Wednesday, August 31, 2005

clean slate

Monday, August 29, 2005

California Highway 1 drive

Came acorss this cool utility for Flickr: the magazine cover, via Vinaya's blog. What you can do, is take convert any photo on Flickr using this software - all you need to do is choose the photo, enter your text, and you're done. The result can be really really cool... just see below.


Went driving on California's Highway 1 in the Big Sur area this Saturday, which has some truly spectacular views. Here are the rest of the photos.

And, by the way, there is a group at Flickr which has contributions of very creative maagazine covers created using this utility. Enjoy!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Indian cricket

This is what Indian cricket has come down to. Cricinfo's lead story opens with:
India can now look forward to the game against Zimbabwe on August 29, a first-among-equals clash between two teams that deserve their place in one-day cricket's subterranean reaches.
Couldn't have put it better myself. I don't know who it is thats more idiotic, the Indian team or people like me who still support it despite all of this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Google Talk: Whats the big deal?

Deepak asked a very good question when I posted about Google Talk earlier today:
But what is there to be extremely happy about?! So far, all we've seen is a Jabber server! Okay, maybe a Jabber server which can handle more load than any other out there.. but still.. nothing to get all worked up about!
Why am I so excited about GoogleTalk? If you see my original post, you can see that I have no dearth of instant messaging services to connect to, and thanks to software like Gaim, AdiumX and so on I don't even need to have different clients. So, why get excited about an offering from Google, especially when it represents absolutely nothing new? (In case you didn't know, Jabber - the server on which Google Talk is based - has been around for years and anyone in the world can download and host a server). The answer is simple. Two sentences, four words.

Open source. Mass scale.

Whats the most advanced feature of the latest instant messaging services that you've subscribed to? Voice chat? Webcam? Online games? Great stuff. Is it perfectly common to use these things? Unfortunately, no.

Why not? Because the barriers are too great. You use Windows (95% of my blog readers do), I use a Mac or maybe a Linux box. Even if I do use Windows, maybe I'm using Windows Messenger 4.0 and you're using MSN Messenger v6.0. Do you use a Mac? Lets do a videoconference... but wait... Apple decrees that iChat can only accept videoconference through the incredibly beautiful, but impossibly expensive, iSight webcam which costs more than Mac OS X Tiger. There are hacks to get other webcams to work, but they're painful. So the bottom line is - unless you're using the same software client on the same platform on the same messaging service - your interaction on an instant messenger is limited to one thing - text. Exceptions exist, notably Skype, which has done an amazing job of simultaneously enabling near-perfect telephony and voice chat on all three major (well the one major and two not so minor) platforms today.

Why am I excited that Google's offering is "just" setting up a Jabber server? Because its open. Go see the bug list at Adium or Gaim pages. Its filled with stuff like "When will Microsoft's WINK feature be available on Gaim?". "Why doesn't the :R emoticon work on AIM?". Or even, "My Yahoo account doesn't work anymore!" Because these services are continuously changing their data formats, standards and protocols and they aren't obliged to reveal them to anybody - leaving tons of talented open source developers doing reverse engineering round the clock to figure things out. With Google's jabber service, this won't be a problem. Even though Google has (once again) deplorably left out Mac OS X and Linux in the lurch for voice chat, clients on both can connect to the instant messaging service and if (as I hope) the voice-streaming is using a standard protocol, we might soon have some clients that can actually handle them.

Another part I like is that Google is not trying to monopolize the IM market. If I am reading the Jabber spec right, as a jabber user with a gmail ID I can as easily talk to someone using a Jabber account on some other server. Ever asked someone, "Are you on MSN?" and hear "Oops... I only use AOL"? Spread the open IM standard far enough, and these things will be past. I am thankful its not Google's intention (as some predicted) to have a client where it would do something like generate adwords based on IM conversations, or have a client like MSN Messenger or Yahoo with a zillion tabs in the software interface solving your every problem from astrology predictions to dating troubles.

