Sunday, November 27, 2005

If I were a PR hack

... how would I go about promoting my blog? Here are some ideas for the blog title:
  1. The world according to Rajesh

  2. The bestest blog in the wholest world!!! (apologies to the endearing Mahir Cagri)

  3. One man's journey in search of himself (and some eyeballs)

  4. Blogging in a not-so-free world

  5. and finally, my favourite:

  6. 658 blog posts. 19 months. 2 readers.


Movie Review: Red Eye

Though the storyline is quite thin and not very believable, Red Eye manages to hold one's attention pretty well. The way the plot develops is very natural -- I especially liked the conversation in which the villain (Cillian Murphy) exposes his plans to Rachel McAdams' character. Very slickly done.

Going by Murphy's performance in the first half of the movie, I was on the verge of anointing his character as one of the classic villains of modern cinema, but he totally loses it in the second half, almost being reduced to a caricature, croaking and stumbling around in the climax like a clown.

Speaking of the climax, I can't believe that a director of Wes Craven's calibre would go with such a cliched ending. Come on, the girl being chased by the crazed killer never runs up the stairs (didn't one of the characters in Scream -- also directed by Craven -- say so?). The phone ringing during those tense moments also reminded me of Scream, by the way.

Some Practical Lisp

My work on Vajra has sort of come to a standstill, what with the amount of time I have been spending taking care of the hardware issues. The most recent work (as revealed by the CVS commit comments) was an earth-shaking enhancement to a string utility function.

Anyway, I am reading Practical Common Lisp now (a quick micro-review: should have started with it instead of Paul Graham's On Lisp), and an idea for a worthwhile Vajra enhancement just occurred to me: write a Common Lisp library to extract class files as byte streams from JAR files. I am using Arun Sharma's ziplib utility for this currently, and while it's a great utility, there are some issues with it (Valgrind reports quite a few memory-related problems).

The plan is as follows:
  1. Write a CL library interfacing with the zlib routines

  2. Write a C++ class that wraps the CL library (it can wrap the zlib functions directly, but what's the fun in that?)

  3. Become a Lisp hacker in the process of implementing steps 1 and 2

  4. Take over the world

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Understanding Power

This is not exactly a book review, but I have only about fifty or so pages left to read, so I decided to put down my thoughts all the same.

Most of what Chomsky says is just confirmation of what I have already known or have at least felt intuitively to be true, but he provides plenty of footnotes as evidence (pity the footnotes are not available in the book itself -- you will have to visit the web site for this, but the fact that they exist is comforting enough; going by Chomsky's reputation, they are sure to be rock solid).

Chomsky is under no illusion that he is somebody around whom like-minded people can rally and look to for guidance. He simply claims to be playing the role of an observer who brings things to people's notice; it is up to them to decide how best to act upon this information. Having thus established his role (since he is no messiah, don't look to him for quick and easy solutions to the mess we are in), he is then free to take a pretty pessimistic outlook on things. By the time you reach the end of the book, you have gained a lot of insight and knowledge, but there is no sense of hope, that things are on the right track and will get better and so on.

BTW, even if one dismisses the book as the ranting of a liberal firmly on the left of the aisle, I would consider it to be mandatory reading, at least to disabuse one's notions about how the global capitalist economy really functions and how free the 'free markets' really are.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

November of Discontent

Matthew Parris, former British MP, writing in The Spectator (via Deccan Chronicle) about the recent French riots, plugs the Anglo-Saxon economic model:
Voters in France and Germany do not want their national economies to follow the Anglo-Saxon model. Popular instincts in France are protectionist. In both France and Germany the elaborate social machinery which cossets and protects workers at the expense of competitiveness is what most citizens want ... It is because European leaders do listen to their peoples, rather than because they do not, that their countries are saddled with the policies that the British want to see discarded.
Were I not in the middle of Noam Chomsky's Understanding Power right now, I would probably have let this go, may be even nod my head in agreement. Looking at the above passage from this new perspective, the first thing that comes to mind is Whither democracy? Does Parris imply that the will of the people really doesn't matter, and it is up to all-knowing elites to decide what is good for the hoi polloi?

