Cogito, ergo sum... (I think, therefore I am)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A mail from the Mensa Pakistan egroup and my reply

This morning, I got the following email from one of our fellow Mensans. As I'm very interested in smartphones, I thought I should reply. First off, here's the original email:

Ok, this question goes out to all you smart phones enthusiasts out there
especially to members of our smart phone sig. DO you guys actually check your email or browse internet or avail any other smart" functionalities available on your sets. I ask this because in my opinion, without broadband connectivity, 3G or even 2.5G is just a fancy plaything. Having a camera or an fm radio in your cellphone makes good sense because these are useful new functions albeit just recreational ones. But otherwise, how "smart" is a smart phone really is in Pakistan?

Fouad Khan.

This is my reply:

It's good to see someone besides us hardcore enthusiasts taking interest in a smartphone discussion. Before I anwer your question, let me tell you what a smartphone really is. What makes it so 'smart' is not the fact that I can browse the net with it (there are many non-smartrphones, or what I prefer to call idiotphones :) ) that offer internet connectivity, even over 3G speeds (Nokia 6230, SE K700i, Siemens S65, all come to mind). The 'smart'ness in a smartphone comes from the open platform that it provides to third party vendors. It is more helpful to view a smartphone as a small PC, rather than a large phone, because in reality the smartphone is just like a PC. You can install 3rd party applications (and I'm not talking about Java apps, which are supported by just about every new mid- to high-level phone in the market these days). As you all know, the Java environment is a platform independent environment, and this means that it has taken the route of the 'least common denominator'. In order to run on each and every make of phone, Java developers have to work with the least level that a phone can provide, and so Java apps do not provide adequate functionality. Keep in mind that this description of Java is a gross simplification (My point is that even though Java can do some powerful things, it is still not as powerful and feature-rich as the native languages). This is where native apps (for the case of my Nokia 6600, and the Sony Ericsson P910i in question, they're called Symbian apps) come into play. Since they don't try to run on all phones, just the intended phone, hence they are more 'powerful'. Let me give you an example. I'm a guitarist, and I constantly need to tune my guitar. My phone has all the hardware necessary to perform the tuning: it has a microphone, which can pick up the tone, it has a processor which can do calculations and calculate the pitch, and it has a screen which can show me the pitch. But my phone manufacturor had never thought of such an application, and as a result, it wasn't included in the stock package. This is where third-party developers come in. A few companies wrote the required software, and viola, when I install it on my 6600, it turns into a guitar tuner! Something which would have cost me in the league of 5000 rupees (a chromatic guitar tuner) now costs me exactly zero rupees. The point I'm trying to make is that an open platform encourages third party developers to use existing hardware in new ways, and provides a lot of benefits to the end user. Hence I currently have 2 movies on my phone, which I watch when I get the time, I have more than 10 games installed (Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater are what I play most). I also have scaled down versions of Powerpoint, Excel and Word. The Holy Quran is present for quick reference. An MP3 player for the times I wanna listen to a few songs, not to mention a little collection of MP3's. Unlimited video recording for moments i want to remember. And this phone supports 1GB of memory! I hope that this clears up the difference between smartphones and 'idiotphones'.

> DO you guys actually check your email or browse internet or avail any other
> "smart" functionalities available on your sets.

The answer is YES definitely! Although I know that the majority of the people who own smartphones do not know what the phones are capable of, and hence never use these capabilities, or are aware of the capabilities, but just don't use them, there ARE a few enthusiasts like me and RyzVan who are into it completely. I remember going to Lahore and Islamabad for the Mensa tests, and I used AgileMessenger to chat with my friends over the MSN and Yahoo networks. I also used it to check my Hotmail. Even now I regularly check my Orkut account from my cellphone. I know it's a bit expensive at 15rs/MB, but chatting is infact very cheap. 1 hour of chatting works out to be approximately 300-400kb, which is 5-6 rs. Not bad! Another one of my 'smartphone enthusiast' friends got into CBM at the start of the year, and was made Class Representative (CR) in 2 subjects. It was his bad luck that his PC just blew up and worked no more. Since he was CR, it was his responsibility to moderate the class groups (2 of them; one for each subject) and also to coordinate with the teachers and the students regularly via email. He also had to write the assignments formally and send them on the group. Since he didn't have a PC, would you believe he did this all on his Nokia 3650 (he later upgraded to a Nokia 6600)! I hope that answers your question.

> I ask this because in my opinion, without broadband connectivity, 3G or even 2.5G
> is just a fancy plaything.

First of all let me clarify that what you refer to 'broadband', it is not actually a technology, but an umbrella term, which includes all fast data transfer technologies. For the PC, this is mostly DSL, and for the phones, this is 3G, in most cases. So what I want to make clear is that 3G is actually a network feature, and not a feature of cellphones. When a phone is called a 3G phone, it is actually a 3G capable phone, which means that it supports 3G speeds if it is run on a 3G network. Unfortunately we don't have any 3G networks here in Pakistan, so we make use of plain old GPRS. But GPRS isn't all that bad (or slow). The speed is comparable to dialup, and if you view WAP and XHTML sites (instead of normal HTML sites), they are very small, so it's actually very fast. Incase of HTML sites, it's only a bit slower than dialup on your PC. So browsing is definitely bearable, and you can't tell the difference when using IM services.

