Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Looking back through my posts, I see that I have devoted quite a number of them to music. So I have decided to create a separate page for this in my home page (no, it's not ready yet). This page will serve as the repository for my ramblings on this subject (my favourite bands and songs, my pet hates, and so on).

Update: A first draft of this page is ready.
I have five three Gmail invitations and have run out of (deserving) friends to send them to (yeah, I am a loser). So dear reader, if you would like one, please let me know. It could be total strangers (even people who land up here because of a Google search) for all I care; I just want to remove the annoying reminder when I log in to Gmail.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

There is a green splotch in the status bar of Firefox that says that updates are available; when I click on it, I am taken to the Firefox website which asks me to download version 0.9. But I already have 0.9.3, so I don't want to download another 8 MB needlessly and opt out.

Meanwhile, the splotch continues sit on the bottom of my browser, slowly driving me crazy...
The Tragically Hip's music, apart from being very good, has another thing going for it: incredibly poetic lyrics. The only other band that IMHO comes close to this eloquence is Metallica (you have to give them credit for achieving this when no one expects a metal band to bother with the lyrics too much).

When you compare this with crappy lyrics like "Dance into the night/Till the morning light" from dance/techno bands, you have to just sigh and shake you head.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Whatever happened to Toad The Wet Sprocket? All I Want was (is) such a great song that it's quite surprising that the band has not had any other hits. I am not even sure if they are still together. A Google search is in order.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Sun's Simon Phipps on how companies can make money off open source.

Somehow, I am not convinced. It's all very well to talk of a subscription-based business model, but I don't think Sun can hope to gain a lot of revenue from something like the Java Desktop System (BTW, I consider Sun using 'Java' in a product that has nothing to with Java pretty despicable, but hey, it's their trademark). There are plenty of distros that already offer the goodies in the JDS [*]. May be I am missing something here, but I fail to see what differentiates Sun from other such vendors (other than the fact that Sun can call it the 'Java' Desktop System).

Simon goes on to say that "Sun's editorial view is to deliver high function, ease of use, data format and networking compatibility, low migration cost, re-use of existing hardware, escape from Windows viruses and security risks and minimal retraining." Nope, nothing unique here. If you remove Sun's name from the above sentence and replace it with, say, Red Hat's, nobody would notice.

[*] But can these vendors bundle a JDK with their distros?
How does Google manage to instantly produce such accurate search results? By using pigeons.
Watched the conclusion of the women's water polo final at the Olympics yesterday. It felt surreal to watch a bunch of girls going apeshit over winning the gold. The winning team's coaching staff too joined the action and jumped into the pool. I was totally bemused by this; an Olympic gold is an Olympic gold, but considering that water polo is probably in the bottom five percentile in terms of popularity, some soberness would have been more appropriate.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Our desktops at work have been configured so that we can only use IE to access the Internet. If we try any other browser (Netscape Navigator or Firefox), we get redirected to the corporate homepage by the proxy server. Very irritating to see that when people have realised how (in)secure IE is and have started evaluating other browsers, there are still some people who have their heads buried in the sand. Unfortunately for me, neither Navigator (I could only try version 4.7) nor Firefox allow you to identify themselves as IE. I am going to see if Opera would be able to fool the proxy server.

Did I mention that corporate policy prevents us from downloading and installing our own browsers? I managed to install Firefox by uploading the executable (after renaming it as a PDF file) to my Yahoo Briefcase from home and then downloading it at work. Just goes to show that there is no way to stop someone who is determined enough to get what he wants. I am going to use the same modus operandi to install Opera as well.

The reason I am hell-bent on replacing IE is that I am not able to open any link in a new window. Googling this problem indicated that a solution is to re-register some six or seven DLLs and verifying some registry settings, but none of these worked. The next option is, of course, to reinstall IE. The fact that I lack admin privileges in my PC (another corporate policy directive) and have to run behind the admins to even empty my recycle bin (just kidding) makes me even more angry.
I think football should learn a lesson from hockey when it comes to managing time. Hockey matches are so business-like; there is hardly any time-wasting. Everybody simply gets on with their job (this is probably because the clock is not controlled by the referee, but by timekeepers). I also found it refreshingly quaint that when a substitute has to enter the field, he carries aloft the jersey number of the player he is about to replace. Yet, for all this, football continues to be miles ahead in terms of popularity.
I never knew cycling could be so much fun to watch. The Olympics men's sprint was on TV a while ago. It was really exhilarating to watch the two finalists pedalling furiously as they attempted to be the first to the finish line. For some reason, this is more real than, say, watching Formula One racing. Perhaps the fact that the power generated is entirely mechanical has something to do with it. The speeds were also quite high (may be thrice as much as a 100m sprinter can manage?).

