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Sunday, March 23, 2014

I and My Books This Year

These are the books I have read this year so far and managed to remember the titles:
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Paush
  • Dork by Sidin Vadukut
  • God save the Dork by Sidin Vadukut
  • The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
  • A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
  • The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey [1]
  • Tales of Beedle the Bard by J K Rowling
  • The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
  • All three The Tales of Dunk and Egg series of novellas by George R R Martin
  • The Princess and The Queen novella by GRRM, part of Dangerous Women anthology
I bought The Last Lecture like 10 months ago and managed to read it only now. Got too lazy last year on reading books front. One reason for writing this is to publicly shame myself into reading more. If I don't write about books here going further, assume that I haven't read anything those weeks. One more motivation is that this provides some material for the blog, which I have managed to ignore for so long.

The Last Lecture is as good as it gets. Anyone who has watched Randy Paush's Last Lecture knows what the book is about. If you haven't, it' is about time you did. Go watch it. It's free and worth your time. I shall write a detailed blog sometime later. I intend to reread it.

Sidin's novels are good fun and I liked the subtle humour in the novels set around the lives of modern management consultants.

The Daughter of Time is an excellent novel that's old enough to be in public domain. All her novels are old enough to talk about calling exchange to connect the telephone, but are enjoyable any time.

Tales of Beedle the Bard is a children's book by J K Rowling, an offshoot from Harry Potter universe. As entertaining and stimulating as a children's book can be. ;-)

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a fictional story trying to clarify (or make sense of) another fictional story. ;-) Expertly done if you ask me.

The other four works by GRRM are set in the famous world of A Song of Ice and Fire - more popularly known as Game of Thrones - universe. As excellent as fantasy novels go. P&Q has lots of fantasy elements like dragons fighting etc; Dunk & Egg novellas are pretty thin on fantasy elements but have the same expert story telling and complex characters that GRRM is famous for.

[1] All her works are in public domain & available for free download here.

PS: Hat tip to Yuvi Panda for the idea for this entry.

Monday, March 17, 2014

I'm alive. Sort of.

Wow. It has been two years plus since I wrote a blog post. New one coming soon. :) Should I change the engine to Wordpress? Blogger composer still sucks after all these years. Sigh.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Genocide and Justice

Forty years ago, this day, Pakistani forces surrendered to Lt. Gen. J S Aurora and Bangladesh became truly independent. As Daily Star (Bangladeshi newspaper) wrote, the false premise of communalism was broken and Bangladeshis 'were proud witnesses to a restoration of their secular heritage'.

Celebrating a military victory after forty years may not be very nice, especially when we are seeking peace with Pakistan, but this is more of a remembrance than a celebration. And a special remembrance not because the number 40 looks fancy, but because, finally justice is being delivered for the victims of genocide that saw targeted killings and rape of Bengali people, especially Awami leaguers, Hindus, and intellectuals.

After 40 years of various roadblocks, Bangladesh has set up International Crimes Tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide. Though Pakistani officials will escape justice, Bangladeshi men who aided the genocide are standing trial, which is bringing new evidences and horror stories everyday. Let's hope this will bring justice to them.

As Indians, it is also worth noting the pattern of war we fought and contrast it with 'liberation' wars fought in many places including Iraq and Afghanistan. It lasted less than two weeks and Indira Gandhi ended the operation on West Pakistan the moment our objective was achieved, namely the Bangladeshi independence. Indian Army was withdrawn from Bangladesh in under three months. The liberation war was swift, just and meaningful.

PS: These days I mostly write only in Google Plus, even if the post is moderately big. Makes it easier to follow up and comment upon the comments. But till HTML remains unsupported in G+, longer posts will be put up here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Letter by Students of MIT, Anna University, to the Vice Chancellor

This is an edited version of the letter written by Students of Madras Institute of Technology, Anna University, to the Vice Chancellor. Thanks to Gaurav and Mohan for editing it. This was originally posted in Facebook group, but since it is a closed space requiring login I'm parking it here.

It is very clear that the dean has been functioning in an autocratic and stupid fashion. All emphasis in text are mine. I hope my alma matter will get rid of her.