> Having a camera or an fm radio in your cellphone makes good sense
> because these are useful new functions albeit just recreational ones.

Are you sure that a camera is just a 'recreational feature'? It's really handy sometimes. I remember that in my sister's Nikaah, I took my digital camera to take pictures. But as luck would have it, the batteries weren't charged, even though I had charged them for around 6 hours. The charger probably wasn't connected properly, and since it didn't have a power light, I didn't know if it was working or not. After taking just 5-6 pictures, the camera turned off, and refused to turn on. That's when I used my Nokia 6600 to take pics of the event, and they turned out to be really nice. Of course they weren't as good as even a cheap digital camera, but they were definitely better than not having any pictures at all. You can find lots of good uses for cameraphones in picturephoning (

> But otherwise, how "smart" is a smart phone really is in Pakistan?
So the answer would be that a smartphone in Pakistan is just like anywhere else in the world, it's as 'smart' as you can make it. So a smartphone needs a smart user as well :)

Friday, October 22, 2004

Of surgeons and muftis...

Statement 1: "Why do you always have to listen to maulanas (or muftis)? Can't you read the Quran yourself and decide what's right?"

I guess many of us have heard that before! Now what about this:

Statement 2: "Why do you always have to go to a surgeon? Can't you read a surgery book yourself and operate?"

I'm pretty sure that we've all heard statement 1, but statement 2 sounds pretty stupid. But why is that? I think they're pretty similar. I'll draw the analogies, in case you miss out:

Maulana (or Mufti) = A person learned in religious matters
Surgeon = A person learned in surgical matters

Quran = An embodiment of all Islamic knowledge
Surgery book = An embodiment of all surgical knowledge

Deciding what's right = The resultant action
Operate = The resultant action

If a relative of ours has an appendix, we don't rush for a scalpel and anasthetic. We go to a surgeon for a professional opinion. This is because the surgeon has spent a considerable amount of his/her life studying and has amassed knowledge which we ourselves are incapable of using, since we do not possess it. Similarly, when faced with a religious problem, we should not rely on our own expertise. It is better to go and ask a Mufti. Of course it's also important that I also study up on the Quran, but what I mean to say is that it's not just a matter of me getting out the Quran and deciding for myself. A Mufti has spent a considerable amount of time reading and resaerching, and is in a better position to decide in the light of Islam.
The point I'm trying to make is that not everybody can be an expert in everything. It's definitely compulsory for all of us to have knowledge about Islam, but we all need an expert sometimes. Otherwise there would be no need for doctors, engineers, or muftis for that matter!

PS: I read statement number 1 in a forum somewhere, but it was very old, and was no use replying. But I couldn't resist writing this post.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Another beautiful poem...

Here's another one of my favorite poems, and it's also written by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near,
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep,
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Robert Frost

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

One of my favorite passages in English verse. The whole poem can be found here. The truth is that although this is a very beautiful piece of verse, Urdu contains far more beautiful poetry. Beauty lies in the eys of the beholder they say!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Cellphone Call Centers in Pakistan... A sad state of affairs!

As I've already posted, I bought a 256MB MMC a week ago. Before using it, I formatted my cellphone, which resulted in me losing my GPRS and MMS settings from the phone. I had the GPRS settings in mind, and Ufone also sends you GPRS settings over the air if you SMS with SETGPRS in the a text to 120, so no problem there. Didn't remember the MMS settings though. At work, there was some issue with the telephone lines, so internet wasn't working. It occurred to me that I should call the call center and get my MMS configured.

First Attempt:
Me: Hello, Assalam-u-Aleikum.
Call Center Employee: Welcome to Ufone, how can I help you?
Me: I would like to configure MMS on my cellphone.
CCE: For that you would have to visit our customer service center and get your GPRS activated.
Me: I already had GPRS and MMS activated, and was using them. Now I've formatted my cellphone, so I've lost the settings. GPRS is now configured, can you help me configure MMS?
CCE: Sir, would you please hold?
Me: OK!
CCE goes off somewhere in la-la-land. returns 10 minutes later.
CCE: Thank you for holding, sir. Please send MMSSET to 120, and you will receive the settings.
Me: Is it MMSSET without spaces? Or with spaces?
CCE: Sir, it is without spaces, just like SETGPRS.
Me: Thank you, Allah Hafiz.
CCE: Thank you for calling Ufone call center, Allah hafiz!

Now I send MMSSET to 120. Message delivered! The response? Unknown command. wtf? I try again. Same result. I try with SETMMS, which is similar to SETGPRS, and that works, doesn't it? Same error :( I'm down 3 sms's, as well as the few minutes I took out to talk to the jerk. Next step? Why, call them AGAIN, of course! So that's what I do...