I am not going to argue why protectionism may not actually be that bad a thing. Chomsky does it far better than I ever would.

Some conspiracy theory

Sharon quit Likud because he was under the threat of more damaging revelations vis-a-vis the plea-bargain of his son Omri in the corruption scandal.

I have no cites or logical arguments to back this up, of course; I just approached this story from a tin-foil-hat angle. [And you thought only Xymphora can come up with stuff like this :-)]

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Goodbye KDE, welcome Blackbox?

I have been having a lot of problems with KDE lately: the main panel freezes up quite often, leading to the whole system becoming unresponsive; the only way out is to power off and power on.

Looking for an alternative, I decided to try out Blackbox (I have sort of decided to stay away from Gnome for various reasons, BTW). Blackbox is very lightweight: you just get a window manager, nothing else. The advantage is that it is not resource-hungry, and the response (as well as startup) times are much faster.

To achieve the same levels of usability as KDE, you need to go for other components: iDesk for desktop icons and bbkeys for key bindings, for example.

I have set up iDesk, but it sure is a pain to have to create text files for each icon that I want on my desktop. But this is a one-off activity, so it's not that much of a PITA. bbkeys needs a newer version of than I have currently, so I don't have an easy way to manipulate the windows via the keyboard yet.

One drawback with BB is that when you minimise a window, it seems to disappear into the ether; you have to delve deep into the menu structure to get it back. There is supposed to be a way to tear off this menu and make it more accessible, but I haven't yet figured it out.

Indira Singh

I spent more than two hours yesterday listening to an interview of Indira Singh (9/11 researcher/whistleblower), and it was interesting to say the least. However, I am not sure whether she is a kook or the genuine article. Her credentials seem impeccable -- assuming she is the same Indira Singh who co-founded the Object Developers Group, but some of her contentions seem explosive: for example, she says that the elder Bush is directly implicated in some satanic cult rituals (after reading Programmed to Kill my ears seem to be specially tuned to pick these things up), but doesn't go into specifics.

Her main premise is that there is a core of around a hundred or so individuals who run a shadowy transnational organisation that is involved in money laundering, human/drug trafficking, global terrorism and so on, and that this group is in control of American politics. As, I said earlier, explosive stuff if true.

BTW, going by the one image I could find of her via Google, she's a serious contender to Sibel Edmonds in the eye candy stakes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Book Review: Programmed to Kill

Programmed to Kill is probably the most disturbing book I have ever read. It takes up the issues of serial killers, pedophilia, snuff films and satanic cults and exposes things which, in a sense, one is better off not knowing, such is the feeling of revulsion and black emotions that rise in you as you read the book. It's been about a day since I finished it, and I don't know for how long the loss of faith in the goodness of humanity will last (case in point: there have been [and probably still are] snuff films involving infants as young as two months; one cannot even begin to imagine the depravity of people who would do things like that).

The book is meticulously researched, with something like 500 references. McGowan analyses the various scandals like the busting of pedophile rings and how serial killers operated and were apprehended, and shows that the official story is woefully inadequate in explaining the facts, and mostly involved sham trials and coverups aimed at protecting pretty important government figures. He also lays the blame on secret government-sponsored mind control projects , which he claims are the reason why many of the serial killers turned out the way they did.

OK, now for the negative stuff: after a while, reading about the more or less identical life histories of serial killers becomes quite monotonous. Also, the book doesn't move towards any sort of denouement and ends on a slightly flat note. In fact, the first few chapters are IMO the best part of the book. There also could have been more coverage of the mind control stuff. But having said this, the book is still eminently unputdownable and is well worth your time and money.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

My first brush with DRM

I found that David McGowan's Programmed to Kill (no, it's not a book on programming) was available in eBook form, and seeing that it was a good bargain at $6, went ahead and bought it. I had bought an eBook from O'Reilly about a year ago, and didn't foresee any problems: you make the payment, you are taken to a download link, you download the PDF, and you are done with it.

