Sunday, January 29, 2006

Movie Review: Transporter 2

I didn't really expect much from the movie, other than something to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon, so it was a pleasant surprise that it wasn't too sucky. In fact, there are very few moments when one feels bored; the action is non-stop, and there is always something or the other happening, never mind how outlandish it is or how clichéd the dialog is in some places. I'll just mention two gems:
  1. The way Jason Statham removes the bomb placed under his car by executing a somersault and using a crane hook to prise it loose

  2. How he uses an iPod to transfer a picture from a PC to a Unix machine at the police headquarters (that his French sidekick somehow manages to hack into in a matter of seconds).

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ontology, taxonomy and etymology

In addition to having a lot of O's, these words have something else in common: their meanings have to be looked up every time you encounter them. You come across them in the course of your reading, a dim light goes off somewhere in the recesses of your brain, but it's not bright enough to avoid a lookup, and off you go to

I used to consider semantics in the same category, but nailed it firmly by taking recourse to XML: if an XML document is well-formed, it's syntactically correct, while it has to be valid (i.e. satisfy a schema/DTD) to be semantically correct. I guess there is something to the rumour that XML can solve world hunger, if only we would let it.

The Cobra Event

I am reading Richard Preston's The Cobra Event, or I should rather say "was reading", because I have no intention of finishing the book. Ignoring the demonising of Iraq (this book was written much before the American invasion, so whatever one reads about Iraq's WMD capabilities must be seen for what it really is), I didn't really like the style of the prose, with it's a) over-reliance on the knowledge of esoteric matter to carry the plot and b) the soapboxing. Here is an instance of the second kind:
It was Charles Darwin who first understood that evolution is caused by natural selection, and that natural selection is death. He also understood that vast amounts of death (vast amounts of natural selection) are required to effect a small permanent change in the shape or behavior of an organism. Without huge amounts of death, organisms do not change over time. Without death, life would never have become more complex than the simplest self-copying molecules. The arms of a starfish could not have happened without countless repetitions of death. Death is the mother of structure. It took four billion years of death -- a third of the age of the universe -- for death to invent the human mind. Given another four billion years of death, or perhaps a hundred billion years of death, who can say that death will not create a mind so effective and subtle that it will reverse the fate of the universe and become God? The smell in the Manhattan morgue is not the smell of death; it is the smell of life changing its form. It is evidence that life is indestructible.
Replace death with life, i.e. that natural selection is the rewarding of fitness with life, and the above paragraph's basic premise is still valid, but the sentence about the Manhattan morgue doesn't have a leg to stand on, showing that the mini-lecture about natural selection is pretty much extraneous.

Is it just me

... or does listening to some of Coldplay's songs feel like having a bored sheep piss on you :-) ?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Slovak, anyone?

A post in a Slovak Linux forum has a question related to my Conexant page. My Slovak being a bit rusty (non-existent, rather), I don't know what the question is and whether I need to update my instructions.

Najde sa niekdo kdo mi pomoze?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Best. Ad. Ever.

The ad with the laughing baby doll taped to the garage roof. Call me a sadist, but the little girl's expression as she watches her brother(?) and his friend hammer the doll is absolutely priceless.

Security Through Obscurity

I didn't get the receipt for an online insurance premium payment that I had made recently, so I went to the LIC home page to find a phone number I could call regarding this. But instead of a number, I found something even better: a link called 'Next Due', which would tell me the status of my payment without my having to talk to someone. On clicking on this link, I was prompted for my policy number (note: no login/registration required), and on entering the number, I was shown the premium amount, the date of the most recent payment and the date by which the next premium was due.

Neat. Only problem is, this information is available for the whole world to see.

