Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Christmas of code

I was mostly working through Christmas. As opposed to the popular public celebrations in Asia during this time, most of America seems to celebrate X'mas at home with family and the streets are all but deserted. The Yuletide spirit did, however, rain down a lot of programming goodies onto me.

I had been searching forever for a good math library for C++ which could provide me things like probability distribution tables, linear algebra and the like, and a couple of days ago I discovered the GNU Scientific Library (GSL). Its an extremely thorough, well-documented and well-implemented library (in terms of API) for C/C++. Its a huge surprise this doesn't turn up if you google for c++ statistical library or c++ numeric computing. It has routines for all kinds of scientific computations from Fast Fourier Transforms to Statistical Distributions to Monte Carlo Integration. An amazing find. Shouldn't they be required to tell you about such stuff in graduate school, if not as an undergraduate?

I finally made myself reasonably conversant with creating Makefiles for gcc. Creating makefiles for your project manually however is difficult since the dependencies inside your code may change and thus play havoc with incremental builds. I could not, however, make myself learn autoconf and automake - for which there's a whole book - next to which the GNU Make manual looks like a short story. I decided instead to try and write a small piece of software which would generate makefiles automatically for simple projects. I ended up writing a small bash script, which I call buildmake, which basically does what I need - takes a bunch of cpp files, resolves header file dependencies and creates a makefile for incremental builds. If you're into that sort of thing, you can check it out here.

To complete the trio, I had been frustrated in my attempts to get Mac OS X to link static libraries with programs (I know, dynamic libraries are the "in" thing, but you try and convince your cluster administrator to give you access to /usr/lib); and I finally figured out the problem which left me kicking myself and (nearly) my laptop. Turns out that for Apple's GCC, the order of linking is important: gcc -lsomelib code.c will not work, but gcc code.c -lsomelib will. Now, I had tried to export environment variables, copy libraries to all sorts of places, explored unchartered GCC flags, but who would have thought of that! And nope, Google is not your friend if you have this problem either - found this nugget of information in what has now become my favourite book, despite the cheesy name - Mac OS X Tiger for Unix geeks.

Hope you all had a merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Writing a final at MIT

For the first (and likely the last) time today, I took a final exam in MIT.

There was four subjects being examined in the same examination hall, which was inside a large indoor basketball court - very much like some exam halls in NTU (Singapore). There, the similarities end.

MIT admin staff probably select the oldest tables that can still be held together for students to give exams on. I must admit though, it was a pretty large table - about the size of a small dining table for six - and there was a table and two chairs per person. The top of my table had hundreds of marks from geometrical figures to a scrawled "JAK SPAROW WUZ 'ERE" (I sure hope he didn't have an English exam). The metal lining on the side of the top of the table was held together by duct tape in some places. They make sure you'll buy the "Estd. 1861" line. And the tables rocked. Rocked, squeaked and creaked as I wrote on them - matching every stroke of my pen. Sure was a good way to mask the nervous shivering while writing the paper!

A 9 AM exam in Singapore means students get in by 8.30 and there is usually pin-drop silence by 8.45 when the papers start being distributed. At 9 AM today, most students were having breakfast on the aforementioned tables. Coffee, yoghurt and bagels were the most popular choices. One guy was sitting surfing on his laptop, the staff (lecturer and TAs) had just about come and settled down. I was already beginning to like the atmosphere (except that I was feeling hungry and had never dreamed of getting breakfast to an exam hall).

One girl walked in to the exam hall dragging one large and one medium trolley suitcase behind her. Someone asks the question that was begging to be asked, "open book exam?" Turns out it was, but the suitcases were because she was flying home about one hour after the exam.

In NTU, before every exam used to come a 15 minute speech, which in my head had earned the nickname "All Students' License Agreement". It went something like, "No paper, book, document, picture or other referral device may be brought into the exam hall unless specified under..." Out here, our lecturer looked left, looked right and yelled, "I guess you guys can start". Then, realizing her mistake, said, "Only for my subject!"

After that, of course, as with all exams, the outside world ceased to exist for a couple of hours. There was one interesting thing in the paper, though. At one point, the lecturer had been kind enough to mention, "The next two questions are very hard. Don't burn your time on them if you can't see the solution." Very kind of you, but did you imagine the rest of the paper was easy?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why Macs are better than PCs

The Inquirer has an interesting argument to make:
Apple, the long forgotten subject of this article, is different. It doesn't compete against anything at all. The industrial design focus group is one turtleneck wielding man, not a watered down group of suburban housewives who fit into income category 12A, or teens in the hip-hop demographic. Nope, Apple needs to please one person.
Very true, in my opinion - and speaking from personal experience - the reason why I stay away from any PC company. If I want a Windows/Linux box, I go out, buy the components and build it myself.

Probably 70% of the market believes that all that matters in a CPU is speed; 85% of the market cares more about price than a good sound card; 90% don't know how much of a difference a good power supply can make and 99% probably don't know that hard disks come with different cache sizes. But I do. Which is why buying a PC is never easy as Dell.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No longer favourites

What began as mild irritation last night has grown into serious ire. The del.icio.us social bookmarking site has been down for almost 15 hours now. I rely heavily on it for managing my bookmarks. The "latest links" section on the sidebar of my blog is tied to it; but the loss of that is a minor annoyance. The major annoyance is having to search Google for sites related to research and coding that I'd bookmarked online, thinking that saving them online was the safest option.

I'm thinking of moving onto other similar services (notably Simpy), but now that this has happened, I'll have to figure out a way to keep synchronizing with a given online service regularly to keep a backup of my latest bookmarks.

On a side note, the guys at delicious claim that a "power outage" caused various problems with their service, including corruption and crashing of slave/redundant servers, and last night they decided to put everything offline to rebuild their indexes. I'm not sure if this is a process that should take as long as 15 hours, if you'd set up things correctly in the first place.

Whats more interesting is that this happened right after Yahoo! acquired del.icio.us, and I wonder if the increased load from the announcement and interest led to the current problems as opposed to pure power outages.

In any case, a lesson learned, the hard way.

[Update] Del.icio.us is back on line. For those like me who didn't bother to create a backup, Foxylicious is a Firefox extension that creates a local backup of delicious bookmarks.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

FBPNN: Toward free and fair selections

Miracles do happen. The entire Indian Parliament has come to a unanimous agreement about an issue - the dropping of former India captain Sourav Ganguly from the third test against Sri Lanka to be played at Ahmedabad starting Sunday. It is reported that the Prime Minister nearly had a heart attack on hearing that the Left Front had actually supported his call to table the issue in the Lazy Old Keepers of Solid Anarchy on Benches of Hysterical Antics (LOK SABHA).

It was decided that the Parliament shall devote every possible resource to ensure that the Board of Cricketing Chaos in India (BCCI) doesn't stoop to dirty politics and ignore its real job. To this end, the Election Commission of India shall now be reinstated as the Selection Commission of India.

Representatives of this body will now control both the voting and decision making procedures at the BCCI using new innovative methods. One recent breakthrough is a pill developed by Ranbaxy Industries which genetically modifies neurons in the brain to induce selective amnesia in the recipient. Such a pill shall be given to the top selectors and will, theoretically, ensure that they forget which state in India they come from. An anonymous source at Ranbaxy, however, was not very optimistic. "What we've proven is that this medication is extremely effective in altering the genetic structure of neuron cells in the brain." But for it to work well, he said, "it is necessary for the host organism to possess neurons in a certain minimum quantity."

The opposition leader demanded in Parliament today that the matter be raised in the UN security council and a team be sent to monitor this process to ensure free and fair selections. "The human rights of a billion people are at stake", he said. "How can we live in a world where sports teams are selected with such injustice."

Speaking at a joint press conference, Somnath Chatterjee, Pranab Mukherjee, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (the leaders who pushed the issue through) said that they were proud that to have taken this step to ensure the safety, security and well-being of every Indian. When asked how democratic elections in India would be held now, they replied, "Lets deal with one problem at a time. Lets talk about future elections, the cold wave in North India, violence in Kashmir, defense acquisitions, rural healthcare and all those other issues later. We will never get anywhere as a nation if we don't get our priorities right."

FBPNN is the Fake But Possible News Network 2005. While we make every effort to ensure that nothing in our reports is true, the ridiculousness of human behavior remains a step ahead; and therefore the complete lack of truth in this article cannot be guaranteed.

