Sunday, July 31, 2005

How are they going to spin this one?

How are the astrology folks going to incorporate the discovery of the tenth planet into their calculations and predictions? Here is one attempt. I especially like this part:
Recent studies on astrology say that Neptune and Uranus can influence a person and develop his brain in the field of computers and information technology.
A fine example of after-the-fact dovetailing of the available information with theory (unless, of course, they already knew about computers thousands of years ago). BTW, how come these guys didn't predict the discovery of the tenth planet itself?

I would relate my experiences with naadi josiyam, but I'll reserve it for another day; the shame and embarrassment of subjecting myself to that brand of quackery is still too painfully vivid in my mind.

Dev Anand to pen his own life

Thank you, Dev. Very kind of you. Oh wait, I read it as "Dev Anand to take his own life". Never mind.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Saddest song ever

Boys of Summer. Maybe not the lyrics alone, but taken together with the video. Visions and memories of days irretrievably lost, moments of sheer joy and of being in the present, of lost youth, of missed chances, of what-might-have-been-but-never-was, knowing some doors are forever closed and you have no fricken way of ever entering them...

I think the baby rat has affected me more than I thought.

If you suspect it, report it

On my first visit to Delhi more than a decade ago (it was part of a month-long sojourn around the country cloaked in the guise of a college field trip), the first thing I noticed as we came out of the railway station and got into a bus was the warning sign on the back of the seat in front of me that said, "Warning: look under your seat. There may be a bomb there. Report it to authorities and claim reward". This was during the peak of Punjabi terrorism with transistor bombs going off with regular intervals in the capital. Needless to say, I was scared shitless (being exposed to sub-ten-degree cold for the first time in my life didn't exactly help, either).

Anyway, the point is that I saw a similar sign today in a press conference organised by the UK police. The sign wasn't so dramatic or sensationalist: it simply said, 'If you suspect it, report it'. Shades of Big Brother and 1984?

(As I type this, I spy a naked guy walking nonchalantly around in an art gallery in Euro News. WTF?)

Quote of the day

Short of nominating a horse wearing diapers to be his next U.N. Ambassador, I'm not sure how Bush could make his contempt for the international community any more clear.
-- Daily Kos

RIP, little guy

A couple of days ago one of my dogs got hold of a baby rat in my room (probably one of the relatives of the culprit who cost me a mouse and a watch strap some time back). I managed to save the creature's life, but not before it suffered some crippling injuries. The poor thing lost the use of its hind legs completely and could only move by painfully dragging its useless hind portion. It was really painful and poignant to see it try to deal with the cruel hand that fate had dealt it so early in life, and attempt to get on with its life.

I tried to alleviate its suffering somewhat by trying to feed it some crumbs, but it looks like it was not enough. After struggling for two days, the little guy passed on. My sadness is somewhat mitigated by the knowledge that at least he won't suffer any more.

Abramovich in the dock for the first time

Bingo. Too early for the handcuffs, but let's wait and see.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Windows Vista

I don't know whether it's intentional or not, but the practice of calling a product one thing (Longhorn) during most of its development and then calling it by another name at the time of release has the benefit of dissociating the product from all the negative PR it suffered (Longhorn is so much delayed, most of the promised features have been deferred, etc.).

Thursday, July 28, 2005 is supposed to be back up and running shortly, but in the meantime I decided to try out I am glad I did, because it is equally good, if not better. Though it doesn't have features like collapsible folders, the UI is really neat and uncluttered (no banner ads). There is also no need to scroll up and down to navigate through your bookmarks; judicious arrangement of the various categories can ensure that everything fits in a single screen (although the position mechanism needed a bit of effort to grasp -- can't say I have mastered it, but I now know enough to try out different numbers and get the layout I need).

I think there is a lesson here; in such a competitive environment, you cannot afford to slip even a little bit; every minor setback (whatever it is that is causing's outage) carries with it a risk of losing marketshare.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Quip of the day

Ancient phallus unearthed in cave.
"No ancient batteries found with it, however."
-- Michael Rivero

Guffaw! down

Have they folded up for good? Need to begin looking for another service, just in case. I tried out, but didn't really like it for two reasons: a) pretty crummy interface b) I'm not sure whether my bookmarks are private to me or are exposed to everybody.

Long time no release

It's been more than a year since I let loose v0.4 of Vajra on an unsuspecting public. I haven't been exactly idle all this time; I am integrating Vajra with Classpath, but this effort has been besotted with a lot of hurdles. I have been plugging away, taking care of bugs exposed because of the pretty extensive working over given to the code by Classpath (and also adding a lot of defensive code that will enable me to catch the next [inevitable] bug). There have also been long spells when I didn't do anything at all with the code.

