Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Whats Up?

Thats what you can ask at this [webpage] and get answers to almost everything thats interesting AND happening in and around Bangalore. Whats more, if you are miffed that your event isn't listed, all you have to do is send the mods an email.

I tried to subscribe to the newletter so that I can see for myself the wonderful exciting things I am missing while I am away from home and what do I see, a yahoo group subscription box?!! have they never heard of RSS? Inspite of the *loud* colors and lack of RSS support, the content speaks for itself.

Viva Bangalore!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Time: The beginning and the end

I haven't found the time to do anything of note besides work. I have loads of non-work work left over and hardly any time to do any of it. I need a secretary! and a cute one at that. I am behind on many posts including my pet project on the Lemons model. All in good time, my good sirs.

Over the weekend, I did make time to go to an awesome Opeth concert. Come on, please tell me you know who Opeth are. For those of you who don't have a clue, they are a "bunch of jaded swedish c****s who are out to make money". Melodic death metal bliss - thats what it was. These guys are some of the most awesome musicians you can ever see! One does recognize class when one is hit in the face by it and Opeth comes at you with a sledgehammer!

Head over to Venus's blog for a note [here]

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Quote for today

"Its hard to be religious when certain people aren't incinerated by bolts of lightning"

Who dya think said this?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Desi Dream

Riya Introductory article here.

Course Cafe Introductory article here.

Speak With Me Introductory article here.

Desi startups that are making the grapevines buzzzzz. These are totally awesome, inline with the latest business models integrating "user generated content", user interfaces and the web. I think companies of this kind are said to be ushering in the age of web 2.0.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Its snowing!

Its snowing! Thick, fast and heavy and its only the end of October. I love watching snowfall but it is distracting me from work.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Where beauty is worshipped for beauty's sake as a goddess, independent of and superior to morality and philosophy, the most horrible putrefaction is apt to set in. The lives of the aesthetes are the far from edifying commentary on the religion of beauty.

Aldous Huxley

I am still trying to think this through.

Thought: Beauty is inextricably tied to morality and philosophy. If we consider this as an assumption then the next sentence just serves the same idea by saying that the lives of those sentient to beauty are far from instructive on the religion of beauty. The crux of this, I am not sure what to call it - argument, statement lies obviously in the idea put forth initially that (if simplistically put) beauty without brains does not last and withers away. If beauty is worshipped for beauty's sake, i.e., worshipped just as an art form without being embellished with philosophy and morality then its akin to a cat's meow but without a cat. I am still having trouble crossing the chasm on this bridge of 'morality and philosophy'. I definitely see that beauty by itself just as a pure art form cannot and will not last for all to see and revel for a long time. It has to be associated with an 'edifying commentary'. I am having a little trouble associating beauty with morality.

I am still going to mull this over.

Any thoughts? Anybody?

Update 2:
Let me draw a simple analogy to religion and add in the same breath that I am not religious.

When the Gods are worshipped for worshipping sake, most probably because one has always been told to worship God (whatever the reason, it falls outside the scope of the argument that I am trying to present), people (at least people like me) start to question the givens in this religion. With unanswered questions comes doubt. With doubt comes decay in the once strong belief system. With decay and an absence of an equally strong second set of beliefs, putrefaction sets in. It is the same in the case of beauty - it is not lasting, it is not captivating enough when seen and appreciated just for what it is in the present frame of reference. For eg., when you watch a beautiful sunset at a beach, your eyes might pop out at the sight of it. When you try and describe it to your friend and try to tell him/her about the wondrous riot of colors, the streaks of motley hues of red in the sky, gold shimmering on the waves - what do you think happens? They might excited for the first time. What about the second time? and the third? How long do you think they are going to share, in their mind's eye, this wonderful image of a sunset at the beach?

Back to the religion analogy, the aesthetes in this case are high priests involved in worship. Do their lives, in any manner, serve as an edifying commentary on religion? In my opinion, not at all. So what is it what keeps me interested in religion, continue to foster my belief in God? Theology? Maybe. Why? because it is the philosophy of religion. It rationalizes, tries to explain and answer your queries. It puts religion and its underlying foundation of a system of beliefs in a different perspective. The change in perspective is what makes it self-sustainable and not the aesthetes themselves. Would you remain interested in God and religion and recite the same prayers over and over because the priests (aesthetes) do? or would you be interested in religion if you were to read vedic texts, upanishads?

Back to the sunset at the beach example, if you distill the essence of nature's beauty into lets say, a poem (or an essay) wouldn't that be more self-contained and sustainable than all your explanations? - the functional being a change in the frame of reference, "philosophizing" beauty. Or would the fact that you are sentient to nature's beauty generate continued, sustained interest on the part of your friends.

I rest my case.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Quality, Uncertainty and Market Mechanism - Part 2

The Model with Automobiles as an Example:
Suppose (for the sake of clarity rather than reality) that there are only four types of cars – new and used cars, good cars (creampuff) and bad cars (lemons). A new car may either be a good one or a bad one and the same is true for used cars too. The individuals in this market buy new cars without knowing whether the car they will buy is a creampuff or a lemon. Let us say that the probability of buying a new car that is also good is “q” and that of landing up with a lemon is “1-q”. “q” by assumption is the proportion of good cars produced and “1-q” is the proportion of lemons. After owing a specific car for certain duration of time, the owner has a good idea of its quality and assigns new probability to the event that the car is a lemon. Note that this estimate is more accurate than the previous one. An asymmetry in available information has now developed for the sellers have more information about the quality of the car than do the buyers. It is also clear that a used car cannot have the same valuation as that of a new car – if it did, it would be clearly advantageous to trade a lemon at the price of a new car and buy another new car, at a higher probability q of being good and a lower probability of being bad. Thus the owner of a good car is locked in and not only cannot he receive the true value of his car but cannot even obtain the expected value of a new car.
Thus, the bad cars drive out the good cars as most traded cars are lemons. This is analogous to the way “bad money drives out the good” as stated by Gresham’s law. Gresham’s Law is explained in simple terms over at the Wikipedia. For those Indians who are reading without clicking through to Wikipedia, let me give you a quick analogy to illustrate Gresham’s law – remember the times when all the currency notes that exchanged hands were soiled, torn notes and everybody, in spite of possessing good clean bills preferred to trade in the soiled ones? As this practice continued, all the notes that were traded in the market were soiled torn ones that actually had a lower value (on account of being torn, when one exchanges these notes at the bank one is left a little short of the face value of the turned in bill) but were traded at the same exchange rate as good clean bills were. If the picture is still not clear, then I advise you to click through to Wikipedia and go through the explanation.