Friday, December 16, 2005

What should you do with your life?

If you read one article on the Internet today, let it be this one. A real insight for anyone who has struggled with finding the right career, and a real eye-opener for anyone who hasn't.

[via Sherene's blog]

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Translator: Gregory Hays)

Meditations is a series of philosophical notes which was written by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius sometime in the 2nd century A.D. That the book has survived for nearly two millennia is amazing. What's even better is that the wisdom of this work - almost every question asked or answered - is still as applicable today. The book (never intended for publication) is written as a series of notes by Marcus to himself. He writes observations, gives himself advice, debates with himself, records insightful observations by others, admonishes and motivates himself.

This is by no means a cohesive or flowing work - the book almost reads like a personal blog. Marcus frequently revisits and circles around a few common identifiable themes throughout the book - the nature of the human mind, body and soul; leadership qualities; how one should react to death; the importance of work and ethics; the impermanence in nature; the insignificance of human acts and lives from a greater perspective; and so on. Yet I found this very style appealing - and very human. It shows how he struggles with himself to avoid and conquer excessive desires, anger, impatience, pride and laziness - problems that I (and many others, I presume) have had to deal with.

There are arguments put forth in the book which really made me sit up, think and take notice; and rethink my life in more ways than one. This is a sponge kind of book - the more you read it, the more you will absorb. There are easily times that you can just read one line and simply think for a good half an hour about it. My favourite line from the book - "Our worth is measured by the things we devote our effort to.".

Definitely a great read for anyone interested in philosophy (and by philosophy I mean practically analyzing people and life) and open to new ideas about living life. This book has also been greatly recommended for leaders and statesmen (Marcus Aurelius was Caesar, after all!).

A brief note: There are many translations of this book available, and some are online. The Gregory Hays translation, however, is the newest in a generation and much more readable than others I tried. He also gives an excellent (if a tad long) introduction to the times and Marcus' life to put the book into context. It was definitely worth the US$10 that I paid for it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Proof of global warming

The Economist describes scientific arguments that confirm the trend of global warming:
The first, and most basic, is the continuation of the warming trend at the Earth’s surface that has been happening since the early 20th century... the ten years to 2004 were the warmest decade since reliable measurements began in the early 19th century.

The second result is that the Arctic, a place where any warming trend would be amplified by changes in local absorption of heat as the ice melts, does, indeed, show signs of rapid warming.

...a disagreement between the temperature trend on the ground, which appeared to be rising, and that further up in the atmosphere, which did not. Now, both are known to be rising in parallel.

...the way the world’s oceans have warmed up at different depths... match climate models’ predictions of what happens when warming is induced by greenhouse gases better than it matches predictions of the result of changes in the sun’s activity.

The fifth is the observation in reality of a predicted link between increased sea-surface temperatures and the frequency of the most intense categories of hurricane, typhoon and tropical storm.

...an observation that ocean currents in the North Atlantic are faltering in ways that computer models of the climate previously suggested would happen in response to increased temperatures.
Meanwhile, as the rest of the world attempts to battle this menace, the most polluting nation stays aloof.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Google Earth for Mac

Finally, second-class citizens in the Google Universe (Mac users) get Google Earth. Well, depends on how you look at it... I grabbed an unofficial version off the net and ran it - and it works! Here's a screenshot...


It definitely is VERY beta though... if you ask it to auto-go to a site, it virtually kills the rest of the software running on your comp (to the extent that music playing in iTunes sounds broken). Looks like they really have to work on optimizing the thing. Its good to see them working on it though.

The infinite highway?

In the latest MIT hack, some dude painted highway signs on the infinite corridor of MIT yesterday. I was lucky enough to get a few shots. Couldn't divine the purpose though :)

Interstate infinity

Of course, all of this had disappeared by today :)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dark Moon by David Gemmell

I had given up. In my mind, a good fantasy story was a project. At least three books, sometimes as many as 11. I had convinced myself that it was probably easier to fully know and enjoy a fantasy series than to read the holy texts and become a Brother of the Latvian Orthodox Church, but not by much.

Then I came up on this book. Gemmell's writing style is flowing and lucid, and the plot of the story rocks. Its about how a warrior with a split personality, a musician possessing ancient magic, a cunning general and a old but brilliant engineer come together to save the world from an invasion by an ancient species. Even though the book is only 500 pages (fantasy readers will know what I'm talking about), the plot is very well developed and definitely gets you thinking. Of course, the plot or characters are not developed with the intensity of Jordan, Salvatore or Eddings, but they get more than one book to do it. Others I know have called the ending a bit abrupt but to me it made perfect sense.

This is definitely a book you can sink into and enjoy in one straight sitting. Regular fantasy fans will definitely enjoy it, but its also a great start for people who've been kept away from fantasy because they see a story that spans eleven books and counting!

Monday, December 05, 2005

FBPNN: Climate change conference is a lot of hot air

Montreal, Canada - The Undecided Nations Organization (UNO) has been holding a climate change conference for past few days here, the prime objective being to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and basically save the planet. As the entire human race watches with hope, delegates to the UNO go about their real agenda - to maintain indecisiveness about anything to do with climate change.

The last major climate change agreement was made in Japan and termed the KYOTO (Keep Yelling Out To Others) Protocol. This piece of international legislation was a model example to of how politicians worldwide could come together and solve the world's biggest problem - how to get campaign funding while still appearing to save the environment. The agreement was designed so that every world leader could claim that his country had been unfairly dealt with in some way, curse the greed of the rest of the world and convince the people's representatives to not ratify the treaty.

The Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012, and has already begun to show its breaking points. Members of the Exasperated Union (EU), whose populations are known to contain vast amounts of concerned scientists and environmentalists, have already been forced to create their own version of the Kyoto protocol - squabbling over which has already begun.

The Unequalled Snobs of America (USA), has, as always - been completely opposed to any sort of binding climatic agreement. Quidditch prime minister Phony Blair attempted to show the USA in a generous light by suggesting that he believed that "all major countries" would accept legally binding emissions targets. For his troubles, he was snubbed by a minion in the US administration with so little authority that he referred to himself as the "leader of the US delegation to Montreal". Unconfirmed reports from the White House chefs show that the number of bones scheduled to be thrown to the de facto 51st state are to be decreased by fifty percent for two months.

The same minion cited the by-now famous US position on climate change: "We do not believe in taking possibly dangerous economic risks based on a phenomenon for which there is so little evidence. We do not believe in speculative science, whether about global warming or evolution. If you want us to act without evidence, you should probably try and bring us an unfounded rumour about weapons of mass destruction in an oil-rich nation." He went on to defend his country's position on doing their bit for the environment. "We believe in the spirit of voluntary reduction in emissions. By liberating so many of our brothers in the Middle East from tyrant dictators, we've clearly demonstrated what the spirit of volunteering can achieve."

Of course, the USA position on this matter can easily be understood. After all, how can they be expected to help in saving a planet which, according to their Constitution, consists of 95.8% alien lifeforms?

© 2005 Fake But Possible News Network

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Confessions of a linguistic flirt

Father, forgive me, for I have sinned.

Yesterday, I just picked up a new language. My mood was bleak, and maybe I'd had a bit too much coffee to drink. R. Just R. We met in machine learning class, and at first I never imagined I'd be spending any time with R at all - I thought good old MATLAB would work just fine for whatever I needed. And you know how much I hate the "getting to know" part.

I didn't have a choice, Father. I was really in it to cash in on the inheritance. You see, R's predecessor, S had passed on a procedure that I desperately needed to validate some test cases and R and S were the only ones that had it. I chose R because you know I like the younger ones and besides, S is proprietary. However sinful I may be, you know I'd never pay for that kind of thing.

So I took her to my home directory and got started. I got to know R quite well in just one night. My deadline is due soon and I really needed some quick action. Its amazing how little you need to talk to R - something I've never experienced before. The way to speak to R is also primitive (and hedonistic), but it sure produces amazing results. One liners with R go like

reducedX<-X[1:dim(X)[1],A$which[(A$Cp==min(A$Cp[A$size==m+1])) & A$size==m+1,1:dim(X)[2]]]

but they actually incorporate five long and loopy statements that you'd have to make with any other language! I hear your disapproval, Father. I have also committed the sin of breaking the code law - I know this kind of code is not maintainable, reusable, extendible or readable. But it boosts my programmer's ego so much! And even you have to agree that the code sounds so much alike to words said in the Bibles (GNU Make Manual, 4.14).