Quote of the day

If this was the Middle Ages, and Magellen was an American, and we sailed around the planet and found out it was round instead of flat, we wouldn't tell anybody so we could attack from the rear.
-- William S Burroughs

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Distro Promiscuity

Well, after finding an easier way to integrate the Conexant modem into the kernel, I have made Kubuntu (the distro on which I piloted the approach) my primary distro. Coupled with putting my data and software in their own separate partitions, accessible from multiple installations, the move from Suse to Kubuntu was pretty much seamless. Though it feels good to be back to a 100% non-commercial distro, I might continue playing with other distros, seeing as to how easy the switch has become.

Speaking of Kubuntu, it has come a long way since my last brush with it. Definitely ready for prime time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Some More Chess

No, I'm not going to post any more smartass Tao quotes.

I have gotten quite good at engaging the computer. I even managed to obtain a legitimate draw last week (albeit by means of a perpetual check, but a draw is still a draw).

The secret of this success lies in my decision to stick to just one line of openings; I have resolved that I will open all my games with d4 (i.e. the queen pawn). The computer reacts to this in a pretty standard and predictable way, so I have managed to steer clear of errors and reach a balanced middle game most of the time. Research reveals that there are only about 13 openings involving 1.d4, so boning up on the main ideas and objectives behind them shouldn't be too much of a task.
Using only a little knowledge,
I would travel the Great Way
And fear only of letting go.
The Great Way is very even;
Yet people love the byways.

-- Lao Tzu
(Sorry, couldn't resist)


I have posted about this before, but thought I would mention it again in a related context. One of the 'no-mind' [*] activities that I engage in quite often is ironing my clothes. It's usually a mechanical activity, and I don't give much thought to it, but looking back over the years, and paying more attention recently, I realise that in addition to getting to wear neater clothes, I have benefited in other ways as well: for someone like me who spends most of his time in left brain activities, the fifteen or so minutes I spend ironing a shirt provides my mind the rare opportunity to wander unfettered. Mind you, this is different from meditation, where the objective is to quieten one's mind. The benefits also seem to differ from the rest obtained by the mind from a good night's sleep.

[*] I am using the term 'no-mind' in the inaccurate, but nonetheless common, sense. It has a wholly different meaning in Buddhist philosophy.

Related thought experiment: how would it be like to go through a whole day without any kind of verbalisation: no talking, reading, programming, not even 'thinking in words' (i.e. practising the real 'no-mind')?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Of Kernels and Modules - Part II

A quick and dirty way of doing things is in place. I still get "LCP terminated by peer" errors when I try to connect after installing the driver this way, but this may be a problem with my set up, since the modules get loaded properly and the modem firmware is also loaded. Still working on it.

Update: Got things to work. Had to set up the connection using pppconfig.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Of Kernels and Modules

Taking a fresh look at my instructions for setting up the Conexant AccessRunner modem in Linux, I realise that they don't address a quite common scenario: what if you already have a kernel later than 2.6.10? Some digging around reveals that it is not very difficult to compile a module into an existing kernel (this page provides good instructions). I'm going to give this approach a shot and post the results, both here and on the How To page.

Oh, and I finished reading LOTR. As a mark of my respect and appreciation, my posts for the rest of the month will be in the style of Westron or the Common Speech.The title of today's post is an attempt in that direction. Just kidding. Verily.

Monday, January 09, 2006

King Kong

I watched King Kong yesterday, or more accurately, King, since we left the theatre during the intermission. We could only manage front row seats, and that too at the edge of the screen. If you have not experienced this situation, trust me, it's no fun craning your neck upwards at an unnatural angle and turning your head this way and that all the time to stay with the action. The closeups of the hideous natives in the island didn't help, either.

Iran and WMD

There's an article in today's Hindu about Iran's nuclear ambitions and how we have not really come up with a consistent way to handle atomic energy. It makes for some pretty depressing reading. An analogy that comes to mind is the way my jousts with the chess computer have been ending of late: I am about 25 moves into the game, all the pieces have been developed (to the best of my abilities), and there are no immediate threats to deal with. But there is something structurally wrong with the whole setup; I do not seem to have many options. Any option I consider seems to have some negative implication, some gotcha that seems insurmountable. The only way out is the meta-solution, i.e. the reset button.