Utility Theory: A Brief Introduction
[Source: Wikipedia]
In economics, utility is a measure of the happiness or satisfaction gained from a good or service. There are mainly two kinds of measurement of utility implemented by economists: cardinal utility and ordinal utility. Utility was originally viewed as a measurable quantity, so that it would be possible to measure the utility of each individual in the society with respect to each good available in the society, and to add these together to yield the total utility of all people with respect to all goods in the society. Society could then aim to maximize the total utility of all people in society, or equivalently the average utility per person. This conception of utility as a measurable quantity that could be aggregated across individuals is called cardinal utility. Cardinal utility quantitatively measures the preference of an individual towards a certain commodity. Numbers assigned to different goods or services can be compared. I would assign a utility of 100 to a glass of chilled beer in summer and desire it twice as much as a cup of steaming coca which I would assign a utility of 50. There is already an obvious disadvantage – that of comparing cardinal utilities across people. The concept of cardinal utility suffers from the absence of an objective measure of utility when comparing the utility gained from consumption of a particular good by one individual as opposed to another individual.
Another approach is based on preferences - an individual is observed to prefer one choice to another. Preferences can be ordered from most satisfying to least satisfying. Only the ordering is important: the magnitudes of the numerical values are not important except in as much as they establish the order. It is nonetheless possible, given a set of preferences which satisfy certain criteria of reasonableness, to find a utility function that will explain these preferences. Such a utility function takes on higher values for choices that the individual prefers. With this approach to utility, known as ordinal utility it is not possible to compare utility between individuals.
Let X be the consumption set, the set of all packages the consumer could conceivably consume. The consumer's utility function u: X-> R assigns a happiness score to each package in the consumption set. If u(x) > u(y), then the consumer strictly prefers x to y. In microeconomics models, there are usually a finite set of L commodities, and a consumer may consume an arbitrary amount of each commodity. This gives a consumption set of R_L and each package x Є R_L is a vector containing the amounts of each commodity. For u to be a utility function on X, it must be defined for every package in X. A von Neumann-Morgenstern utility function u: X -> R assigns a real number to every element of the outcome space in a way that captures the individual's preferences over both simple and compound events. The individual will prefer a lottery L1 to a lottery L2 if and only if the expected utility (iterated over compound lotteries if necessary) of L1 is greater than the expected utility of L2.

I’ll give you guys a couple of days for all this to sink in – it is a little heavy on the digestive system

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Quality, Uncertainty and Market Mechanism - Part 1

     A seminal paper by this title published by George A. Akerlof in 1970 was so influential in helping analysts analyze quality and uncertainty in markets under conditions of asymmetrical information flow that in 2001, George A. Akerlof was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. His paper has been singular in analyzing markets ranging from the used car market to health insurance markets. After being awarded the Nobel Prize, Akerlof penned an interpretive essay on this paper and it can be found [here].

     I have since read his 1970 paper and would like to share the wonderful and thought provoking points he makes by reviewing his paper. In the next section, I will try to give the interested reader a brief run through of the philosophy of Akerlof’s theory. Most of the subsequent sections will be taken right out of his paper simplified, expanded and presented. Of course, he does assume (and so will I) that his readers have been blessed with some exposure to basic economic verbiage. I will provide the necessary information and references to background wherever necessary. I must bring to your notice that most of the language will be his but I will provide explanations/analogies to make things (seemingly) simpler.

A Brief Run Through:
     In the seminal paper on markets with asymmetric information, George Akerlof strives to provide “a structure for determining the economic costs of dishonesty”. He points out two possible outcomes that may occur where sellers have better information about the quality of products than do buyers. There are many markets in which buyers use some market statistic to judge the quality of prospective purchases. In these cases, there is incentive for sellers to market poor quality merchandise - if buyers cannot distinguish the quality until after the purchase is made, there is no incentive for the sellers to provide good quality products and the average quality of traded goods will decline below the socially optimal level. This is often referred to as “bad driving out the good”. The explanation for this course of events is fairly logical – if all sellers, despite having the information advantage, traded only in high quality goods then average quality of goods in the market will go up, prizes will stabilize leaving a small operating and profit margin. If under these conditions, a seller makes use of his informational advantage to sell a poor quality product – his profits are much higher and the buyer in his position has no way of determining the quality until after the sale has been made. In Akerlof’s own language – “…. the returns for good quality accrue mainly to the entire group whose statistic is affected rather than to the individual seller.” Akerlof cited the used car market as an example for his findings – in the case of used cars, buyers who find out much to their chagrin that they are now the proud new owners of a “lemon” will now attempt to sell it to an unsuspecting buyer (such as themselves) in the used car market. As this continues, more lemons make their way to the market and not only does the quality decline but the market itself is threatened as all buyers are wary and there exists a huge disparity between the number of sellers and buyers. Contributing to the declining quality of this market are owners of “creampuff”(s) who do not sell their cars as they are indistinguishable from lemons and the price is dictated by the demand for cars which the buyers suspect to be primarily lemons. Thus, this information asymmetry leads to quality uncertainty which in turn leads to reduced volume of transactions thereby threatening the very survival of the market itself.
     A second possibility as suggested by Akerlof is that institutions may develop to counteract the effects of quality uncertainty. Warranties and brand names can be used to give the buyer an assurance of quality. These institutions may prevent good products from being driven out of the market but will not necessarily eliminate the inefficiency. These institutions may be costly to set up, run and sellers may over invest in signaling the quality of their product to buyers.
     Stabilization (not necessarily efficient) of the market can be attributed to the development of counteracting institutions. The provision of warranties and the seller’s concern for his reputation may prevent sellers from supplying inferior quality products. Another possibility is that the buyer has somehow stabilized the initial information asymmetry by obtaining additional information enabling him to use a more global market statistic to evaluate the quality of the product prior to sale. The market is still deemed inefficient if this stabilization is achieved through costly counteracting institutions or through expensive information search by buyers. In the context of the used car market, this explains the existence of “information stabilizers” such as Kelly’s Blue Book, Car Fax etc.

     I hope everyone appreciates the theory so far. If you have ever bought a used car, you can analyze for yourselves why you did what you did – paid to go through car fax reports, paid mechanics to give a prospective car a once over to ease your fears – all in your attempt to equalize the information flow in the market.

I will post more technical details in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Announcing my link blog

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.
—Samuel Johnson quoted in Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.”

In the spirit of that quote, I have decided to link to all the blogs/posts/webpages that interest me on my MSN Spaces blog.

Toodle doo!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

update: Mike Tyson Vs. Keshto Mukherjee

I have updated this [post] with a couple of links and a rather short rue on the state of India's development. Worth checking it out.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Black Metal Silliness

Those who know me know that I am a huge black metal fan and even I found this funny. This is just a take on the awe and shock promoted by black metallers in their photo shoots in an attempt to create this dark atmosphere replete with pagan imagery. The intention is to remain 'true' to the cause - corpse paint, bleak winters in the mountains, old forests, primitive wicca/occult rituals and medieval weapons. Of course, some of them carry it off very well but at some point of time the charade just turns out to be that - a charade. To see exactly what I mean, visit this page.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Of Lovecraft and Spiritual Anamolies

Though cthulu and the necronomicon of the mad arab Abdul are more often associated with any tale from Lovecraft's stable, there are a couple of astounding nuggets to be found in his short stories that have an undercurrent of the morbid and macabre.

One such story is called "The Shunned House" - a typical theme of a supposedly haunted house replete with a history of unexplained deaths, now dilapidated but yet draws our protagonists into a lengthy and costly investigation into its macabre past. After reading quite a few Lovecraft stories, I see that most movies have popularized his dark psychological terror theme. So a movie buff may not find a twist to the tale so to speak but has found a treasure trove of good old story telling, not to mention a very dark evil brooding terror that waits in the dark recesses of your mind, biding its time to unleash its numbing horror on your psyche.

