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Disabling Connected Standby

As you know a few days ago I purchased a Notion Ink Cain, a Windows 8.1 tablet-slash-laptop. This is my first Windows tablet so while it doubles as both, I have slightly different expectations and use cases from this.

One of these is the battery life. Whereas I always hibernate my regular laptop, the Cain is just put to sleep once I am done with it. I put it to sleep either via the Power button or the device goes to sleep on its own. This is fine but for two problems – (1) since the device is only sleeping and I usually dock it into the keyboard and use the flap as the cover, any key presses when the device is asleep results in it waking up and thus some battery draining; (2) since the Cain supports Connected Standby (nowadays called InstantGo) the device does not really sleep in the way we usually expect Windows devices to sleep, the sleep here is more like a “light sleep” wherein the device is kind of awake and able to let some background stuff like email and other programs run and do their bit.

I work around the first issue either by rotating the Cain and then docking it, such that the keyboard is behind the device and so keypresses don’t get registered (the Cain requires the docking to be correct for the keyboard to be recognize). I also put the Cain in a pouch without the keyboard. It’s not very elegant but that’s what I was doing until today.

The second was an irritating issue. When I first read about Connected Standby I was very impressed with it. It’s not supposed to drain much battery. The requirement is that when on Connected Standby the device will lose less than 5% of its power over a 16 hour idle period, but that didn’t seem to be the case for me (try a powercfg /sleepstudy to get some results) and I wasn’t happy with the battery drain. Maybe it’s because I had set apps such as email to update in real time and so the device was regularly waking up to check email, I found that it barely lasted 2-3 days even when fully idle. That’s not great, and even putting it in airplane mode only made it slightly better.

To work around this I decided to start hibernating the device. I enabled the hibernation option in the Power menu and also created a shortcut to hibernate in the start menu. But these are manual approaches didn’t seem “neat”. I wanted something where the Cain would automatically hibernate after a period of inactivity. I remembered back in Windows 7 (and even on my Windows 8 laptops) there are options under the Power menu in Control Panel to make the laptop sleep after a certain period and then hibernate. On the Cain though, this option was missing and I wasn’t sure why. I had a suspicion it must be because the Cain uses Connected Standby and so perhaps disabling it will reveal these options. I Google’d a bit to see if there’s a way to disable Connect Standby. Surprisingly I couldn’t find anything until finally some forum post mentioned another forum post that gave a registry key setting which disables Connected Standby. Applied that to the Cain and now I have the option to hibernate after a certain period. Yaay!

Whizzing through airport security checks

Pleased with something today. Thought I’d blog about it.

Everything I know I learnt from the movies. One fine example of that is my approach with airport security checks thanks to the movie “Up In the Air“. An excellent movie (based on a novel of the same name and with an excellent score), it has George Clooney and Vera Farmiga as globe trotting business people, and it has great scenes on how they whiz past security by being prepared and efficient about it. I adapted those techniques in my life and now I too whiz past.

For starters I got a nice little hand bag where I put everything I need during travel. That bag has my spare glasses, headphones, music player, phones, wallets, books – everything! I think most people do this already but where I go a step ahead is that I empty everything most people usually carry in their pockets too into this bag. So once I am in the airport my phone is in this bag, any keys and loose change, my wallet, watch – everything! The only thing on me is my clothing. Further, if it’s a casual trip I either skip the trouser belt or I use a pyjama drawstring as the belt – since this is made of cloth it won’t trigger the sensors, nor do I have to remove and scan separately. If it’s a business trip then I put my belt in the handbag and only wear it once I am done with check-in and security.

Ever since I began doing this I can clear security checks easily. Not only do I have the hassle of taking everything out of my pockets and putting in the tray for security (and then put all these back when done!) I can also walk past the rest of the crowd as they slowly empty pockets or wait for a free tray. It’s amazing when you get to do that while all the others are just hanging in there!

