Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hardware Woes

I should warn you that this is going to be a long post -- I am stuck at home because of the monsoon rains and have nothing better to do, so go and get yourself a nice, hot cup of coffee before reading on.

All my troubles started when, in a fit of uncalled-for exuberance, I removed 128 megs of RAM from my Windows machine and tried to add them to my Linux box. I must have plugged the RAM the wrong way, because the motherboard started giving out a burning odour and the machine refused to boot. I quickly removed the offending memory card, but found that one of the three power supply wires for the CPU fan had been severed (not sure whether it was burnt or had given out earlier due to some other reason). I re-attached the wire, but restarting the PC resulted in the BIOS POST failing, with long beeps repeated in an infinite loop. I tried my usual trick of re-plugging and swapping the IDE cables, but this did not solve the problem. One suggestion I found after Googling for this error was to check the CPU fan wires. Thinking that my quick fix might not have been sufficient, I made a quick visit to the neighbourhood electronics store for a new CPU fan.

The problem was not with the fan, it turns out. The PC continued its long (and, at this point, incredibly irritating) beeps. I finally had to call for a hardware engineer, who quickly made the beep go away by resetting the CMOS jumper. The PC now booted, but now it reported that there was a CRC failure in the hard disk. I sent away the engineer, thinking that this was a software problem that I could handle on my own.

Repeated reboots resulted in different failures -- kernel panics midway through the boot process at different points. Finally, the dreaded long beep returned again.

At this point, I did what I must have done a long while ago: RTFM. I realised that the long beeps meant that the memory was not being recognised. After repeating the hardware engineer's trick and getting the machine to boot, I ran a memory test via the Suse installation CD: turns out that the memory had gone bad (why the BIOS POST didn't detect this is still a mystery to me).

Cut to me receiving a new 256 meg memory card from Fabmall three days later. I plug this new memory in, reboot, no go: same old story.

The story does not have a happy ending yet. I have managed to get the PC to boot and stay up as long as I don't try any networking activity (LAN or the internet).

The only thing that redeemed itself during the entire nasty episode is the eight-year old 2GB hard disk that showed it still had it in it when I substituted my regular hard disk with it in a bid to isolate the problem.

I am mulling over whether I should get a new motherboard or bite the bullet and treat myself to a long-overdue laptop.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Movie Review: A Lot Like Love

Boy meets girl, they hit it off, go their separate ways, meet again, continue from where they left off, go their separate ways, meet again, continue from where they left off, go their separate ways, meet again...

I lost count of how many times this is repeated before boy and girl get together for good. Not much of a storyline, but A Lot Like Love is still an eminently watchable movie. There were shades of Love Actually, but this one doesn't come anywhere near the level of exuberance and poignancy. Another thing going for A Lot Like Love is the kick-ass soundtrack (some of the numbers are old, though).

One thing I didn't like was the way we are led to believe that there may not be a happy ending. I appreciate the sentiment of maintaining tension, but they could have been more subtle about it (two examples: a) you think Emily is putting her own child to bed when Oliver comes to serenade her and b) the piece of dialogue between Oliver and the tailor in the men's clothing store where Emily's friend learns of Oliver's 'wedding' seems quite contrived).

Friday, October 21, 2005

The UN report on Hariri's assassination

I am in the middle of page ten of the report, and I am already veering around to the view that it will neither be very conclusive in its findings, nor will it lead to any major upheaval or changes in the way things work in that part of the world. Two choice bits:
Despite the human, technical and financial capacities mobilized for the purpose of the investigation, and although considerable progress has been made and significant results achieved in the time allotted, the investigation of such a terrorist act with multifaceted international dimensions and their ramifications normally needs months (if not years) to be completed so as to be able to establish firm ground for a potential trial of any accused individuals.
Until the investigation is completed, all new leads and evidence are fully analyzed, and an independent and impartial prosecution mechanism is set up, one cannot know the complete story of what happened, how it happened and who is responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the murder of 22 other innocent people.
Another interesting tidbit:
However, although resolution 1595 called on all States to provide the Commission with any relevant information pertaining to the Hariri case, it is to be regretted that no Member State relayed useable information to the Commission.
Everyone paid lip service to the UN, but when push came to shove, national interest trumped international justice; they decided not to share any really valuable information.

Update: Looks like I was wrong. The report pretty much nails certain individuals. The part about the phone records is the clincher. But even so, only mid- and low-level figures are named; the mastermind(s) still appear to be likely to go scot-free.

