Saturday, April 30, 2005

Friday, April 29, 2005

Quote of the day

"... most modern politicians would rather plead the fifth amendment than directly answer even the simplest of questions."
-- Brian Sedgemore, British MP

There are also some great putdowns:
"(To) describe him as bloody useless would be to heap high praise on him."
"(Gordon Brown) has a massive intellect but no backbone"
"He is in office, but not in power"

Chelsea 0 - 0 Liverpool

An absorbing match, even if there were no goals. Just goes to show that even goalless draws can be exciting if you are in a knockout tournament. Compare this with the dull affairs in the Premier League when neither team has an incentive to go for a result.

If Liverpool is able to fully leverage its home advantage in the second leg, we might even see Chelsea knocked out (from my lips to God's ears :-) )

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger

I am sure Tiger is great and all that, but both these sentences seem straight out of a PR press release:
Spotlight can rapidly find almost any file, any time -- even years after it was created, and even if it is hidden among tens of thousands of other files.
and
Spotlight could spark a major change in the way people use computers.

'Meta' is a dangerous word

I have two reasons for coming to this conclusion; the first one frivolous, the second a bit more serious:
  1. When used to denote higher levels of abstraction, it causes confusion and a lot of hair-pulling.

  2. There seems to be a link between this mode of thinking and the subject-object dichotomy that the mystics are forever asking us to step out of. This dichotomy arises because we think about something ('about' being the operative word here), rather than experiencing reality as it is. Come to think of it, isn't 'meta' the opposite of tathata, Sanskrit for suchness?

XMI interoperability

I had to export a class diagram in XMI format from ArgoUML to Poseidon today. The export/import went through without a hitch; only problem is, the graphics disappeared somewhere along the way. All the model objects were faithfully reproduced in the explorer window on the left, but no boxes or lines. Looks like neither of these tools implement the diagram interchange specification. To be fair, I don't know whether this spec has been adopted by all the tool vendors yet.

The reason for moving to Poseidon is that there doesn't seem to be any way to specify user-defined stereotypes in ArgoUML (or, if there is a way, I couldn't figure it out). Anyway, Poseidon, in addition to having this feature, also feels slicker and faster. The only catch is that even the Community Edition seems to be limited by an evaluation key and trial period.

Milan 2 - 0 PSV Eindhoven

The scoreline, taken with the first-half action, would lead you to believe that Milan had it all sewn up, but it wasn't so. PSV had a number of chances in the second half (they really turned things around after allowing Milan to dominate them in the first 45 minutes). Had they not conceded a 'soul-destroying' second goal, things would have been pretty even going into the second leg. It could still turn out alright for them, but beating Milan's defences twice in a game when Milan has an ongoing seven-game shutout streak looks unlikely.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Movie Review: Hitch

  1. Some of the dialog is really sharp and fresh (case in point: when Will Smith meets Eva Mendes for the first time).

  2. Kevin James' bumbling antics are worthy of some laughs.

  3. The scene where Will Smith makes up with Mendes is incredibly lame.
All in all, if you have nothing else to do on a Saturday evening, are a Will Smith fan and are looking for some mild entertainment...

Benedict prayed 'not to be Pope'

Pardon my French, but what a crock of shit. If he didn't want to become Pope, why didn't he just decline it? Methinks it was more likely that he was secretly praying that he would be the chosen one; the reluctant-prince-act is just a sham.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Alonso wins at Imola

At long last, I got to watch a thrilling F1 race. There were times when it looked like Schumacher was going to pull it off, but Alonso held his nerve and didn't allow himself to be passed, unlike Button.

I initially wanted to link to the official Formula One site, but those bozos have disabled right-clicking altogether, making it difficult to even copy a hyperlink. Instead, they display a stupid message that says that the contents of the entire site is protected by copyright (I've got news for you guys: it's not very difficult to re-enable the right-click).

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Roadkill

The East Coast Road is a very scenic highway that runs along the Bay of Bengal, connecting Chennai to the other coastal cities of Tamil Nadu. There are some breathtaking spots along the way -- dense casuarina groves, isolated beaches, and so on. I am planning to shoot some pics and upload them here, as soon as I get a digital camera.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to comment on the ECR, but rather on the plight of dogs that stray on to the path of vehicles speeding along this road. Every once in a while, I come across the remains of some poor dog or puppy (I even saw a cat once -- makes me question the whole cats-have-nine-lives thing) run over by a truck. When this happens, the whole day starts off on the wrong foot for me.