Yes, Father, I accept. As penance, I will go and finish properly documenting my older code in C++. And I promise, R will not be more than a one project stand.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Reforms" in Bihar

Is there something about the air in Bihar? Is it forever doomed to be ignored by its rulers? Rediff writes about Nitish Kumar:
Vowing to change "the worst ever work culture due to Rashtriya Janata Dal's misgovernance for past 15 years", he told reporters that he would have a one-to-one meeting with senior bureaucrats, including secretaries of all departments and officers of the rank of inspector general and above to improve the situation.
The Indian Express writes about the professional efforts of his cabinet to establish a good work culture:
Cabinet minister Baidyanath Mahto’s men went and ‘‘booked’’ a sprawling bungalow on Bailey Road, occupied for 15 years by RJD’s former minister Iliyaas Hussain. Using a red chalk, they wrote ‘‘Baidyanath Mahto, Cabinet minister’’ alongside Hussain’s nameplate. It was to pre-empt other leaders from taking the house. But later, another Cabinet minister Monazir Hassan, who has been given charge of the building construction department, was allotted the same bungalow. Mahto had no option but to withdraw his claim.
I remember being as childish - booking the school bus window seat just behind the driver in Std I. Good luck, Bihar.

Monday, November 28, 2005

FBPN Network: Spammers may be helping humanity

Blogsville, The Internet - New scientific evidence shows how spammers may have helped a large number of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Active brain function, scientists say, greatly help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and may even help reverse it.

However, societal efforts to stop us from using our brains have greatly increased in the last few decades. The invention of the television pioneered this movement and soon after, people stopped using their brains at home. The Internet age followed and people stopped using their brains at work as well.

The Bureau Of Largely Lame Ostriches Creating Kaleidoscopic Statistics (BOLLOCKS) estimates that people who have Internet access at work use their brains about 1% of the time. The people who do not have Internet access at work use their brains at work about 60% of the time, but 90% of that usage is geared toward figuring out a way to access the Internet through the corporate firewall.

Recent emergent studies have concluded that spammers actually started out as a movement to fight sinister efforts to get humans to stop using their neurons (why our governments would want to do such a thing is another story). Spamming was initially directed towards diluting Internet content to move users away from the brain-numbing expanses of the Internet. Originally, it was targeted toward services like e-mail - which was a concept doomed from the start. Our heroes of humanity had never thought that people would actually be dumb enough to believe spam-content for reality.

Spamming blogs, on the other hand, has proved much more effective in achieving the true objective of the spammers. BOLLOCKS estimates between 40 and 70 percent of office time is spent reading and commenting on blogs. To help "fight" spam, blogging sites and software frequently generate fudged-up images of random sequences of letters (much like the one reproduced to the right). An experiment conducted by doctors at the Barvard School of Medicine shows that although it stays minimal while reading a blog or leaving comments, neural activity spikes up greatly while trying to read the anti-spam verification images. This is probably due to the pattern-recognition nature of the task as well as the fact that the images get tougher with time as the spammers make better and better programs to automatically read the images. For the first time in history, masses of humans are being forced to use their brains more efficiently than central processing units.

Scientists estimate that reading and commenting on twenty-six point two blogs with the image verification feature generates brain activity equivalent to doing a crossword, which in turn is the prescribed activity for patients considered to be at risk for Alzheimer's. The next time you see spam, you may want to see it in a slightly kinder light.

P.S. FBPN stands for "Fake but Possible News". I would have called it Fake News, but I wouldn't want to be sued by these guys.

P.P.S. This FBPN Network story is its first output. Depending on the laziness of its employees (which number in the low ones), it may or may not be the last.

Friday, November 25, 2005

God's Debris by Scott Adams

Scott Adams recently released a free PDF of his book, God's debris. Its a wonderful book with a number of new ideas. Just one read won't quite be enough for me, though. There are a lot of new ideas in the book - new ways to think about life. It kind makes you think the universe has turned upside down. Some of the ideas are present in other philosophies, but the idea that really makes me think is his concept that God is basically probability.

Einstein once said, "God does not play the dice". I wonder how he would have reacted to the statement that "God is the dice."

Anyone with an open mind will love the book. To a pragmatic, rigidly scientific person however, this book might seem just a combination of mysticism and cult. Here's a snippet from the book, which should help you figure out whether you'll like it or not:
"There is no logical limit to how
much our collective power will grow. A billion years from
now, if a visitor from another dimension observed human-
ity, he might perceive it to be one large entity with a con-
sciousness and purpose, and not a collection of relatively
uninteresting individuals.”

“Are you saying we’re evolving into God?”

“I’m saying we’re the building blocks of God, in the
early stages of reassembling.”

“I think I’d know it if we were part of an omnipotent

“Would you? Your skin cells are not aware that they are
part of a human being. Skin cells are not equipped for that
knowledge. They are equipped to do what they do and
nothing more. Likewise, if we humans—and all the plants
and animals and dirt and rocks—were components of God,
would we have the capacity to know it?”

“So, you’re saying God blew himself to bits—I guess
that was the Big Bang—and now he’s piecing himself back

“He is discovering the answer to his only question.”

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Gladiator

Enjoying a movie to me is all about two things... the dialogue and the pauses between the dialogue. Maybe thats why I really appreciate so few movies.

I watched Gladiator after a long time today, and its still as wonderful a movie as I remember it - every slightest touch in the movie speaks of brilliance. It counts among the three movies I'd ever rate as 10/10; the other two being "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Matrix".

Some of the most memorable moments in the Gladiator... not just for the words, but the silences between them:
Maximus: What we do in life echoes in eternity.

Marcus Aurelius: Tell me again, Maximus, why are we here?
Maximus: For the glory of the Empire, sire.

Marcus Aurelius: There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.

Marcus Aurelius: How can I reward Rome's greatest general?
Maximus: Let me go home.
Marcus Aurelius: Ah, home.

Marcus Aurelius: Won't you accept this great honor that I have offered you?
Maximus: With all my heart, no.
Marcus Aurelius: Maximus, that is why it must be you.

Gracchus: The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it's the sand of the Colosseum. He'll bring them death and they will love him for it.

Gracchus: I don't pretend to be a man of the people. But I do try to be a man for the people.

Maximus: My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Maximus: There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Collected Short Stories - Jeffrey Archer

This was an Archer that I had missed. One of his best, which makes me unhappy that I've only just read it; but happy that I left it for this time, when I really have little else this good to serve for entertainment. This book easily becomes my favourite Jeffery Archer.

I'd rate almost every short story in the book as 4/5 or better. My favourites were "Broken Routine", "Old Love", "Just good friends", "Christina Rosenthal" and "One man's meat...". The beauty of a well-written short story is not just that it drives home a point in just a few pages; but that its message is usually something very simple yet impactful - whether its about friendship, laughter, achievement or ego. In books like "First Among Equals" or "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less" I was awed by the intricacies and magnitude of the plot - but in this book, what delighted me that even the simple plots were equally powerful and immersive - thirty-six times over.

I guess almost everyone must have read this by now, but if you haven't do read it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Grandfather browser

I'm almost embarassed to admit it, but I've taken to using Lynx very often. For those who don't know, Lynx is a text browser. All you get is pure ASCII. No images, single font, single size. I use it mostly for reading research related stuff. I've found (empirically) that it offers quite a few advantages.

Mostly, it helps me focus. Of course, I access Blogger in Firefox, where right now I have about eight tabs open, with at least half being completely work-unrelated (cricket scores, PhD comics, Indian Express and so forth). Where there is a tab, there is a switch to it once in a while, which can be hugely distracting.

At a deeper level, though, in a text browser its really difficult to go to any external links - even those that are there in a particular page. There's no easy way of opening them while keeping your current page (no new tab/new window... and if you know of one, don't tell me!) so you really tend to (a) open pages that you will read and (b) stay focused on reading them. Moreover, links don't stand out as much as they do in a graphical browser, they're just blue in colour as opposed to black. I even read a few blogs on it these days - I've been noticing that in a tabbed or graphical interface I sometimes tend to just gloss over the information rather than really reading it.