Development of IM applications, extensions and clients can also take place much faster given that there is a community that is behind the Jabber software and standard. Instead of begging and waiting for a feature - go and code it yourself, if you want it badly enough. And if Google's history has anything to show, they don't intend to just have a messenger in place and be done with it. I'm sure their truckloads of PhDs and summer interns are going to be involved in taking this initiative further.

Of course, all this existed before - Jabber has been all of this and existed for a long, long time. Why get worked up over it? Because, as someone on Slashdot (where else) insightfully mentioned: "If Google ties their messenger to GMail accounts, it will have gone from zero to a zillion accounts in one day". Bingo. Heck, people call me a geek, and I don't have a Jabber account with any public server (I had one when we were playing around with implementing Jabber on PDAs in SMA). When I enthusiastically emailed all my friends that Google Talk was live on any Jabber client, the first responses were, inevitably, "Jabber? Whats that?" So here you go - Google Talk is a much more compelling reason for the average man (and I'm included in that category) to go Jabber. Conversely, its that much more incentive for developers to start taking an interest in Jabber - and thereby increasing the chances of vastly improving the IM experience.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Hiking at Point Reyes Seashore

Point Reyes Seashore in California is an awesome place to trek. I'd been there last weekend, but didn't have time to post the pictures and write-up here because Independence Day took up both my mind and blogspace.

This trek was truly wonderful and very different from most treks I'd been to.During the first part of the trek, it was extremely foggy - it was hard to see even a few meters ahead at times, making it difficult to navigate slopes either upward or down. Probably because the whole forest there stays so foggy though, a lot of the trees are without leaves on their branches, and some of the tallest ones only had branches at the very top. Combined with the fog, this generated a near dream-like effect in that area, something I had not experienced before. Occasionally I was reminded of the area filmed as Lothlorien in the Lord of the Rings. At other times, the twisted and slightly dark and swampy nature of the environment was reminiscent of Dagobah in Star Wars Episode V.


As we started downwards from the hill slopes toward the coast, we saw huge spider-webs dripping with moisture, another new sight for me. It took me a few tries to get this photograph with my only-automatic zoom camera, but finally I did manage a decent shot.


Getting to the coast meant hiking along hilly paths that were basically kissing the shore. Panoramic views on both sides showed the sea for miles on end - it was still cloudy but the fog had cleared up enough to have a good view.


Of course, the main attraction of Point Reyes is Arch Rock - a cliff jutting into the sea which gives a spectacular view of the seashore directly below.


All day's photos are here. The whole thing was quite strenuous - 15 miles of trekking in about six hours - but yet left the mind wonderfully refreshed by a whole day of beautiful views and closeness to Nature. After coming to California, I'm starting to get addicted to these nature treks a lot. Today I did not go anywhere, but by evening I was pretty restless and went for a walk around Lake Lagunita in Stanford, a short trail of a mile or so just behind my hostel. Somehow no book, music or other entertainment can quite match the pleasure that pure nature lends.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Get a life?

Scientists have discovered an organism with the smallest known genome - which has only 1,354 bases. Humans have 30,000. Some plants are known to have as many as 2 billion.

We have been trying for years with effort, intelligence, experimentation and money to define and understand life. Apparently all it takes - for this particular organism - is about 400 bytes of data.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Mirror

Look at everything you see
And see only - your Self.
Everything's a mirror -
The knowledge, the book
And also the bookshelf.

Knowledge to me, knowledge to you
Is so different - why?
A mirror of understanding
How aware are you
How aware am I?

One day a laugh
One day a tear you find
Even the very same book
Only reflects
Your state of mind.

A tome of wisdom
Or a piece of dead wood?
Is that bookshelf
An unjustly cut forest
Or an artisan's livelihood?

Yet learning gives awareness
And reading, emotions a cue
All the while
You create your experience
Your experience creates you.

Around the web

While taking a coffee break, I stumbled across this study about caffeine. The latest attempt to slow down productivity across the globe involves investigating the effects of caffeine on spiders. Yes, thats right, spiders. Apparently the web designed by a caffeine-dosed spider is the most disorganized among a host of other drugs, including marijuana. Of course they fail to mention that its also probably the most creative web. Cheers!