This is THE best attempt at a rational explanation for the existence of parasites at a spiritual level. One can be anal and argue some points from a technical and scientific standpoint but I urge you to gloss over them and appreciate the entireity of the argument - its language and the poetic way in which Lovecraft crafts his terror.

"Scientific study and reflection has taught us that the known universe of three dimensions embraces the merest fraction of the whole cosmos of substance and energy. In this case an overwhelming preponderence of evidence from numerous authentic sources points to the tenacious existence of certain forces of great power, and so far as the human point of view is concerned, of great malignancy. To say that we believed in vampires or werewolves would be a carelessly inclusive statement. Rather it must be said that we were not prepared to deny the possibility of certain unfamiliar and unclassified modifications of vital force and attenuated matter; existing very infrequently in three dimensional space because of its more intimate connection with other spatial units, yet close enough to the boundary of our own to furnish us occasional manifestations which we, for lack of a proper vantage point, may never hope to understand.
Such a thing was surely not a physical or biochemical impossibility in the light of a newer science which includes the theory of relativity and intra-atomic action. One might easily imagine an alien nucleus of substance or energy, formless or otherwise, kept alive by imperceptible or immaterial subtractions from the life force or bodily tissue and fluids of other more palpably living things into which it penetrates and wth whose fabric it sometimes completely merges itself. It might be actively hostile or may be dictated merely by blind motives of self preservation. In any case such a monster must be in our scheme of things, an anamoly, an intruder whose extirpation forms the primary duty of every man not an enemy of the world's life, health and sanity.
It might be pure energy - a form ethereal and outside the realm of substance - or it might be partly material; some unknown and equivocal mass of plasticity, capable of changing at will to nebulous approximations of solid, liquid, gaseous or tenuously unparticled states."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Mike Tyson Vs. Keshto Mukherjee

Yes, thats what Amit Varma has likened has likened the much hyped China Vs. India economic duel and refers to a [column] penned by Shankar Acharya, the chief economic adviser to the Indian govt. Pay special attention to the table.

But, not to worry - the future is indeed colored saffron! James Waterton has made a case against China [here] and for India's cause [here].

Venus has an interesting post [here] on competing oil interests and how their lopsided economic status and differing foreign policies affect their run ins.

Atanu Dey, an economist who runs a fantastic blog on India's development, labels the Indian democracy a cargo cult democracy. To see what he means, go [here] and [here].

This ties in with the table you saw in Shankar Acharya's column that documents India's miserable socio-economic indices. Without carrying the people along, no country can make any progress, atleast progress that can be called progress. Flashy malls, booming IT sector are leaps but eventually they all are drawn back and move on an average with the slowest link - social development. Without progress in education, health care and other primary concerns India's development is largely still on paper. Atanu is bang on target when he writes "Democracy cannot work when the electorate is nearly totally uninformed, where there are strong vested interests, where the notion of accountability is non-existent, where voters can be intimidated and bribed, where the culture is steeped in feudalism, and where illiteracy, superstition and corruption is the norm."

I urge you all to subscribe to Atanu's feed, he writes with clarity, perspective and passion for India's development.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Catch 'em, Kill 'em Pt.2 - Kill 'em

After the overwhelming response of all the code warriors out there, I decided to put the answers up. I could have provided alternate answers, but I just chose to provide the ones that the author provided.

the original posts can be found at Michael Howard's Web Log

// Example #1 (code prior to this verifies pszSrc is <= 50 chars) #define MAX (50) char *pszDest = malloc(sizeof(pszSrc)); strncpy(pszDest,pszSrc,MAX); The code is allocating the size of a pointer, 4-bytes on a 32-bit CPU, and then trying to copy 40 bytes.

// Example #2
#define MAX (50)
char szDest[MAX];
If the length of the string pointed to by pszSrc is exactly MAX, then strncpy does NOT null-terminate szDest.

// Example #3
#define MAX (50)
char szDest[MAX];
pszDest[MAX] = '\0';
Oooops - we just whacked element 51, not 50!

// Example #4
#define MAX (50)
char szDest[MAX];
The last arg to strncat is not the total length of szDest, it's how much space REMAINS!

// Example #5
char szDest[50];
_snprintf(szDest, strlen(szDest), "%s",szSrc);
szDest hasn't been initialized yet, so strlen(szDest) could return any value!

// Example #6
#define MAX (50)
void func(char *p) {
char szDest[MAX];
szDest[MAX-1] = '\0';
If p == NULL, your app just died!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Legal Case Study of iTunes' business model

Ars Technica (In my opinion this is one of the best tech sites out there, top notch and very authoritative) has links to a Harvard Law School legal case study of the iTunes business model. Now, most people who know me also know that I dislike the iTunes store inspite of all its perceived "coolness". I will over the course of the next few days go through the paper and write up my own summary (of course, the underlying premise being that I can understand the legalities). Until then, you can browse through Ars Technica and read the official report and/or the official summary.

Explore the Ars Technica treasure trove of tech articles [here]

The Ars Technica page hosting the report on the Harvard Law School study can be found [here]

The full 100 page study can be found [here] and a summary can be found [here].

teaser -
"The paper looks at a number of interesting issues, including the convergence of copyright and contract, the legal cushioning that props up Digital Rights Management Technologies (e.g., the DMCA), and fair use. The paper begins by outlining how contracts are being used to restrict the normal freedom given to users by copyright law in general. Contract trumps copyright, at least in the United States and Europe, which means the courts will typically arbitrate disputes based on contract and not intellectual property law per se. This is already an interesting development because of what we tend to call the shrink-wrap phenomenon: digital content is being sold in a manner more akin to software than tangible content, although even there, software buyers typically have more rights. One of the biggest legal questions to arise out of the DMCA and DRM-efforts relates to how these technologies conspire to essentially shut down or make exceedingly difficult the right of second sale of protected content.The paper rightly notes that the US and Europe, acting in order to fulfill the demands of the WIPO, are drafting and enforcing laws designed to trump fair use by making it illegal to circumvent DRM. The chain works loosely as follows: copyright is trumped by contractual law, which seeks to restrict fair use in legal terms, which then backs up that by requiring adherence to the rules that are technologically enforced by DRM, which itself is protected by laws such as the DMCA in the US and the EU Copyright Directive in Europe."

Monday, September 26, 2005

Carnival of Computing

Andrew Hughes is running a "Carnival of Computing" theme and has collected loads of very interesting tech blogs to catch up on. Check them out.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Catch 'em, Kill 'em Pt.1 - Catch 'em

aaaaah yes, the code developers out there - find the bugs in these simple code samples involving just strncat and strncpy (n byte copy and concatenating). Of course, I didn't make up these questions. I shall provide the necessary back track to the source after I provide (his) answers. I got most of them, so that should be very encouraging for all of you. You can close your mouth now (in case its still open with shock that I managed to get even one).