I cannot emphasize how nice it can be to have just one font. One gets tired of big, small, italicized, colored, imaged and generally distorted text at times. Console font can be a blessing.

Lastly, it really is the best solution for ad-blocking - of course!

Of course, Lynx never will replace a graphical browsing interface - but I find myself pretty happily spending an hour or so on it continuously at times. Trust me, if you intend to get through the GNU Make Manual in two or three (or even one!) sitting straight, Firefox is probably not your best choice.

Think I might have finally crossed the line into insanity? I can't blame you :)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Jedi Kids

The Boston Museum of Science is running a Star Wars exhibit until April next year. I stopped outside the museum to watch some Padawans exercising with their lightsabers.

You refer to the prophecy of the One who would bring balance to the Force. You believe its this... boy?

Padawans 1
You have learned much, young one

Anakin Jr
Kill him, Anakin! Do it now!

If you're not with me...

Sith Lords are my speciality...


Aah.. to be a kid again. In any case, I'm definitely getting one of 'em lightsabers for myself!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mac OS X vs. Linux

A friend of mine, whom I convinced to switch to a Mac is now switching back to Linux on an Intel-based laptop.

Although it took me a long time to come to this conclusion, but I find myself agreeing that with his requirements, Linux wins hands down in favour of OS X. Since I've pretty much recommended the Macintosh to anyone and everyone who's ever bothered to listen, I thought I should post this legitimate argument about the other side.

He works extensively with terminals and likes to live completely in the UNIX suburbs of OS X, and that is what kind of bit him quite badly in sensitive spots.

First issue - he keeps his home directory on a different partition. This is possible in OS X, but only with a hack, and updating to 10.4.3 broke the hack. Suddenly, his home folder permissions were screwed up, and he couldn't write to half his files, including things like his iTunes library. Half the icons on his dock were replaced with ugly-looking question marks. Reinstalling and remounting the home partition did not solve the problem - the only way that we could fix it was to move the home folder back into the System partition. Important fact to remember about Apple - their system is UNIX-based, but its not exactly UNIX. More importantly, they modify critical functionality with each update with impunity - after all - most Macintosh users don't even dream of hacking around with UNIX-level files and directories. A prime example is that with Tiger, Apple has deprecated crontab in favour of launchd. Putting jobs in crontab will still work (for now) but there's no guarantee that it will continue to do so in future versions. If you like playing around with the system structure to suit your needs - be wary of moving to OS X. I personally use a lot of the *nix in Apple but I don't play around with the system structure, so I'm OK for now.

Second issue - Applications. This is actually the reason a lot of Linux users switch to OS X. Some very popular applications for Linux though, are either not available for OS X or are available as hacks which aren't very reliable. I will say that I definitely miss the Linux Konsole application. OS X Terminal.app, iTerm, AquaTerm are all usable, but at best can be called second-class imitations of Konsole. Plenty of Linux hackers work exclusively out of the terminal (even starting GUI applications from the terminal), but Apple has never been used to this idea. If they're serious about luring away the *nix crowd, they better start thinking about it. Another thing that comes out just as a temporary hack is gVim. gVim exists as a port on OS X, but updates keep breaking it.

Lastly - Linux on a Powerbook sucks. We installed Kubuntu 5.10 on the Powerbook 15" and it was slow, clearly revealing the limitations of the PPC G4 CPU. I guess OS X has been so heavily optimized to work well with G4 that it is actually possible to forget that you're working on what is a four year old architecture - unless you also work with OS X on a G5. And PPC Linux I guess is still a babe when it comes to G4 optimized builds. Bootup, program loading, mouse trails - you name it - every action on Linux installed on the G4 was horribly slow. Worse, Apple offers almost no support for Linux and you can't have utilities like wifi support, 3-D acceleration for ATI cards etc.

So at that point, my friend had to take the decision, and he did - sold off his 15" Powerbook and is awaiting a Intel centrino-based notebook.

Friday, November 18, 2005

My, my, you've grown!

I just got a window on my screen saying, "Firefox has downloaded an important update and must restart". I clicked on OK, and FF happily shuts down, starts up and says, "Firefox is installing updates and will start up in a few moments." And it did.

I was running Firefox 1.5 RC2 and the update, I suppose, was the release version of Firefox 1.5. After a hell of a long time and a ton of complaints, Mozilla have finally implemented the patch mechanism.

Looks like they got it right!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Once upon a time...

...there was LOGO. Anyone remember this drawing software that was the first software schools used to teach all those long years ago? The one that actually fit into a 360KB 5.25-inch floppy disk?

Turns out it's been reincarnated as a Java program. I used to think of the drawing process as Yogi Bear making marks in the snow as he moved along. Those were the days.

Of course, the programmer says "the features are more from this millenium than from the last one". Man, I'm OLD!

My bread and butter

"Problem Y is really a form of problem X, and there are many known implementations of problem X."

Every research paper you've read says it. The book you're referring to says it. Yet you can't imagine how you can get Problem Y (which you have to implement) to look like Problem X. You struggle with the problem all day and can't solve it. You search the library and figure out three books (which happen to be across three different libraries on campus for some reason) that might help you solve the problem and you promise yourself to go look those up tomorrow.

Convinced that you're right and all the papers and books you're reading are wrong (and encouraged that almighty Google doesn't show up a solution to this problem) - you start writing an e-mail to your advisor to ask for help. This of course, is the first time you're writing a description of the problem that could be remotely described as coherent. Hlafway through the e-mail your brain goes, "wwwwwait a minuttttte!" A few hasty calculations later and you've solved your problem, which was really so simple a smart first year undergraduate would surely have seen it.

You feel grateful to all deities you believe in (and to some you don't) that you didn't send that mail to your advisor which would probably have resulted in your ranking moving from almost negative infinity to negative infinity. You also end up feeling, as on most other work days, like a complete idiot.

Welcome to the world of research.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Open-source on the Mac

Came across this page that lists the best open-source software for the Mac. I tried out some of them. Yes, I had something better to do, but I didn't feel like doing it right then.

Camino (web browser)

This thing is supposedly based on Firefox but customized for Mac performance. Noticed that it loaded up lightning fast (I think even faster than Safari) which was good. Also noticed that it looked very much like an Apple application (Mail 2.0) - which was also good. Then I opened up Slashdot and saw that something was missing. No orange icon anywhere. This thing doesn't support RSS feeds; even though its supposedly based on Firefox 1.5. Good bye, Camino. Back to Firefox.

Vienna (RSS Reader)

I was amazed at this piece of software. Replaces NetNewsWire for me instantly. It has all the standard features you'd look for (3-pane window, internal tabbed browsing options, spotlight-enabled search) but it has a few extras too. The one I liked most was that it has "Smart folders" - you can aggregate collections based on a variety of options. So if I'm a die-hard iPod fan, for instance, I can make a Smart folder that aggregates all of today's stories with the subject "iPod" in them. Or if I like to mark articles to read later, I can have a smart folder that contains articles about "intel virtualization" from the past week that I've flagged. Awesome stuff. All free and open-source. Good-bye, NetNewsWire.

Freemind (Mind-mapping tool)

I really liked this tool to organize hierarchical information. Its based on Java, so runs on any platform (a big plus). Unlike most other Java apps I've seen on the Mac, this one is very responsive - probably because they've made the GUI in AWT rather than Swing. Nothing says it like a screenshot, I created this map of a course project I'm doing:

It could probably be made to look far better and the interface leaves much to be desired, but I think I can put this piece of software to good use. You can even export this to HTML with folding/unfolding options in a list interface, see this example.

Monday, November 14, 2005

New kind of music

I was listening to an album by Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia today called "A beginning without an end".

Its categorized as "Hindustani" but seemed to me more like "fusion" - mixing elements of western and indian classical music. You hear the Ragas in both traditional Indian classical form - the flue and the tabla - as well as orchestra-like music from the piano, trumpets and the like.

That short description about exhausts the miniscule knowledge I have about the workings of music - but I really enjoyed listening to the album. I enjoy classical Indian music a lot and the addition of the Western element was refreshing.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Poem of the day

For the encouragement we all need at one time or another.
God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through.
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God has promised strength for the day,
Rest for the laborer, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
- By Annie Johnson Flint

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wish list for Intel-based Mac laptops

AppleMatters ran an article asking what we want in the upcoming Intel-based laptops. Here's my list. Thoughts, any other Mac users?

