Friday, October 29, 2004

A couple of interesting vides on the web right now - anti-Bush, anit-war. (Any way you want to see it). The animation on Eminem's video is good. Some of today's animation videos , - (Linkin Park's "Breaking the Habit" anime video comes to mind) are pretty nifty. My favorite though is Pearl Jam's "Do the Evolution". It's not for the faint-hearted though - lots of violent imagery.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

India needs a Schwarznegger

India needs Arnold Schwarznegger. No, I am not joking. The reason a lot of real reform and progressive measures get held up in government is because of vested interests. Everyone has their axe to grind, and axe-grinders are generally people who have supported the formation of the government. It isn't very different in the US. It's more sophisticated and they call it "lobbying". Arnold however, has been more successful as compared to others in pushing through some things, and it looks like he may be able to get more done than most.

Don't take my word for it. Read this Wired magazine article.

Having Warren Buffett as consigliori doesn't hurt, of course. However, he derives his power not from backroom politics, ( gotya as we would have called it back in the COEP days, or jugaad in my CMU days) but from his star power and charisma. He doesn't need senator or congressmen endorsements to survive. Which is the reason he can ram through fiscally and politically tough decisions, and get away with calling his opponents "Mickey Mouse men".

A government like that won't hurt in India. No vested interests means the best man for the job, and some great progressive measures (first on my wishlist: A complete overhaul of the judicial system) .

However, in India , we cannot do with just a PM like that. We need 273 mini-Arnolds, to keep him in power as well. But even one popular person at the helm with nothing to lose, and things might get interesting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The case against pirated software

There are a lot of tools that we need, which do not come standard with Windows. Common ones include CD burning software to burn ISO images, an FTP client, a SSH/SFTP client, Office productivity software, firewall software, and importantly anti-virus software. Some of these may come standard with the computer you purchase, but most of this is stuff you need to install yourself. There is an obvious temptation to just head over to Kazaa, or BitTorrent, and get pirated copies, or get eval copies and keys / cracks off astalavista.

However, over the past couple of years, there are an increasingly large number of genuinely free - meaning free as in beer and/or freedom options available for a lot of this software. This in itself makes a case for not using these. Head over to to find pretty good free versions of software you need.

But enough of me moralizing. The REAL reason you should not download this is that the potential for malware is fairly high. It is trivial for someone to totally mess up your system by making you install malware Nasty 2.1 when you think you are installing Nero 7.1. Why take the risk? It is increasingly not worth it, when there are mature, stable pieces of free software available for most reasonable uses online. Except for MS Office and Symantec AV (I have this from an academic license from school), everything else I run is freeware/open source. And absolutely everything I run is 100% legal. No piracy in software.

here's a list to give you a better idea
Windows XP home - came bundled with my laptop
Browser - Firefox
Mail Client - Thunderbird
Firewall - ZoneAlarm free version
Music Player/CD burner -iTunes
DVD Player - Intervideo (came bundled with my laptop)
CD (ISO) Burner - DeepBurner
FTP/SFTP client/server - Filezilla (GPL - from sourceforge)
Photo manipulation - GIMP - it's overkill, since I use it mainly for lowering resolution on digital photos.

Additonally recommended - AVG
Spybot search and destroy

Get all these off - fast mirrors help the case.

I rest my case - except for Windows itself (I need that for VPN access to my office), and Office XP ( for legacy reasons - many documents don't work well with OpenOffice), I've reached the point where my dependency on paid software is reduced. It makes eminent economic sense, as I am getting off the latest and best upgrade treadmill that companies want you to be on. I am not a gizmo freak, so the support for the latest USB/FireWire knick-knack isn't important to me. Support for a digital camera, whenever I buy one will be, as will be support for sound and wireless. For my present and short-term future requirements, this seems to be working fine.

If you feel you are the cat's whiskers when it comes to coding or something, hop over and land a hand at one of the open-source projects. Find one that fits your interests and skills, and maybe you'll feel justified for taking all that stuff for free :-). And even if you don't, it's perfectly legal. Though it's amazing to see how so many people seem to be giving back.

