Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Paul Graham's essays

Of late, Paul Graham's essays have begun to put me off. I don't think it is because of any change in their style or content. May be it's just me, but I find a recurring theme in them:
  1. How he has made it big because he's so smart and clever.

  2. He doesn't want to come right out and say it, but he considers himself a great hacker.

  3. Others would do well to pay heed to his advice (with regard to hacking, starting a startup, or becoming a good writer) so that they too can enjoy his success.

  4. How the folks he hangs out with are such a cool, smart bunch of people.
Needless to say, I no longer subscribe to his feed.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Movie Review: Shall We Dance

Movie Direction 101: a movie should have a high point towards which the storyline builds, preferably with suspense. This high point is called a climax and should occur at the end of the movie. Any tension built up as we are led to the climax should be resolved then, ideally in a positive manner so that the moviegoers are left with a sense of wellbeing. Unfortunately, this basic principle is not followed in Shall We Dance; the climax occurs some 15-20 minutes before curtains, and doesn't have a happy ending, either. I'll just leave it at that, except for these comments:

  1. What's up with the 'intimate' moment between Susan Sarandon and the private detective, when you are led to believe that they are going to kiss and start an affair? Other than cheap titillation, that is.

  2. The second half (especially post-climax) is like a freaking documentary.

  3. The scenes of camaraderie at the dancing school are the only watchable scenes in the whole movie.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Movie review: Polar Express

We had planned on watching Shall We Dance, but had to settle on Polar Express because Shall We... was cancelled unexpectedly. Good thing, it turned out.

Polar Express is a delightful movie. Though it is primarily meant for children (we were feeling slightly out of place in the theatre, being surrounded by kids -- most of the other grownups were escorts for their children), the story is handled in a pretty mature way; there is not much of the usual wheee-we-are-all-happy-kids-watch-us-fart-around-with-nary-a-care nonsense.

The animation is quirky, though. The action sequences involving the train were very good, but the facial expressions of the children sometimes made them appear, well, retarded.

Obligatory favourite scene: ski-ride on top of the train with the ghost.

Printing blues

I wanted to title this post as "Epson sucks" initially, but changed my mind, because, all things considered, I am pretty much satisfied with my printer.

All the cartridges in my Stylus CX4500 ran out of ink (more on that later). Since I don't do much of colour printing, I thought I would buy only a black cartridge. But when I fixed the new cartridge, the printer still refused to print. After a phone call to the customer help line, I learned that:
  1. Epson printing technology is different; you need all cartridges even if you are only printing black and white documents.

  2. You may think that you are not using up the ink in your colour cartridges, but if you print more than 15 pages per minute of black and white stuff, the colour ink gets used too (black is, after all, a mixture of all colours -- or is it white? Never mind).
Bottom line is, I have to shell out an additional 1125 bucks.

Friday, March 25, 2005

//TO DO: think of a nice title

I think I should be more selective in installing the patches suggested by Susewatcher. Since my Linux box is not directly exposed to the outside world (it sits behind my Windows machine -- I know, it should be the other way around, but since my DSL USB modem works only with Windows, I don't have much choice), the security patches aren't very critical for me.

In addition to incurring bandwidth costs, I suspect that some of these patches could be making the computer intermittently slower; when I perform some action, there is a two/three second delay, followed by a clickety-click from the CPU case and then the machine responds. It's almost as if the computer has gone to sleep and has to be woken up.

Narendra Modi and Henry Kissinger

At this rate, I wouldn't be surprised if Narendra Modi ends up in the same predicament as Henry Kissinger, afraid to travel outside his country for fear of an arrest warrant being issued against him. There are enough expatriate Indians all over the world whose hackles have been raised by Modi's actions that this is a very real possibility.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Good old Mozilla

I (re)installed Mozilla today in order to try out Epiphany, since Epiphany uses Mozilla's rendering engine. After checking out Epiphany -- it's OK but doesn't have that much flexibility -- I did a bit of browsing with Mozilla; I have to say, its rendering is definitely faster than that of Firefox (BTW, Firefox 1.0.2 is out).

If it weren't for Adblock, Gmail Notifier and other goodies, I would definitely make Mozilla my primary browser.