The thing is, there seems to be a morbid fascination here; I simply can't look away from the mess as I pass it; I have to get a good look, even if it makes me nauseous. The flip side is the relief I feel when I spy some splat on the road ahead, and upon coming closer, realise that it is nothing more than a piece of paper or cloth.

Once I saw the remains of a dog by the side of the median that showed the phrase "ash to ash...dust to dust" in a whole new light as it decomposed over the three or four days I passed the spot on the way to work.

*Heads over to penisbot.com to take mind off macabre things*

Friday, April 22, 2005

Gmail POP3 goes crazy

When I retrieved my emails from Gmail from Thunderbird, for some strange reason it started resending older emails which I had long ago retrieved, from as far back as last November. Hope this doesn't recur; imagine the bandwidth costs if my entire 160 or so megs of emails get pumped back to me. Probably this is why they still call it beta.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Zone

Athletes often speak of being in "the zone" -- a state where the energy and will expended by them appear to come effortlessly and lead to record-breaking performances. From The Celestine Prophecy: An Experiential Guide:
"The athlete goes beyond herself; she transcends the natural. She touches a piece of heaven and becomes the recipient of power from an unknown source...the performance almost becomes a holy place -- where a spiritual awakening seems to take place. The individual becomes swept up in the action around her -- she almost floats through the performance, drawing on forces she has never previously been aware of"
and
"Skiers tell of the magic moment when you are right on the mark, when everything falls into place and the only sensation you feel is the ecstasy of what you are doing. Skier, skiing, skied are one."
Capra speaks of something similar, too (the reference here is to archery):
"...to draw the bow 'spiritually', with a kind of effortless strength, and to release the string 'without intention', letting the shot 'fall from the archer like a ripe fruit'. When he reached the height of perfection, bow, arrow, goal and archer all melted into one another and he did not shoot, 'it' did it for him."
Though I have become skeptical of touchy-feely New Age crap in general, I think there is something authentic going on here. I have sometimes experienced this feeling when driving. There comes a time when the whole world is defined by the contours of the car's windshield (or by the edges of the helmet when I am riding my bike); the only sounds you hear are the purring of the engine and the occasional swooshes of vehicles from the opposite direction. You perform the various actions like braking, shifting gears and changing lanes with a complete sense of detachment. Though these actions don't seem to have the conscious approval of your brain, they are the 'correct' actions. You don't want this feeling to end, ever, because if this isn't living in the present, nothing is...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Model Driven Architecture

I am currently reading Model Driven Architecture by David Frankel. Notwithstanding its small size -- 300 pages, this is one helluva deep book. Some parts (especially those not targeting PHBs) have to be read more than once to wrap your mind around the concepts. The chapter on the Meta Object Facility is a case in point. There are so many levels and metalevels (the MOF model is actually a meta-metamodel) that it's very easy to lose track of the context unless you pay very close attention.

On a side note, this brings to mind an experience I had when I was cramming for the JEE. There is a hefty volume by M L Khanna that is sort of a bible for the JEE maths exam, which contains a challenging section on probability theory. I remarked about this to a friend who was also preparing for the exam, and he advised me that it was a pretty small section (I think it was around 30 pages or so), and, considering that probability theory was expected to fetch about ten marks in the exam (ten marks may not seem like much, but are absolutely crucial in an exam as competitive as the JEE), I'd do well to read it even ten times, if necessary, to ensure that I grasped the concepts thoroughly; which I did, though I didn't have to read it ten times, of course. Though I have pretty much forgotten all the maths I had to learn then, this piece of advice has stayed with me all these years. Both of us cleared the exam, BTW.

The best thing I like about Model Driven Architecture is that the author doesn't have any axe to grind or any hidden agenda. He takes a no-nonsense approach, stating clearly the areas where much work remains to be done; there is no hype that MDA is the best thing since sliced bread, it's going to take the field of software engineering by storm, and so on. In short, short on hype, but long on facts.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I am a dumbass

All the great Firefox extensions are also available for Mozilla.

Since 1.7 is most likely the last release, it is only fair that I install it and give it a whirl, for old times' sake. Who knows, with all my favourite extensions, I might even prefer it over Firefox.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Jo Coke chahe ho jahe

Alexander Cockburn writes about the harm Coca-Cola has inflicted on marginalised Indians.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Firefox 1.0.3 released

Bloglines down again

Not able to log in manually, but the Bloglines notifier is somehow able to get through and report that there are 21 unread items. Here's where Technorati's real-time blog monitoring comes in handy. You can see others blogging about it as well and are assured that you are not the only one with the problem.