To the Respected Vice-Chancellor,

We the students of Anna University, MIT Campus are going to protest by staying inside our hostels until the Dean of MIT Campus is replaced. We will not come out of our hostels until our demands are fully accepted. We are subject to constant mental agony ever since the new Dean was sworn in. She has absolutely no idea about the traditions of MIT that have transcended the decades since when the institution was established. Our mental distress is so terrible that some of us are thinking about quitting our courses; some of us are even considering quitting the university since our career post Anna University has become a question mark. We feel that, with the college being an autonomous institution, the authorities feel they have every right to be dictatorial in their approach, especially our dean Dr. Thamarai Selvi. We wish to express displeasure with regard to the following things regarding our current dean:-
1) We are not treated like students in a professional degree course. Instead we are treated in a draconian manner not befitting even school students. A search for intellectual excellence through independent thinking cannot happen when we're treated with utmost disrespect and disdain.
2) Dean is only concerned about her image and not about the students.
3) Thanks to the autonomy of the institute, our views are fully suppressed.
4) Even when our parents are called for any inquiries, they are treated rather poorly and our Dean has the habit of using unparliamentary words not befitting a head of such a prestigious institution. Not only was it totally uncalled for, it also tarnished the reputation of our university.
5) Our calls for proper treatment were met with threats of fines and arrears in exams. As a result, the unwritten rule in college is not to even clarify doubts in class taken by even the most unqualified faculty.
6) The Dean has also indulged in activities like entering boys hostels in person and disturbing students suffering from illnesses. Further infringement of our rights include the Dean actually entering the gents’ toilet under the pretext of catching rulebreakers. How can we function when we're treated worse than inmates in a prison and our rights to such basic privacy aren't guaranteed?
7) The Dean has threatened the first year students and asked them to readily lodge false complaints against their seniors even though there were no ragging incidents per se.
The Dean does not respect our rich college traditions such as the Junior-Senior relationship. Instead of allowing supervised interactions to prevent any instances of ragging, she has totally banned any mere act of even talking by putting it under the banner of 'ragging' in a move that would totally destroy what makes MIT so unique.
9) The hostel gates are locked every morning from 8.45 to 11.45 am. This is not specified anywhere in the university rules. As a result, even the students with legitimate excuses are not allowed into the hostel.
10) We are not allowed to use our mobiles and laptops after 9pm till morning (when classes aren't even in session). Not every parent who wants to talk to their children away from home gets back after work before 9pm. What kind of technological institution bans laptops which are vital to any kind of research and studying that we need to do? This again is a rule that is not specified anywhere by the university in its regulations.
11. Students are excessively fined, for trivial issues, including and not limited to eating at college canteens (as opposed to the mess), not locking their rooms when they go even to a nearby restroom, for staying in their rooms when ill etc. The only gain from this is to those authorities at college who like seeing their bank balances go up.
12. The choice of the new Dean of MIT Campus, Anna University Chennai has also not been as per seniority. Money has certainly played a huge role apart from influence in making her dean. This is what’s happening at Anna University, MIT Campus and we’re fed up with many more such problems which we feel ashamed to reveal in detail for fear of the institution’s reputation taking a beating. We are however ready to share our grievances to a competent authority if given a forum where our views will actually be heard without malice from the people in power.
We hate seeing the culture of MIT taking a beating, a culture of seniors helping juniors they’ve never even met, helping them as if they were members of the same family. MIT’s fame and reputation are being degraded year by year by those with money and power. We conclude by affirming that we will not leave our hostels until the Dean, whose ill-will towards the students and inconsiderate actions that put a question mark on our careers, is changed. We are engineering students well on our way to becoming professionals, future builders of our nation’s infrastructure and would like to be treated with dignity.