On a side note, considering all this, George Galloway's chumming up with Basher Assad is making him (Galloway) look less and less of a knight in shining armour.

Update 2: Mehlis appears to have made last-second alterations to the report, removing references to Assad's brother and brother-in-law, apparently at the insistence of Kofi Annan.

DEBKAFile reveals the identities of the other individuals whose names were excised from the report:
  • Gen. Roustum Ghazali, head of special external intelligence and former Syrian military intelligence chief in Lebanon

  • Gen. Hassan Khalil, liaison between the various Syrian intelligence bodies

  • Col. Mohsein Hamoud, a former military intelligence officer who served in Lebanon (Hamoud is the colonel who drove the Mitsubishi Canter bomb car from Syria to Lebanon on Jan. 21)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Linux and usability

Disclaimer: Linux is still my favouritest child.

I am currently back to my Windows machine because I managed to screw up my Linux box's RAM (how I did that is a story for another day). I thought I would make my Windows experience as Linux-like as possible and installed Privoxy.

Privoxy appears as an icon in the system tray while running. Any configuration can be done by right-clicking this icon and choosing a menu option. Example: Edit->Main Configuration opens Notepad with the main configuration file [*]. A similar option opens the user actions file. Starting and stopping Privoxy is also possible via a menu option. Way more simpler than how it is done in Linux.

It's not that difficult to perform the same tasks in Linux, but even someone who knows how to do them would definitely prefer an easier option. What is especially difficult to fathom is why the Linux version doesn't have these options, when the developers were thoughtful enough to include them for Windows.

It is my humble opinion that unless we manage to make all applications as easy to use in Linux, Windows will continue to dominate the desktop. I am aware that there are some applications that do get this right (KInternet comes to mind) but this is not yet a standard feature for most of them.

[*] I don't even know where this file is stored -- no futzing around with /etc/privoxy/config or /var/lib/privoxy/config.

The Simpsons convert to Islam

Homer and Bart Simpson become Omar and Badr Shamshoon respectively. I am still trying to figure out whether I should laugh or cry.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Quote of the day

"Google uses Bayesian filtering the way Microsoft uses the if statement..."
-- Comment about how Google works and thinks at a higher level of abstraction than Microsoft

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The sub-10,000 PC

If you look at the deal closely, you will find that it's not really a sub-10,000 PC. The fine print says that you have to pay Rs 1,500 towards freight forwarding, installation and handling. A lot of publicity for what is essentially a lie.

What if you decide to take care of delivery, installation and handling (whatever that is) yourself? Would you then avoid the extra charges? I don't think so.

Keshav's cartoons

It is really puzzling why a newspaper of The Hindu's stature persists with a daily cartoon of such poor quality. The cartoons are not funny, they don't make you think, and the pictures are, at best, rankly amateurish. The same goes for Deccan Chronicle as well, but they have one thing going right for them: in a bid to assuage the cartoonist's overblown ego, they display his photograph alongside the cartoon everyday, affording you the pleasure of focussing your ire and imprecations on him directly.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Scientists uncover oldest bowl of noodles

Funny, I don't remember seeing any of these scientists in our cafeteria.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Raikkonen wins Japanese Grand Prix

This is probably as good as it gets. Kimi overtaking Fisichella in the final lap is one of the things the 2005 season will be remembered for IMO.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Movie Review: The Interpreter

The plot revolves around a conversation about the planned assassination of the President of Matobo overheard by Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), an interpreter at the UN. Silvia takes this to the authorities, but is not taken seriously because she is not considered credible; as we move along, we also discover that she has a violent past, going back to the days when she and her family used to live in Matobo and that she might very well be involved with folks who might want the President dead. The meat of the movie is about how the threat to the President is handled and the interpreter is protected from those who want her dead.

The Interpreter is a deeply unsatisfying and unconvincing movie. It takes something like an hour before anything interesting happens. Even when it does, the action is average at best. The climax also doesn't rise to the levels it could have, given the potential in the plot.

If I hear one more faux African tribal story that is supposed to showcase the wisdom of simple villagers and how it is so superior to modern civilisation, I am going to barf.

Google Reader

Google has entered the online news aggregator business. Initial impression: I am sticking with Bloglines. Reasons:
  1. The annoying always-on 'Keep unread' thingummy (which also partly obscures the news item's heading)

  2. I am not able to see the exact number of unread posts. It's just 'more than 20'.

  3. I cannot see all the news items in a feed. I have to keep pressing Up and Down to navigate from one item to another.

  4. When I import an OPML file, it does not fetch me any items at all, but only assures me that new items from now on would be displayed. Can't it display, say, the 20 most recent items instead?
On a general note, I think Google has added unnecessary bells and whistles; Bloglines appears to have a stolen a march over Google in sticking to the keep-it-simple-and-elegant principle.

