Sunday, November 28, 2004

Economics continues to baffle me. To be more precise, it is the part that has to do with international trade. I keep reading that:

A. The American economy is being subsidised by the rest of the world.
B. Some people want a stronger dollar
C. Some people want a weaker dollar
D. Domestic interest rates in the U.S. would rise if the value of the dollar falls.

I have taken a course in economics in college, but I am still not able to grok the above statements. So I decided to devote some time and clear things up once and for all. First, I'll list some 'axioms':

1. Countries need dollars. They need dollars for two reasons: a) to buy stuff from America and b) to accumulate them for buying stuff from other countries (the dollar is the de facto medium of transaction all over the world for various reasons)

2. A country does not simply hoard the dollars it accumulates. It invests these dollars.

3. A country's exporters benefit if the value of the dollar increases because they can earn more equivalent local currency units.

4. A country's importers benefit if the value of the dollar decreases because they need to spend lesser local currency units to import stuff from America.

So far so good. Now I'll see how I can derive theorems A-D from these axioms.

Theorems B and C are polished off straightaway by axioms 3 and 4. In addition, the European Union would like to see the Euro become an alternate medium of transaction for international trade, so I guess they would like to see a weaker dollar, too. (BTW, I am not addressing the desires of large sections of the world's population who want to see the dollar fall simply because they would like America brought to its knees).

Moving on to the other theorems, one of the avenues of investment for a country's dollars is America itself. Since the American government is living beyond its means, i.e. it is spending more than it earns, it floats treasury bonds (which are nothing but promissory notes) to finance its deficit. Other countries use their dollars to buy these bonds, in effect loaning money to the American government. This additional money is pumped into the American economy. The availability of additional money makes credit easier, thereby bringing down the interest rates. Conversely, interest rates would rise if other countries do not buy treasury bonds [*]. This proves theorem D, if we manage to show that other countries would dump their dollars if the value of the dollar falls.

Is it a truism that people will dump dollars if the dollar depreciates? I am not inclined to believe so. There are a lot of factors to keep in mind. A weaker dollar implies that exports become less competitive, which would hurt the other countries' economies. For a country to dump it's dollars, this pitfall has to be counterbalanced by some other reasons. These could be:

a) the presence of a strong Euro
b) overriding fear of dollar-denominated imports becoming cripplingly expensive or
c) the prospect of selling dollars now and buying them back when it falls even lower.

Provided that these reasons provide sufficient motivation, countries would then sell dollars when the dollar depreciates.

Initially I had another theorem in the above list: America uses its military hegemony to reinforce/prop up its economy, but to 'prove' it would lead me into conjecture and/or conspiracy theory territory, so I decided to leave it out. Click here for an intriguing look at this aspect (it also addresses the effect of oil on the scheme of things)

[*] If the American government is really keen on attracting investment in its treasury bonds, it can offer a higher rate of interest for them. But the flip side of this that the higher interest rate will suck capital from local banks, as a result of which regular borrowers (i.e. the public) would be faced with increased interest rates.
The Taj Mahal is going to be opened for night-time viewing. I couldn't be less excited about this piece of information if I tried. In my not-so-humble opinion, the Taj Mahal has got be one of the most over-rated monuments in the world. The reason (again IMNSHO) is that it is so over-hyped that when you see it in real life, it can never hope to match the mile-high expectations that have been set.

Funnily enough, the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I look back on my visit to the Taj Mahal is bumbling around in a tomb in pitch-dark (I don't remember the reason for the darkness, though), banging my knee against one of the tombs and heartily cursing the entire dynasty of emperors and their unborn generations.
Clare Danes added to my A-List.
Some people have way too much free time on their hands, and money to blow as well. And, to top it all off, we are not even sure whether what they have done is accurate; the bozos have not done any validation:
The researchers have not yet tested it on a couple who already have children to see how closely the computer's predictions match the real thing.

Friday, November 26, 2004

From a news item about a mortar attack in Baghdad:
O'Brien declined to provide the identities of the victims, but said that none of those killed were American.
A typical example of how self-centred most Americans are. No Americans killed, so nothing to get excited about, move right along, folks...
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Considering the number of lost souls out there searching for Miss Jammu porn and wrongly landing here, I have decided to help these wayward brothers: click here to get what you are looking for (warning: you need a throwaway email address to register).