Second Attempt:
(after being on hold for about 15 minutes!)
Me: Hello, Assalam-u-Aleikum.
CCE: Welcome to Ufone, how can I help you? (This is some other guy, not the same one as above, obviously!)
Me: I called before, and jsut wanted to know the settings for MMS, as I already have GPRS and MMS activated, but lost the MMS settings when I formatted the phone.
CCE: I'm sorry sir, you would have to go to the customer service center for that request.
Me: But I can't go to the customer service center! It's too far, and besides it only opens from 9 to 5, which means no person with a job can hope to make it there.
CCE: Sir I'm sorry but we cannot do this over the phone.
Me: But it's just a matter of an IP address and an APN (Access Point Name). Surely you've got all that info handy?
CCE: Sir I'm sorry but you'll have to visit the customer service center.
Me: (Now I get angry) OK, if I'm supposed to go to the customer service center for such a little thing as getting my MMS settings, why the hell have you people opened a call center? And if you're competent enough to get a job in the call center, isn't it your responsibility to atleast know some of the things regarding your network?
CCE: I'm sorry sir, but I cannot help you (Now he's getting rude)
Me: OK fine!

I hung up the phone. If my net connection had been working, I would have been able to get the settings in a jiffy. But no, I ended up wasting around half an hour, and 3 sms's, and have nothing to show for it! It's a really sad state of affairs that some call centers in Pakistan have got themselves into. Ufone and Mobilink and Paktel in particular. I don't know whether Instaphone has the same problem or not, because I don't have their connection, but come on! I wonder why there are no people storming into their offices and dragging them out into the streets. My friend works in Standard Chartered Bank, and once he told me that one day, their total day's call volume was 4500 calls, and out of those 4500, 20 went unanswered because the customers hung up after waiting for 40 seconds. The rest of the calls, 4480 infact, were answered before 40 seconds. And still the bosses called the supervisors for a meeting, and asked them why 20 calls were dropped! Why can't we see such service quality in our local call centers? I mean 40 seconds might be a little pushing it for these companies, but having to hold 15 minutes? And even then, having the phone call dropped in the middle? I mean we're honest customers, treat us like that for God's sake! OK, enough of this rant! I feel better now (well, atleast until I need to call them again). :)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Karachi and Series 60 :)

Cellphones have become very common over here in Karachi since Ufone started their operations about 2 years back. Since then lots of people have cellphones, and the majority of them are Nokia and Samsung. I've seen most of the people over here going towards Samsung, due to good polyphonic support, excellent screens and sleek designs. Sadly, this is all Samsung has to offer. I went for a Siemens M55 due to its feature set, but when I visited Dubai in December 2003, I was surprised to see everyone carrying a Nokia 6600. I wondered what was so special about this phone. I mean there are phones half the size and half the weight, yet this phone was still popular. When I came to Karachi, I started researching about what was so special about it. I accidentally stumbled onto Russell Beattie's "What's on my Nokia 6600" post, and I was instantly hooked. That's when it dawned upon me: The Nokia 6600 isn't an overly large cellphone; it's actually a very small computer with cellphone capabilities! When I realised this, I shamelessly started discussing it with my techie friends. I got a lot of converts. People who would never have considered buying a cellphone worth more than Rs.8k-9k ($150US) were saying that for Rs.24k ($400US, that's the price it was when I bought it in March 2004), it was worth it! I have noticed that there's a trend growing in Karachi where people are becoming more aware of the power of smartphones, and embracing Series60/Symbian. I like to think that I have introduced a lot of people in my city to this concept. I hope to find like minded people who enjoy playing with this cellphone as much as I do.

256MB MMC for my Nokia 6600!!!

I got a 256MB MMC for my Nokia 6600 a few days ago. I was holding out until I had enough money because most of the shops here had it for around Rs.3500 (around $60US). Then I found this shop where they were selling it for Rs.1800(around $30US)!!! Me and my friend Farrukh snapped it up, needless to say! Not only does it work faster than my stock 32MB MMC, it also comes with a life time warranty. I'm having a lot of fun playing around with it. As of right now, I have these things on my cellphone:

- FExplorer
- Smart vCard
- FlyerOne Guitar Tuner
- Forward
- Psiloc System Tools
- QuickOffice
- ProfiExplorer
- ProfiMail
- PocketQuran
- AquaCalendar
- MobiLuck
- ReadM
- Access NetFront browser
- Opera web browser
- AgileMessenger

- SnakeEx
- MixPix
- Tomb Raider
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
- Gameloft's Might & Magic
- Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

- Shrek 2
- Bad Boys 2

Also some random MP3's thrown in...

Whew, that's a lot of stuff!!! But I've still got around 45MB free. Let me play with this a bit more!

First post!

Hello people!
This is my first post on Blogger. Finally decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon after being just a part of the audience for around a year. Right now I'm just playing around witht he settings and everything to check what works and what doesn't. If there are any people who can help me out or provide good tips, you know where to find me! Take care...