Saturday, July 31, 2004

Paul Graham's latest essay has kicked up quite a storm in the developer community (see here and here for two discussions on this). Paul doesn't have nice things about Java, which has not gone down well with the Java crowd.

Though Paul's attitude may be (and in fact has been) construed as elitist, I feel that what he says has quite a lot of merit. It may be unpalatable, but it's true, nonetheless. I think this person has it right when he claims that people who code 9 to 5 do not have the soul of a programmer. Personally speaking, I know that I will not get anything out of Vajra, except personal satisfaction, but this does not stop me from working on it (if it had not been Vajra, it would have been something else). The point is that I code because I want to, not because I can make money out of it (I work in an IT consulting firm, BTW, so I do make money from coding, as well. Marc Fleury has an interesting analogy when he compares people working on OSS projects in their spare time to aspiring actors waiting tables in their day job).

On a related note, there is a perception that AutoCAD and Emacs are the only killer apps in Lisp. Orbitz is another such app (may be not at the level of the other two, though).

Friday, July 30, 2004

A BBC reporter went around asking people who drive SUVs why they do so. Various answers like "It's safer", "It's better", "It's big" and so on were given. One man even went so far as to say that he did it because he could (meaning he had the bucks to afford it). But the answer I liked best was from this refreshingly candid man: "I don't know...ego?"

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"You'd think I know what I am doing..."

This is the punch line (sort of) when someone is muddling along cluelessly and the audience is wondering what the hell is going on, where is he going with this thing...

This happens a lot in real life too, the only difference being that people don't admit that they don't know what they are doing. When I was a kid I used to think that grownups had all the answers and that they were always correct; it almost seemed like they were following a book of instructions that had a list of things to do under all conceivable circumstances. Little did I realise that life was never that simple. Sometimes (perhaps most of the time) we just have to play things by the ear and trust that things turn out well. We must put on a confident and brave face even if we are internally beset with uncertainties. The best part is that things do turn out well most of the time (provided our actions are guided by noble intentions -- but let me not venture into karma territory). When they do not, we just have to learn the lesson and move on.

To end the post on a less somber note, the Iraqi defence minister has threatened to invade Iran unless Iran stops meddling in its affairs. The words 'ant', 'rape' and 'elephant' spring to mind.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The articles section of Why Smalltalk has not been updated for at least six months (probably more). Why aren't people writing articles for Smalltalk? If more interest in ST needs to be kindled, there should be some serious effort here.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Watched Spider-Man 2 today. I think they went overboard with trying to generate sympathy for Peter Parker in the first half. We are supposed to feel pity for the underdog, but in this instance I felt like adding to his misery by kicking him in the nuts. Things get better in the second half, but not by much. There is some corny dialogue about what a hero should do and all that, but strangely enough, I found it pretty inspiring (memo to self: senility ahead).

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

It appears that US Sikhs are appalled at being clubbed together with Arabs as prospective terrorists:

"That gives the impression some members of the Sikh community are involved in terrorism," said Manjit Singh, president of Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Taskforce (SMART) which works toward accurate representation of Sikhs and Sikhism in American Society and media. "Sikhs are not connected in any way to 9/11."

My comments:

1. Though Mr Manjit Singh may be correct about the non-involvement of Sikhs in 9/11, his statement is not wholly accurate.

2. I know I am again building up negative karma, but this is too good to resist: the acronym of an organisation founded and run by Sardars spells "SMART". Go figure.
From The Observer:

"After the recent publication of photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib, and the admission by the US administration that a range of coercive methods were authorised for interrogators in the war on terror, a German court would need firm evidence that the statements were truly voluntary, the official went on."

So instead of producing evidence about the crime, evidence about the way evidence has been collected is now needed (meta-evidence if you will). If this were a flesh-and-blood crime (i.e. with a murder weapon, physical clues and so on) as opposed to merely conspiracy to murder, there would have been a chain of evidence to maintain to prove the prosecution's case.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

The next time you see someone quoted in a news report that also contains things conveyed by an "unnamed official," pay closer attention: there is an even chance that both things were said by the same person. This is especially true if the two statements occur side by side (example: the Defence Minister said "we strongly condemn such behaviour," while a highly placed official in the ministry said that "the mindset of people doing such things is understandable.") This technique is used by people who do not want to get something attributed to them, but would like to see this information publicised without getting into trouble themselves.

While this is a good thing in general, allowing the public to know more than would be the case if journalists reported only what named sources said, there is also the danger that unscrupulous people will use this to spread disinformation (it doesn't help that journalists have to protect their sources, either).

Saturday, July 17, 2004

I have been learning Lisp for the last week or so. Initial impressions:

1. Lisp is incredibly elegant and fun to program in.

2. So this is where Smalltalk draws its inspiration from.

3. Being exposed just to the 'top level' (interactive command line environment) makes it easier to focus on the current function you are writing and not worry about other things (as was the case with Smalltalk for me).

4. You have to get used to some 'novel' concepts to fully appreciate Lisp (lexical closures being one of them).

5. You are better off avoiding loops and local variables. Initially it seems difficult to program without them, but the liberal use of recursion obviates their need while also producing smaller, more elegant code.