Oh, and I never carry my laptop in the handbag. Some airports ask you to turn on the laptop and show – waste of time! So laptop’s in the main luggage, only tablets & Kindle are in handbag.

Hope this helps.

Unboxing the Cain

I got my Notion Ink Cain tablet day-before. I unboxed it in the car itself! Below are some pics.

Bubble wrap packaging in which I got the Cain

Bubble wrap packaging in which I got the Cain

Out of the bubble wrap. Good quality box.

Out of the bubble wrap. Good quality box.

Close up of the box, showing price and specs

Close up of the box, showing price and specs

Unboxing

Unboxing

A nice touch. The box includes a letter and some mints (not shown).

A nice touch. The box includes a letter and some mints (not shown).

The letter and mints

The letter and mints

The tablet.

The tablet.

Tablet minus the wrapping.

Tablet minus the wrapping.

Tablet in portrait orientation.

Tablet in portrait orientation.

The keyboard-cum-cover. Notice the dock connector in the middle. That's where you dock the tablet.

The keyboard-cum-cover. Notice the dock connector in the middle. That’s where you dock the tablet.

Tablet docked into the keyboard

Tablet docked into the keyboard

Tablet docked and powered on.

Tablet docked and powered on.

Laptop next to my office desktop

Laptop next to my office desktop

Very irritatingly the tablet came with a screen protector. I hate screen protectors. I hate it when they have bubbles, and I hate the way they feel when I touch. One of my first tasks then was to a piece of paper (a good quality paper, one that wouldn’t bend easily) and poke around the screen where there were bubbles between the screen and protector, and slide the paper in to one of these bubbles and thus pry the protector off. Such a relief!

The next step was to set up encryption on the Cain. That’s a bit more detailed so I’ll post it later.

Gotham

I started watching Gotham expecting to be let down by it. Everyone had great reviews about it based on the trailer and pilot, but I figured that was all just hype. After all what could a TV series about Gotham and Jim Gordon really bring to the table? Batman’s the big deal, and Jim Gordon and all the villains are important, but come on – a TV show just about these!? – will that work?

Boy, was I mistaken! Gotham is awesome. I was hooked from the start itself. It gets Bruce Wayne’s parents murder out of the way right at the beginning and then moves on the Jim Gordon and the cesspool that is Gotham. It reminds me of the Batman comics like “The Long Halloween” which is about the Gotham criminal enterprise as Italian mafia and has a dark noir feel to it. Gotham has a similar feel though not too dark noir. And it mixes it all up with how corrupt everyone in the city is, and how Jim Gordon is an honest cop trying to make his way there being badgered by all sides and losing hope but not quite losing it, and it has future Batman villains like the Penguin, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Riddler, and so on strewn through out. And these villains are portrayed wonderfully! The Penguin, for instance, is amazing – evil! – and Catwoman is great, played with the right balance of good vs bad. The Riddler and Poison Ivy don’t have much screen time yet.

Apart from the usual mafia families such as the Falconi and Maroni there is a new character – Fish Mooney – who is so evilly played by Jada Pinkett Smith. I mean she is evil. The character has a strong personality and that’s someone you just don’t want to cross with. And Jada Pinkett Smith brings out all these qualities so well, it’s just a pleasure to watch her and be awed by Fish Mooney.

I am also impressed at how Bruce Wayne isn’t sidelined among all this adult stuff. He is very much in the show and every episode has him developing his character and offering more insights to his self. Am glad about that.

Three episodes down so far! Fourth one was out yesterday, yet to watch it.

[Aside] Indian education system

Read this a while back but didn’t get time to post this until now. An article on the Indian education system, written in the context of Satya Nadella becoming CEO of Microsoft.

As an IITian who hated his educational time at IIT, I loved this paragraph:

The short point: our system is designed to keep people out, not get them in. The true value of an IIT or IIM is not the intellectual capital they produce, but their filtering expertise – which keeps all but the superlisters out of these institutions. When the people entering the institution are the best among the best, they will shine no matter what the quality of faculty or the curriculum.