Thursday, November 25, 2004

My passion for football has been rekindled somewhat after watching some Champions League matches. I had really lost interest in the English Premier League. As I have mentioned earlier, no disinterested observer looks forward to two less-than-average teams battling it out for a draw (it's especially painful to make an effort to stay interested when you know that one of the teams is happy with a draw and that this single result will not have that large a bearing on the final standings anyway).

In contrast to this, almost every single match in the Champions League (even at the group stages) is critical, considering the depth of the teams (it's not for nothing that it is called the Champions League). You can sense the urgency of both the teams throughout a game. The quality of the game is also much higher.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

My earlier post about a former Miss Jammu starring in porn movies is getting me quite a few hits. It looks like somebody (yeah, I am talking about you, perv ;-) ) on the net is searching for downloadable pr0n starring said former beauty queen and mistakenly landing up here.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Here is a wicked thought: next time you are forced to enter some text into an HTML form (or even a plain old application) because it is mandatory, and you really have nothing to put there, simply type in "null". You will be sure to get the hapless programmer who wrote that code into trouble for not doing proper validation of input data.

(returns to underground lair to resume torturing innocent kittens)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

My Gmail account has become POP-enabled. But the port number is not 110; it's 995. The POP configuration page does not mention this (or that we have to enable SSL). Come to think of it, I referred to the Thunderbird screenshots there to set things up; when you enter the details of the POP server in Thunderbird, you are not prompted for the port number (it silently defaults to 110); you have to correct this by creating the account, then visiting the account settings dialog. I guess Thunderbird figures pretty low in the list of email clients the people at Google had in mind when they put up the help page.
The folks at Citibank need to get some pointers from usability experts. I had a query about my credit limit, so I went to their website and clicked on the 'Contact us' link. I was taken to a form where I selected my credit card number (I had already logged in), entered my query and clicked on Submit. No issues so far. But here is the catch: an answer to my query will not be emailed to me; instead, it will be posted in the same page. I just need to remember to periodically drop in there and check.

It's not like they don't have my email address, either. In the very form where I filled out my query, I saw my email address displayed. It was in an editable field, implying that the reply could be sent to another address if required.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Added two more songs to my all-time favourites list: Europe's The Final Countdown and U2's New Year's Day. The surprising thing was that for some reason my attention was drawn to these songs at the same time (both of these songs having something to do with New Year Day was not the reason, BTW).

Whenever I listen to The Final Countdown, while 99% of my mind is enjoying the song, the remaining 1% is directing pure evil towards the SOBs who shamelessly plagiarised this tune for Maine Pyaar Kiya. The saddest part is that if you play this song in Amritsar or Ludhiana, the refrain would be Arre saala, Maine Pyaar Kiya se ek dum lift kiya.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Suse crashed for the first time the day before yesterday. I was tying to configure sound in YaST and tried to re-plug the jack from the speakers when this happened.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

1. Army men accused of raping women in Kashmir
2. A former Miss Jammu being forced to star in porn flicks
3. A 15-year-old girl raped by the maulvi in her village
4. A woman turned out of her in-laws' house because they came to know that she had been sexually abused by her father when she was young. On returning to her father's house, the abuse continues; she delivers a baby (whom the sicko news anchor helpfully informs us is both the girl's son as well as her brother). Father arrested.

All these nuggets of information in a single news capsule, one after the other, in NDTV 24x7. In their defence, it might have been a Women Abuse Special.
Another philosophical question: what are the quintessential features of Firefox? What are the things about Firefox that remain invariant across different themes, font switches, window styles and other look & feel changes?

1. Tabbed browsing
2. Extensions functionality (most notably Adblock and Gmail Notifier for me)
3. Popup blocking and find-as-you-type

A pretty small list, I would say. This leads me to conclude that the primary reason Firefox has found such large-scale adoption is that it is based on a solidly built inner core (that is independent of the user interface - reminiscent of another such system). At the risk of sounding like I have a fixation on Firefox (which I probably do, considering the number of posts I have dedicated to it), you might even call this inner core the soul of Firefox.

On a side note, I have realised that I hardly make use of the address bar. Most of my browsing is done either from my bookmarks or Bloglines page, or by following interesting links. One use I do regularly put the address bar to is to copy/paste links in my blog posts, of course.