6. Though the number of parentheses you have to type may seem scary at first, you will have no problems if you use an editor like Emacs which matches these parentheses for you.

I have not gone into CLOS yet, but I have a feeling that it would just be more of the same (hopefully better).
One more reason to switch to Firefox: the Adblock extension. This extension will block all the annoying banner ads and Flash thingies in a page. Benefits:

1. Pages load much faster
2. You save on bandwidth charges (if you pay your ISP by the byte)
3. You can contribute your mite to ensure that undeserving dotcoms go out of business faster
4. Plain aesthetics; spare yourself the pain of looking at sleazy graphics
Noam Chomsky's post about the two Indias.

Friday, July 16, 2004

This paradox has been bugging me for a while now: though capitalism and communism are at the opposite ends of the economic spectrum, they seem to have some fundamental similarities: the abiding principle of communism is that the means of production are owned by everybody. If you take capitalism as it is practised today, this is exactly what its proponents are aiming for, too. When a company offers its shares to the public, they would *love* it if the entire world queued up to buy these shares. This would increase the equity capital, thereby making available more investible funds (what actually happens is that the owners make a killing on account of the boosted stock price -- but let's not go there).

What's wrong with this picture? One explanation I can think of is that, though ownership of the company is spread over a large group of people, actual control resides with the board of directors. Though the board of directors is answerable to the shareholders, they do not want these shareholders to do anything other than dutifully pocket the dividend cheques [*]. Heaven forbid that some smart investor starts asking uncomfortable questions. Even worse, imagine the mayhem that would result if all the shareholders banded together and decided that their company will henceforth use all the profits to fund charity work in Africa.

Another explanation could be that shareholders rarely display the altruism required to make communism work. A rational person will work towards maximising only his economic wellbeing.

Or, could it be that the main premise is wrong, i.e. there is a ceiling beyond which additional capital is not required for the successful functioning of a company?

[*] The fact that the CEO and other executives are running on a treadmill to increase shareholder value by trying to discover ever-dwindling avenues of growth, and doing unethical things in the process, is a story for another post.
According to the Human Development Index of the UNDP Human Development Report, India is ranked 127th out of a total of 177 countries, ranking between Namibia and Botswana. Pretty pathetic.

The report makes the usual politically correct noises, praising India for its initiatives in religious tolerance, legal pluralism and socio-economic policies, including reservation for the minorities, but I don't think they are fooling anybody.

For all the talk of Cuba being an ungodly communist country being ruled by an iron-fisted dictator, it is ranked 52nd. I do not know what more proof is required to show that blindly following the dictates of the World Bank and the IMF is not conducive to the overall wellbeing of the people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Didn't anybody tell George Fernandes that when you travel overseas, in addition to your passport, you must also remember to take your self respect with you?

Related story.

Monday, July 12, 2004

If this code were still in effect today, cinema as we know it would not exist. Not sure whether this is a good thing, though.

I especially love this part:

"...the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking."

(Yeah, and I am Spiderman)
Here is some validation that something is wrong with the policies of our government:

"I do not believe the appearance of small enclaves of prosperous economic sectors in the midst of large undeveloped or informal sectors marks the dawn of an uneven but nevertheless inevitable transition to capitalist systems. Rather, the existence of prosperous enclaves in a sea of poverty conceals an abysmal retardation in a nation's capacity to create, respect and make available formal property rights to the majority of its citizens".

The above excerpt is from The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto. This book must be made compulsory reading for all our politicians (come to think of it, a Dummies version would be more in line with their intellectual prowess).

Though I sort of agree with the central tenet of this book (i.e. it is the failure of poor countries to formalise the undocumented economic activities of the majority of its citizens that prevents them from breaking the cycle of poverty), I have some minor reservations:

1. How much of the developed countries' progress can be attributed to their exploitation of third world countries?

2. Why didn't anybody think of this before?

The problem with any theory of economics is that, unlike almost all scientific theories, it is practically impossible to prove or disprove. My exclusion of economics from scientific disciplines is not accidental, BTW. See here for more on this.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

I am getting tired of the way people poke fun at Bush's stand that "They hate our freedoms". The typical argument never talks about the fundamentalists' curtailing of women's freedoms, the freedom to practise religion in any way one pleases and the freedom to pursue an education that is not mired in twelfth century dogma. Though hatred of such freedoms might not have been the reason for the terrorists to attack America, it is one of the cornerstones of their ideology, which they make use of to recruit people to their cause.

Having said this, there are also legitimate grievances that are being used by the terrorists to further their agenda (the primary one being the Israel-Palestine conflict, of course).
Firefox has an extension called Firesomething, which substitutes for 'Firefox' with random names each time a new browser window is opened. Next time somebody asks you which browser you are using, keep a straight face and say that you are using a revolutionary new browser called 'Waterfrog'.