Pixar graphic artists on vacation stick to their activities - except they do it with charcoal, pencil and sketchbooks instead of tablet PCs and Adobe Photoshop. This has given rise to a whole new activity called SketchCrawl, which describes itself as "Drawing marathons from around the world" - a day devoted to wandering and sketching.

Namit has been to Ladakh and brings us back some beautiful snaps. He calls them "lousy digital prints of my camera films" but they're way better than my camera can capture, I can tell you that!

Lay people usually find it quite hard to understand the concept of RAID, explained in technical terms. Here's a picture explaining the various forms of RAID using nothing but standard water coolers, just in case you don't have an hour and a half to read the Wikipedia article.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Celebrating Independence Day


The Stanford Indian Association held a great celebration function on Monday evening - some singing performances, one dance performance and of course singing of the National Anthem. Its quite nice to know that 15th August is celebrated in some form or other in so many places!

Yet another thing that makes me feel proud is that no matter how many Indians are gathered and how diverse they may be, when we sing Jana-Gana-Mana, it comes out so beautifully. Not a note is out of place - and the pauses between stanzas are 100% perfectly timed. I guess its because no matter what else we did in school, we practiced singing the national anthem every single day!

Took some photos of the event and they're here. I even took a few videos of the performances; great way to test out a web service I recently signed up for. You can see my uploaded videos by going to this page. All you'll need to view the videos is flash. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

India in images

I came across this post (via DesiPundit) today and decided to explore Flickr for myself to check out images of India.

Click on each image to view a larger photo. A couple of images can't be directly linked, so I've just given hyperlinks instead of photos.

By Suyog Gaidhani

By simon62

By DeepakG

By babasteve

By Zoom Zoom

By ToBNot2B

By canterel

By Leanne Chan

By Pimliclive

By Tom Ward

By ArunShanbag

Flag and Lights (click to view)

By miiah

Holi Festival (click to view)

By amsabri

Monday, August 15, 2005

Jai Hind!

It was around this time, nine years ago, that I realized that I had an option to go abroad (foreign jaana, we used to call it then) for my education. And after a lot of debate with myself, using arguments I can only describe as juvenile, I decided to take off.

All the years of studying abroad have made me realize - your home is never entirely your choice, at least not at the conscious level. I have grown mostly outside India and there is simply no denying that I have seen sights, gained education, and lived in comforts beyond what would probably have been possible back home. The words of my aunt who told me when I left: "You'll find no reason to come back when you've settled down there" should make sense. They never have.

At first, when I used to tell people back home that I'll get back and settle in India eventually, people used to laugh and tell me I just wasn't settled enough yet. When I tell them the same thing today - some of them think I'm lying, even to myself. Others think that the tide has turned and after all, with the progress in India, NRIs would definitely want to come back. What's the reality?

For me, the reality is that my mindspace is like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that fits in only in one place. While I can hang my hat anywhere from Bangkok to Boston and sleep off in an instant, the feeling of belonging and perfect peace I find nowhere but on Indian soil. Its in the things that people think little about these days. When I go back to Mumbai, I make it a point to commute by the fast train during rush hour - I get the strangest thrill out of an exercise that frustrates even many Mumbaikars daily. Illogically, I eat street vada pav every day for a month because it tastes better than the juiciest butter chicken the best restaurants in Singapore can prepare. When someone tells me its impossible to tell that I've lived abroad for so long - I feel a sense of pride that I would still describe as juvenile. If I find myself in Delhi I still look up my favourite old bookstores in Chandni Chowk. I actually feel more comfortable in crowded places than spacious ones. Not a week goes by without me calculating and recalculating when I can finish my education, fulfill my obligations because of it, and get home where I belong. Like many in India, I'll gladly live there and be happy without apparent reason.

To the most delightful nation there can ever be - Happy Independence Day!

Friday, August 12, 2005

A rare sight

Four people in Singapore were protesting in front of the CPF building demanding more transparency in government financial proceedings. Riot police in full gear were dispatched to handle the threat.

Yahoo News Story link

SDP link

[via Friskodude]