Very true. All my classmates who had entered via the JEE exams performed well because they were already bright and had spent the last 3-4 years of their life preparing for the entrance exams. The rest of us, who had entered through SAT exams (during my time) or quotas, fared poorly in comparison. That’s sot of expected but what I hated was how the professors never seemed to make an effort to get the rest of us interested or slow down a bit so we too understand what’s going on. As far as they were concerned the onus was on us students to somehow make sense of what’s going on, and if we were finding it difficult to catch up that wasn’t there problem.

Currently Reading: Varanasi

A good book raises you to heights. You resonate with the characters and immerse yourself in their lives, places, and thoughts. After a long time I am reading one such book – Varanasi, by the Malayalam writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair. Coincidentally this is also a long time since I am reading a physical book and I keep half expecting being able to highlight text or long press a word to get its meaning. I am a wee bit excited too; the sensation of holding a physical book and reading from it thrills me for some reason.

This must be the fourth book by M.T. Vasudevan Nair that I have read. The first two were in college, as part of my humanities class, wherein we were supposed to read an author of our choice and present the work in class. If I remember correctly I read Asuravithu (Demon Seed) and Naalukettu and I loved the way M.T. wrote. I think I associated his writing to the way one paints. It’s very visual and I got the feeling of someone drawing his characters with broad strokes and then building them up with detailed strokes. (Before I forget, being a Malayalam author all these works are originally in Malayalam and what I read were the English translations).

The third book I read was Randamoozham (Second Turn). This was a mind-blowing read. It tells the story of Mahabharatha from the point of view of Bhima, the second Pandava. The title was meant to reflect that this is a second look at the Mahbharata and also that this look is from the second son. Bhima is unique in that he is the second son. So he doesn’t get the importance of the first born nor does he get pampered like the third and later borns. Moreover Bhima is usually associated with someone who is all muscle and no emotions, so it’s interesting how M.T. infuses this character with layers of feelings and emotions and retells the whole tale through his eyes.

While on holiday last week, I bought Varanasi and Kaalam. Currently reading Varanasi and it’s been a great experience so far. I love the characters and what they are doing. There isn’t much direction to the story really; it is just about the main character and his experiences, the people he encounters, the women in his life. But I loved the setting – Kashi, Varanasi – so there’s lot of philosophical undercurrents too. The narrative too is very different. M.T. keeps jumping between the past and present, and uses first person, second person, and third person – often even mixing them up! That’s quite daring and in a lesser author’s hands it might have failed and confused the reader, but not with M.T.

About half way done now. Bought the book yesterday so you can see I’ve been avidly reading it. I am reading two other books side-by-side, which I’ll talk about later.

New backup phone: Moto E, G, X, Nexus 5, or Android One

Idle mind, shopping mind!

I need a backup phone. To use when am travelling and such. Previously that role was fulfilled by my iPhone 4S but that phone’s become too slow since iOS 7 and now iOS 8.

I want something not too pricey. It should be micro SIM or regular SIM as these are easy to get everywhere. Dual SIM would be a plus. A good (not necessarily great) camera would be useful for taking pics etc. Also expandable storage would be preferred so I don’t have to worry abt storage.

Am in India currently and the new Android One phones are available here. Initially I thought of buying these. They are quite cheap (about INR 6500 ~ US$ 100) and tempting since they get updates from Google. But… their cameras are lousy, the internal storage is meagre (only 4GB!), and apparently the front facing camera can’t be used for selfies? Three different providers are selling these but all devices have the same specs, just different design and branding.

A comparable alternative to the Android One phones is the Moto E. This has dual SIM support and microSD support for up to 32GB. The internal storage is only 4GB, like the Android One phones, but it has no front facing camera. The back camera is similar to the Android One phones – slightly better maybe. The price of Moto E is comparable to the Android One phones. Just US$ 10 more!