Not so this time. I received an email containing the link, but on clicking it, I found that I did not have Adobe eBook Reader 1.1 installed. The page also contained a link to an eBook Reader download URL, which however produced a 404. Googling for 'adobe ebook reader linux' gave the first inkling of the trouble I was in: there was no version available for Linux.

Not willing to let my $6 go down the drain, I opened up my machine, swapped my Linux hard disk with the Windows one, and again tried the download URL, only to realise that I didn't have Adobe Reader 7.0 installed.

After a 28 MB download, the download URL finally did what it was supposed to do, but not before asking me to activate things by using my .NET Passport ID. Which I proceeded to do, and lo and behold, Page 1 of the book finally appeared before my eyes.

During the activation process, I was informed that it would be possible to transfer my activation rights to any other computer that I owned, so I proceeded to make a copy of the PDF and emailed it to myself in order to access it from Linux.

Swap hard disk, boot into Linux, open Gmail, download copy of PDF, fire up acroread, open said PDF, and I get a message saying that I do not have a required plug-in. kpdf was a bit more helpful, prompting me for a password (what password?).

OK, where do I sign up? To take part in the anti-DRM campaign, that is.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


A quote from Illicit (via Thomas Friedman):
Show me a democratically elected government today anywhere in the world with a popular mandate rooted in a landslide victory -- there aren't that many.
This principle applies here in India as well; witness the disproportionate sway that minor, regional parties with single-digit representation in parliament hold over the nation's policies.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Blog posts that never see the light of the day

Whenever I suffer from a bout of insomnia and lie awake thinking about stuff, I get some ideas which seem very worthy of blogging, but make me go "what was I thinking" the next morning. Some examples:
  1. What if time came to a standstill? Would it be a good or a bad thing?

  2. How I spend my time sitting through boring presentations, trying to classify the audience (and guessing their motivations for displaying acute symptoms of foot-in-the-mouth disease)

  3. A stinging critique of the Indian IT industry

  4. Office politics and some of my own Machiavellian tips and techniques to steer one's way clear of them
I am at home right now, on sick leave (the cause of last night's insomnia, probably), so I might even take up one of these topics if I am up to it.

Karthikeyan leaves F1

I do not know of any other instance where a team charges persons to represent it in a competition. I think this is more in the nature of a face-saving exit for him.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

How to _really_ enjoy a football match

I love football and can't think of a better way to spend a rainy evening than to lie sprawled on my sofa watching, say, a Champions League match between Juventus and Real Madrid, but how to get through an EPL encounter between two teams like Sunderland and West Brom (no offence to their fans), when you aren't rooting for either team and goals are hard to come by? Switching the TV off, changing channels or any other heretical suggestion is not an option, BTW.

Well, I have hit upon a way to stay focussed and interested even when faced with such matches: instead of counting the goals, you count other things and award points to the teams accordingly. I have chosen three candidates for this: a) number of corners gained b) number of shots on goal and c) number of shots on target. There is an overlap between b) and c), but it's the principle of the thing that matters, not the specifics. I award one point for each of these; were a team to score a goal, they get five points [*].

Keeping track of these points not only gives you something to keenly look out for, it also helps you to appreciate the pulse of the match; at any given point, you can say which team is dominating the proceedings, how the tide has turned in the last 15 minutes, and so on.

I piloted this strategy in the Man United - Chelsea game last Sunday, and for what it's worth, though United were winners by goal margin, Chelsea clearly came out on top according to my system (if I remember correctly, the score was something like 23-14 in Chelsea's favour).

[*] a) You can extend this to include things like the number of offsides, the number of free kicks in threatening positions and so on, but then you start to get mired in statistics instead of concentrating on the game b) I have not yet decided whether to award only five points for a goal. My gut feeling is that it should be higher.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Some Nietzsche

Tiring of reading fiction and spending too much time on the Internet, I dusted off my copy of The Story of Philosophy. I started with Kant, but was soon lost in the intricacies of his arguments (the primary point he makes is that our knowledge doesn't come just from our senses; I couldn't make much headway beyond that). I tried Nietzsche next, and man, was I in for a treat. Not only is Nietzsche's philosophy more easily understandable, he is way more entertaining and controversial as well.