Friday, August 20, 2004

Here is an outlandish thought: what if Saddam Hussein was really behind 9/11 and the Bush administration has proof of this, but cannot disclose the evidence that points to this without compromising themselves (and leaving themselves open to charges of treason, for example)? The irony is that even if they found some way to disclose this without allowing any blame to fall on themselves, it is safe to say that nobody would believe them (their credibility being what it is).
Google's page ranking algorithm continues to baffle me. This blog used to be the first hit if you googled for my name; then it dropped off altogether from the first page; now it is back to the number one spot again. I initially thought that this was because my blogging frequency has come down somewhat recently, but then there should be no reason for recapturing the top position. Could this have something to do with the frequency with which Google's web crawler knocks on my blog's doors?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Being so enamoured with Gmail, I have started using it as my primary email address. But Gmail is still in beta; what if Google simply decide to drop the whole idea?

I have come up with a workaround that minimises the impact of such a thing happening (unlikely though it might be):

1. Auto-forward the emails to your regular (ISP) account to your Gmail account.
2. Set the 'Reply-To' address of your Gmail account to that of your ISP account.

One drawback is that you would have proudly given your Gmail address to impress people, and if they type this address manually rather than replying to your email to them, you'll be back to square one. But considering that people prefer to reply to an earlier email even if they want to start a fresh conversation, this is not a major issue.
The Indian government has laid out a number of dos and don't regarding the national flag. One of these is that "Using the National Flag... as a portion of costume or uniform..." is prohibited.

Damn, now the Indian athletes will not be able to drape the flag around them as they do victory laps around the stadium after winning their gold medals :-)

Another gem is this (I would have posted a link, but the rules are from an advertisement in yesterday's The Hindu):

"Public [sic] may wave the Flag made of paper on occasions of important national, cultural and sports events. However, such paper flags should not be discarded or thrown on the ground after the event."

My comments:

1. I don't think anybody could have come up with a better spoof than this of a dictatorial government (a la North Korea) telling its citizen drones how to behave if they had tried their best.

2. I can see no freaking way the second rule can be enforced, given the general lack of civic sense among the people and the fact that the authorities have much more important things to do than trying to stop this from happening.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I was pretty surprised to learn that James Robertson likes Evanescence.

Fallen is one of the best albums I have listened to in quite a while. Also, IMHO, the uptempo version of 'My Immortal' is scads better than the acoustic version; the amount of emotion released by the crescendo at the end is unbelievable. Having said that, if you go back to the acoustic version after listening to the full band version a number of times, the place where the piano solo kicks in when you are subconsciously expecting all hell to break loose is nice in its own way.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Today's post is dedicated to the law of averages. A periodic reminder of its existence can be a good substitute for faith for atheists. To the believers, it is yet another manifestation of the divine law, of course :-).

Do you always screw up? Do bad things happen to you regularly? Fear not. The law of averages says that you can't keep on getting it wrong; in the long term (no, I am not talking about years here), you will get it right an equal number of times as well. You just have to be patient. That is why people say you have to keep persevering, hard work will always bear fruit, and so on.

But what if you simply cannot succeed after repeated tries in some endeavour? Then we move up and apply the law at a meta level; In the long run, you are equally likely to choose dead-end options as you are of choosing good ones. So you come out ahead all the same.

But what if you are a total loser, and everything you touch turns into ash? Fear not. In the larger scheme of things, this life is just one of your countless rebirths. In the long run...

I think you get the drift.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

This is a thought-provoking essay about economic myths.

I am not in a position to wholly accept or reject the author's premises and conclusions (but that doesn't prevent me from spouting off, of course :-)), but here are my comments:

1. Regarding the 'broken window' myth, the reason why people don't complain about the foregone comfort and leisure is that people only start protesting vociferously when an existing privilege or comfort is taken away from them; it is more difficult to take offence at something that is as abstract as a privilege that one would have obtained if things had happened in some other way.