// Example #1 (code prior to this verifies pszSrc is <= 50 chars)
#define MAX (50)
char *pszDest = malloc(sizeof(pszSrc));

// Example #2
#define MAX (50)
char szDest[MAX];

// Example #3
#define MAX (50)
char szDest[MAX];
pszDest[MAX] = '\0';

// Example #4
#define MAX (50)
char szDest[MAX];

// Example #5
char szDest[50];
_snprintf(szDest, strlen(szDest), "%s",szSrc);

// Example #6
#define MAX (50)
void func(char *p) {
char szDest[MAX];
szDest[MAX-1] = '\0';

What you thought you knew about Economics

Starting a discussion of the supply curve or price elasticity of demand can be a good way to clear out a crowded room. But does tuning out economics come at a cost?

For most Americans, a mandatory high school or college introductory course constitutes the extent of their economic training. However, though we may choose to leave economics alone after we have left the classroom, economic forces don't stop exerting a powerful influence on our daily lives.

The Wall Street Journal Online asked bloggers Russell Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason University, and William Polley, an economics professor at Western Illinois University, to discuss what the public doesn't know about economics, and whether and how that knowledge gap might hurt.

Here is a link to the discussion titled "Knowledge Deficit"

Russell Roberts is professor of economics at George Mason University and he regularly blogs over at "Cafe Hayek" with his colleague Don Boudreaux.
William Poley is an assistant professor of economics at Western Illinois University. He dishes out economic commentary over at his blog "William J. Polley".

The strange liaison of Sartre and Beauvoir

Who hasn't heard of these two philosophers, thinkers and foremost proponents of existentialism. My brush with them started with reading one of the best psychological profiles of the Marquis de Sade ever written - written by Simone de Beauvoir as an introduction to the (in)famous 120 Days of Sodom. On the other hand, I have only heard and read titbits about Sartre and his philosphy of existentialism. Though I am in the process of learning more about the man and his philosophy through one of this books rather than news clippings, the book whose review I want to take you to is a careful documentary of the platonic relationship the two shared. One can get a view into the minds of these two philosophers/existentialists through their correspondences with each other, correspondences which their individual estates have been kind enough to provide. Some of their libertinous experiences and their candid assessment of their explorations, their contempt of the people who were used as a medium to explore these emotions will shock a few existentialists too.

Read all about it here -

"Stand By Your Man."
by Louis Menand

Monday, September 05, 2005

How stupid can one get?

A man walked into the downtown Bank of America and on the back of a deposit slip wrote, "this iz a stikkup. Put all your muny in this bag." While standing in line, waiting to give his note to the teller, the man began to worry that someone may have seen him write the note and might call the police before he could reach the teller.

So, the criminal left the Bank of America and walked across to the street to Wells Fargo. After waiting in line for several minutes there, he handed his note to a teller. After reading it, the teller determined that this robber was perhaps a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

She told him that because his note was written on a Bank of America deposit slip, she could not honor his demand. He would either have to fill out a Wells Fargo withdrawal slip or go back to the Bank of America.

Feeling defeated, the man said he understood and left. The Wells Fargo teller promptly called the police, who arrested the man a few minutes later--still waiting in line at the Bank of America.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Of Deepak Chopra, tsunami's, New Orleans

[Link] Follow the link to Deepak Chopra's post on the New Orleans tragedy. He makes a lot of comments that I had problems with. I have reproduced his entire post here for convenience along with my comments.

The blog "Intent Blog" is great source for 'food for thought' kind of posts with Deepak Chopra making bulk of the contributions along with many other celebrities such as Shekar kapur, nandita Das, Anil Dash etc. Check it out!

Deepak Chopra says -
New Orleans is a monumental and heart wrenching tragedy which maybe impossible to comprehend and come to terms with.

Our hearts go out to all those that suffer while life goes on as normal for the rest of us. Let us do everything to help those in need in whatever way we can, because the immediate need in the face of a disaster like the New Orleans flood is to offer every form of aid and compassion that can be mustered. But in the back of many people's minds is a lurking apprehension that grows larger every year.

The annual floods in Bangladesh have always seemed far away, as did the torrential monsoon last month in Bombay that crippled the city and killed hundreds. Hurricanes come closer to home, and the destruction wrought by Katrina is almost beyond comprehension, for it occurred with the same fury as the South Asian tsunami. Whole communities have been wiped out of existence, and the prospect of a major American city being under water for weeks or months feels as if Third World calamity, like those faraway Turkish and Iranian earthquakes that kill thousands without causing a ripple in America, has suddenly arrived here.

Both Katrina and the tsunami are forcing us to globalize our thinking under crisis conditions. Instead of approaching global warming positively, we are facing it the hard way, by enduring droughts, floods, and extreme natural disasters in general. No one knows to what extent any of these events is connected to human activity. It seems that global warming is playing its part in the increased force of hurricanes; one cannot find a similar connection to tsunamis, which are more like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but devout believers in the Gaia hypothesis have conjectured that perhaps our war against Nature is causing these responses from the planet.

I have no interest in metaphysical explanations here, and I would never join those religionists who will inevitably begin to mutter about God's retribution and premonitions of the End Time. But the fact that we are at war against Nature seems undeniable.

Katrina, we are told, would have been less devastating if local developers had not been destroying the marshlands that protect New Orleans from the fury of storms. But this ecological barrier was deemed unnecessary, and wetlands have been disappearing around the city at a rate of an acre every 24 minutes.

The war against Nature has been launched on many fronts:

--Abolishing native plant species in favor of overplanting the same few crops: wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans.

--Exploiting fossil fuels without regard for their environmental effects.

--Polluting the ocean to the extent that half the world's coral reefs are immediately in danger.

--Diverting and damming rivers without regard to the ecology or human needs downstream.

--Eliminating wild lands and forests by stripping them of all vegetation.

When Thoreau made his famous comment, "In wildness is the preservation of the world," he had no idea of the alarming rate at which human beings would mistake short-term gratification for successful living. The environmental argument has been well addressed in hundreds of places, and perhaps the stridency of ecological alarmists has numbed the public to what's going on, leaving an opening for President Bush and other anti-environmentalists to deliver the reassuring message, "Nothing's wrong. Go back to whatever you were doing."

I think New Orleans will stick indelibly in our national consciousness as stark evidence that the war against Nature has to be ended. The choice is more clear cut than ever, and one only hopes that international cooperation is in the offing, since we are no longer apart from the so-called Third World in enduring intolerable calamity.

My comments are below -

1. we, as you have, extend our heartfelt wishes to the affected families.

2. maybe I didn't catch your drift when you talked about "third world disasters" but it seemed to me that you did so with an air of a "we are a developed nation, we are above all the riff raff and nothing can touch us, better than the best" attitude that makes small of hundreds of people dying elsewhere as it doesn't mean anything to american interests. And now, disaster of such colossal magnitude (as the tsunami) has brought home death and destruction akin to the afflictions of the "third world" and you feel victimized by it? I disagree with the whole tone of your argument - "the prospect of a major American city being under water for weeks or months feels as if Third World calamity, like those faraway Turkish and Iranian earthquakes that kill thousands without causing a ripple in America, has suddenly arrived here.". Your closing argument is more humble but I still find an elitist element to it - "The choice is more clear cut than ever, and one only hopes that international cooperation is in the offing, since we are no longer apart from the so-called Third World in enduring intolerable calamity". I am confused and would like you to explain yourself better. As I said, maybe I misread you here but I would live to have this sorted out.