Firstly, I'd hate to have the 12" PB discontinued without an equivalent offering (a 13" WS would be nice). There are certain features on the PB models that I like (DVI, better graphics, faster drives, the general look) - but I do like to have a true portable which I can plug into an external monitor at home or in the lab.

I have a 1.5 GHz 12" PB that I bought in February and some things that I'd really like to have in later releases:

1. Two buttons for the mouse. Its about time, guys - the mighty mouse is now standard on iMs and PMs, its only fair that the books get two clicks too.

2. Much better performance. It pains me that this 12" is still the fastest Apple model I can buy today and it gets its ass kicked in numerical computation by a Dell centrino (on Linux). Hopefully a switch to a newer CPU architecture will fix that. Can't believe that G4 1 GHz came out nearly five years ago with the TiBook.

3. Better graphics, even for the 12" - as good or nearly as good as the bigger models. A GF 5200 is trash especially compared to the 9700. After switching to the Mac I found to my pleasant surprise that there's a fairly decent complement of games for the Mac - a lot of which are unfortunately useless with a GF 5200.

4. Better-powered USB ports. The 15" PB can't connect by default to an external USB powered drive. My 12" thankfully can (I live on that drive) but the moment I plug in a hub - and with just 2 USB ports, you almost have to - I can't connect multiple powered devices to it - like my iPod Shuffle. A real annoyance in a world where you have USB powered drives, speakers and device chargers. And while I'm on the subject, could we have more than 2 USB ports please?

5. Region-free DVD drives! Please!

6. An SD-card slot for us photographers.

7. A decent dock connector will be extremely helpful. I use my Powerbook as my exclusive system, and I'm sure a lot of others do as well.

I'm pretty sure this is not too much to ask. All of these features can be had in a Wintel notebook today and its about time Apple caught up.

For the SRK fans...

He talks about his approach to filmmaking and his recent film Paheli on Intentblog.

Sunday, November 06, 2005



It seems strange to write a post about Fall right after posting a picture of snow. But that snow was a freak incident, and yesterday I hopped onto a bus for a weekend trip to Long Island. And boy, there was never a better explanation of the "journey being as pleasurable as the destination"!!! The Fall is in its full glory in New England, and even though these pictures are taken from behind a bus window moving at 60 mph, I doubt anyone will fail to recognize Nature's awesome majesty in this season.

Here's the entire photoset.

Thursday, November 03, 2005



I saw snow for the first time in my life last Saturday, when it snowed in Boston. It was simply beautiful.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Happy Diwali!

Wishing all of you a very happy Deepavali and a prosperous New Year!

For the first time in my life, I am completely blank about what to do on Diwali. At a time like this does one realize what really makes a festival - it is the festive spirit. People I know like Diwali for different reasons - some people like the aarti and pujas, the kids love the fireworks, some people the sweets, others the socializing and yet others just the idea of having a holiday.

At the heart of it all lies a powerful festive spirit. Diwali time is like a license to be happy - no matter what else is happening in your life. And for most of us, it works like a charm. And the spirit is infectious - the more people around you that celebrate, the more you're caught up in it.

It feels kind of odd to be in a place where Diwali is hardly celebrated - leaves you with an empty feeling, like, there was supposed to be more joy in the world right about now - but its just not there. Thank God for memories and photographs :) last year we celebrated Diwali with a bang in SMA getting everybody we could into the act. Click the picture to view the other photographs.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Blasts in Delhi

There have been serial blasts in Delhi, similar to those in London earlier this year.

An act of such madness and utter terror - how does one respond? There is shock - how could this happen? It doesn't make any sense! There is anger - on behalf of the victims - who were completely innocent, and out shopping for the greatest festival of the year, just hours away. There is defiance - if this was meant to make someone cower - it won't happen. And there is fear, mixed with anger - that the victims of this senseless killing were just like you or I. Next time, it could be you or I.

I hope all of your friends and family are safe.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A new visualization of news

I don't know if you guys have noticed this, but CNet is showcasing a new way of following news links. Here's what happens - when you read a CNet story (this one, for example), there's a section on the right which shows you the article in some kind of "article-topic space", also viewable in full-screen mode.

This view has three types of objects - articles, topics and companies, with links between objects that connect - for example, all articles related to Oracle Corp will be connected to Oracle and most of them will be connected to databases. Some of them might be connected to, say security or open-source, depending on the content of the article. Each topic, say databases, is also linked to other articles on databases (which may deal with MySQL for example). This is already nice enough given that I can follow the topics in the news around an article.

Whats better is that you can switch focus to any other object in the space. Shifting focus from our article, we can go to Security, which can lead us to Microsoft - and so on to any other article on the site. Which, I think, is a supremely cool idea! Here's what CNet have to say about this feature.

Infrastructure vs. Development in urban India

Milind Deora, Member of Parliament from Mumbai writes on IntentBlog:
"...cities like Mumbai and Bangalore are rapidly decaying. Their infrastructure can handle only so much, yet commercial and residential buildings (mostly hideous structures) and unplanned construction continue to change the landscape of these metros.

The Bombay High Court’s recent judgment on Mumbai’s mill lands has sparked off a serious debate on how Mumbai should be developed. On one hand, developers believe the ruling will raise the price of Mumbai’s real estate due to a fall in the supply of housing while activists and urban planners see it as an opportunity to better plan the city’s transformation into a world-class metro."
I agree that concentrating on developing urban spaces as densely as possible is a really bad idea. What is sorely needed simultaneously is a systematic plan for developing infrastructure like roads, power and water. Even now, most urban cities in India are struggling with providing these basic amenities.

New Delhi has benefitted a lot from developing outlying areas like Noida and Gurgaon - but Navi Mumbai, for example, has not seen that much success. Which is also due to the fact that although Navi Mumbai is well planned, public utilities are still not up to the mark. The government has to understand that there is only so much of development (construction) that can go on in one city, and providing means for more urban development outside has become a necessity.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Foreign Universities in India: Is the left ever right?

The Left parties promise to be a pain in the neck for anything that remotely resembles progress. Here we go again.

This time, the Left Front has pricked a particularly hopeful balloon - the idea of allowing foreign universities to open branches in India. Their reason, quoted in the Indian Express:
the entry of foreign universities will foster ‘‘cultural insensitivity’’ arguing that their curriculum would have a viewpoint different to the country’s stand on issues such as Kashmir and the freedom struggle.

The other fear, the Left says, is that by charging exorbitant fees, this would only add to the ‘‘urban elitist bias’’ as these would be thronged by children of the rich. Also it would result in poaching of the best teachers from IIMs and IITs.
Sirs, kindly spare us the crap.

Lets talk about "cultural insensitivity". So, we can have a MacDonalds next to every railway station in Mumbai. We think its fine to primarily educate our youth in English and make sure everybody who passes 10th in India knows at least one Shakespeare play by heart. Malls can be encouraged to blare MTV on their extra large plasma screens. Oh, and we have absolutely no problems with importing Diwali fireworks from China, sometimes with dragons drawn on them. We even heap praise on our noble freedom fighters who went to universities like Oxford and Cambridge to study. But somehow, foreign universities in India are going to hypnotize the youth into some evil ways that we want to protect them from. Congratulations, you can now obtain an election ticket from the CPI(M).

Moving on to the "country's stand on issues." Excuse me? Are we in China? Is there a "national" stand on issues which we're supposed to follow? Did these guys somehow miss the recent circus surrounding a certain Mr. Advani which manifested due to differences of opinion about the freedom struggle? I admit I'm getting fond of saying this in my posts - but the last time I checked we were living in a democracy and were guaranteed the right to free speech and expression. Is the Delhi University history department regulated to disallow theses and papers that are contrary to some "national" stand? Issues about Kashmir, the independence struggle, Gandhi Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose still fire up debates in this country. What possible angle that is oh-so-evil can be brought about by foreign universities? More importantly, is the educated Indian so gullible as to become a automaton the moment he hears a lecture delivered against some national stand? Today, universities serve as a forum for expression, research and presentation on ideas - not as puppets for public policy for some evil purpose.