No, I don't work on any of those projects. However, I do documentation for the Internet Archive

Push vs. Pull Media

I don't come home and watch TV( I don't own one, and don't plan to buy one for the next few months). My entertainment comes from music, reading news online, reading books from the library and online, and watching movies on my 15'' PC monitor. (that may be a big factor in me eventually buying a TV) . I 'pull' in media I am interested in - no one shoves it down my throat. This includes finding music on the radio/web that may be interesting, and then buying or downloading it off iTunes (Though I prefer free off :-)). I want no one to control what I can read/listen to. Having a TV, to me personally at least is an invitation to passivity. I'd pretty soon get to just channel-surfing, and watching the countless reality shows/sitcoms TV puts out.

I hope there are more people out in the world doing this. The consolidation of media in the US - especially TV and radio has left a major gap where there was thoughtful entertainment once. Mainstream radio offers no critiques of music, just the latest and cutest from manufactured pop (and now hip-hop) acts. There is no value left in being different or edgy any more. If Ashlee Simpson defines alternative rock (that's what plays on Yahoo!'s "Adult Alternative" station), God help us all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Yay for Homer!!!

A poll of the most popular TV character for Persident chose Homer Simpson as the next Prez.

Link is here

Nice role model that for people all over the world. A relief is that Martin Sheen of West Wing at least made it to second place. But Phoebe from Friends making it to the top 10 indicates where the Oval Office stands in terms of intelligence, in the minds of TV viewers at least.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Smart, Gross Humor

I got a chance to see South Park- The Movie last week. After having to bear absolute drivel like American Pie and Eurotrip in the past 2-3 years (not to mention the few dozen such teen "comedies" I completely avoided seeing), "South Park, bigger, longer, uncut" was a pleasant surprise.

South Park - The Movie, to those familiar with the TV series would come as no big surprise. But, for me, who hardly watches TV, it was a pleasant change. Sure, it has the usual 'grade-school humor'(as a reviewer put it). However, it has a lot of pointed references, that are even more relevant in the world we live in than they were when the movie was made. The incessant moralizing over the f-word, and the hypocrisy when it comes to violence, are all present. The South Park gang fart, puke and swear their way through morals-bound America at war with Canada over two "immoral" movie stars (modeled on the SP creators themselves). It's metaphor at its grossest. And it works.

Only, you need real stomach to forgive some of the regular South Park jokes ( Stan throwing up on his girl-friend everytime he meets her). But something in the movie clicked with me.

Watch out for South Park references, as I catch up with older series on DVD/P2P.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Of Iconoclasm and Hackers

I always thought being contrary was a quirk I had. I've never tried to curb it, but this consistent instinct to not confirm is an itch that I keep trying to scratch. I don't seem to succeed much at it though. Like a few million others, I ended up in the computer industry. That I did by choice and for the love of it (unlike many people I know) is entirely incidental. As is the fact that I decided to come to the US not because of a major fascination for all things phoren, but because I really wanted to get some education at an institution where I'd have fun learning. Add to that, the fact that I'm in New Jersey, the biggest adda of desis in the US. I think it would have been cool to have been the only Indian in town in a place like say, North Dakota. But maybe not. Life is complicated as it is, without adding to "I don't having a place to buy rotis from" to the list.

Do I sound confused? I think not. As Devendra would say, I am a Libran, and this is my primary characteristic. A Libran's favorite phrase apparently is "on the other hand", as he tries to balance out the two opposing trains of thought in his mind.

Forget it. Back to being contrary...

Paul Graham, says that this is an attitude hackers have. I am not a hacker by any standards (yes, I code, but hacking is on a different level. ) This man here is a hacker. But, I guess,I belong to that mindset. Or, I'd like to think I do.

However, I feel that his new book Hackers and Painters, should make for a good read.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

How you doin'

I was wondering today if I'm putting pressure on myself to write everyday just for the heck of it.