3. Though I agree with you and note with appreciation the thought that disasters are forcing us to globalize our crisis management, I fail to see the validity/applicability of the sudden inclusion of global warming into your case for war against nature especially when global warming is not the only consequence of unbridled human expansion and exploration.

4. "Instead of approaching global warming positively, we are facing it the hard way, by enduring droughts, floods, and extreme natural disasters in general." By approach positively you must mean corrective measures to counteract eons of our destructive way of life? Even in the case that we go about our lives destroying nature's fabric with impunity, your argument seems to suggest that we are running into hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis etc as a matter of choice between being good or face hardships if not. Then you go on to say that you will never take up rank with dooms day religionists (a view that I share) and the rest of your argument seems to suggest that you subscribe to the viewpoint of the Gaia principle though you haven't explicitly sided with that school of thought

5. I second your notion that the general public has been numbed by the continuity of dire predictions by environmentalists and may not fully appreciate our destructive way of life.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Feed on me!

I'm back here! Spaces is great but I amback here to try my hand at some coding for customization that I can only do here at blogger! I've added the atom feed icon in the navigation panel on the left. I am trying to get my blogmap up next on the right. And, just in case you missed it, click on the "Atom Feed" icon. I've just included the icon in the post, if you want to subscribe to this feed, click on the icon in the nav panel!

I also fixed the grammar in the # of comments that my good readers have left. Earlier, irrespcetive of whether the number of comments were 0, 1 or more than 1 it always read 'comments'. I fixed it to say 'No comments', '1 comment' or '2 comments'. Yeah, I know its pretty anal but I was just trying it out.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I am moving!

I checked out MSN Spaces and it rocks! Its all that I wanted from Blogger and much more. Its awesome and I am moving my blog out there.

These are the new coordinates for my brand of paranoia on the web.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Great (fire)Wall of China

The blogging world has been turned upside down over reports that Microsoft and Google (amongst many other companies, for a list look here) have bowed to the Chinese government in their effort to curtail free speech and post only 'appropriate' content on their blogs on MSN spaces and are treated to only those news pages that have been stripped off sensitive content. It has been reported that sensitive words such as "democracy" or "human rights" result in error messages and do not show up in posts (I am not sure if this is in the title of the post or in the body, reports vary) on the chinese version of MSN Spaces. Google too has suitably altered their news pages so that they do not provide the 'dissident' chinese with 'inflammatory and incidiary' content. They have joined hands with the Chinese government in their effort to build the The Great (fire)Wall of China.

Robert Scoble, numero uno blogger of Microsoft defends his company here
Rebecca MacKinnon rips apart his arguments here and makes many valid points about Chinese culture and is sort of inline with a point that I made many posts ago of the lack of effort in understanding foreign cultures. Read this, its very interesting. There is also an update clarifying a few issues [here].
Dan Gillmor asks - "Microsoft and Google, like so many others, rose to enormous wealth and influence by leveraging the freedom they enjoy in the United States. They may be serving their shareholders' interests. But what they're doing is not honorable. Why does money trump honor? Is this really the American way?". Listen to his post here

Given that "MSN Spaces is not exactly my idea of a new form of journalism that will set the world free and change the geopolitical landscape for decades to come" (from the comments section in Dan's blog) - I agree with this point but one should look at the bigger picture of cencorship of speech and access rights to any and all information and that of corporations siding with this form of oppression and making money in the process.

Meanwhile, Rick Segal sighs and says, "Its hard to be an American"

To end it all, a very nice wrap up by Shelley Powers [here]

Some people have started to test how free is speech on the web here in the US and have discovered that MSN spaces also clamps down on usage of certain words, words that are synonymous with the porn industry. Certain combinations are allowed and certain others aren't. People who want to get around will always will. Scoble asks if its cencosrship if I can still get my point across without using sensitive words. I think banning certain words (I am talking about the US MSN Spaces) is okay given that the words deal mostly with the porn industry and MSN spaces have no age verification scheme in place and is accessible even my pre-teens and kids. If innocent looking combinations are not allowed to pass through, then I guess one better swallow the pill and re-write your post title - its the intention matters here - a scammer can have a perfectly innocent title and banned content in the body while normal bloggers can use 'dangerous' titles for socially sensitive topics such as "Prostitution and the Law".

I also am of the opinion that MSFT took a monetary decision that allowed them to do business in a new country - they are not in the business of revoltion but in that of computer technology which they want to push into an emerging market. Operating in a different country means that you obey the law of the land or just pack up and go home. First amendment activists often forget that the same oppression makes it possible for Chinese goods to be half the price of US produced goods and americans have embraced these goods making Wal-mart, Apple and dozens of other companies very profitable in the process. Three guesses why US trade deficit with China is so high.

You can't oppress them in one way and balk at oppressing them in an other way. And wondering whether the average citizen is truly free on account of whether he can include certain combinations of words on MSN spaces blog posts and using that as being representative of his right to free speech is rather lame.

Go here to read Dare Obssanjo's (he works for MSN Spaces) post on this issue. It clarifies what content they are exactly monitoring and what it means to operate a common platform for users of all ages across countries and languages when each one's definitions of appropriateness is defined by prevalent local culture.

I am going to put an end to this topic. Enough said!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Eastern Front: World War II

I have been reading this awesome memoir of Germany's greatest generals on the Eastern Front - General Ehard Raus, its called "Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945" and is compiled and translated by Steven H. Newton, a professor of history at the Delaware State University. By war's end, Raus had earned a reputation as one of Germany's foremost tacticians of armored warfare and was considered a prized catch when he was captured by the U.S. He wrote this detailed memoir in US captivity. The book is all about armored military strategy and is recommended for all who are interested in strategic warfare.

What I like about this book:
very analytical, paints a complete picture of both armies at each battle - right from the number of men, artillery pieces, tanks, reserves etc (this means remembering who is who and where they came from. For eg., 320th infantry division, 6th panzer division etc.). Before you start to groan, this book is replete with analysis, both pre and post. He gives a lot of credit to refining soviet tactics as the war progressed. He makes an analysis of what it means to invade a country and one as unique and immensely huge as the Soviet Union. He analyzes the socio-political situation in soviet Russia during those years and even comments on the economic might of the Soviet Union - its massive collosal army, the never ending tank production lines - its almost limitless industrial capapcity far outdoing Germany's resources that were stretched thin between Africa, Western Europe and Russia. He gives very good insights into how the Soviets fought and made use of the fact that they outnumbered the Germans in all modes of combat. You should read the book to appreciate this lopsided battle and how the Soviet Union rallied around and started to push the Wehrmacht out of Russian soil. Raus gives credit where its due to the Russians. He also gives you some sense of the number of soldiers required to fight and maintain a line that at one time was along the entire breadth of Russia. No commentary of the Eastern Front is complete without tales of the winter war and its telling effect on German soldiers. Raus camped 26 miles out of Moscow in the winter with his unit being hit with 800 casualties every day owing to the cold. At that rate, he estimates, that his division would have been reduced to a 'band of brothers' within 7 days! His analysis of the Russian winter counter offensives are admirable and he points out that the Wehrmacht retreat from Russia was at no time a rout. Germans inflicted huge and heavy losses on the Russians even while on the retreat but they themselves were so dimished in strength that making a stand was not a viable option.