Have these "leaders" ever mouthed the words "Indian higher education system" in a street with a single young person around? Because if they have, they could not have missed hearing the natural extension to the sentence, which goes, "... it sucks." These leaders are the ones who lament the "brain drain", but have obviously never given a thought to why it occurs. Can the fact that higher studies in India are under-funded, have underpaid and often under-qualified staff, and poor infrastructure have something to do with it? Is it remotely possible that the arrival of foreign universities will be a welcome push to Indian institutions of higher learning to become more competitive? We have the second highest population in the world and the largest IT exports of any country but if someone wants to do a technical PhD in India, they have almost no choices, barring IISc, which could also use some good funding.

Oh, how could I forget the clinching argument - they will lure away the faculty. So, these teachers are going to be residing in India, teaching Indian students but actually be getting paid adequately for it. How dare they! A teacher in India is supposed to be poor and destitute and have absolutely no claim to a reasonable paycheck, right? There are well qualified Indians from all over the world who would love to come and teach in India except that a first-year programmer earns double what they would. Is it so hard to make the leap of logic that this problem may be solved and teachers might actually be lured to India?

Charging exorbitant fees and add to the "urban elitist bias"? Firstly, since when did education ever contribute to creating a bias? There are people in India who have a lot of money - would the Left rather have these people buy trips to New Zealand every month to avoid this "urban elitist bias"? Secondly, have these people visited Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai airports in the months from July - August, and seen the throngs of students going abroad to study? Is this not creating an "urban elitist bias"... and how would this be worsened by having those students stay in India... and in any case even a private higher education will probably be a lot less expensive than going abroad.

India has grown by leaps and bounds in software exports - but has lagged behind in R&D (anybody remember Dayanidhi Maran's Intel fiasco?), and is being overtaken by South East Asian countries and China. Availability of graduates and research students are a prime factor in opening research and development centers for any company. Surely, having more education options - as well as a more competitive education market - will do wonders for economic growth.

We Indians talk proudly about becoming a developed nation and a superpower at that. Unfortunately, there is more to becoming a superpower than developing nuclear weapons. Every superpower in history - USA, Soviet Union, UK and so on - even ancient India which was considered to be a superpower had flourishing centers of learning like Nalanda University. Hands up those who think the current crop of Indian centers of learning are anywhere close to perfection. And so the situation will stay until we welcome diversity, and a competitive incentive to be better.

I suppose I'd better get back to my research. Which I'm doing at a foreign university. Guess why.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wasting time at work for dummies

Since we're all such expert time managers, the system must of course continuously strive to challenge us to greater heights. It usually chooses to do so by the method of giving us endless new ways to waste time at work.

The latest one - Scott Adam's Dilbert Blog.

Don't think that this only means another few fun words a day to read - if you've read this guy's books before, you know that he'll probably introduce you to a universe of ways to slack at work. Read at your own risk :)

The first words of the Master:
Welcome to my first blog entry.

If you’re reading this on company time, congratulations on beating the system. If you’re reading it on your own time, you really need to find a job where they pay you to do this sort of thing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

How much are a thousand pictures worth?


How often do we appreciate the sunshine in our lives? Sometimes, after ages of bleakness, the magic moment comes. When we experience, and are grateful for each ray of sunshine thats come our way. Such moments of clarity are rare, but well worth the wait.

This happens to be the 1000th photo in my Flickr photostream.

Welcome back, Little Master

14.2 Muralitharan to Tendulkar, one run, played away on the leg side and
the single takes him to fifty, Tendulkar is back !
14.1 Muralitharan to Tendulkar, FOUR, tossed up delivery outside the off
stump, Tendulkar stretches well forward and taps it away to the
fine leg fence, played it with the spin and got it well wide of
the fielder at short fine leg, fantastic shot that

Role model for jobless geeks

One day, I want to be jobless enough to be able to do this. Write a program for generating audio noise. From their website:
It's the hottest sensation to sweep the nation: Pink Noise! Also known as a signal with even power distribution on a logarithmic frequency scale, pink noise masks background noise to help you concentrate. Now with source code and white noise, for those less colorful. Drown out annoying roommates and co-workers today!
It does have its uses though - for people who can't stand silence while working but are distracted by listening to music.

Of course, I downloaded the program and it runs well. If somebody can code it (and distribute the source code) - I can definitely spare some time out of my, ahem, hectic schedule and test it. Wonder what happens when you listen to this with noise canceling headphones though. Anyone with a pair of these care to confirm?

[Update] I've been using this program and I simply cannot believe how effective this is at improving productivity and actually drowning out distracting conversation. A real gem!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Which SciFi/Fantasy Character are you?

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You? I thought I'd be Luke Skywalker, turns out the program thinks I'm his twin sister. One would think they could calculate the chromosome number correctly, but I guess you can't get closer than that!

Take the quiz, its fun.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Think different

Here's to the crazy ones.

The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things... differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.

You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do... is ignore them. Because they change things... they push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
The most inspirational ad I've ever seen. Watch it here.

Research and magic shows

"X person in Y year proved this equation. Its actually quite intuitive, if you think about it... but it turns out that if you do a ton of complex math (given in 2-3 research papers and/or a fat reference textbook), even the theory works out rather nicely."
This is the standard form of a lecture in a graduate CS theory course, and its the reason it can get so hard. The idea is that grad students should be able to understand more detailed theory and so we get it all thrown at us. The reality is, sometimes even the professors cannot fully understand the theory and its derivation - which makes going through the course like skating on extremely thin ice.

To me, a theoretical subject is interesting if I can appreciate the theory from first principles, but that kind of thing seems to to be impossible in graduate theory courses. What we're left to do is take for a basis theory that has developed over years and understand how its implemented in systems today - and how to implement it, if it becomes necessary.

Few people know how exactly to decide whether a 100-dimensional data vector with a million data points should be dealt with - but computational learning theory comes to the rescue - and tells you (somehow) whether to use ridge or lasso regression, support vector machines, naive bayes estimators or some other esoteric methods written somewhere. You're like the magician with the book of spells - a few select research papers - and using that you can solve previously unsolved problems. The few people who actually understand, make and improve the spell-book are the masters and Gods - whom we all aspire to be, somewhere and someday. Right now, it seems like we're just entrants at Hogwarts.

As Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

Monday, October 17, 2005

On my life and its hidden meanings

I like the idea of watching for signs. So I followed Casablanca's tag to find the 5th sentence of my 23rd post... the sentence happens to be:


So yeah, class is just over and its noon and I need to have lunch. And yes, I'm always hungry. Like I (or anybody else) need a sign from voodoo acts to know that.


Coming up: Still more new toys from Apple

Well, folks, it doesn't seem like Apple is giving me any rest. Next week there is yet another Apple special event with new products lined up - which will, no doubt, make me feel even poorer.

Apparently revisions of the PowerMac series and the Powerbook series are due, and about time too. Dual-core is definitely in and word is that PowerPC dual-core processors is what the new Powermacs will be getting.

As for the Powerbook, it is in desperate and dire need of some serious upgrades. I bought my Powerbook eight months ago (right on the dot of the last revision, which increased memory and CPU speeds). The very same configuration is still being sold today. Whats worse is that the Powerbook G4 has been around since January 2001, starting off with the Titanium Powerbooks and followed by the aluminum ones. Thats right, a full four years. Unthinkable, considering how fast technology supposedly progresses. Of course Apple could kind of rest easier since the G4 back then was an unbelievably fast CPU - given that it still performs comparably to Pentium Ms. We should really have had a Powerbook G5 by now, but that isn't likely to happen ever now that the transition to Intel has been announced.

Rumours have it that the updated Powerbooks will feature small speed bumps and possibly higher density displays for the 15" and 17" models. The 12" Powerbook will probably not have a denser display, though.

Possible additions to the Powerbooks on Wed:

- A new CPU (either a G5, dual-core G4 or an Intel)
- Just a G4 upgrade (whatever...)
- Higher screen resolution would be nice (rumour has it we might see a 13" widescreen Powerbook in place of the 12")
- Built in iSights (oooohh that would be way cool!)
- Superdrives standard across the board... I so regret not buying the SuperDrive PB
- Better video cards, especially on the 12"/13" (we're stuck with a 5200 for now!)

Yet another rumour has it that the Apple Cinema Displays may see a rise in spec, a reduction in price or both. About time, too - they're priced way out of line at US$699 (education price) for the 20". Comparably, I saw the Dell 2005 Widescreen at US$500 today which has better specs, multiple inputs and adjustable height. I'd go for that any day.

