Saturday, June 28, 2008

Here's an idea for a startup project

I was (re)reading Paul Graham's older essays [*], and was thinking about his contention that one can get ideas for startups just by reading a business newspaper for a week.

Well, I didn't do that, but here's an idea all the same.

The IT Department has taken to electronic filing of tax returns in a big way, and have published an XML schema for this, in addition to launching web services for consuming the electronic filings.

I have been using this system for filing my returns, and have found the procedures in place quite cumbersome -- last year it was Adobe Reader , with all its quirks and bugs, while this year it's an Excel document that serves the same purpose, though not very well.

Now, if somebody comes up with a tool that does this job in a more user-friendly manner, I'm sure there would be takers. Mind you, the tool would not be very complicated, so one cannot charge more than, say, 50 bucks for it, but there's still some money to be made.

There is already a web-based solution for this (, but it involves storing your personal finance data in somebody else's servers. The tool I have in mind will be a purely client-side solution, one that will simply take your data and create an XML version of it that you can upload to the IT department's website yourself. What the hell, one might even go all the way and put in the functionality to upload the XML file as well.

Things like piracy, ease of installation (think applets) are to be worked out, but hey, this is just a blog post, not a pitch to a VC.

[*] I know, I said earlier that I had stopped reading them, but his essays keep appearing on Reddit's front page, and let me be honest -- he does write well, and makes you question a lot of things.

Dave's Back

... and with some good stuff as usual:
I guess I need to pause here briefly to fend off a barrage of e-mails railing against my ‘racist’ reference to Barack Obama as a “whitish black guy.” For the record, I am not suggesting here that a black man cannot be articulate and well groomed. No, what I am suggesting is that what is fundamentally racist here is the fact that Mr. Obama is universally referred to as “Black” or “African-American” despite the fact that, according to my exacting mathematical calculations, he is actually precisely ½ black and ½ white. Wouldn’t it then be just as accurate to refer to Obama as “White” or “European-American”? Why is he disqualified from inclusion in the Caucasian ‘race’ even though he is every bit as white as he is black? In labeling him as “black,” aren’t we really saying that his bloodline is tainted? Aren’t we saying that, even though he has Caucasian blood, it isn’t pure enough for inclusion in the Master Race?

Two Words for Paul Krugman: Um, No.

I am usually in agreement with Paul Krugman's views, but not with this one:
What about those who argue that speculative excess is the only way to explain the speed with which oil prices have risen? Well, I have two words for them: iron ore. 

You see, iron ore isn’t traded on a global exchange; its price is set in direct deals between producers and consumers. So there’s no easy way to speculate on ore prices. Yet the price of iron ore, like that of oil, has surged over the past year. In particular, the price Chinese steel makers pay to Australian mines has just jumped 96 per cent. This suggests that growing demand from emerging economies, not speculation, is the real story behind rising prices of raw materials, oil included.
If the emerging economies continue to grow at more or less the same pace as for the last two or three years (and, in fact, are even slowing down, like in the case of India), where is this alleged "growing demand" coming from?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Germany 3 - 2 Turkey

... and Semih Şentürk can STFU at last. Maybe it's just me, but I found his repeated gesture of putting his finger to his lips and 'silencing' the opposite team's fans after scoring a goal incredibly obnoxious.

BTW, the loss of pictures from the stadium from the 75th minute or so onwards, just when things got interesting was, well, unique.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Gail Collins:
... picking a running mate is -- no disrespect intended -- like picking a pet. How much time are you planning to spend with the little fellow? How much exercise will he be getting on an average day? On the extreme, you have the William Wheeler model ("There's the living room. Go find a corner and sleep in it") On the other end, there's the Cheney version in which the pet takes over the chequebook, diversifies the family investment portfolio and starts strafing at the neighbour's cat.

There's a place for one-touch passing

... and it isn't in front of your own goal. When you have the opposite team's fowards breathing down your neck, the safest thing to do is to boot the ball, and hard.

I'm referring to the Russians. Not that they came to grief because of this, but they did make their supporters' hearts skip a bit. Having said that, to thrash a team as strong as the Netherlands with such delightful one-touch passing is something special.

Arshavin is going places next season, no doubt about it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Yeah, That'll Do It

From The Hindu:
...the general apprehension is that of yet another bout of monetary policy tightening by the RBI - which could lead to increases in lending rates with respect to automobile, housing and consumer loans.
New loans will become dearer, alright, but how's this going to have a direct bearing on the family budget? OK, I get it, below-poverty-line families thinking about buying a car, a house, or a flat-screen TV will balk at the high EMIs, and will therefore have more disposable income to spend on luxuries like food, thereby offsetting the pinch of higher prices. Bottom line is, this will not have a first order impact on inflation: the fuel prices hike is too much of a countervailing force on the other side.