What I don't like about the book:
Maps - a severe paucity of them renders the book very dry and leaves to the imagination of the reader battles that were fought at different cities with nothing to differentiate or identify them but general directions such as to the south of Stalingrad. You will have to read certain battles more than once to truly appreciate them.
Advice: stick to it and try to imagine it and you'll be plesantly surprised as to the wealth of information you will get.
This general obviously did not fight in all the battles and therefore some battles like those for Stalingrad and Leningrad are absent. He does make references to them of course to cite the magnitude of German losses (an entire army of around 300,000 men. I am not sure of the losses in equipment). You will find more than enough information in many other battles like those of Kharkov, Kursk (Operation Zitadelle), battles for the Ukraine, the Kiev salient, Lvov and finally Pomerania (in these battles, german panzer divisions fought at tank ratios 1:20 in favor of the russians).

Just to give you an idea of the lopsided nature of most Russian battles: consider Operation Zitadelle (the battle of Kursk). Here are the numbers for each of the armies that clashed for this city that was the industrial and economical heart of the Ukraine.
Germany:In total they assembled some 2,700 tanks and assault guns, 1,800 aircraft and 800,000 men.
Russia: The Red Army laid over 400,000 landmines and dug about 5,000 kilometers of trenches, with positions as far back as 175km from the front line. In addition they massed a huge army of their own, including some 1,300,000 men, 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces and 2,400 aircraft.

Operation Zitadelle did not achieve the outlined objectives and is generally considered a german tactical loss.

Casuality figures: Just from the battle of Kursk, the Soviets lost 322 tanks (more than half of them beyond repair), had more than 1000 dead and an additional 2500 missing or wounded. German losses reached less than 20% of that.
Of the total casulaties from the entire operation, the losses sort of looked the same - 60,000 dead and missing (germany) and 70,330 for Russia. But what these figures don't tell you is that the Germans didn't have manpower left after taking losses that ran at roughly 3:5 in their favor. The soviets through the lend-lease program and owing to their advantage in numbers were able to bounce back.

More later. I really should change the template to include categories so that I can open one just for the Eastern Front. Anybody want to help me out on this one?

Jackson to Change Lifestyle

Read my previous post [here]
In my previous Jackson post, I completely left out the pornography and sex toys that he let the children come into contact with. Pretty abnormal eh?

Read story [here]

Jackson, now says that he is going to change his lifestyle and refrain from sharing his bed with young boys so as not to be vulnerable again. Whoa! hold on a second. Who is the victim here - Jackson or Gavin Arvizo, the 13 year old who accused Jackson of molestation. It sounds like the kid is a gold digger and Jackson is an innocent victim whose senisitive, caring nature has been irrepairably hurt by these baseless accusations against his moral character. With reference to my previous post, atleast kids are most probably not going to sleep with Jackson anymore. Thats a great development if you ask me.

I also looked at the lead that I left open - the british journalist who started it all. His name is Martin Bashir and he was sued by Jackson for 'breach of contract and breach of confidence over the film'. Jackson, in an attempt to offset the huge legal costs he has accrued, is all set to re-open his legal battle with Bashir.
Learn more about the original film 'Living with Michael Jackson' and other Martin Bashir news here.

He is apparently rumored to be performing at the Live 8 concert either at London or at Philadelphia and is also considering a world tour aptly called 'Framed'. Jackson's debts and legal costs must be quite high for him to affect a miraculously quick recovery from his recurrent back problem and mount a world tour. Its all in the image - the sensitive, caring, children loving benevolent pop star crushed under these accusations suffers from moral scarring and even leaves him in poor physical health. A pretty picture of innocence don't you think?

And life goes on....

Seeing Is Believing

1. Click on the image to view it in a better resolution. Save it on your computer.
2. Open it in any photo editor that gives you the RGB values at a particular mouse position (like IrfanView)
3. You can also open it in MSPaint and use the ink dropper tool to see what color is a particular region.
4. Using either of the two tools, observe the RGB value of the sqare marked B is exactly the same as that of the square marked A. yet, 'B' looks a lot lighter than 'A'.

Can you explain why?

Answer will be up in two days. Its an interesting question. I am sure people googling it will find the answers but this is not about testing Google but your ability to come up with convincing answers.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Jackson hobbles away a free man

[story here]

Michael Jackson, accused of molestation and attempting to seduce a boy by providing him with alcohol - a total of 10 different charges were filed against him, hobbled away a free man. For 14 weeks, the two sides presented their arguments and listened to testimonials and the jury of 8 women and 4 men took 7 days to set him free on all ten counts. He apparently was motionless as the 'not guilty' was handed out for each of the ten counts and in a restrained manner hobbled out of the court room, huggled his family and close escort, got into his motorcade and drove away - completely free.

This is what I find so shameful in this verdict -
assuming that Jackson was 'truly' innocent and with God as his witness, did not touch the children, ply them with alcohol or take advantage of them in any manner that may be deemed inappropriate - he still solicited mothers to send their kids to his ranch so that they can spend the nights with him in his bedroom. This was proven and is as undisputable as the fact that he took a bath with some of them (of course, with the best of itentions). The jury might have taken this as a sign of his 'love' towards children and in light of the character tainting his lawyers indulged in (this is a common practice to dismiss the arguments of your opponent - reduce credibility by tainting his character) might have thrown the accuser's case out of the window. But what they cannot deny is the abnormal behavior or preference on Jackson's part to sleep and bathe with children other than his own (even if they were his own, this practice is inappropriate after a certain age). And what I think is tragic is that none of the jurors thought of that before setting him free with all honor and respect that is due to him. They didn't quite fathom that acts such as these are not within the confines of normal human behavior and this was evident in that they didn't even find him guilty of something like a third degree misdemeanor and issue him a warning. He may have been truly not guilty of molesting those kids (including his accuser) but the way he chose to spend his time with those children sure was unnatural. One of my friends drew my attention to a certain BBC interviewer by the name of Basheer (or some similar name) who in an interview a year or two earlier (at around the time these rumors first surfaced) made the same comments and added that Jackson in all his star wisdom just didn't get it - its abnormal/unnatural to get kids to sleep or bathe with you. The Jackson camp sued him for libel and slander a little while later with the outcome being unknown to me. Will my enlightened readers leave me a comment if they know more about that story?

So, another 'landmark' judgement has been handed out and another page in our judicial history has been turned. Are you surprised? No sir, I am not.

An apt quote from the recent movie "The Cinderella Man", "If they take this long to decide, they usually decide to screw somebody".

Monday, June 06, 2005

China's hunt for oil

Obviously the US is not the only country which looks for oil and resources leaving no stone unturned. Its just they are either most vocal about it or they make all the headlines everywhere.

Look here for China's largely silent (silent in the media but hardly unnoticed) hunt for oil. I must say they have been pretty ingenious in acquiring so many leads all over the world. No wonder the US is jittery about its oil reserves and the ones it controls. I really can't blame them.