Yours Sincerely,
The students of Madras Institute of Technology

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Google Plus

Google Plus has completed 100 days now, and it has many users but the problem is there are no posts! Well, at least not as much as Facebook. This post started as a switching guide for those who wanted to use Google+ instead of FB but are not doing it since there's isn't much happening here[1]. But now, to celebrate it's open to all feature, it contains another part first. :-)

The New Features in Google Plus

The initial version of G+ itself was better, but now has even more options that makes it truly awesome.
  • The Hangout has become much more than leisurely hanging out. It is now a full featured collaborative tool. You can edit Google docs while watching a video and talking with a group of people. And not just YouTube videos; you can share any window -including VLC- or just your whole monitor. And it works from an Android phone too. :) I mean, you can make presentation to bore people to death, remotely.
  • The photo sharing is just cool. If one views using G+ interface, it's great from a social view, for commenting, controlling who can view, resharing etc. If one views from Picasa, it's photographer's pleasure with very good editing features, mass upload etc; Not to mention integration with offline Picasa tool. Changes made in one interface reflects on the other(it's the same photo;-). FB + Flickr + less maintenance.
  • It's accessible. Check this to see how people who can't speak can use Hangout with sign language. :-)
  • It's open to all now. :-)

Let's now get back to original task.

Being an early adopter is an awesome stoke for a geek's ego and usually works out fine. I can recall my own experience when I got a gmail id.

Unless it's a social thing. That simply doesn't work unless there are more people adopting it. But there's a catch, a recursive one at that. People won't adopt unless early adopters use it more and go ga ga over it. But early adopters can't use it without people joining it. But, er.., you get the point, right?

The solution is to keep using it even though only small number of people are there. This is awkward for social stuff, but no other go. Tips to improve the situation:

  • Almost everyone using Buzz is in Google+. So better to use +. But bloody Google is not enabling automatic posting in + like it is in Buzz. @SRR: Can you suggest this feature for Plus?
  • Do not post anything in FB. How else do you expect friends to come to Plus for info about you if you post it in both places? I like & comment on other's posts but don't post anything on my own.

PS: Other suggestions are welcome.

PPS: why I go to this extent? I don't trust FB with my data. That's why.

PPPS: I hate the bloody Blogger interface. It sucks even when I copy paste HTML from WordPress. Can't Google do better?


[1] No, this is not addressed to people who do not want to switch. :-)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gnu/Linux v. Mac

I was searching for something else when I ended up in this Ubuntu forum (http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1117471) where I found this comparison. It's to the point, correct and lets you to choose what you think you need rather than actually choosing it for you. I thought I should preserve it somewhere very accessible to me so I can show to friends(esp. Anup) when they ask.

When it comes to security, Ubuntu and Mac are pretty much dead even. Both Linux and OS X are Unix-based operating systems, and have nearly identical security models. Users of both system can feel safe from viruses and other malware.

In terms of price, Ubuntu wins hands down. Apple software tends to be rather expensive, while Linux and the overwhelming majority of software it uses is absolutely free of charge.

In terms of usability, it's a toss-up. One area in which Apple is quite successful is the user interface. That's why so many mp3 players tend to copy the iPod to some extent. OS X is no exception, and has a very nice interface. On the other hand, arguments could be made for the usability of Gnome, KDE, and Xfce as well, especially considering the amazing degree to which these desktop environments can be customized.

Which brings us to customization. Ubuntu has the edge here. The options for customization of Linux are staggering, with multiple desktop environments and window managers from which to choose, which themselves are highly customizable. OS X can be themed and customized, but not even close to the degree of Linux.

When it comes to software, it's a mixed bag. Mac is more commercially supported than Linux. For most tasks, this doesn't matter as an abundance of FOSS alternatives exist for most commercial applications. And for most purposes, this gives Ubuntu the edge, since the software is just as free as the operating system. If specific applications are a priority, however -- most notably iTunes -- then Mac has the advantage. There's no clear winner here, as it really depends on what software you feel you need.