Again, its quite obvious how deep I'm getting into following the Apple scene for no real good reason... I doubt there's going to be anything announced on Wednesday that I'd buy immediately.

But, as the architect says, "Hope... the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength and your greatest weakness".

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A truly head-shaking sight

The things my browser remembers...

identity crisis

Its a lazy, rainy, cloudy, sleepy Saturday morning/afternoon.

I am in my lab, studying for a quiz five days away.

Is this really me?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thinking different

Apple's done it again. The two newest toys on the block are stunning products - the video iPod is packed with features and a great form factor - and the new iMac G5 is simply beautiful with its simplicity and built-in videoconferencing. As some people might tell you, I've been quite fanatically obsessed with Apple all of today. There are reports, however, that other fans are less than happy with today's product offerings.

I watched the video of today's special event. Steve Jobs is just a wonderful presenter. The video is an hour long so I guess most people won't bother going through it. When I saw it though, I figured three things about Apple as a company that come through. Not that these things are anything new, but the way they're going about their business just confirms it.

Simplicity. A hallmark of virtually all Apple products (MTRL ROKR ISNT), I think this is the single biggest reason they're so successful and easy to use. Jobs showed a slide comparing the iMac Remote to a couple of Media Center PC remotes - the iMac Remote has 6 buttons and the Media Center PCs have over 40 and are at least ten times the size. He said, "This slide more than anything captures what Apple is all about". Although an unfair comparison (a media-center PC can double for a TV, act as a programmable video recorder, none of which the new iMac does), the point remains valid - Apple finds ways to make the whole experience simpler for the user. No better example for it than the iPod scroll wheel.

Think different. Until five weeks ago, the most popular MP3 player of any kind in the world was the iPod mini. That was when Apple ditched it, and replaced it with the iPod nano. That policy was echoed today when Jobs said, "the iPod has been our greatest success till date. That means, it's time to replace it." I don't know what you think of this, but I think it speaks volumes about belief in the company motto. Companies certainly research ahead to think up new products but I've not seen many that ditch their best-sellers at the peak of their sales. I guess people could dissent over whether this makes business sense - chip manufacturer's like Intel routinely lay off releasing newer products while the older ones can still be milked. What Apple's approach does, however, is lend excitement around the company and its products, which is why Apple can generate so much publicity by just a single e-mail.

The big picture. "At such events, we like to remind ourselves, that its really about the music." With this comment, Jobs invited Grammy-award winning musician Wynton Marsalis to perform on stage, a 15-minute instrumental on the trumpet which was simply awesome. One of the true business strengths of Apple is the user experience. I'm pretty sure the iPod could have been made to handle video a lot earlier than today. Yet, it was held back until Apple made sure there was content for it - and content that people will want and appreciate - especially the TV shows. The new iMac G5 may be nothing more than the old iMac with a built-in webcam, a remote and an application, but it sure adds up to a whole new way to use your computer. The end-to-end design adds a lot of value in my opinion. A grocery store can sell both food and plates, but thats nowhere close to the experience of a restaurant where its all packaged nicely together.

And that, you would think, puts me well and truly into the "religiously fanatic zealot about Apple" category. Not so. This was just an analysis of why I think Apple manages to do so well as a company. My zealotry will probably be revealed in the next post, in which I talk about my take on the new toys. If that was a groan I heard, too bad. Come back next week if you're tired of reading about Apple :)

Apple unveils media iMac, video iPod

Apple is unveling new products in San Jose as I write. The story so far appears to be:

- iMac is now a media center type thing - with a remote control and new app called FrontRow
- New iPods can play video and have larger screens (2.5 inch). 30 gigs and 60 gigs, with the 30 gig iPod being thinner than the original 20 gig iPod
- Video content on iTMS... so far music videos and some TV shows
- apparently, TV shows priced at under 2 dollars? I find that hard to believe, but we'll see it as it comes.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Help humanity

The IIPM controversy has shown how powerful individual consciousness and responses can be in countering a seemingly large threat.

You can make an equally powerful difference by sharing a bit of your resources with people in need. The quake in Pakistan and India has left over 40,000 dead, nearly as many injured and hundreds of thousands homeless. CNN has a list of organizations engaged in relief effort and accepting donations, and South Asia quake help is a blog thats keeping track of aid and relief efforts and other quake-related news.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

IIPM and online criticism

So, some people at IIPM are probably peeved by critical remarks of Rashmi Bansal (via JAM Magazine) and Gaurav Sabnis who were the basis of some rather ineffectual, though multi-pronged attacks after publishing their statements online.

Rashmi's magazine site was attacked by an anonymous blog with one post - which I guess we'd never have known about if Rashmi hadn't mentioned it herself.

Gaurav, though, was sent what purported to be an e-mail from the legal department of IIPM which not only claimed to be a "judicially notarized e-mail" (I doubt there is such a thing) but also threatened his arrest because he apparently provided "totally false articles" about IIPM "with proven deliberate and fraudulent intentions to harm the image of IIPM and related businesses." Hmmm. I wonder who they proved it to, themselves? And do they think thats all they need to do? Moreover, the e-mail allegedly comes from someone who identifies himself as the President (emphasis mine) of the Legal and Compliance Cell of IIPM. Interesting, isn't it?

And I really wonder why they deem Gaurav's blog entry damaging enough to threaten, but nothing is sent to JAM Magazine which, after all, has got to be more widely read. Of course, for that very reason, it might have some form of legal representation, even the most incompetent of which, I'm sure, will advise the IIPM e-mail to be a total bluster.

If IIPM is officially behind such actions, though, they need to wake up. As far as I can see, everything written on Gaurav's entry or JAMMAG's article is either a fact or an opinion -- neither of which can form the basis of legal action. As an institution, you will get criticized. Deal with it. The world is far more connected that it was a decade ago. People don't rely only on obscure rating mechanisms for everything anymore. From universities to computers, consumers rate everything online these days. Whether its in a blog, or a forum or a user review online, user experiences are in. Trying to suppress them will not only fail, but backfire. It may sound completely bizarre to IIPM, but consumers actually like that kind of empowerment and aren't going to be happy if you decided to take it away from them. A bad review by one guy doesn't hurt your reputation so much as evidence that you tried to squash that review unfairly.

I've never in my life given a thought to doing an MBA -- I believe quite strongly that management, marketing, finance were subjects God intended me to stay away from. After reading all this, though, I decided to visit the IIPM website to see if it really markets itself all that impressively. And after I did, I wondered why we're going through all this trouble at all. Anyone who visits their website and applies there deserves what s/he gets. And anyone who doesn't visit their website before applying there is living in the stone age anyway. Consider:
  • On their home page, IIPM proudly claims to have an area of more than 200,000 sq. ft. Thats right, a campus area being measured in square feet. 200,000 sq. ft. is two football fields. "Spread across India with seven centers". Wow.
  • Their cafetarias are among the four headers of "infrastructure" (the others being campus, libraries and academic centers), and the opening line states "Studies along with the enchanting aroma of food and beverages make a wonderful pair". What can I say?
  • The punch quote on the main page is one by Arindam Chaudhuri, who happens to be the dean of IIPM. I guess this takes "selling yourself" to the whole new plane of "selling yourself, yourself".
  • Their claim of "strategic partnerships" has its own Alliances page on their website -- except they have not a single alliance listed with an institution. Every name on that list (as of today) is an individual, and I find it hard to understand how such a thing works.
  • For an institution claiming to have "the most technically advanced infrastructure in business schools", their prospectus is curiously distributed in low-quality JPEG image scans which you can navigate by clicking on a link for each page. Heard of PDFs, guys?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The travails of being an Apple fanboy

Buying the Powerbook pushed me over the edge. I have now joined the hordes who contribute logic to Apple's totally illogical and unsound model of advertising - word of byte. The above is the invitation to a special event to be hosted by Apple sent via e-mail to a few select websites, media people and individuals. Result?

People all over the web are wildly speculating, discussing, holding their breath, reading crystal balls - you name it. Oh, and not just the usual Mac and techie websites people. We're talking Reuters, Washington Post, LA Times and BusinessWeek, among others.

All this at the hefty cost of one e-mail. In the incredible time-frame of a few hours. I cannot think of any company announcing any product that excites the media machine this way.