However, it's fun to kind of put down something extremely evocative. Maybe I'll read this when I'm 70, and get a slice of what I was going through back then. In that case, I should probably make this a very personal blog, a catharsis. A public display of my rawest emotions.

Sorry. Not interested. There are better places to put my emotional constipation on display. This here is dedicated to the Yankees (how you doin'). I don't follow baseball, and I don't even know if the (New York) Yankees are winning against the Boston Red Sox. But listening to all the pep songs on radio makes me say that. Let me say that again:

How you doin'

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I'd rather dance with you

I notice that a lot of my posts over the past few days have been music-related. It's just that my antennae are really tuned in to music just now. This here is an amazingly sweet song. The video adds to the allure, sure, but this song to me is reminiscient of "Lemon Tree" - that song so defined life back then -

"I'm sitting in here in my boring room
It's another lazy sunday afternoon,
I'm wasting my time, got nothing to do.
I'm hanging around, waiting for you,

But nothing ever happens."

And, on the topic of music, Robbie Williams' Best Of CD is out in the UK today. Fat chance of getting it here, only horribly pricey imported CDs. Robbie Williams somehow never really took off here in the US, despite trying quite hard. In fact, he had a special CD release for here.

Amazing, but this country is really an island, with no clue of some of the really good stuff outside.

And yes, U2's new CD is out next month - 22nd November. It's titled "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" . Love that title.

I'm looking forward to them touring the US next year. They have a tour to promote their new album, and I'm almost sure they'll play here. Something to look forward to next summer.

Monday, October 18, 2004

U2 + Apple = cool

Its criminal. No brand should be allowed to be so cool. U2's new ad for iTunes + iPod is stunning. The familiar white earphones, combined with the distinctive U2 sound absolutely sizzles( Check: Album release date). If you have iTunes installed, check out the extended version. No wonder Apple sells for such a premium. People would kill to be seen wearing those white earphones. I think I'll get a pair of white earphones for my sastaa portable CD player, just to appear cool.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Dada and his ideas

Ganguly's been much-maligned in the past few months. It's a bit harsh for someone who brought India to a competitive level after they'd been really down for a few years. His form as a batsman right now leaves a lot to be desired, and there are jokes about making him a non-playing captain, a la the Davis Cup. This article however makes a good case of his motivations. I myself find his treatment of Akash Chopra not quite exemplary, and I still don't know why we can't find a better wicketkeeper than Parthiv Patel. But Saurav Ganguly knows what he is doing. At least a billion people hope he does.

News for me. Stuff that matters

While cribbing all this while about the egregious quality of the Times of India, and looking for a Real Indian Englilsh newspaper, I kind of forgot the old suspect - the Indian Express. Revisiting it was a pleasant surprise.

A real emphasis on news and analysis. A nice array of columnists - Sucheta Dalal, Arun Shourie, Thomas Friedman. I am shifting affiliations - the TOI is not receiving too many of my pageviews now.

I don't remember doing anything so drastic. Not even when I stopped using IE for Mozilla anyway. I mean, a browser is a 3 year, maybe 4 year habit. It's not disruptive. You click on a different icon for accessing the same pages. But a newspaper is a lifetime association. But the TOI online has left me with no choice.

My only grouse - not just with the Express, but with many major Indian websites is the pop-ups. It's bad manners, and I think the websites themselves should know better than to force the latest matrimonial website, or online degree in our face. The surprising thing is, a couple of these escape through Firefox's pop-up blocker. Talk about Indian ingenuity.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The buzz in my ears

"I don't want to be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately
All I have to do is think of me and I have peace of mind
I'm tired of looking 'round rooms wondering what I gotta to do
Or who I'm supposed to be
I don't want to be anything other than me"

Off Gavin DeGraw's now quite well-known song "I don't want to be" (it's apparently the title track of some TV series, which kind of catapulted him to fame last year). The guitar riff's pretty neat and kind of draws you to the song quickly. Thats whats been buzzing in my ears all day - I've already heard this song at least 5-6 times.

He has a weird reference to a prison guard's son, but then I read somewhere that he IS a prison guard's son. Neat trick , weaving that into a song.