(No, I was not drunk when I made this post)

Friday, November 12, 2004

The funeral held for Arafat in Cairo was in sharp contrast to the scenes in Ramallah. Though the crowds had been cleared to make space for the helicopter to land, once the chopper landed, it was quickly surrounded by the crowds and the coffin was only removed with some difficulty. I was almost expecting a repeat of the scenes at Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral when his body was manhandled by grievers, but luckily nothing of that sort happened.

Laloo Yadav and Sitaram Yechuri represented India at the funeral, BTW.
Thanks to this story in Slashdot, one more phrase to add to my vocabulary: edit wars. These happen when a Wiki page is edited back and forth in a frenzied manner because the editors have violent disputes. There is even a Wikipedia entry dedicated to the lamest edit wars ever, which promptly got caught up in an edit war itself.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Say what you will about the man, but you've got to hand one thing to Arafat: indomitable will. It must have taken a lot of courage for him to have stayed holed up in his compound in Ramallah for so long, enduring so much hardship.

I was thinking that the unseemly spat between his wife and the Palestinian leaders could have been avoided if some agreement had been reached regarding some decent (behind-the-scenes) compensation (say $10 million) to her, but it looks like the stakes are much higher; as much as $900 million from the Palestinian Authority's treasury are missing/unaccounted for.
Firefox 1.0 has been released. This time my favorite extensions weren't mauled so badly. Only Firesomething and DictionarySearch were flagged as incompatible (oh, and WebMailCompose, though carried over successfully to 1.0, doesn't work; it just takes me to Gmail's main page. Update: works fine now, no idea how or why).

It looks like Qute and Firefox have parted ways for good. Since I *hate* Firefox's default theme, and because Qute is not (yet?) compatible, I ended up installing Noia eXtreme. My browser looks like a schoolgirl's lunchbox now. The Mozilla site seems to be straining under heavy traffic, so I cannot try out any other themes, either...

Even BBC is covering Firefox's launch.
Check this out for a (brutal) repartee to the essay I posted about earlier.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Saw a program on TV about how HIV-positive people are treated in rural Tamil Nadu for their illness; all kinds of quackery goes on, with some touting that drinking donkey milk will cure a patient of HIV. But this treatment takes the cake: rather than drink the milk of a donkey, make love to it (I swear, I am not making this up). In one instance, an HIV-positive man was forced to spend six months locked up in a room with a donkey. Needless to say, the man's health did not improve and he died.

People who suggest such treatments must be punished by being raped by a donkey kept in horny isolation for six months.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Having recently started working in Oracle again, on the server side to be exact, I am struck by how unintuitive the syntax is. To query an initialisation parameter, you would have to say 'SHOW PARAMETER <parameter name>'. To determine some other database property, you may have to fire a SELECT statement against a data dictionary view. The point is, there is no universal way of doing things. This may not seem like a big deal for someone steeped in DBA-related matters, but definitely makes the learning curve steeper. Of course, there are GUI applications like DBArtisan that hide this complexity, though I don't think they are very amenable with regard to programmability/scripting.

This got me thinking: why doesn't somebody write a parcel in VisualWorks that hides this complexity? We could have an object model that maps on to the various DB objects (mind you, what I have in mind is different from a typical client-side database package that is used for end-user database applications). For example, we could have a Database object at the top of the hierarchy. You will then do stuff like:

aDatabase := OracleDatabase new.
aDatabase host: someIP sid: someSID user: someUser password: somePassword.
allTablespaces := aDatabase getTablespaces. "returns a collection of all the tablespaces"
allParams := aDatabase getInitParams. "dictionary of init.ora parameters"

I think I will post this to comp.lang.smalltalk.
Looking at all the allegations of vote fraud in the American presidential elections, one thought comes to mind repeatedly: for some reason, Americans seem to have very liberal attitudes when it comes to conflict of interest. There doesn't seem to be any problems with someone belonging to a political party and at the same time overseeing the elections as a supervisor, for example. State Supreme Court judges can also belong to political parties, it seems. When such a judge is presiding over cases involving the party he is affiliated to, it is human nature for him to lean (even if only subconsciously) towards his party. Even if he doesn't, and delivers his judgment with the best of intentions, the verdict may still appear tainted. Why isn't something being done about this?