VisualWorks is not just a GUI framework

This is an old article, but incorrect nonetheless:
This crucial ability, which is the impetus behind the Composite design pattern, is routinely implemented by object-oriented graphical user interfaces (GUIs), such as Swing or VisualWorks Smalltalk.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Backup for Bloglines

I have created an account with Newsgator as a backup for the times when Bloglines is down. Though I have subscribed only to 23 feeds, creating them in Newsgator was pretty painful. I realise that it is not in the best interests of the online feed aggregators to provide a common format for exporting/importing one's feeds (since this would prevent lock-in and force them to compete solely on the strength of their implementations), but it sure would be a nice feature to have.

Newsgator looks OK, but not as good as Bloglines. The default option is to retain all feeds as unread; one has to manually mark them as read. The site was also a bit sluggish, but this could just be a temporary thing. Though the UI is pretty neat, Bloglines' feels cleaner.

Indian government earns bad karma

Looks like the Lok Sabha has put a stop to the good work being done by the Indian pharmaceutical companies. While it is fair that the research done by pharmaceutical companies (not the Indian ones, but companies like Pfizer) should be rewarded in the form of patents, an exemption could have been made for the AIDS drugs at least; this is too serious a problem to allow profit motives to influence decision-making.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Yellow Times shut down

...due to lack of funding. I had stopped visiting this site a while ago, so I am not sure when exactly they folded. Hope this is not permanent.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Quote of the day

"'s a sad commentary on the world today that the choice for leader of the World Bank is an Irish rock singer or Wolfowitz, Bono or Bonehead."
-- xymphora

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Broker

  1. Grisham could have gone a little easier on the Italian-travel-guide motif.

  2. This book almost seems to have been written with a movie in mind.

  3. Towards the very end of the book, there is a small bit of corny dialogue: when Joel's son asks him what he planned to do, Joel says (paraphrasing slightly here), "Back to what I've always done, son. Cutting deals."

  4. Definitely not one of Grisham's best.

Deepak Chopra and the EPR experiment

The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment is often touted as an example of the bizarre nature of quantum mechanics: two elementary particles with complementary properties (spins of +1/2 and -1/2) are separated by an infinite distance (well, not really infinite, but infinite for all practical purposes). We do not know (in fact, neither do the particles themselves) which particle has which property, but only that if one particle is measured to have a spin of +1/2, the other one will be found to have the opposite spin (-1/2).

After this separation, we measure the spins of both the particles simultaneously and find that the spins are as expected. The only catch is, since the particles themselves don't 'know' what spin they have, how did they coordinate between themselves (at a rate faster than the speed of light) and decide which of the properties each will exhibit? This sort of communication is termed a 'nonlocal' connection.

Deepak Chopra really goes to town with this nonlocal connection in his book Synchrodestiny, employing it to 'explain' such phenomena as how the human body performs the various metabolic activities so that one can enjoy a jog at the beach, how cognition is effected by the "'phase and frequency locking in' of the firing patterns of individual neurons in different parts of the brain," and so on.

I stopped reading Synchrodestiny after about a hundred pages or so. The problem with these books which attempt to draw legitimacy from science [a plague on your house, Capra, for starting the whole thing ;-)] is that you already have to be a believer to get anything positive from them. If you read them with an open mind, you end up shaking your head in skepticism at sentences like these, which have to be taken on faith, since there is no way to prove or disprove them:
We are both local and nonlocal, an individual pattern emerging from nonlocal intelligence, which is also part of everyone and everything else ...The personal, local part of the soul exists at the quantum level.
It would be worthwhile to keep these things in mind when evaluating any New Age mind/body/spirituality theory:
  1. All our sensory experiences are electrical impulses carried by our nerve cells. If somebody claims to have experienced something 'special,' it simply means that the corresponding impulses were registered in his brain. Whether they came about because of a genuine experience or not is another story altogether.

  2. What we call our 'mind' could be nothing more than the epiphenomena associated with the functioning of our brain.
BTW, I am not claiming that all the unexplained phenomena are hoaxes; just that some of the explanations need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Wanted: Paste and Go extension for Firefox

Title says it all.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Greek sprint duo cleared of doping charges

They did this, and were still cleared?
The pair then spent four days in a hospital, claiming they had been injured in a motorcycle crash.
Looks like somebody pulled some strings.

The Gorilla in the Room

Following in the footsteps of xymphora, here is another anonymous blogger with way more credibility than the MSM.

US denies visa to Narendra Modi

The American government has denied a visa to Narendra Modi. I think this indicates the seriousness of his crime; to get into the bad books of the American government which is as far as one can get from being a paragon of virtue takes some doing. And he has the gall to call this an insult to the Indian constitution.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Quote of the day

"I would agree with that statement. To privatise would be a no-brainer. It would only be thought about by someone with no brain."
Philip Carroll, former CEO of Shell Oil USA, on alleged plans of privatising Iraq's oil fields

BTW, this program (BBC's Newsnight) strengthens the claim that the decision to invade Iraq was taken well before 9/11.