Of course the mention of iTunes brings us to the issue of freedom. Apple is even more notorious than Microsoft when it comes to vendor lock. Everything Apple produces is proprietary and made to work best (or only) with other Apple products. iPods, for example, are practically useless without iTunes, because the iPod uses a proprietary transfer protocol. Since Apple won't release the details of this protocol, no other software developers can develop iPod management software without essentially reverse-engineering the protocol -- which Apple periodically alters. On one hand, this gives OS X an edge against Linux for people who use other Apple products. On the other, it's extremely annoying and limiting. If you don't like companies manipulating you and dictating how you use their product, then Linux clearly has the edge. While I'm tempted to say this is another tie, I can't in good conscience say that vendor lock is in any way an advantage, except to the vendor. Free and open-source wins.

Because Linux is open-source, anyone can do anything to it, and can see exactly what's going on under the hood. This is part of the reason Linux is a safe computing environment (and arguably slightly more secure than OS X) -- viruses are hard to sneak onto a system when people can see the source code. No restrictions or license agreements restrict your use of your own system. However, because it's not a commercial product backed by a corporate entity, the means of technical support is radically different. For some people, the lack of obligatory customer support is a failing of Linux. Others like not having to rely on a single entity to provide technical support, and prefer the support provided by the Linux community. As a matter of personal preference, tech support is another toss-up.

So... which operating system is better? Well, "better" is a relative term, in more ways than one. In my own case, I'm perfectly happy without iTunes or any other Apple products, so there's no compelling reason for me to use OS X in order to use those other products. I also prefer a free product over an expensive one of equivalent quality, and prefer freedom over the lack thereof. So for me, personally, I say without any hesitation or reservation that Ubuntu is the better operating system. But this may not be true for someone else who loves using iTunes to shop the iTunes store for videos to transfer to his iPhone. For that person, who apparently has a much greater disposable income than myself, Mac OS X is the better choice.

It just depends on your priorities.
by https://wiki.ubuntu.com/mb_webguy

PS: This is two years old and usability of Desktop Environments have improved a lot now!
PPS: I was able to post this only because it was licensed under Creative Commons and I recommend any poor soul still reading my blog also to do so; It's good for the world. :-)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mylapore Middle Street

Recently I went to Mylapore for a work and I reached too early. Not knowing how to spend nearly two hours, I roamed around the place. One could spot pristine, upper middle class houses on one side of the road and slum on the other! I have never before seen so much difference on two sides of the road.


எங்க குடியிருக்கீங்க?
நடுத்தெருவுல சார்!
Most of Mylapore was bit like my old residential place(Chromepet) with very smallish streets and women fighting at water taps (To subject any Tamil learner to the ultimate test of language proficiency, ask him/her to decipher women-at-metro-tap fights. :D)

The most interesting thing that I spotted (and the namesake of this post) was the street in the photo; I was literally laughing on the road with people giving me strange looks!!

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Name, New Design

My old blog design was, well, old! Its smaller width reflected the limitations of monitor widths in olden times, color looked like an old fungal infected scroll(which, BTW, was the background image), and it was written before template designer was introduced in blogger(yes, that old).

I actually wanted to change that one with my own design for past 3 years, but that never happened in part due to my perfectionism and in part laziness. Google changed the design system two times in the meanwhile. ;-)

Initially(two years ago I guess) I started converting Andreas Viklund's one of the templates into a Blogger theme. I had a liking for his designs since the days of my very first blog which used one of his themes modified for blogger by Aswin(I basically just copied it off of his blog, Neosagredo, which does not exist any more.)

I never got around doing it and at one point forgot that job altogether due to other commitments and Google also changed their theme system. Then, this January I found that there was a serious grammatical error in the blog's caption itself. :( I decided that I should get rid of the theme itself for good or move the blog to Wordpress. WP has nice editor(in fact I authored this post in WP and then copied it to Blogger;-) that obeyed semantic HTML4/5 standards, had HTML5 themes, math support etc. I didn't go to WP since they didn't allow custom design and domain for basic account.

I started modifying the 'Simple' default theme that came with the new Blogger Designer Template. The reasons for choosing it are twofold. One, I like to have clean themes with no fuss and improved readability. Two, it is easy to modify a plain bare bones wire-frame to your liking rather than a heavy theme. :)

If your browser doesn't support these typography features (older browsers or insane ones like IE), the theme will look bland though still readable. :-) Also it makes use of CSS3 features like box shadows for boxes like this one and image frames.
This theme relies heavily on typography (webfonts, kerning, letter-spacing etc.) rather than on pictures and such, so that it is more readable and takes less time to load. The fonts used are IM Fell English SC for header, Philosopher for all headings and Inconsolata for all other text.