Friday, October 15, 2004

The democratization of writing

The arrival of blogs has let a lot of people, including yours truly go public with their opinions on all things under the sun. Atrocious writing, lack of knowledge, lack of an audience, nothing stops us intrepid bloggers from soldiering on. Try the next blog link on the top of my page, or that of any blogger blogs you visit, to see a surprising variety of blogs - in different languages.

This throws up the classic paradox. Freedom of speech is always a good thing. But, with the rise of blogs, the chances of encountering bad writing on the net are also on the rise. Many blogs are simply opinion pieces, but blogs are being increasingly used to mobilize more people and push agendas.

And speaking of pushing agendas online, Wired magazine recently carried an interesting set of articles on how right and left wing bloggers are working on increasing their candidates' online visibility (something ought to be done about their credibility too) in the forthcoming elections in the US.

However, this blog deserves to be banned, for the absolutely atrocious drivel on it. This article on the blog was linked on the front page of the TOI. I don't know whether to laugh at the sheer asininity , or to cry that my dear newspaper has stooped this low in terms of quality.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Conflicts of Interest

The past few months, there has been a lot of news on corporates not doing the right al. Moral dilemmas come are part of the score. David Lamont, my business management professor at school emphasized that "The primary responsibility of a company is to make money for its shareholders who are its owners". But what if this means it is not treating its employees well,
or if it is gouging its customers?

Its a difficult question to answer. Wal-Mart is supposedly doing the wrong thing by not giving its employees enough pay or benefits. Any company not paying its employees health benefits in the US should cease to exist, simply on grounds of cruelty.That includes some of our dear Indian blue chips, who send people to client projects, expecting to fend for themselves if they fall ill.

But,shareholders are happy, aren't they? comes the countershot. I read an article in the WSJ a few months back, which talked of how this was causing Costco, and other discount retailers to reconsider their benefits packages, because the stockmarket was not rewarding them enough as compared to Wal-Mart, which has better margins because of the poor benefits it offers its employees.

Where does this stop? Do we ever stop looking beyond the next quarter's earning results, and look to do the Right Thing (I'm sure there is a trademark on that phrase - I saw that somewhere). No one's talking of sinecures here - only reasonable benefits in this messed-up health system, where the costs of visiting the doctor are enough to give one an ulcer.

The Internet Archive

Even though I've been hearing about this project at a number of places, I never really went to the website. This week, I decided to, and it was quite a discovery. It's amazing, and one of the first things that came to my mind was: access to a computer with an Internet connection, and this site, and others like it, can transform thousands of schools in the world into ones with the best libraries ever.

But,but,but, my personal favorite section? The Audio archives. Not many big artists have freely available records yet, but high quality live concerts from up-and-coming artists like Gavin DeGraw, which they allow free downloads and non-commercial distribution of - the ones before they become famous, of course. After that, money takes over.

On a more serious note, this is one more compelling reason for India to invest in computers and connectivity for schools at a much greater rate. With access to such resources, we could bypass a lot of the financial constraints for good libraries, etc. at schools. Of course, there is a dearth of good teachers, and even a lack of building facilities in many schools right now.

TOI blues

My observation about Times of India's quality going down drastically is not the sole isolated one. Several people agree (anyone with a reasonable level of intelligence would notice this, of course). A good link to follow is this blog run by a bunch of puneites , called PuneTimePass . (Disclaimer: I knew one of the authors while at college there, though saying I knew him well would be stretching it: a lot) An even better link, that I found on this blog is this one. Particularly sickening is the whole notion of 'selling' news coverage. Even without doing that, the quality of the paper, and the portal as well, has gone too far south. When an editorial makes a mistake between 'lose' and 'loose', ('loosing' our marbles ,are we?), and the paper itself makes this mistake more than once, it is time to get concerned. It almost appears as if all the good journalists have moved (drawn, not by the lure of the lucre, but by their integrity) to other papers. The other problem, especially in Pune, seemed at that time to be the lack of alternatives that were even as good as this one. Indian Express didn't make the cut (at least in Pune) which left us in a bit of a bind.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Famous CMU alumni