Further proof...

that Microsoft doesn't have anything new and great to offer:
A "quick search pane," for example, allows users to type queries and instantly see matching files.
and
...Allchin stressed that Microsoft has broken new ground in Longhorn. For example, document icons are no longer a hint of the type of file, but rather a small picture of the file itself
If they expect people to upgrade to Longhorn just for these bells and whistles, they have got another think coming. BTW, Gnome and KDE have had equivalent features for quite some time.

Friday, April 15, 2005

That's a relief

I have only read a collection of short stories based on the original novel, but they constitute some of the scariest stuff I have come across. I think the 'fact' that it was a true story probably contributed to the effect as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Must be a really slow news day...

at Bruce Schneier's blog .

Smearing bloggers

Another attempt by the MSM to put down blogs. The risks highlighted in the article are equally applicable to any free hosting service (I don't buy the argument that the amount of free space provided by blogging services has anything to do with it; how much space is really required to store malicious code?), so why highlight only blogs?

Liverpool in semis

Well, conventional wisdom was wrong, after all.

Much as I admire del Piero, I am yet to see a game he has taken by the scruff of the neck and delivered the goods for his team, the way Steve Gerrard supposedly does for Liverpool.

The commentators' pro-English bias was so blatant in this match. One of the two bozos was literally pleading with the Liverpool team to "just hang in there" for the last five minutes. Wonder how bad it will be in Istanbul, with one English club assured of a place in the final.

I also ended up watching the replay of the Chelsea-Bayern match. In spite of knowing the result in advance, I sort of enjoyed the game because I didn't know when the goals had been scored (did Chelsea go 2-0 up before a heroic fightback by Bayern, or were Bayern sitting on a 3-1 lead, expecting to enter the semi-finals, only to be thwarted by a last-gasp winner from Chelsea?)

Interesting side note: the only way extra time would become necessary in these home/away fixtures is if the scoreline of the first leg is duplicated in the second leg, with the winner/loser being reversed.

Ubuntu KDE woes

KDE in Ubuntu is not ready for prime time:
  1. kdm has screwed up my system fonts. Even if I revert back to gdm/Gnome, they refuse to change from the defaults to Bitstream Vera, thought the font applet indicates that these are the current values.

  2. The screen resolution reverts to 1024 x 768 even if I set it to 800 x 600. I had this problem during installation as well, but I had to reset the resolution only once then; the system learned this setting on the second go.

  3. The screen does not always get rendered properly and gets pulled to all the corners of the display. This usually happens during startup.
Going to give KDE a wide berth once I get rid of these problems and get Gnome working properly again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Note to self

Don't read the BBC RSS feed if you are planning to watch 'live' the Champions' League matches later.

*bangs head repeatedly on the table*

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Musings

This question has been bugging me for quite a while now: why should the laws of nature be different for different physical scales, i.e. why should one set of laws apply for very small things (quantum mechanics), and another set for the larger things (classical mechanics, astrophysics, etc.)?

After all, if nature were impartial, there should not be anything special associated with a particular dimensional scale. What is so special about a distance of one micron when compared to one meter? In fact, if all the objects in the universe -- or at least those that we can observe -- increased in size by a factor of ten uniformly, we wouldn't even notice it.

One answer could be that there does exist a uniform natural law, but we are yet to figure it out. If we are able to drill down further, we would find that there is a sort of fractal geometry at work here: each subatomic particle contains a complete, but scaled down, universe within it, with its own galaxies, stars and planets. Brings to mind Blake's immortal words "..To see the world in a grain of sand". BTW, This would require us to handle infinite regression as well, since nothing prevents the subatomic particles of this miniature universe from containing their own miniature universes.

Another answer could be that I am full of shit :-)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Ubuntu update

Some more feedback on Ubuntu:
  1. It is definitely faster than Suse 9.1 (at least on my machine). The perceptible seizing that I had talked about earlier is also absent, proving that the problem is not related to hardware, but lies squarely with Suse (it could be an issue with either the kernel that Suse is using or with a wrong DMA setting).

  2. Ubuntu does not ship with KDE. But Gnome 2.10's performance almost makes one not miss it.

  3. Package management is on a par with YaST.

  4. I couldn't configure Ubuntu to see and share my Windows printer (the other Windows shares proved easy enough to connect to, though). It simply could not remember the printer name at all; I would type in the correct share name and click on 'Close', only to find that the name I typed had reverted to its previous value.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Blog zeitgeist

Earlier it was Miss Jammu porn; now it's the turn of Sania Mirza's breasts. I am referring to the search terms that inadvertently lead to my blog.