2. Myth #5 (governments' policies to promote exports) directly contradict the actions of our government.

3. I especially like the way the author puts to the sword the actions of businessmen "[who] proclaimed their devotion to free enterprise and their opposition to arbitrary intervention into our economic life by the state. Except, of course, for their own case, which was always unique and which was justified by their immense concern for the public interest."

4. One contention of the author that I don't agree with is that envy is the chief impediment to wealth-creation and development in the Third World.
I have wondered many times how house lizards lose their tails. Today I found the reason: they lose them in fights over territory with other lizards. This was brought home to me forcefully when I was made to nearly jump out of my chair in shock when two lizards fell from an adjacent wall, grappling with each other furiously on their way down (like Spider-Man and Doc Ock). One of the lizards had the other one's tail firmly in its mouth when they landed. Somehow I managed to scare them off and probably saved the weaker lizard in the process.

On the other hand, it could have been an attempted rape that I witnessed.
Just wanted to point out a logical 'fallacy' (I am not taking sides here, BTW): if someone claims that Flight 77 did not crash into the Pentagon, and tries to provide evidence for this claim, it is not good debating technique to ask him what happened to Flight 77 if it didn't crash into the Pentagon. One should only attempt to refute the points raised by such a person on the basis of the merits of his case.
Talk about sore losers. It's not even like China lost because of a bad refereeing decision or something like that. Looks like they were beaten fair and square.
Yet another instance where quantity is valued ahead of quality: the way the folks at imdb.com attempt to validate comments submitted by movie-goers.

Having nothing else to do, I thought I would enter my comments about Spider-Man 2 in their website; I simply copy/pasted my blog entry about the movie into the comments box (after the obligatory registration process) and clicked on the 'Submit' button, only to be told that comments have to be at least ten lines long to be accepted. I promptly introduced additional line breaks in my comments, and the servlet (or whatever) at the back end accepted them without any further complaints.

Though these folks have earned my ire for trying to enforce artificial constraints like this, the fact that they didn't even use a more intelligent filter (like the number of words in my comments, for example) prevents me from honouring them by adding them to my list of people with bad karma.
An excerpt from Benoît Mandelbrot's open letter to Wall Street:

"Consider one example. Proposition: Share prices are dependent over (a) a day, (b) a quarter, (c) three years, (d) an infinite span, or (e) none of the above. All these views have been presented as unassailable in countless articles reviewed by countless worthy peers, and supported by countless computer runs, probability tables, and analytical charts"

Reinforces my loss of faith in the stock markets even more.
Notwithstanding the fact that Douglas Hofstadter doesn't think very highly of Zen Buddhism, I must say that I am getting to like EGB more and more. I guess the saying that you should not read good books too early in your life does have some merit. The fact that I have read books like The Tao of Physics, Infinity and The Mind, The Mind's I [*], The Three Pillars of Zen and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance since my first reading of EGB (more than a decade ago) has also helped me appreciate EGB more.

BTW, I think I have discovered a minor mistake in this book: a word in a typical computer's memory is made up of thirty-two bits, and not thirty-six.

[*] The essay "Is God a Taoist?" in this book is a must-read.
Here is a thought experiment: take the last seven days (what the hell, take the whole of last month) and pick the best day of this period, i.e. the one day when things happened just the way you wanted them to, when nothing caused you to want to tear out your hair one follicle at a time, when you didn't feel anger, frustration or any other negative emotion. The only catch is that you should not pick a day when a pretty rare event that gives you great happiness occurs (a day when your long-held dream came to fruition, for example).

What if you could wave a magic wand, and each day of the rest of your life would be filled with only the things that you did on this 'perfect' day? Would you be happy and contented with this? Or would you say no to this and prefer to take each day as it occurs, with its share of negative emotions, just to leave open the possibility of something truly joyful happening?

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Quote of the day:

"Is he going to put this on his CV?"
-- Richard Starnes, president of security industry group ISSA UK, in response to the fact that 70% of the virus infections this year were caused by a single person.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

One more thing you can do to an application: strangle it.

The other day I was walking through a forest when I caught sight of a squirrel gathering nuts and depositing them in its cubby-hole at the base of a large tree. This got me thinking; this could be a whole new way of looking at application development/maintenance: you gather small bits of reusable code (functions, classes, algorithms, whatever) and store them in a repository for later use. I call it the cubby-hole pattern.

Reminds me of the architecture astronauts that Joel was referring to.

I am not linking to the URL that led to this rant lest I offend some Very Important Persons. I leave it as an exercise to the gentle reader to figure it out.