The problem with the current situation is that instead of a reset button, there is only a big, red one.

Google Earth on Linux

Following the instructions in the Gentoo wiki, I managed to install and run Google Earth in Linux, but only after trying my luck with three different Wine versions (0.9.4 did it for me, finally).

After going through all these troubles, I must confess that all the effort seems to have been in vain (sort of): though I am able to zoom in and out and twirl the globe with my mouse, the menu items and the navigation buttons appear only when I hover the mouse over them. I also haven't figured out how to input coordinates and zoom there directly, if that is at all possible.

Put me down for Less Than Impressed.

Smeagol, my precious

I am nearly through with LOTR, and the action is pretty much over: the ring has been successfully destroyed and the characters are well into singing their songs of glory, and guess what? The one thing that sticks to my mind, the one thing I'm sure I'll remember long after I forget everything else in the book, is the Gollum character. Tolkien's writing really stands out in Gollum's utterings; one is filled with delight and tender pity for the wretched creature, with its soliloquies and peculiar way of talking.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

MBAs and Distributive Justice

There is yet another full-page ad for IIPM in The Hindu today. I am not going to say much about the solicitation for admissions, except that it seems inappropriate for someone to call the IIMs and their ilk "the MBA mafia" and at the same time use their name in their advertisements ("Dare to think beyond the IIMs..."). My post is about an article that appears as part of the ad. The article can be found here.
  1. The article (IMHO) correctly recognises that unbridled capitalism is not a Good Thing (tm) and must be tempered by humanism, which it claims is the "social vision" of IIPM. But distributive justice, the proposed remedy, and "to each according to his need" seem too close to communism for comfort.

  2. The reason given for the faster expansion of business in China seems pretty weak and nebulous:
    ... present MBA course structure concentrating only on market segments by individual profit making units. This fails to explain the potentiality of market expansion through distributive justice. Potentiality of business is always in harmony with growth rate of national economy. That is why business expands much more rapidly in China compared with expansion of business seen in India in the past.
    though I do agree with the ultimate aim of "raising the living standards of the people at the bottom".

  3. The footnote claims that the column has a monthly readership of 75,000,000. I am not sure whether this astronomical figure is for the online edition or for the print version. In any case I would like a cite before taking it seriously.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Cruelty to Animals

In the end, only kindness matters.
-- Jewel
A sight that one often comes across on the roads of Chennai (or, for that matter, on any Indian road) is that of an emaciated bull struggling to pull an overloaded cart, frothing at the mouth, while its master keeps whipping it in order to spur it up the incline. The only way I can reconcile this injustice in my mind is by taking recourse to karma: may be the bull had done some evil things in a previous life for which it is now payback time. May be it was a Hitler, or who knows, it could even be that it played the role of the cart-driver in an earlier avatar. But even assuming that this 'explanation' is true, the current suffering of the poor creature still doesn't seem right. Screw karma.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Tao of Chess

The knight is without a place to thrust its dagger
  The rook is without a place to affix its claw
The queen is without a place to admit her blade

Why is this so?
 Because your pawns are strong.

Commentary: Avoid standard pawn weaknesses: the isolated pawn, the backward pawn and the doubled pawn.

Lead the organisation with correctness.
 Direct the military with surprise tactics.
Take hold of the world with effortlessness.

Commentary: Always make moves that either win the initiative or maintain it.

... to rise above people,
One must, in speaking, stay below them.
 To remain in front of people,
One must put oneself behind them.

Commentary: Avoid moves that impede the development of other pieces.

Evolved individuals regard the center and not the eye.
 Hence they discard one and receive the other.

Commentary: Control the center (the squares d4,e4,d5 and e5).

A good lock has no bar or bolt,
 And yet it cannot be opened.
A good knot does not restrain,
 And yet it cannot be unfastened.

Commentary: Make sure that all your pieces are defended at all times.

(Apologies to Lao Tzu)