The mess in Bihar

Reading the exceedingly sensible (and unanimous) opinion expressed in the Letters to the Editor section in The Hindu, I am wondering what possible reason the judges could have had for going ahead with the elections in Bihar and not simply reinstating the dissolved assembly. No doubt they will rationalise their decision by citing some precedent or an arcane section in the constitution, but their actions right now are analogous to saying that a thief is guilty, but that he can keep the loot. On second thoughts, maybe the cost already incurred for the fresh elections might have been a deciding factor. But then, should expediency be allowed to prevail over justice?

Friday, October 07, 2005

It's a sad reflection

... of the high esteem we hold politicians in, when the first thought that comes to mind when seeing this news item is Can't he have aimed better?

I am also waiting to see whether the people who beat the assassin to death (or thought they had -- he actually survived the beating) are booked.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bad karma for Garnier

... for shamelessly 'poaching' such a kick-ass number and using it as the background music for their commercial. Especially when the philosophy of the song has no relation to the shining happy people portrayed in the ad.


Of all the Zen literature that I have read (fruitlessly, I must admit, since I am no closer to enlightenment than I was when I started out) the following satori experience stands out (it's from D T Suzuki's classic):
[Kyogen] returned to Yisan and implored him to teach in the faith of Zen. But Yisan said: "I really have nothing to impart to you, and if I tried to do so you may have occasion to make me an object of ridicule later on. Besides, whatever I can instruct you is my own and will never be yours." Kyogen was disappointed and considered his senior disciple unkind. Finally he came to the decision to burn up all his notes and memorandums which were of no help to his spiritual welfare, and, retiring altogether from the world, to spend the rest of his life in solitude and simplicity in accordance with the Buddhist rules. He reasoned: "What is the use of studying Buddhism, so difficult to comprehend and too subtle to receive instructions from another? I shall be a plain homeless monk, troubled with no desire to master things too deep for thought." He left Yisan and built himself a hut near the tomb of Chu (Hui-chung), the National Master, at Nan-yang. One day he was weeding and sweeping the ground, and when a piece of rock brushed away struck a bamboo, the sound produced by the percussion unexpectedly elevated his mind to a state of satori.
The lesson here goes beyond enlightenment (important as that is). It talks of the dignity in admitting defeat and letting go, of giving up all pretences and ambitions, and yet doing the right thing, without expecting a reward. If a person has attained this level of spiritual maturity, satori is just a bonus for him IMHO.

This is how you spread democracy

From an article in today's The Hindu (via The Guardian):
This is what Europhiles mean when they speak of the "soft power" of the union, the capacity to draw countries towards democracy through the magnetic pull of EU-style prosperity and stability. How much better, and more effective, than the "hard power" of George W. Bush: democracy delivered by bombs from the sky and boots on the ground.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Liverpool 1-4 Chelsea

Time for me to eat crow, I guess. Going by the way Chelsea has managed eight straight victories and how Man United and Arsenal are already stumbling, I think it's safe to say that Chelsea will most likely retain the title.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

My very own crappy little web app

I have been spending the last couple of days coding up an application to track the English Premier League. Nothing fancy, just a screen to enter match results and another screen to view the points table. The application is based on JSF and MySQL and runs on JBoss. My experiences:
  1. JSF seems quite promising, but there were times when things didn't work the way they were supposed to, but there were no exceptions or any other errors thrown. Or if there was an exception, it was not very straightforward to decipher it (here is an example).

  2. MySQL's AUTO_INCREMENT feature along with last_insert_id() is pretty cool. No need to create sequences and triggers as in Oracle.

  3. I know this has been beaten to death, but MySQL's habit of silently accepting invalid dates is not a Good Thing (tm).

  4. I used JEdit for this. JEdit looks OK, but it's a bit slow. I'll reserve judgment till I have spent more time with it.

  5. Do not place the wrong version of j2ee.jar in your classpath. Having both JBoss and Tomcat choke with weird errors is probably amusing in hindsight, but it's not funny at all when you are tearing your hair out late at night, wondering WTF happened.

  6. I am also beginning to see why some people don't think very highly of checked exceptions in Java.