Baramati Bus Stop: Web Documentary

Here is a post by Andy Carvin about a web documentary about teaching computer skills to children in Indian villages.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

How to survive the next outage

I discovered that allows you to export your bookmarks to your browser, but this works only in Windows. However, instead of adding the bookmarks to the browser, here is a better way (actually, I am making a virtue out of a necessity, since this is the only workaround if you are not using Windows):
  1. Click on the 'Export' link in your bookmarks page and click on the 'Export' button in the next one.
  2. After observing that your browser bookmarks remain unchanged, turn your attention to the browser window.
  3. You will notice that a new HTML page has been built, which sort of mimics your bookmarks page.
  4. Save this page to your hard disk.
  5. Add a bookmark in your browser to this saved page.
  6. Now you are all set to tackle the next outage.
If only Bloglines had such an export feature for the feed URLs as well...

I used to be an AdSense ToS Violator

Oops, looks like one of my earlier posts was violating the Google AdSense Terms of Service.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

If I am really, really bored...

I'll think up titles for all the 250 or so posts I have made so far. Come to think of it, this would be a nice way to polish my skills as a newspaper headline writer.

Iranian serial killer executed

A serial killer has been gruesomely put to death in Iran. Even if his crimes were horrific, he could have been executed in a more humane manner. The article doesn't mention it, but I think this is more of Sharia in action. This provides more ammunition for those who agree with Berlusconi's comments following 9/11.

Submitting stories to Slashdot

My record with submitting stories to Slashdot is 3-0 (Rejected - Accepted). Granted, two of the stories had already been carried (my bad for not noticing this), but the third one was rejected because it probably didn't suit the omelette.

As a mark of protest, I have created an account with kuro5hin ;-) BTW, K5 dispenses mod points to everybody it seems -- unlike Slashdot which sort of considers this a bestowed privilege.

The discerning reader would have noticed that this post has a title. Thank you very much. No, it wasn't much trouble. Just had to turn on a Blogger formatting option.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Turns out it is possible to give titles to your blog with even a free Blogger account. I'm still trying to figure out how to create categories.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

March 10 marked the fifth anniversary of the day that the Nasdaq hit its all-time peak. This article covers the story. One thing I take exception to is that the stories cited as dotcom successes invariably end as:
"...the internet incubator Antfactory, which he co-founded, was sold in 2002 for £77m"
"...First Tuesday - was sold in late 2000 to an Israeli internet company, Yazam, for £26m."
None of them end with the founders successfully turning a profit and continuing to grow their businesses. The bottom line still seems to be "Make money fast, and get out."
Bloglines has been down for most of the day. Sad part is, I don't have a backup of my feed URLs. Guess it's time to dust off a desktop RSS client, at least for situations like these.
Firefox tip: If you don't like the small size of the Google search box or would like to use the address bar itself as the search box (a la Netscape/Mozilla), replace the 'keyword.URL' property in about:config with '' (without the quotes). Now you can remove the Google search box altogether from the navigation toolbar.

Mind you, you lose the flexibility of using multiple search engines, though.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Type 'about:mozilla' in Firefox's address bar and this is what you'll see:
And so at last the beast fell and the unbelievers rejoiced. But all was not lost, for from the ash rose a great bird. The bird gazed down upon the unbelievers and cast fire and thunder upon them. For the beast had been reborn with its strength renewed, and the followers of Mammon cowered in horror.

from The Book of Mozilla, 7:15

Having grown tired of posting to my blog using Blogger's web interface, I googled for a Blogger client for Linux and decided upon BloGTK. After resolving some dependencies involving Python and GTK (YaST keeps proving to me how indispensable it is), I managed to get it up and running.

BloGTK is OK, but the spellcheck seems to be broken; it blithely announced that there are no misspelled words even when I deliberately introduced spelling errors (to be fair, this might have be addressed in 1.1; I could only install and run 1.0).

I have wondered for long how I can create titles for my posts or classify them into categories; now I know how: there are text boxes in BloGTK for doing this. The only problem is that these text boxes are disabled. Looks like I will have to get a premium account with Blogger for this.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Man United are out of the Champions' League. My happiness would have been complete if Chelsea had joined them too. Not that I have anything against Chelsea per se; I just want to see the arrogant smirk wiped off Jose Mourinho's mug.