Here's a really productive way...

to spend a lazy Sunday morning: learn French by having Google translate one of your older blog archive pages and trying to figure out what you were saying. Trust me, it's not that easy, especially when you are looking at posts that don't have any easily recognisable words.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Hoary Hedgehog

Ubuntu 5.04 has been released. Though I have no intention of switching from Suse, I kicked off a download all the same (I have an unused 6 GB partition in the Suse machine I thought I would put to use for this). After a 10-hour download and a one-hour installation process, Hoary Hedgehog is up and running. Some (very preliminary) impressions:
  1. The installation process is not as slick as that of Mandrake or Suse. Same old Debian character-mode installation.

  2. Something went wrong with the part where we choose the screen resolutions; the input areas (the ones with the asterisks) were sort of garbled. I don't know whether this is the cause, but when I boot up, the resolution always defaults to 1024 x 768 even if I explicitly set it to 800 x 600. Update: for some reason, the system caught on the second time I set the screen resolution. BTW, I also had to manually adjust the screen positioning in the monitor.

  3. Firefox 1.0.2 is the default browser. Good thing.

Back in business

As usual, the problem took care of itself. I took out all the IDE cables in the computer and re-plugged them back in; the machine promptly started working again.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Dabblers and Blowhards

Looks like I am not alone in my criticism of Paul Graham's essays.

Hardware woes

My Linux machine is on the blink. It stopped working all of a sudden; on restarting it, it kept emitting long, periodic beeps and doing nothing else. After a while, even that stopped. Opening the CPU case cover revealed that the power unit was functioning alright; the CPU fans were spinning and the network card LEDs were also on. After poking around a bit (and getting some mild electric shocks in the process) and checking the wiring, I could not find anything wrong.

I think I will give it some more time and switch it on tomorrow; most of the time, such problems disappear as mysteriously as they appear (due in no small measure to my good karma ;-) ). Let's hope this is one of them.

My experience with assembled PCs has always been like this; they work fine 99% of the time, but behave unpredictably once in a while. Leads me to think that the components these PCs are made of didn't pass that rigorous a QC test as would their counterparts in a branded PC. Since I bought most of these components in Richie Street (the electronics grey-market district of Chennai), this is quite a real possibility. Having said that, these components do give value for money when compared to their overpriced brethren from the likes of IBM.

In the meantime, I have regressed to being an unwilling Windows user. Sorely missing the Bitstream Vera fonts...

Update: I have installed the Bitstream Vera fonts in Windows as well; still not as nifty as they are in Linux.

What gives?

Google is now running Buddhism-related ads on this blog. Go figure.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

See blog title

Quite a number of visitors to my blog arrive here by googling for 'shikantaza', so I thought I would avoid the bad karma of disappointing them by providing some information about the term (from The Three Pillars of Zen):
...shikan-taza is a heightened state of concentrated awareness wherein one is neither tense nor hurried, and certainly never slack. It is the mind of somebody facing death. Let us imagine that you are engaged in a duel of swordsmanship of the kind that used to take place in ancient Japan. As you face your opponent you are unceasingly watchful, set, ready. Were you to relax your vigilance even momentarily, you would be cut down instantly. A crowd gathers to see the fight. Since you are not blind you see them from the corner of your eye, and since you are not deaf you hear them. But not for an instant is your mind captured by these sense impressions.

The Pope was not a saint?

Some articles with an alternative viewpoint regarding Pope John Paul II.

And for comic relief, here is The Rude Pundit's take on things.

Liverpool 2-1 Juventus

I feel sorry for Scott Carson. But for his blunder, Liverpool would have been sitting pretty going into the second leg next week. After they scored their second goal, it looked like they were going to walk all over Juve, but Juve managed to pull themselves together in the second half, even though their goal was a gift.

BTW, the commentators should go a bit easier on their praise of Gerrard. He's good, but not that good. The way they were wetting their pants every time he passed the ball (no matter that the passes failed to find their intended targets half the time) was irritating.

Conventional wisdom says that Juventus will win 1-0 in Turin next week and enter the semis.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Linux USB ADSL modem -- not yet

Chennai is experiencing thundershowers as I type this. There was some pretty awesome thunder and lightning near my home yesterday . Anyway, my USB ADSL modem (the one I have written so much about) was taken out because of this. After the tech support guy from Airtel replaced the modem with another one and got things working, I wanted to revisit the possibility of using the DSL connection directly from Linux. A Google search confirmed that there are Linux drivers available for it (the modem is based on the Conexant AccessRunner chipset).