There's not even a product here. We've no idea what the event's for, except that its about "one more thing", which traditionally has meant a new product launch or a serious product upgrade.

Now that we've talked about the reaction of professional media, lets move on to wilder stuff - the fanboys. Yup, people like me. Who have wasted a lot of Thursday and most of Friday checking up on the incredible amount of forum discussion and wild speculation thats revolving around this event faster than the Earth about its axis. People have hedged bets on almost any geeky product you can think of - with the possible exception of No. 10 Staples. The speculation is extremely varied. The sensible and probable category suggests a new video iPod, possibly with a larger drive and/or smaller form factor; dual-core PowerMacs, a video-capable network streaming device (video Airport Express for the fanboys) and upgrades to the iTunes Music Store. The second category suggests stuff that is improbable (not impossible), but very interesting. Included in here is the Powerbook G5 (my personal wish), the first Intel-based Mac (of any sort), a home theater system, a gaming console, an Apple phone (not the ROKR), an Apple tablet computer... the list goes on. Then there's the wild end of the speculative entries. One of them is Apple products with fuel-cell batteries, and the rest are equally insane.

There are discussions of a conspiracy theory that Apple is deliberately feeding different rumors to different websites to hide the real product up their sleeves. And us fanboys get to read and wonder about all of these, and pray, "Dear $DEITY, please let it be $DESIRED_PRODUCT". The stress of it all can really get to you. Don't believe it - well here's what a couple of the fanboys had to say.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The success of Indian democracy

Rediff is running a column with a speech by our foreign minister, Natwar Singh. He talks about the broad successes achieved by India as a democracy. He makes some good points.
The building of a democratic India has not been an easy exercise. There is no historical precedent for a billion people determining their collective destiny through a mechanism of consent. There is no blueprint or textbook that sets out a road map. We have improvised along our way, trusting the innate wisdom of our people.

Elections in India currently encompass an electorate of almost 700 million. It is a political statistic not easy to digest. Equally worth noting is that these votes have often resulted in changes of government at both the federal and state level. It is the peaceful transfer of power that is the true test of democracy. Not all societies claiming to be one have passed it. India has -- with flying colours!

One testimony to our strength is the example -- the first in history -- of a Communist Party coming to power through electoral means. In the Indian ethos, no one is outside the pale and we have stretched the definition of an inclusive society to its limits and beyond.
Besides the pleasure of an eloquent Indian political speech, this "big picture" view gave me some food for thought. We normally do think of India as an anarchic society (frequently compared to a car without a driver) with a huge number of problems -- from corruption, hunger, poverty, lack of infrastructure, religious/political strife, terrorism... the list goes on. Yet we do have an extremely functional and progressive society when seen from other perspectives -- like economic growth, education, technology, telecommunication coverage, culture and expression. Even though a large part of India is non-urban (see the Madhukar Shukla's insightful post), it too, receives a lot of attention thanks to the media, and thanks to being a large votebank.

One of India's "problems" isn't a lack of solutions - its actually a multiplicity of solutions. Problem -- not enough representation of women in Parliament. Solutions -- tons of them, from constitutional reservation of seats to party level allocation of election tickets. The important point is that there are things that can be done, and people are thinking about them. With such a diverse population its not really a wonder that there are arguments, but there are ways out of the problems we're facing and most of those ways are reasonable. Time and consensus will decide which solution we adopt but there is, nonetheless, progress.

I believe that the framework of democratic principles in India has to be doing well given these observations. Which leads me to feeling sort-of optimistic about India's future. We may take a long time to get to a place given the diverse opinions, beliefs and motivations that people have - but eventually we'll get there, because of the principles that India is based on.

A computer scientist (those afraid of geek alerts may stop reading that this point!) might compare this to a global optimization problem where the task is to get to a universal optimum of society with respect to its laws, attitudes and culture - and the way to do it is to take steps in what seems like the right direction and re-evaluate whether we did better or worse than where we were and move on accordingly. A mathematician would tell you that there is a tradeoff in taking large steps based on little information (comparable to a more dictatorial model in which a few important people make all the decisions and are relatively unquestioned), and taking smaller steps using more data (comparable to an anarchic model where a lot of people's conflicting views have to be heard and there is resistance to change). Too much of the former, and you're likely to go way off course unless your little information happens to be 100% accurate; and too much of the latter and you're likely to move too slowly to get anywhere at all. I think India's democracy achieves a good balance between the two cases.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Intervale cabin

Intervale cabin

MIT outing club has a couple of cabins in NH, one of which I went to this weekend. Nice cabin, far away from anywhere, only gas power. When we reached at night it was close to zero degrees celsius - I think thats the coldest temperature I've ever been in. Not a light in sight - and the sky was dense as a planetarium - full of stars. Its a beauty of nature that anyone living in civilization sees more and more rarely.

It was mostly a work trip - I spent all of Saturday clearing the path up to the cabin. A day spent in nature - nothing makes you more peaceful. Click the photo to see other photos from the trip.

Oh, and because I did work, I'm a keyholder and entitled to go there to stay when I want... maybe if I can rent a car and get some company I might go down there again for some good hiking.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The (decoded) short story

Here's the promised decoding of the story I wrote in my last post. Percept was right, I wrote the story as that of humanity. Specifically, a story of human consciousness progressing. Seven stages of human consciousness are represented in seven paragraphs. Each paragraph represents one stage in seven sentences by answering seven questions, which are:
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • What do you desire?
  • What characterizes your thinking?
  • What do you consider your greatest gift?
  • Who is your fellow man?
  • Who is God?
  • Why are you here?
Of course this wasn't something that I made up all on my own, a lot of material that I read was the real source. Specifically, a book by Deepak Chopra called "How to know God" primarily talks about consciousness in a similar fashion.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The short story

I was tagged to write a 55-word story, and so, here's one. Rather unconventional, though. Seven paragraphs, seven sentences each, and exactly fifty-five words. Might seem random to you, though it does have an intended meaning.

Hunger. Safety. No control. Strength. Peripheral. Unpredictable. Survive.

God. Prosperity. Patterns. Cognition. Society. Vindictive. Settle.

Randomness. Power. Rule of law. Manipulation. Competition. Science. Conquer.

Routine. Discovery. Questions. Looking beyond. Riddles. Unknown. Search.

Separation. Merging. Artistic. Knowledge. Asleep. Essence. Create.

Potential. Awakening. Aware. Thoughts made manifest. Family. Me. Save.

None. Fulfilled. Embracing. Universe. Myself. Infinite. Be.

Let me know what you think the story's about, if you could get through it, even :) I'll decode it in the next post.

For those interested in extremely short story arts, I think you'll find better ones at Story Bytes - where they only publish stories of counts in powers of 2, i.e. 2 words, 4 words, 8 words and so on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

For the good of Indian cricket

Neither the captain, nor the coach
Will the other's duty encroach
Though they bat on the same wicket
All for the good of Indian cricket

Like two children Bob and Alice
Being taken to the principal's office
Sternly told to bury the hatchet
All for the good of Indian cricket

Words they'll have, thats for sure
But team's image is oh-so-pure
Not a word they'll say to the media picket
All for the good of Indian cricket

Inflaming reports, the board can leak
Get all reporters to take a peek
Anything to get the seat they covet
All for the good of Indian cricket

We'll judge them now, they tell the mob
Based on how they do their job
Make them work and earn their credit
All for the good of Indian cricket

The talk today is all performance
Without a measure that makes any sense
But not without their favourite couplet
All for the good of Indian cricket

How in hell can anyone support
Such a blatant mockery of sport?
My blood does boil, my hands do fidget
Seeing this "good" of Indian cricket

Sunday, September 25, 2005


I love exploring close-up shots on the camera. Can you guess what this image is? (Quite simple actually, if you're like me; answer at the end of the post)


Of course, the best thing to use the macro mode on are flowers:
Pink flower

Here's another extremely close-up shot of a plaque of "Om" given to me by a friend. No more than 2.5 inches square in actual size.

And here's an oh-so-yummy Chips Ahoy cookie. I cropped a part of this image and played around with the colours a bit to generate the first picture above.

I love the macro mode. Unfortunately though, you can't use any kind of zoom (optical or digital), atleast in my camera when you're shooting something this close. I think going even the slightest bit tele changes the focal length of the lens to beyond 10 cm which means you're no longer doing macro.