the unsymmetric nature of skills of batting and bowling, imply that the minimum time for compressed games should either be longer (50 overs seems good, as 60 balls/bowler is good) or some scoring pattern changes are needed or the games can be played as ‘pairs’ as I have suggested in my book.

Blitz Chess as it is now, is a lot more ‘sound’ since it still is chess skills on both sides, at a given time. A GM losing to a much lower ranked player is still not that frequent in any form of chess. In T20, we saw Australia struggle and also South Africa losing out after having a good tournament.

I have no problems with some of the flashy and ungainly shots in T20- that is the nature-, but there is too much weightage on a six or a one-bounce four, and not enough reward for a good over by a bowler.

Or talk to me for other short variants- just compressing a format is not the answer to the Television and Media era…

Mumbai, India

iPhone Copy Paste?

On a recent TV review on NDTV India, Virkam Chandra and his colleague commented that the Safari Browser in the iPhone was implemented in a revolutionary manner with pinch zooming and crisp rendition. They however felt that the lack of copy paste was a serious ommision- perhaps a lapse on Apple’s part.

Well folks, as it turns out most webpages are as such copyrighted material and owned by the site creator or licensed from another source. Not having copy-paste should have been a natural implementation on the early web days- to encourage more serious econtent which is not dependent on ads or sponsors. Then ebooks publishers and independent authors can consider the web as a serious medium for content and charge even nominal fees- per view/reading or annual subscription.

(The fact that a travel publisher such as Lonely Planet still prefers to look at the print medium – even though loads of books and tons of text have to be re-printed every other year for each destination, is an indicator that content sharing failed on the web. Lonely Planet should have benefited immensely from the web in the past decade- in theory – since they are a text based publisher with emphasis on little details or simple maps for every other area of a town. A hypelink and search approach should have enabled them to focus on their job of creating guides rather than estimating stock to print. But so far content can be lifted off from webpages, even after initial payment. So neither the publisher is interested in serious content creation, nor do readers get reliable e-content at affordable prices)

I have not yet put my hands on an iPhone but I hope this paves the way for e-books and audio books. Those who wish to publish free info can then find a way to release the data and allow download or copy-paste.

The iPhone is doing many things right, which the net could not earlier on. This product promises to be a content-platform for sure, hopefully.