On a side note [*], now that the inflation rate has reached truly alarming levels, the captains of industry have woken up. Not out of concern for the common man, but about sustaining economic growth:
Inflation is not only a concern for the government but also a concern for the industry.. [the unabated rise in prices] reduces the space for fiscal and monetary policy maneuverability without seriously impacting growth.
[*] Come to think of it, the concern over a rise in lending rates for say, flat-screen TVs, actually ties in with the worry about sacrificing economic growth. Silly me.

Quote of the Day

From a letter in today's Hindu:
The message that is loud and clear is: if you want a free helicopter ride plus your photo on the front page of national newspapers, sit tight on the main railway track and hold the nation to ransom.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Spot the Irony

Obama has to vehemently deny the 'slur' that he's a Muslim, while the EU is being chastised for blocking Turkey's entry into the Union:
All this is wrong-headed. Turkish membership of the EU is important - Bush is right about that - for historical reasons as overarching as Europe's debt to the nations Yalta imprisoned. No more important bridge could be forged at this moment between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fsck You Fridays

Dear cubicle dweller,
  1. Tired of having to put up with colleagues who refuse to respond to your emails unless you copy their supervisor in the email and/or tag a return receipt notification?

  2. Do you feel like smashing your fist on the face of the punctilious jerk who a) rejects your IT request form because you had selected the wrong category and b) refuses to respond to emails asking him to enlighten you as to what the fricken correct category is?

  3. Are you sick of HR folks whom you talk to 24 hours ago about your problem, but who feign complete loss of memory and ask you to start from the beginning all over again?
Fret no more, because 'Fsck You Fridays' is here. Every Friday, between 3 and 4 PM, one workstation on each floor will be open to you and your fellow cube-dwellers for you to express your unalloyed love for the above-mentioned folks. Just walk up to the screen, type in the employee number of the person you would like to bless, a short description as to why you love them, and press 'Submit'. The object of your affection will instantly receive a missive (anonymous, of course) that encapsulates your sentiments, accompanied by a cheap plastic hand (life-sized) performing a one-finger salute.

Thrilled? Jumping with joy? Wait, there's more. Employees winning more than ten tokens of affection in a month will be entered in a monthly 'Screw You Sundays' raffle where...

Corporate Cross Functional Team on Motivation and Employee Empowerment (CCFTMEE)


I have been coming up to speed on REST for the last couple of days or so. Some obvious and some not-so-obvious things I've learned:
  1. REST may be the architectural style on which the World Wide Web was built, but it's not exactly tailor made for web applications (accessed by humans from browsers).

  2. Since REST favors a stateless mode of interaction, transactions will have to be done outside REST (not even sure if this is possible), or we'll have to treat each service invocation as atomic, and build compensating transactions a la BPEL.

  3. REST mandates that we model the application in terms of resources and representations. Not sure how well can this be mapped to the domain we are modeling. It's easy to say 'think in terms of resources, not services', but dressing up an itinerary creation service as an itinerary creator object (sorry, resource) doesn't cut it, IMHO.

  4. We need an HTTP client to program to a REST service; support for PUT/DELETE in browsers is not available (yet?). Don't know whether this can be done in JavaScript.

  5. If we want to architect a web application whose service layer is implemented in REST, we will need two web/application server layers -- one to receive the request from the browser client, and another that actually implements the service. The two layers can be collocated, of course.

  6. This is a minor nit: since one of the strengths of REST is the uniform interface, there is no interface specification (equivalent of WSDL), and we cannot generate the service invocation code automatically.

  7. More network traffic as we need to transport more information to the service because of its statelessness.

  8. Authentication information needs to be sent with each request. This implies that the first layer in point #5 will have to manage the session data if it is servicing a user logged in from the browser application. The scalability benefits are therefore not available to this layer.

  9. Issues like locking, concurrency, etc. seem tricky. I haven't thought this through yet, but off the top of my head, things like including a timestamp field in the representation seem necessary.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

That's a new one

Spammers/Hackers have now taken to insulting their potential targets: there's an email in my spam folder with the subject 'You look really stupid rajesh.jayaprakash' with a link to a Windows executable called video.exe, which is probably malware.


Yuvraj Singh has agreed to present the Man of the Match award at a Euro 2008 match on Sunday. Nothing of significance here -- he is supposedly a Man United fan and would love to meet Ronaldo -- except that if the Tri-Nation final on Saturday spills over to the reserve day, i.e. Sunday, there will be a conflict in his schedule.

Turns out that Carlsberg's first choice was Dhoni, but he declined on account of the above potential schedule conflict. Considering that Dhoni is also a keen football fan, this says something about his commitment, doesn't it? Or does it have more to do with his being the captain of the team?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's Ten Years Later

... and Bilic is now standing in the Croatian team dugout, not as player, but as team manager. Managers are getting younger all the time -- Southgate is another player-turned-manager who comes to mind -- but it still feels odd to see Bilic, earring and all, try to appear comfortable in a suit.