Double the price of these is the Moto G. The Indian version has dual SIM support, an 8MP camera (good but not great), and microSD support for up to 32GB. The screen isn’t that great (but is better than the Android One phones & Moto E). Of course the CPU and other bits are better too, and the phone comes with 8GB or 16GB internal storage. The price doubling is justified and overall this seems to be a great device.

Two other phones I have in mind are last year’s Nexus 5 and this year’s Moto X. The Moto Maker website is amazing – you can design your own device! Of course the price of the Moto X starts at US$ 500, more than double the Moto G and way more than the Moto E and/ or Android One phones. That’s a silly point to make really because the Moto X has way better specs and performance than these phones and a much better camera too, but price is a factor for me as I don’t want to spend too much on the phone. It’s a secondary phone after all.

Three other points against the Moto X for me are that it uses nano SIM, has no microSD support (and the internal storage is only 16GB or 32GB), and no dual SIM support. All these pretty much rule out the Moto X for me.

Last year’s Nexus 5 looks to be a good phone. This year’s Nexus 6 is rumoured to be a pricier device so I won’t probably like that. The Nexus 5 takes a micro SIM but has no dual SIM or microSD support. It’s camera is good and it comes in 16GB or 32GB internal storage capacities. Google has stopped selling it but you can get it from Amazon or Google India (as well as FlipKart etc). The Amazon price is about US$ 400 (nearly double the price of Moto G) while the Indian prices are even more. I could buy the Nexus 5 – and I am tempted because it’s a Google phone and bound to get updates too for a while – but I am feeling stingy and US$ 400 too is high. The price is way better than the Moto X of a similar configuration so the sensible decision would be to get the Nexus 5 but I’d rather get the Moto G for US$ 200 and get a Kindle Voyage with the US$ 200 I will be saving! Too many gadgets to buy, not all of them of regular use for me, so I must economise. :)

New gadgets

The Internet is full of people praising the new iPhone 6 Plus and how it’s larger size is great and how they are much more productive with it. I am tempted to buy it, and my wife has very sweetly offered to gift me one as she knows I love iPhones (thank you Sari!) – but I am holding off so far.

Couple of reasons really:

1) I am happy with the iPhone 5S. It’s barely 8 months old with me and I feel bad giving it up just because a new device is around the corner. A silly notion probably – these are just devices after all – but I love them and I feel heartless leaving behind the 5S so soon.

2) The iPhone 5S is still performing well. I haven’t moved to iOS 8 yet (due to lack of space for an OTA update) and maybe the upgrade will slow things, but as of now I am happy with it. Mind you, I was in a similar state with the 4S too when I switched to the 5S last year, but then I had used the 4S for two years and the 5S had many newer features. After switching the 5S I realised what I had been with the 4S and how slow the latter is, so keeping that in mind I wouldn’t give too much importance to the current point.

3) I like the small size of the 5S. Sure a bigger device has it’s conveniences and maybe I will love the 6 Plus once I begin using it, but why change if I am already happy? I was one of those people who preferred the smaller size of the iPhones. And I appreciated the fact that iPhone 5 only added an addition row of icons while keeping the width same.

4) I like to skip Apple’s first iteration devices. Like the first iPhone, first iPod Touch, first iPad, and am pretty sure the first Apple Watch. I feel (and this was mentioned by John Gruber I think) that the first iterations are where Apple releases it with some features missing or not optimised and by the second iteration they fix all that. Anyone who’s used the first iPhones and iPads will attest to it too – how they had many limitations and how the second versions were way better.

As a corollary to this I skip the odd iPhone releases too as that’s why Apple makes new changes. Examples: iPhone 4 (Retina and other changes such as the body and internals), iPhone 5 (size and other changes), iPhone 6 (size and a whole lot of software changes). The S versions of all these improved upon the previous version. So I always associate the S with “subtle”. To me they are subtle improvements of their predecessors. That’s one more reason why I would prefer waiting for the iPhone 6S Plus (what a mouthful! I think Apple might just make the Plus the main device by then depending on sales).