Long story short (I have to leave for work): need to do a lot make this happen:
  1. Extract the modem's firmware binary from a Windows file using a utility that is still under beta and which may or may not work.

  2. Compile the kernel with the modem driver sources.

  3. Figure out how to set up ADSL in Suse.
Had I still been using Debian, I wouldn't have given a second thought to jumping right in and giving it a go, but after moving to Suse, I no longer have the stomach to roll up my sleeves and start hacking around (and breaking God-knows-what in the process). I have also been spoiled rotten by YaST.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Movie Review: Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland starts out pretty slowly (not that the action ever gets too hot), but manages to retain viewer interest. Though the storyline is pretty thin, it never gets too boring.

I was worried at one point that there might be a pedophile twist to the plot; there is no love interest between Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, so I thought may be the director was going for something saucier -- one of Depp's friends even says that tongues were wagging that he (Depp) was getting too close to Winslet's children -- but good thing this didn't pan out (pun unintended). Similarities to el freako's current predicament and his predilection for Peter Pan and Neverland also came to mind.

I would give this movie three stars out of five. One minor quibble is that Dustin Hoffman really shouldn't agree to such nothing parts. He's too good an actor for such roles.

Puff piece

The summary of the article describes it as "John Simmons on the way the search engine managed to dominate its market - and get up Microsoft's nose", but the article doesn't really throw any new light on Google's strategy. It's not a book review either, though it mentions a book called "Search Me". Makes me question its whole intention: is it just a means to generate page viewership by hitching on to Google's popularity?

Clusty extension for Firefox

I downloaded the Clusty extension for Firefox recently, and I must say that I am pretty impressed. I especially like the dictionary feature: you highlight a word, right-click and select the 'Dictionary clip' menu option; a small window appears with the word's meaning. Much better than the Dictionary Search extension, where you are taken to the reference.com web site with all its attendant annoyances.

Newcastle brawl

Folks, why take out your frustrations on the opposite team's players, when you can beat up your own compatriot? I have always considered Lee Bowyer to be a slightly unstable character. I still vividly remember one of the goals he scored recently, where he rudely clambered on top of his own team mate to head the ball in. It was a great goal alright, but the way he scored it was slightly scary. Not having watched the match, I don't know who started the punch-up, but I strongly suspect that Bowyer would have had a big role in escalating things.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Gmail and Fractional Reserve Banking

Google increasing Gmail's storage capacity has an interesting parallel with fractional reserve banking.

Fractional reserve banking refers to the phenomenon wherein banks are required to maintain only a fraction of the depositors' funds with them; the rest is lent out or invested so that the bank earns some money out of the deposits. The underlying assumption is that this fraction is enough to service the all depositors' withdrawal requests at any point in time; not all depositors are expected to turn up at once and demand their money (if this happens, a run starts on that bank; it's not very easy, even for a financially sound bank, to stave this off).

In the case of Gmail, though each user is right now presented with two gigs of storage, most of the users are unlikely to have used up more than a small fraction (I am currently at 8% myself, BTW). So it's not even required that Google should have two gigs of hard disk space reserved for each user; they can very well claim to provide this without doing so and still not come to grief (what would constitute a 'run' in this case? All the users suddenly deciding to store their porn in Gmail?)

Morbidity

This is getting morbid; each time the Bloglines notifier announces that there is a new unread item from BBC's front page feed, I keep thinking that this the end, the Pope has passed on.

April Fools' Day stories on Slashdot

I think the Slashdot editors have gone overboard with their April Fools' Day stories. It's pretty irritating to come upon a seemingly never-ending stream of inanely stupid things like NASA builds the world's largest paper plane, Information does not exist and so on. Cut it out, guys.

Gmail storage has been increased to 2 GB...

but my account displays only 1495 MB. Where's the rest?

Update: Now I have 1811 MB of space. Looks like Google is incrementally increasing the storage capacity.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Web annoyance

There are some web pages where, no matter which part of the page you navigate to, the annoying ad in the sidebar follows you. You scroll up, you scroll down, you think you have lost the bugger, but no, the ad always catches up with you, notwithstanding the fact that it ends up wheezing and panting in the process.

You are basically not in control. You have no power over it. You can block the ad, of course, but nothing can be done if it is an integral part of the page, like Google Groups' Go to the top feature. That leaves you feeling hopping mad. Which is certainly not the state of mind the advertiser wants you to be in when you are looking at his product...