On a related note, if politicians in India start taking a leaf out of their American counterparts and begin to move back and forth between corporate board rooms and legislative/parliamentary assemblies, what little democracy we have will effectively be over.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Another gem from alt.poltics.usa:
When Bush won re-election, a giant bulls-eye target was suddenly painted on the head of every American.

Bush is the guy you go into a bar with, who is already drunk, and he keeps trying to pick fights with people. And they think you're associated with him. There's nothing secure about that feeling.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Some more great sigs I ran across in Slashdot:

1."I drank what?" - Socrates
2. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.
3. Repeat after me, we are all individuals.
4. Lost: Pet sig. Insightful yet humorous. If found, call 555-5555.
5. 404 - Sig not found
6. No man's an island, unless he's had too much to drink and wets the bed.
About 80 million people didn't vote in the current American presidential elections. While some of these people would have been simply apathetic, a sizeable fraction didn't vote because they saw no point in voting; both the choices were unappealing to them. What if this group, say 20-30 million people, took to casting an invalid vote instead of staying away altogether? People would start noticing this (only about 3% of the total votes cast are 'spoiled' on an average). A better option would be for these people to vote for a third-party candidate, but that would presume that their political leanings were towards one candidate, which may not necessarily be true. This way, they at least present a uniform bloc without splintering their vote.

Friday, November 05, 2004

I thought this was a satirical piece at first:
That is why the unthinkable must become thinkable. If the so-called "Red States" (those that voted for George W. Bush) cannot be respected or at least tolerated by the "Blue States" (those that voted for Al Gore and John Kerry), then the most disparate of them must live apart--not by secession of the former (a majority), but by expulsion of the latter. Here is how to do it.

Having been amended only 17 times since 10 vital amendments (the Bill of Rights) were added at the republic's inception, the U.S. Constitution is not easily changed, primarily because so many states (75%, now 38 of 50) must agree. Yet, there are 38 states today that may be inclined to adopt, let us call it, a "Declaration of Expulsion," that is, a specific constitutional amendment to kick out the systemically troublesome states and those trending rapidly toward anti-American, if not outright subversive, behavior. The 12 states that must go: California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Delaware. Only the remaining 38 states would retain the name, "United States of America." The 12 expelled mobs could call themselves the "Dirty Dozen," or individually keep their identity and go their separate ways, probably straight to Hell.
I bet somebody at The Onion is right now saying, "Damn! I wish I had thought of this idea first!".

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Andrew Tanenbaum (he of the MINIX fame), the Votemaster behind, plugging the Masters program at the university he is teaching in:
If you are a senior majoring in computer science and are seriously thinking of leaving the country due to the election results, you might be interested in my international English-language masters program in parallel and distributed computer systems.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The U.S. presidential election results have been quite a bit of a surprise to me; I was expecting a landslide victory for Kerry, considering the amount of animosity felt towards Bush by everyone.

But reflecting more deeply on this, I think I relied too much on the Internet to serve as a barometer of public opinion (even after considering that Americans are probably one of the most wired folks on the planet). It could also be that I was only seeing one side of the story, since I tend to avoid pro-Bush sites generally.

A person who doesn't spend much time online would have a consistent world-view; whatever he/she has been reading in the newspapers and watching on TV (i.e. the candidates are neck and neck, things are too close to call, etc.) would have been affirmed by the election results.

BTW, why do only Ohio's provisional votes matter? What about the provisional votes from other states? Is it because the margin of difference between Bush and Kerry is larger than the total provisional votes in other states?

I think the Democrats not thowing in the towel is more of a gesture to their supporters, to show that they are still fighting. Unless more than 75% of the provisional votes in Ohio go to Kerry (seeing that the race is so close, this is probably pretty much impossible), we are in for another four years of Bush (shudder).

BBC's online coverage of the election is fantastic, BTW. It's Flash-based, with a lot of information (going back till the 1948 elections).
A humourous comment about the US presidential elections in Slashdot:
Wait a minute... something just occurred to me!

If some insidious government officials were to approve the installation [sic] an easily-corruptible voting system in order to co-opt the election according to their agenda, and if the mass media then convinced the masses that the election is really close and could go either way, then it wouldn't be quite so transparent when the election was rigged in favor of one candidate!

Holy crap!
Either the above comment is true, or Americans really do prefer Bush. I don't know which of the two possibilities is scarier.