P.S. The Blogger spellcheck window that popped up as I was creating this post was entitled 'Mozilla Weblemur'.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

I was watching a corporate shill on CNBC the other day when an epiphany struck me: the reason I have become so cynical is that all the 'important' information I get comes from people wearing suits. I don't know why, but I have a thing against such folks. This might probably be because of an inherent bias I have against establishment figures (the number of corporate scandals that erupt with depressing regularity lends weight to my bias, as well). I would definitely give more credence to somebody like RMS who does not feel the need to conform to an image to put across his points (no, this does not mean that I am a Jesus freak).
What is the purpose of making a two-hour speech on the budget when this speech simply consists of reading from a document? Can't the government hand out copies of this to whomever is interested (and also post this on the Net) and be done with it?

We would then be spared a) the unedifying spectacle of watching our beloved legislators remove any hint of doubt about their cluelessness by displaying a look of utter vacuousness during the speech (the way they suddenly wake up and start thumping the desk in appreciation of some point made by the minister without realising what the fsck he is talking about is hilarious) and b) the captains of industry spouting their wisdom in a television studio and secretly thinking to themselves how great they look in their suits and not wondering even a tiny bit whether anybody gives a rat's ass what they think.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The odds are not that long, it seems; Holland and the (then) Soviet Union played both the opening and closing matches at Euro 1988.
Gnome has a screensaver called 'Apple' in which commands are typed at the ][ prompt, producing some graphics output like sine curves and so on. There are also random comments like 'I had a lease on an Oedipus Complex in 1981...'. Pretty cool.

Speaking of screensavers, my company has a policy of dictating which screensaver is permitted on a corporate drone's desktop. No, we are not issued a white list of screensavers that we can have; instead, all the desktops are controlled by the admins, leaving us no choice in the matter. I would have been happy if this had resulted in a golden sunset or a breathtaking vista of mountains being displayed. Instead, what we have is 'corporate policy' beaten into our heads by means of 'innovative methods'

One such innovation is an exhortation to not share our hard disks with any other employee comrade. Probably a sensible piece of advice, what with virus threats and all. But it's the way this is implemented that gets my goat: a caricature of two computers (one male and one female) joined at the back through a (RJ45?) cable, with the slogan 'Do not share your data!' (or something to that effect; since I am typing this from home, I don't recall the exact words). I might have even let this go, but for the utterly stupid and blissful look on the female computer's face (as if she is enjoying a forbidden pleasure). Somebody please tell me whether this falls under toon porn so that I can sic someone on these folks.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

So we are going to get cooking gas directly piped to our homes. One more way for hapless Indians to meet their Maker.

The baseline for GAIL is "Gas & Beyond". I can think of at least three things beyond gas, but in the interests of maintaining decorum, I'll say no more. Which advertising genius came up with this?

Monday, July 05, 2004

Thanks, Portugal, for sparing me the blushes. A team with players of the calibre of Figo, Ronaldo, Rui Costa and Maniche does not deserve to be champions if they cannot find an equaliser with thirty minutes left. The only sad part is that Figo and Rui Costa (the last of the 'golden generation') will most probably depart the international stage without fulfilling their potential. A pity, really; Figo is one of the most composed and level-headed superstars around. The way he handled the situation when the Barcelona fans abused him for being a traitor (he switched over to Real Madrid) was exemplary.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

From today's The Hindu (my emphasis):

"According to reports, a U.S. military unit recently rescued several men from a government building where they were being beaten up by a group of fellow Iraqis. The Iraqi intelligence personnel were reported to have made an interesting retort when the Americans told them to stop beating their prisoners -- that unlike American prison guards, they had at least not raped the detenus."

Though my head is fairly bursting with things to say about this, I am going to desist from making any wisecracks.
Roger Federer has not had a coach for more than six months. The absence of a coach does not seem to have had an adverse effect on his game; he is currently seeded No 1 at Wimbledon and has made it to the final. Makes you wonder whether all the highly paid coaches are really pulling their weight.

Oh, and Anna Kournikova, this is how it is done.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Today I learned that constructors cannot be native (blush!).

The workaround, if you are interested, is to declare a static native method that returns the newly constructed object. This method can do all the dirty things that you want to do (programming-wise, that is; you still have to find other ways to do your S&M stuff).
My WorldSpace receiver is permanently on Bob. Just for kicks, I tuned in to Voyager for a change. Wham!! Songs like One of Us, Mr Jones, I Just Died in Your Arms, and, to top it all off, If You Could Only See (the Way She Loves Me) hit me one after the other.

It was like meeting my long lost friends.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Talk about the timing of the Greek goal! The silver goal rule really screwed over the Czechs; had the goal been scored even a minute later (i.e. at the start of the second half of extra time), the Czechs would have had more than ten minutes to try and get an equaliser (given the level of pressure they were exerting, they very well might have). As it turned out, there was just enough time left over for the referee to bring the first half (and the match) to a close.

All these things like golden/silver goals and the home/away goals rule (Champions' League) are leading to some piquant situations in football matches.

What are the odds of the same teams taking part in both the first and the last matches of a tournament? It looks more and more likely that my prediction is going to come true.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Isn't it wonderful when someone else does your work for you? I was looking at ways of implementing the Runtime.exec() methods when I discovered that the Classpath folks have very thoughtfully provided a class called VMProcess which does just this. I simply have to delegate the exec() calls to VMProcess.exec(). Neat.