Its Official: Apple goes with Intel

I have this long post in mind where I will link interested readers to relevant posts and my thoughts on Apple deciding to go with Intel, what it means for the market, developers, its carefully cultivated brand image, other products like the iPod and possibly new products that we haven't seen from Apple.

After work maybe?

[Link] Apple said is was making the move to x86 architecture chips because they offer more power and better efficiency. Where art thou oh technology pundit who oft immersed thyself in lengthy diatribes against Intel architecture as compared to the PowerPC architecture? According to this news report, one main motivation behind the switch is because IBM has not yet been able to produce versions of the G5 chip, used in Apple's desktop G5 machines, which are suitable for Apple laptops without overheating. This was also attributed to the fact that it just wasn't profitable for IBM to spend millions of dollars in developing the new laptop version of the G5 just to satisfy 2.3% of the global market share. Their (IBM-Apple) relationship has been stormy and has finally has been dissolved.

Apple, on the other hand, moved from their OS 9 onto a UNIX based platform in their OS X and now have moved onto Intel chips. Doesn't it seem like they are trying a few populist measures (they make sound economic sense too) to break out of the niche (read as 'hole') they have carved for themselves? Intel makes so many different kinds of processors that are suited for the mobile laptop segment that such a move seems logical in retrospect given the intention to break out and capture more of the market.

more later. so much to say and so little time to say it in.

The US on Iran-Pakistan-India gas deal and on human rights violations by China

A project to pipe gas to India from Iran via Pakistan could begin next year, India's oil minister says. Mani Shankar Aiyer has said, "It may not have become reality but has become a certainity".

Who'd you expect to throw 'reservations' into this seemingly prosperous (financially and politically) deal?
Who else? The US of course!

Mr Aiyer dismissed US reservations over the purchase of gas from Iran and said Pakistan and India would not accept any pressure in this regard. I think he should just disregard US concern/interest/opinion on this issue.

I also read here that the US had called upon China to come clean on its human rights violations in the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident in which security forces apparently used exessive force in clearing an apparently peaceful student demonstration. What happened there was indeed a tragedy, I am not condoning the act of using armed force against students protesting against the communist party but for the US Secretary of state to issue a statement calling for China to 'come clean' on this issue is, I think, going too far. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing said the US should pay more attention to its own human rights violations. I think this reply is befitting of the dichotomous reality of human rights violations by the US. They talk a great deal about it but in practice mostly never seem to adhere to it. Its not enough to have policies that deal with human rights violations if none from your own side really follow it and it definitely doesn't justify booking someone for similar offenses.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Colloquial Speech

I finally decided to do something about my bad colloquial speech (which I think has gotten worse after I came to the United States). I have been observing how people speak in public (I don't mean on a public platform but just amongst themselves) and have come to the conclusion that I have picked up what I have been hearing around me. I am determined to get rid of some of the 'figures of speech' that I seem to have picked up. Let me very briefly list a partial taxonomy of most common words that pepper (and in some cases, even drown) conversations -

1. By far, this is THE most irritating and aggravating word - Like
It seems so innocuous and small but people use it so often for everything that my blood boils whenever I hear it. I live in a small laid back college town and all I hear from every 16-22 year old college student is 'like'. Its range of applicability is jaw dropping. It is used as a substitute for so many articles that it really boggles the mind (mine atleast).
"She's like blah blah", "He's like blah blah" and the frequency with which they throw this word into any and all sentences could outgun any AK-47. Thankfully, I do not have this habit.

2. basically

3. I mean

Both 'basically'' and 'I mean' are used more often when attempting to explain oneself in a clearer manner than the first time when all you did was confuse your listener. But, overused and improperly application have reduced its efficacy and is seen as noting more than an irritating filler.

4. actually
I guess this is used to resolve some ambiguity but....

5. "you know" or "you know what I mean?"
this is most often used when the speaker, halfway thorough making his point, decides that he has said enough and prompts the listener to get the point quickly. This too is over used to over simplify speech.

Most of these words and their kind are intended to simplify speech and are used to connect sentences in a manner of preserving continuity of thought and speech but all they do, when overused and improperly applied, is to make speech and an intelligent exchange of ideas more difficult and aggravating.

I will add more as I come across them. Intelligent readers, please add more in the comments. I shall put them in the main post with due credit.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Tiger in Action! Notice the length of the 88mm gun. I think this was taken in Normandy.

The Cinderella Man

Just back from watching the latest Russell Crowe movie - The Cinderella Man. I am a fan of most movies directed by Ron Howard and this movie isn't very far away from his usual style - a feel good movie that celebrates undying spirit and courage and where the journey is in the means and not in the end. A few of his movies are - A Beautiful mind, Apollo 13, The Alamo, The Missing etc. Look up IMDB for more info.

I'll be back with a more detailed review a little later.

I looked up some reviews on Yahoo! Movies and found that I was in concurrence with most reviewers and critics that this movie was moving and like most feel good movies that celebrate undying human spirit reassures you that good still prevails in the face of adversity. Some of them have said that it is an overdose and 'Howard's relentless and flatfooted attack on our sympathies slips into monotony'. I tend to disagree here, I definitely think that despite being a movie doused in all things good and beautiful, it largely stays away from being saccharine and overly optimistic.

Lets take a closer look at what I mean by Howard's movies are those in which the journey is in the means and not in the end. Let us look at the storyline in a very generic way - the story is about an underdog who, keeping in line with the feel good part of the story, comes back from behind and proves himself to the world by beating the current champion. But the story is not about winning right at the end, its about his trials and tribulations as he tries to come out of the hole he is in, all the time giving hope to those who are down in the dumps too that they too can overcome the circumstances if they tried. It is as though all those people were winning over their problems through him, he gives them hope to fight. I will admit a slight degree of sentimentality on the part of Howard during this process but it does fade away in the 'big picture'. The vehicle our hero chooses to do all these wonderful things is boxing.

We are introduced to James J. Braddock, a tough boxer who fights with honesty and where the opponent can see his (Braddock's) fists coming. The once successful Braddock slips into poverty along with most of America during the great depression. This is the setting for Howard's attempt to emphasize all things good and beautiful - the depression and all the people it pushed into poverty and crime. In the midst of this 'every man for himself' world, we have Braddock fighting for himself and his family. The journey starts here. So, we are taken through a world falling apart and how Braddock tries to mend all the holes in the fabric of life that keeps his family together. Here, Howard celebrates America too - how the country rallied together and pulled itself out of the depression. During the course of events, Braddock is offered a second chance at redeeming himself and the later part of the movie follows him as he digs himself out of adversity along with his family and prove himself in the ring, all the while giving hope to all those who were with him in that hole. Now, all of us - the intelligent movie goers - know that he definitely is going to come out on top (the good guy always wins right?). Its just how he does it that makes this movie worthwhile. As I said before, Howard does get a little sentimetal at places. The action scenes are simply brilliant and Howard does a great job in keeping up the pace and in Braddock's own words - this time he knows what he is fighting for.

This movie was worth both my time and my money. I enjoyed watching it. I hope you do to.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Ultimate Phones for Ultimate Ears?

How much would you pay for a pair of earphones/headphones that will offer you crystal quality in most environments (including open air, flight, noisy station etc)?