This link here has a list of well-known alumni from CMU. Geeks abound, including the venerable James Gosling, creator of the Java programming language. However, the real surprises are the artists, including Ralph Guggenheim, one of the producers of Toy Story. Rob Marshall, the director of Chicago has been celebrated, but Holly Hunter or Josh Groban, pop-star are perhaps not as well-known. Well, it's a relief to know that we produce a diverse range of nuts.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Wall

No, this is not the obligatory PF reference. ( A college-mate back in COEP used to say this - every quiz event had to have one Pink Floyd question - the obligatory PF reference) .

This is a nice article about the ICC cricketer of the year, Rahul Dravid. A classic case of what hard work, persistence and some sheer bloody-mindedness can bring a good player - greatness.

I've always liked Rahul Dravid. Since he hit that six off the backfoot off Allan Donald, I thought he had something about him. Thats why all the jokes about him not playing quickly enough used to get to me. I mean, this wasn't Ravi Shastri, scoring a 100 off 150 balls. He wasn't your typical slogger, thats all.

Then, in the past three years, he has shown that "de parvus grandis a cervus erit" - from "small things arise great ones." The constant hard work on the little things, (running singles, his lovely pull and hook shots, his fitness, his 'keeping) is paying off.

Importantly,his aforementioned bloody-mindedness in staying at the crease for hours at end, runs scored or not, has won us matches. Adelaide, Rawalpindi, and ones in the past too. He has saved the team even more often.

An interesting observation: generally his first 50 runs take more than a 100 balls (closer to 150), the next 50 take less than a 100, and generally the next runs come at around 4 an over. If he stays long enough (which is quite often nowadays) he is scoring runs at 3.5 an over. Justin Langer put it in the right perspective - its almost like he is meditating at the crease.

Here's to our man - we lost today, but it won't be often again if this man and the team can help it. Lets see if the Final Frontier still stands.

Sunday, October 10, 2004


My department at CMU has been kind enough to put up a load of photos of my commencement ceremony online. Nice work!!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Free FTP server

Just what I've been looking for! Filezilla , a free FTP/SFTP client/server. Much better than using a cracked version (never liked doing that), or one of those severely crippled trial versions.


A few days back, I saw an advertisement for a concert of this band
Groovelily somewhere. They have some free mp3s on their website for downloads, and the fact is, they are pretty good. Good enough to have a major release. Heck, I am a regular joe music listener. I don't know better - they can't seem to land a major record deal because the suits think they are not 'marketable' enough. I'd think a group with its own US military ad, an electric violin, two lead vocalists and some intelligent, questioning lyrics might get a better deal than Lindsay Lohan, the singer. Ah...the sweet ironies of life.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

"We are not evil"

How do you make that a tagline for your brand?

But when you are a record label, one of the more disliked entities around for most people serious about their music, its almost a battle-cry. Magnatune seems to be trying that with their "try-before-you-buy" methodology.

Seriously, though I have my doubts about this working (you need enough people to CARE about buying their music versus downloading it off some p2p network), this is a step in the right direction. If more people are to try this, and it actually works, we actually might have a different distribution model for music, something we need desperately in this time and age.

It actually saddens me to see the kind of collections people have, with absolutely no F%$#ing clue of the value of it. gigs of mp3s, and no appreciation of the music that one has. I know almost all of the songs on my laptop, whether free or paid for, and if I don't, I am in the process of listening to them and learning more about them. All this free downloading is taking some of the thrill of going out there and buying your music away. Building one's music collection was a painstaking job at one time, with distinctive CDs/ cassettes, great inlays, lyrics and liner notes adding to the excitement of owning the media.

Now all my CDs (even ones I bought on iTunes ) look the same - shiny silver of the blank CD, purchased last Thanksgiving with mail-in rebates equal to purchase price. Music is about substance, but the style... that's what makes it special. Where would the Doors be without Morrison's charisma, or the Beatles without the boyish charm of all of the Fab Four?