5) For the money spent on the new iPhone – which I have no real craving for – I can buy a Nexus 6 when it’s released. Or the new Sony Xperia Z3 or the soon-to-be-released HTC M8 variant with the better camera. This way I get to use an Android phone too for a while. Hopefully the Nexus 6 is also cheaper than the other two. I have an eye on Nokia Windows phones too but the good ones are very pricey – same level as the iPhones and high end Android, and while that’s justified I find it unreasonable considering those phones don’t have much market share or apps. Microsoft should reduce the price so more people adopt it for that reason at least.

Speaking of Windows though I placed an order for a new device today. A tablet laptop called Cain by an Indian manufacturer called Notion Ink. This is one of those convertible devices and the price seems reasonable (a bit on the higher side though). I love Windows 8 but haven’t used it as a tablet yet so this would be a good opportunity to do so. Moreover being a convertible I can use this as a laptop too when I am travelling. No need to carry my usual laptop along. (Me thinks in the future laptops will be what people use instead of Desktops nowadays. The device they use at home and maybe longer travel. Tablets and convertibles will be used for travelling and on the go. And Desktops would be for advanced people who want to upgrade the hardware or custom specs etc. Plus a second hand market where the Desktops can be upgraded or faulty parts replaced and resold. Of course this is probably the near future. Much later Desktops will be obsolete as Laptops too become upgradeable and/ or cheap so that no one cares about upgrading or repairing).

The Cain uses Intel Bay Trail SoCs which supposedly combine the performance of Haswell and such with mobile device features. The Cain also comes with one USB 3.0 slot and a microSD slot. Since it only has 32GB free space I ordered a small 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive as well as a 64GB microSD card to beef up the storage. Useful for storing movies when travelling.

I ordered all these today so am excitedly looking forward to them now! This is the period when you order a new toy and keep refreshing your tracking page to see if they have shipped it and where the heck it has reached. This is followed by a few weeks/ months when you are always playing with this new toy and constantly gushing over it. And that is followed by a phase when you finally get used to it and it becomes a part of your life like everything else. :)

Update: There are some reasons why I might buy the iPhone 6 Plus. Maybe in Jan.

1) I use the iPhone 4S as my travel phone and with the latest iOS 8 update the phone sucks. Sometimes the keyboard is slow, sometimes Safari slows and hangs, the phone in general feels so lethargic. I’ve got angry at it numerous times this past month as I am traveling and use it exclusively, and I hate having to do that. Apple should have just left this device at iOS 6. Heck, I should have just left this device at iOS 6 jail broken, which is what I was at before upgrading to iOS 7 last year. Upgrading was a bad idea! iOS 6 plus custom themes were giving me a near identical look anyways; the only reason I upgraded was because many apps started asking for iOS 7 as a minimum requirement (as they are now with iOS 8).

2) If I buy a 6 Plus I will be going for the 64GB version and that’s useful. When I bought the 5S I was cheap and went with the 16GB version (in fairness the larger versions weren’t available in Oman either). A 16GB version has limitations in that I can’t keep too many songs on the phone, I have to constantly keep copying away photos and videos, I can’t keep too many apps around, and so on.

3) It’s unlikely I will be buying an Android device. They are great, but I use many iPhone specific apps such as Fantastical (and the iPhone reminders), Prismatic, Byword, Litely, etc so I don’t want to go through that hassle.

One advantage the iPhone 4S has is it’s micro SIM. Much easier to get a micro SIM (or chop a regular SIM to micro) when travelling. Nano SIMs are harder to come by.

[Aside] Connected Standby available for 64bit Windows (since May!)

Only realised this today while I was reading about Connected Standby (because I am considering buying a Windows 8 tablet). Connected Standby is supported for 64 bit Windows too since May. Nice!

[Aside] Inside Shellshock

CloudFlare makes great technical posts and this one on how the Shellshock bug can be exploited is no exception. Go read it!