I wanted to at least release a version that doesn't depend on Classpath (but uses Vajra's minimal class library instead), but the code seems to have become inseparably bound to Classpath that it is not worth the effort to put in temporary code just for releasing something.

Currently my aim is to take the integration to the point where I am able to emit a "Hello World" using Classpath's System.out.println and then call it a day. I think I will try to join the Squeak team (the VM team, that is) if they will have me. That would be a best-of-all-the-worlds scenario for me: Smalltalk + system programming. Something to aim for...

Privoxy and Tor

I have been trying out Privoxy [*] and Tor for the last couple of days. The initial thrill of knowing that I was now browsing with complete (well, almost) anonymity has worn off. Now I am beginning to get put off by the cost of this anonymity, i.e. the speed penalty introduced because of Tor's encryption and the multiple hops. Sometimes it takes pretty long to load a page (need to check whether this has something to do with the packet loss suffered by Asian routers yesterday). I have half a mind to turn off at least Tor, but the psychological effect of exposing my identity stops me. Not that there's anything to hide about my browsing habits, of course. Honest. Really.

[*] Tip: If you are using Suse 9.1, do not install the one carried by YaST. Results in 503 errors. Download it directly from the Privoxy site.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Some more bad karma

I caught two squirrels having their moment of sinful pleasure on my window sill today. Squirrels being the skittish creatures that they are, they decided to break their coupling and bolted their separate ways rather than try to continue and brazen it out.

Well, can't say it's really my fault. If they didn't want to be disturbed, they shouldn't have chosen my window sill. Moreover, it's not like I was actively searching for squirrel porn or something.

Why do PC vendors

...insist on saying '<insert vendor name> recommends Microsoft XP Professional for business' in their advertisements (at least here in India)?
  1. Are they of the opinion that only Windows will bring out the best in their hardware?

  2. Is this a way of promoting the more pricey Professional Edition than the Home edition?

  3. Is Microsoft still twisting their arms?

Suicide bomber suspect shot dead

BBC has these eyewitness accounts of the shooting. According to one of the eyewitnesses:
"I saw an Asian guy. He ran on to the train, he was hotly pursued by three plain clothes officers, one of them was wielding a black handgun."
The person's reaction to being challenged and pursued would definitely have been more suspicious if he had been pursued by uniformed men. Even an innocent person is likely to take to his heels if thinks he is being chased by some unknown assailants. The suspect's reactions reinforce this:
"He looked absolutely petrified and then he sort of tripped, but they were hotly pursuing him..."
One question that comes to mind is, if this person is one of the four suspects whose pictures were released earlier, would he chance it and make another attempt the very next day after the failed one on Thursday?

The entire story hinges on whether any explosives were found on his person.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Need some confirmation

This puzzle has been driving me nuts for the last couple of days (it's from last week's Hindu):

* * * * 4 3 * 9 *
* 2 * * 9 * * * 6
* 5 * 6 * * * * 1
* 7 6 * * * * 4 *
* * * 4 * 8 * * *
* 3 * * * * 2 5 *
5 * * * * 4 * 7 *
3 * * * 1 * * 6 *
* 8 * 5 7 * * * *

My Smalltalk program chokes on this as well. Is this an invalid puzzle (can a Sudoku puzzle be invalid?)? Going to give it a concerted effort today; if I still can't figure it out, going to chuck it.

(My Two Step Program didn't work, obviously. Still being drawn to these blasted things).

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Movie Review: Sahara

Sahara belongs neither to the Indiana Jones genre nor to the regular action flick category. The dialogue was so cliched that I could literally predict the words before they left the mouths of the actors. Why do all action movies have to have the mandatory geeky sidekick? The way Steve Zahn kept on about losing his hat during the various chases was irritating. Except for the scene where the good guys defuse the bomb in the plant and rescue Penelope Cruz (lousy choice for leading lady), the action sequences were singularly unimpressive (the way Matthew McConaughey brings down the chopper with a Civil War era cannon was breathtakingly incredulous).

All in all, Sahara gives XXX-2 a good run for its money in vying for the worst movie of the year.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

China to send pig sperm to space

No comment.

Alright, maybe just one: how did they get the pigs to donate the samples? Did they say Hey dudes, remember the "Shoot for the Stars" programme we told you about during induction...?

Wanted: name for a new phobia

Definition: Fear of making even a trivial change to a working program because the change might break it.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Two Step Program

Hi, my name is Rajesh, and I am a Sudoku-aholic.

There, that's Step One out of the way. Step Two will be to tighten up the Smalltalk Sudoku Solver so that it can handle more complex puzzles, feed it this humdinger, watch with glee as it makes light of this, and then get on with my life without looking even askance at another Sudoku puzzle again.