Incidentally, Bilic is best remembered (at least by me) for being given hell by the French fans in World Cup '98 for making Laurent Blanc miss the final because of an ill-deserved yellow card acquired on account of Bilic's histrionics.

Monday, June 09, 2008

My VA Smalltalk Experience

  1. You need to register to download an evaluation copy. Strike one.

  2. The setup program complains about the non-existence of '/usr/local/VASmalltalk/7.5', which needs to be created manually.

  3. Run the setup program; hit error "Runtime Error -- couldn't open file with UnixProcess". Readme.txt says you need csh, or you can try fooling the installer by creating a symbolic link to bash and naming it as 'csh'. Strike two.

  4. Not wanting to cut corners, you install csh. The error goes away, and you are able to complete the installation.

  5. OK, how do we start VA Smalltalk? Turns out you are not done with the installation yet. Need to run a program called 'vasetup'. This creates a copy of the image and other files.

  6. You try starting VA by running the command 'xterm -sb -e abt&'. Nothing happens, except for the screen flickering for a moment. Go back to the documentation, and find that there are a number of things you still have to do, starting with tweaking the abt.ini file followed by changing the ownership of the manager -- whatever that means -- and a whole lot of other things that may be necessary with Linux.

  7. By now you are pretty much at the end of your tether and decide that it's simply not worth it. Strike three. rm -rf /usr/local/VASmalltalk
It's 2008, and the fact that I'm using Linux shouldn't mean that I need to jump through so many hoops. These guys need to make things way, way simpler. They can look at how VisualWorks does things, for starters.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Left is at it again - Part 2

They will not be man enough to walk out of the government and bring it down, but still want to earn brownie points with the public through protests and bandhs against the fuel prices hike. Fscking hypocrites.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


I received the latest VMWare Corporate Email Newsletter today. By definition, there's bound to be a lot of corporate blah-blah in it, but it was quite surprising that somebody in VMWare itself seems to think so:

The culprit (if you could call it that) is Gmail; since it doesn't display images by default, the alt text is all you see when you open the email.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Movie Review: Indiana Jones and the Alien Skull

(I know, the name is not quite correct)

I've either reached the limits of my tolerance for these action flicks, or the latest edition of Indiana Jones really sucks. Either way, not the most enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

For a change, let me try being more objective about my review; I'll lay down the parameters for evaluation and their respective weightages first, then rate the movie along these parameters ( * cough enterprisey cough *):
  1. Ability to hold viewer's attention (25%)
  2. Quality of stunts/effects/action sequences (15%)
  3. Crispness of dialog (15%)
  4. Clicheness index (15%)
  5. Originality of the plot (10%)
  6. Believability of the plot (5%)
  7. Quality of the cast and their acting (15%)
Ability to hold the viewer's attention: Though the movie doesn't grab your attention and refuse to let it go, it doesn't drag on, either. Three stars.

Quality of stunts/effects/action sequences: I expected better from an Indiana Jones sequel. Pity that they couldn't come up with something decent even for the climax. Two stars.

Crispness of dialog: Some of the dialog between Dr Jones and Mike raises a few chuckles, but pretty lame otherwise. Two and a half stars.

Clicheness Index: Exhibit A: Old couple on an expedition bickering with each other even as they save each others' lives. Exhibit B: Expedition goes into a cave in the climax, expedition does something inside, everything comes tumbling down, expedition (minus expendables/villains) hauls ass. Been there, done that. One star (the parameter name is misleading, actually; the higher the stars, the better the movie. Please send me a change request -- please use form CCRF020 -- filled out in triplicate, and I'll see what I can do).

Originality of the plot: This is the fourth (?) movie in the franchise. Need I say more? Two stars.

Believability of the plot: I'm willing to cut some slack here, this is Indiana Jones, after all. Two and a half stars.

Quality of the cast and their acting: I like Harrison Ford quite a lot, but he seems to be getting too old for this kind of stuff. The rest of the cast just seem to be along for the ride, except maybe for the Russian lady villain. Two stars.

Overall rating: 2.2 stars

Now for the subjective part:
  1. Is it just me, or was there an attempt to revive the Cold War propaganda? I'm talking about the evil Russians who slaughter innocent indigenous tribes and cut down the rain forests.

  2. Which kind of idiot tries to use a snake as a rope to rescue people drowning in quicksand? Staying on the subject, Dr Jones' exposition of the difference between quicksand and drysand even as he is being sucked in was instrumental in taking away half a star from the Believability parameter.

  3. Every movie has a satori moment, a sort of tipping point when (a) you realize that the money spent on the ticket was worth it or (b) you want to slap yourself on the forehead (a la Priety Zinta in the IPL semis). For me, this moment occurred with Professor Oxley's "They are in the space between spaces" comment. I leave it as an exercise to the gentle reader to figure out whether it was in the context of (a) or (b).
On second thought, I'm going to deduct 0.1 stars because I couldn't get the irritating theme music out of my head till 11:30 PM.