Hope this design is good. Comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome. :-)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Trek to Tada Falls

On the way to forest office
On Sunday, 9th Jan, I and 6 more friends from IITM went to Tada falls (aka Ubbalamadugu Falls - 13° 36′ 35″ N, 79° 50′ 34″ E) near Nellore in Andra Pradesh.[1] We took a bus from CMBT to Tada (busses to Nellore & Sri Kalahasti go via Tada), where we reached by 11.30; had food at a Tamil Mess (irony! We used to eat @ Andhra Mess near IIT when bored of our mess.) Then we rode in an open share auto till the forest office gate.

Base Camp 1.(Yes, we could have come till here in auto; But we walked 4 kms)
Then we walked for about 4 kms to the base of the hillocks.(Base Camp 1) There I saw the clearest rivulet water I have ever seen. It was so clean that it became difficult to find if water was there or not!

The main falls is located in a hill at a height of about 7000 feet. We started walking after a while and split into two groups. Till a Shiva temple(Base camp 2) the path was, though uphill, mostly sandy and kinda ok with small stones. There we got some guava fruit and crossed the brook again and got into more rocky path.
Climbing rocks!

After that I was enjoying the nature so much that I stopped taking photos. :-( The rocky path went somewhat parallel to the brook and sometimes we had to cross small sub-brooks. We reached the small falls and spent some time admiring nature. Then the path(the non-path) became very hilly and we had to climb high rocks to reach the main falls.

I was thoroughly enjoying it so far and the sight there made me sad. There were quite few youngsters who were swimming and drinking; Beer bottles, both new and broken, could be found around the water pool; The place was filled with so much trash of all kinds(polythene, plastic tumblers, soft drink bottles...).
[Rant: If those idiots wanted to drink, why not go to some pub and drink to their heart's content? Why spoil such a place? Indians exhibit worst behavior when it comes to things like this.]
Along the brook.

We spent few minutes there and decided to return.(I could not stand in that place with all those things going around me.:-( ) We three felt a little elated and adventurous after the climb that we decided to take not the path by which we came, but the downstream of brook itself.
Destiny! [Caption by Mandar ;-) ]
It was not only rocky, but slippery too this time, since algae had grown over rocks due to water. It was exhilarating, and sometimes fearful that we might not take correct route when brook sub-divides and end up roaming till death. :p We finally managed to reach Shiva temple where the brook intersected the pathway and we switched to it. Thereafter downhill was simply sandy cum stony path. :-) Overall I felt happy and elated about the whole affair. :-) A nice experience!


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubbalamadugu_Falls

Friday, November 19, 2010

X and Wayland

In the context of Ubuntu waiting to ditch X in favour of Wayland, this fortune I got today is interesting:
I have never seen anything fill up a vacuum so fast and still suck.
-- Rob Pike, on X.

Steve Jobs said two years ago that X is brain-damaged and it will be
gone in two years. He was half right.
-- Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie is twice as bright as Steve Jobs, and only half wrong.
-- Jim Gettys

Hmmm, why do I keep getting good fortune cookies today?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lotus Symphony

I started using Lotus Symphony today[1]. Seems better than OpenOffice.org upon which it is based. There are good templates from Lotus website too.[2] Let me see how well it performs; may turn out that GNU/Linux has a good presentation software after all.(No, sadly OO is not as good as PPT.)

The templates can be installed easily by copying .otp files to ~/.lotus/symphony/.symphony/user/template


[1] http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2010/10/ibm-office-suite-lotus-symphony-3-released
[2] http://symphony.lotus.com/software/lotus/symphony/gallery.nsf/GalleryPresentations?OpenView&Count=15

Monday, October 25, 2010

Discovery Of The Day

Mess food tastes like real food at 12 o`clock. ;-)

Note to self: Somehow make it mess at 12 every day!