Dear Leader, I salute thee

From Slashdot (my emphasis):
Meet Arfa, a promising young software programmer from Faisalabad, Pakistan, who is believed to be the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in the world. She received the certification when she was 9. During a recent meeting with Bill Gates, she presented him with a poem she wrote that celebrated his life story.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Fugitive to be taken off the air?

The Fugitive plays on Wednesday evenings at 9 PM on Zee Cafe. Just before today's episode, I caught a promo for Season 4 of The Sopranos premiering next Wednesday. OK, I thought, maybe this is the final episode of Fugitive. The current week's plot also seemed to confirm this, with an hour-by-hour countdown displayed as the episode wound down. But no, this was not the final episode; Dr Richard Kimble is still running, still searching for the elusive one-armed man. Trust the buggers at Zee to not leave a good thing as is.

Update: Oops, The Fugitive plays at 8 PM. The Sopranos after that. No conflict. In keeping with my policy of not taking down a post, I have decided to leave the original up in all its inaccurate glory. Apologies to Zee are in order.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Just a thought

If, instead of clicking on a hyperlink in a page, I copy/paste the link in a new browser window (or tab), I would be nullifying the referring page info for that link [*]. This would a) screw up the referrer stats and b) play havoc with any revenue-sharing mechanism in place that is based on referrer links. This would defeat the designs of websites that pretend to be non-commercial but make money from such revenues. Would an extension similar to Adblock that does this be useful? I wouldn't mind using such an extension if it didn't add too much overhead to my browsing.

[*] Links that have the referrer information embedded in the URL itself would not be amenable to such filtering, though.

Sweet-talking terrorists

Interesting post from Slashdot (not sure about its veracity, though): Saudi Arabia, they had a program where when a jihadi was captured, they were given the opportunity to debate with a muslim cleric, on the justification in Isalam [sic] for external jihad (Jihad waged as a physical war of violence against infidels, as opposed to the more accepted definition of an internal war within the believer to defeat a non-believing self). The conditions of the debate were; if the jihadi wins, he goes free. If the cleric wins, the jihadi goes to prison, and when released, must join in the effort to convince other jihadis that violence is wrong, and not an acceptable part of Islam. Each and every jihadi that went through this program (in 2002, when I read about it) was converted from radicalism.

My two cents on the London bombings

  1. Any statement from a shadowy group claiming responsibility for the bombings should be viewed with skepticism. How difficult is it for anyone (not the actual perpetrators) to go to an Internet cafe anywhere in the world, log in to the discussion board in question using a made-up handle, and post a statement?

  2. Reading too much into the nuances of the statement and speculating on the culprits' identities based on the usage of certain words and phrases (no disrespect to Juan Cole) is also not very fruitful, IMHO. People who are smart enough to plan and execute such a sophisticated operation are also smart enough to couch the statement with red herrings.
It is for these reasons that such terrorist attacks usually don't lead to any convictions; while such speculation and talking points are enough to paint certain groups as the culprits in the public's consciousness, they will not hold water in a court of law (compound this with the prosecutors' lack of willingness to share evidence in an open court citing national security and you have a no-win situation).

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Sig of the day

When is bedtime at Neverland Ranch? When the big hand touches the little hand.
-- From Slashdot

Terrorism a global threat: Manmohan

No shit, Sherlock.

Google Toolbar for Firefox

I am not able to proceed further after installing the Google Toolbar for Firefox. After the mandatory browser restart, a dialog window pops up, asking for preferences, but doesn't respond to any inputs (there is a cute warning asking you to *really* read the fine print, but I am in no mood right now to appreciate such things). I need a way to get rid of this extension pronto to resume using Firefox or to fix the problem. I am posting this from Opera, in case anyone is wondering.

Update: Turned out to be a permissions problem. Started Firefox as sudo, dismissed the preferences dialog, then reverted to being a normal user.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Some comments on the Cole interview

Juan Cole has posted excerpts from an interview he took part in. I have some nits to pick:
  1. Even if the Madrid bombings didn't directly lead to Spain's withdrawal from Iraq, they definitely hastened it.

  2. Regarding the purported powerlessness of the terrorists:
    What do you do if you're a tiny fringe who is completely right and indeed only if your plan succeeds is the world saved? And you're opposed by all of these massive states and powers?
    I don't think the terrorists are as powerless as that. There is a broad swathe of support for them (if not for their actions, at least for the causes they espouse and the injustice they strike out against) in the Arab/Islamic world, fuelled by things like the treatment of Palestinians (and, in our own country, the Gujarat pogrom).
On a related note, I am veering more and more to the view that al-Qaeda is like a McDonalds franchise, with sundry local groups all over the world using it as a label to claim brand recognition for their activities (Update: click here for a old, but nonetheless relevant, article on this).