Though both the matches were pretty gripping affairs, the Chelsea/Barcelona match will go down in the annals of European football as one of the all-time classics. When I switched over to ESPN after the completion of the Milan/United game, the scoreline read 3-2 in Chelsea's favour (I was watching the replays -- I impose a news blackout on myself so that when I watch the replays, they are, to all intents and purposes, live matches for me), but the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was pretty subdued. Turns out Barcelona had pulled two goals back, after trailing 0-3. But this was to be the end of their fightback.

The third match of the day is a contender for Ripley's Believe It Or Not: Lyon thrashing Werder Bremen 7-2.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Let me get this straight:

1. Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States.

2. If Venezuela cuts off its supply of oil to the US, oil prices will skyrocket, thereby causing widespread economic harm to the US.

3. Ergo, in order to safeguard American economic interests, Chavez has to be assassinated.


Monday, March 07, 2005

My run-in with bad movies continues. Having walked out after half an hour or so of Black (who the &^%* put the idea of speaking English with a British accent into Amitabh Bachchan's head?) three weeks ago, it was the turn of Sins yesterday.

Let's start with the language first. Though listening to the characters speak in Indian English is quaint, it quickly becomes irritating. The incredibly stilted dialogue doesn't help either. It would have been much better if the movie had been shot in Malayalam (or even Hindi) and English subtitles had been provided.

The director probably had good intentions when he decided to leave certain things unsaid and let the audience figure things out by themselves (a refreshing change when compared to movies where the other side of a phone conversation is repeated verbatim so that the audience doesn't miss anything), but he could have gone easy on the "One/Two years later..." stuff.

I wouldn't blame the actors for the bad acting, considering the constraints placed on them because of the script and language choice (but that's no excuse for some of the hamming that's on display).

Having said all this, Sins is still a watchable movie if you just go with the flow (and enjoy the steamy bits, of course). Watching the movie in a nearly-empty theater with a bunch of like-minded folks poking fun of the corny dialogue and laughing irreverently in all the wrong places helps, too ;-)
Some good analysis about the root causes of Islamic terrorism from Juan Cole. I was reading along and mentally nodding in agreement, until I reached this sentence:
To this litany of Occupations [sic] that produce radical Muslim terrorism, Chechnya and Kashmir can be added.
He concludes with:
Some just disposition of the Kashmir issue must be attained, and Indian enormities against Kashmiri Muslims must stop.
IMHO, I would not club Kashmir with the other hotspots like Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya, Syria and Lebanon, for the simple reason that the onset of terrorism in Kashmir didn't coincide with the start of the so-called occupation; it required an external trigger ("death by a thousand cuts").

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Formula One season has kicked off. Michael Schumacher is languishing in eleventh place as I type this. Looks like the new regulations have levelled the playing field. I'll wait till the end of the race before gloating.

I think the Star Sports commentators have been told to say some nice things about Narain Karthikeyan if only to keep the Indian viewers happy. We hear that Karthikeyan is a "charger," "not intimidated by the big guys" and so on, with no mention being made of the fact that he is two places from the bottom.
Is it too much to ask that Blogger's spellcheck software recognise the word "blog"?
Dave Winer threw down the gauntlet at Kottke for implying that Dave was against the Google Autolink feature because Google chose to buy another blog company instead of UserLand. He asked Kottke to either have the guts to mention Dave Winer explicitly or STFU.

I was looking forward to some fireworks, but it looks like Dave forgave Kottke or the spat was settled offline; the challenge has been removed from Dave's blog post.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Something's wrong with BBC's RSS feed. Some stories keep appearing at least four or five times a day. This is all the more irritating when the story is about el freako.
Interesting tit-bit: The domain name was purchased from a girls' soccer team.
You learn something new every day.

I have a bunch of dynamic libraries that implement the native methods of the Classpath reference implementation classes. These libraries refer to Vajra internals via header files. Problem is, you not only need these header files, but also the implementation files while building the .so file.

Not having used shared libraries that extensively (from a development perspective, that is), this was news to me. I thought it was enough for the code calling a function in the library to be linked to the class definition object file and the function will resolve the symbol from this (both share the same address space, after all).

Anyway, I discovered this by using valgrind. valgrind, in addition to checking memory leaks, uninitialised pointers, etc., also shows the above class of errors (undefined symbol in .so file). Such errors are not always reported in such a straightforward way when the program is run without valgrind; you only get segmentation faults or illegal instructions, making it harder to pinpoint the problem.