Nietzsche's premise is that to strive for equality among men is folly and that democracy goes against men's instincts. In fact, he is against the equality of the sexes as well. He is also against communism, socialism, Christianity, feminism, anarchism, hedonism, capitalism and terrorism (alright, I made the last one up).

Nietzsche posits that all of us, openly or otherwise, aspire to be supermen and that might is right, morals and justice be damned. He considers this aspiration to be natural and not something to be suppressed or to be ashamed of, and that things like democracy which belittle this aspiration by glorifying equality and egalitarianism are to be shunned. Nietzsche also seems enamoured with war, strife and conflict, which provide an opportunity for man to revel in the glory they bring and to shape his will and character. Speaking of will, he also says that "instinct is the most intelligent of all kinds of intelligence which have hitherto been discovered." Shades of Robert Pirsig?

Some of his other, more inflammatory, quotes:
"Shop-keepers, Christians, cows, women, Englishmen, and other democrats belong together."
"Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman hath one answer: its name is childbearing."
OK, that's enough of Philosophy 101. Back to scheduled programming.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Internet: a vile institution?

Here I am, dutifully visiting every fricken day to see if any new articles have been posted, so that I can add them to the RSS feed that I maintain, and Fisk goes and calls the Internet a vile institution? WTF?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bad timing is

...when you start digging hungrily into your dinner, just in time to catch the Jeff Daniels bathroom accident scene in Dumb and Dumber in its full glory, stereophonic sound effects and all :-(


What did you do to her to deserve this?

Oracle CFO resigns

The reason I am posting about this is this article by Paul Graham:
Sarbanes-Oxley is a law, passed after the Bubble, that drastically increases the regulatory burden on public companies. And in addition to the cost of compliance, which is at least two million dollars a year, the law introduces frightening legal exposure for corporate officers. An experienced CFO I know said flatly: "I would not want to be CFO of a public company now."
I have said some unflattering things about Paul Graham's essays some time ago, and I haven't really changed my opinion yet; I came upon this one via the JoS discussion forum.

Movie Review: The Legend of Zorro

We hadn't planned on seeing The Legend of Zorro at all; Fahrenheit 9/11 had at last made an appearance here, and I was looking forward to watching that, but on reaching the theatre we found that F-9/11 was cancelled due to technical reasons, so The Legend... it was.

  1. If you wear a mask that only covers your eyes, while leaving the rest of your face clearly visible to everybody (in fact, you stand around like a dumbass basking in the adulation of your fans), and yet nobody can figure out what your real identity is, who is the bigger idiot here? Those of us watching all this, the village people, or the guys who made the movie?

  2. The spats between Banderas and Zeta-Jones are pathetically unfunny.

  3. What's worse than watching Banderas making somersaults hither and thither without so much as a speck of dust alighting on his clothes or his face? Watching Zeta-Jones perform the same antics. What's even worse? Watching their &*^% kid do the somersaults, that's what.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Back to Linux

The cost of one moment of madness: about Rs 8,000 (one fried motherboard and a side order of a 256 meg memory card).

The hard disk turned out to be salvageable. I have now harvested the Linux machine for parts (except for the above-mentioned items) and have plugged the hard disk into the Windows box. Modern motherboards do not allow you to have multiple hard disks -- assuming that you want to hold on to one of the IDE slots for the CD/DVD drive, so I cannot retain the option of booting Linux or Windows; I will have to manually switch the hard disks for this.

One issue I am currently facing is that I am not able to go beyond a resolution of 640x480. The graphics card is built into the motherboard (Intel 810 chipset). Googling for this shows that this is a pretty common problem, but the suggested solutions (e.g. increasing the video RAM in the XF86Config file) don't seem to work (Update: Tweaking a BIOS setting for video memory did the trick).