Foreign Aid

What is one to make of the news that Iran is going to give $1 billion to Iraq? I don't mean just this one particular instance, but the general issue of foreign aid. Why should a country make such a big contribution to the welfare of another country? Pure altruism is not the reason; in fact, it rarely is in any foreign policy decision. Does the donor country expect some benefits to accrue from its generosity? Or, is the donor country so wealthy that the aid amount comes from overflowing coffers and did not find any useful purpose (poverty eradication comes to mind) in the donor country itself? Since no country is so wealthy (not even America), its less fortunate citizens have every right to protest this, and ask that the money be spent on them instead.

Sometimes the motives for such a handout are very obvious, as in the G8/Africa case; the debt is written off (partially or fully) in return for the African countries' willingness to open up their economies for exploitation investment. In this case, the aid money is nothing more than the cost of doing business.

Coming back to Iran, its motive is purely political; in return for its $1 billion, it gets to have a say in how the Shiite government in Iraq runs things, in addition to scoring some brownie points.

And then we have countries like our own who send cargo-loads of foodgrains elsewhere when people are dying of famine within our borders. Maybe altruism (however misplaced) does have a role to play sometimes, after all.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

No offence

...but scores of people getting killed in suicide bombings in Iraq (so ably covered by Juan Cole -- also see update below) on a daily basis does not merit more than a passing mention in the BBC (if at all), whereas a similar, but less deadly event in the heart of western civilisation results in non-stop, saturation coverage.

Update: It looks like the casualty figures are higher.

Update 2: Again from Juan Cole:
The bombings in London on Thursday underlined what absolute hell Iraqis are living through, who suffer the equivalent every other day.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

What's worse

... than waiting patiently for five hours for a 344 MB download to finish so that you can broaden your horizons with some classical music? Answer: waiting patiently for another five hours because you have to repeat the download.

The story is too painful and embarrassing to relate; let me just say that had I been in the habit of pressing Delete instead of Shift-Delete, I wouldn't have found myself in this predicament.


What is this Kut al-Amara that Robert Fisk keeps referring to (as in "Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara")?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Why Deccan Chronicle can't hold a candle to The Hindu - Part 3

(I promise, this is the last post on this topic)
  1. Article bemoaning the "commercialisation of education" in India, while in the same breath talking of the "over Rs 1,500 crore yearly market in technical education".

  2. Publishing an essay by Brooke Shields on a pretty sober topic, but using a steamy picture of the actress (note: picture not present in online edition). The story is about her postpartum depression, for God's sake.

Neat trick to get rid of ORA-24002

Here's a nifty way to get rid of ORA-24002 (I'm still trying to figure out how I ended up with this error -- all I did was import some tables and then tried to clean them up):
  1. Log into SQL*Plus or Server Manager as a user with DBA privileges.

  2. Issue this command:

    alter session set events '10851 trace name context forever, level 2';

  3. Now you can go ahead and drop the problem table.
The post in the link goes on to explain why this works:
Solution Explanation: =====================
Event 10851 disables error 24005 when attempting to manually drop a queue table. It should be noted that this is the "Hard Way" of dropping queue tables, and should only be practiced after all formal procedures, i.e., using the "DBMS_AQADM.DROP_QUEUE_TABLE" procedure, has failed to drop the table.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Movie Review: War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds is a pretty good movie. A gripping story line, good action and some human drama as well. Tom Cruise turns in a decent performance as an overwhelmed man trying to save his kids from mayhem; no memorable one-liners or hard-to-believe acts of heroism from him (except for the scene where he saves his daughter and a basketful of human beings from the alien tripod; anyway, I am willing to overlook that one, all things considered).

Cruise's daughter is sickeningly cute, but provides comic relief with her high-pitched screaming and some great dialogue (cases in point: 'I've a back problem' and 'Are we still alive?').

Four stars out of five.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Why Deccan Chronicle can't hold a candle to The Hindu - Part 2

The absolute tripe that is the Tall Tales column. So Anish Trivedi went to some parties, people like (gasp!) Vijay Mallya and Louis Banks were there, Louis Banks asked Anish why he (Anish) didn't land up at his parties, blah blah. OK, we get it, you are on back-slapping, first-name terms with celebrities. Go get a blog or something, instead of inflicting such crap on the paying public.

You have to hand it to the lady

Indira Gandhi might have done a lot of bad things in her time, but you have to give credit where it's due. Today's Hindu has a story on the events leading up to the creation of Bangladesh that tells of the way she stood up to the bullying from Nixon and Kissinger. I seriously doubt whether any of the current crop of leaders would have the cojones to do what she did.

Sig of the day

I want to die quietly in my sleep, like my grandfather,
not screaming in terror, like his passengers.
-- From Usenet