No? then try $900 for size. Yes! thats what the Ultimate Ears UE10 costs.

I must point you to these sources for more information - A post on Ken Levy's blog and of course, to Robert Scoble's blog too.

Also visit this site Ultimate Ears. I don't know about you but they have a few models for mere mortals like me that cost between $150 - $250 (WoW)

As far as I see on the net, there are two kinds of technologies available for high quality audio irrespective of the surrounding decibel level - isolation earphones (like the Ultimate Ears) and active noise cancellation earphones (like the Bose).

Isolation earphones come in either custom built or off the shelf models. If you want a custom built piece then you'll have to visit an audiologist who will make an impression of your ear canal and earphones are specially manufactured based on the shape of your ear canal. Off the shelf pieces are slightly generic in shape but are similar in spirit to the custom built ones. There are no noise cancellation circuits and they achieve their level of isolation by completely blocking your ear canal and deliver crystal quality sound right into the heart of your inner ear. If you have worn ear plugs at a loud concert, just imagine the same except that the ear plugs are actually phones that deliver sound. Since there are no noise cancelling electronics etc, they are really compact and some models can even be worn under a helmet.

Being a proud owner of the Bose Quiet Comfort 2, I can definitely say that the Bose is amazing at getting rid of extraneous noise. Of course, it helps if you have heavy metal thundering inside the cups :-). But all these technologies fall a little short when you compare them with phones that 'block' your ear canal allowing literally no room for external sound to reach your ear. But am I willing to pay a burning $900 for it? No, I'd rather pass. Having said that, there are cheaper models ($150-%250) that I might consider purchasing a lot later to try out.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Building Character Yet?

A series of Calvin and Hobbes strips in which dad tries to get Calvin to build his character. Lets kick the series off with this hilarious one -

Instant gratification is today's mantra anyway - Calvin is always with the times.

team play builds character

Grown ups play by justifying it as exercise and keep tabs by quantifying performance

A cold character

Fun for fun's sake!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Achtung Panzer!

PanzerKampfwagon VI Ausf B. KonigsTiger!!

"On the road from Bollersdorf to Strausberg stood a further 11 Stalin tanks, and away on the egde of the village itself were around 120-150 enemy tanks in the process of being refuelled and re-armed. I opened fire and destroyed all of the 11 Stalin tanks on the road....My own personal score of enemy tanks destroyed in this action was 39."
SS-Hauptscharführer Karl Körner,
schwere SS Panzer Abteilung (103) 503 / III SS Panzer Corps,
East Germany, April of 1945.

"One day a Tiger Royal tank got within 150 yards of my tank and knocked me out. Five of our tanks opened up on him from ranges of 200 to 600 yards and got five or six hits on the front of the Tiger. They all just glanced off and the Tiger backed off and got away. If we had a tank like Tiger, we would all be home today."
Report by tank commander Sergeant Clyde D. Brunson from 2nd Armored Division, 1945.

I recently bought Tamiya's Tiger II build it yourself kit. I even bought another Tamiya kit for setting up the tank track with individual tracks. I am so excited about this kit and am sure I am going to enjoy building this tank. I will post links for information on this behemoth 57-tonne tank soon. Read and understand why I love this tank! I will post some more pics as I build it and hopefully it comes out looking like the stock picture.

Achtung Panzer!
Das Reich - 2nd SS Panzer Division
Loads of technical info on the King Tiger
PanzerWorld Also has an extensive section devoted to plastic modeling.
World War 2 Aces
Panzer Photos There are tons of photos at this site.

I just bought plastic cement, so I'll get started off soon! I hope you are all as excited as I am.

EDIT 1: I used this awesome tool called Hello to post this photo into the blog post. Looks like Google's Picassa had something to do with it. Its seriously as simple as 1 - 2 -3. I really liked it.

EDIT 2: On the other hand, this tool is too simplistic to be of practical use. It posts every picture in a NEW post. I have been trying to post in the same post and it hasn't worked as yet. Deleting posts from the blog is a pain too as I have to delete one post at a time.

Ars Technica

This is a tech gold mine! I will maintain the links for articles that I think are great on this site. I will just add more as I find and read them.

This is just more motivation for me to fix the categories in the template. oh well......

Introduction to Multithreading, Hyperthreading and Superthreading.

Almost every book on computer architecture talks about Moore's Law. Here is a take Technica style. Just in case you've forgotten your pipelining basics, here are parts 1 and 2 of a two part series.

The Pentium - The most famous desktop processor today - Part 1 and Part 2.

Apple and the PowerPC - Parts 1, 2 and 3

Intel's processor naming schema.

History of the GUI.

A Look at the core of the Centrino package - the Pentium M

Friday, May 27, 2005

Generation Z

In reply to a question regarding his identity in society, one particular youth had this to say -

"Yet another resource consuming being in an overpopulated planet, raised to an alarming extent by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, poised with my cynical and dysfunctional peers to take over the world when you are old and weak"

And do you know who this youth is?

Its Calvin from "Calvin and Hobbes" fame. Talk about social commentary.

Conversations with God

-"Life is all about juggling eggs"
x "huh?"
-"Its a metaphor for life, each egg represents one of life's concerns and the goal is to give each egg the appropriate amount of individual attention while simultaneously watching and guiding the others. Life is all about balance and staying quick and alert as everything threatens to spin out of control."
x "Thats when you lose control, get caught in a hailstorm of eggs and create a big mess"
- "But the important thing is persistence"

EDIT: this is from Calvin and Hobbes. This strip though being about a kid and his stuffed tiger, I think, provides a take into our lives, times, our current value system and social commentary in general. I really love these characters!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

More Xbox 360

Inside the Xbox Part 1: Procedural Synthesis and Dynamic Worlds
Inside the Xbox Part 2: The Xenon CPU

Don't let all the jargon scare you away, its a neat article.
I'll post links to the other parts (as soon as they are up) as edits in this post itself.

Though there haven't been any updates on the Xbox series, I found Part 1 and Part 2 of a similar series on the cell processor that the PS3 uses.

Part 1: Introducing the Cell Processor: The SIMD Processing Units
Part 2: The Cell Architecture

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Black Gold or Pipe Dream?

Giant Caspian oil pipeline opens

The US Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman, was present too to claim his piece of the pie.

My thoughts in a later update. Got to get back to work!

Update: (some highlights from the BBC article) Eleven of the world's biggest oil firms are turning the taps on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which will pump a million barrels a day of Caspian oil to world markets. Many hopes are pinned on the Caspian, and the $4bn BTC is the biggest step so far in its development. But does it have the potential to slake the world's thirst for oil?

The BBC gives out very interesting figures on oil production: the US leads with an output of about 14 million barrels a day followed by Saudi Arabia with 10 million barrels. Russia and Africa take the third spot with 8 mn barrels. Compared to these countries, the caspian pipeline looks like a trickle and even it reaches full capacity (estimated at 6 mn barrels) it will still produce only twice as much as Canada [figures courtesy the BBC].

Once we have established where this new source is placed in the pecking order of oil producing nations, it is clearly evident that the US Energy Secretary was looking for something more than presenting the presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Turkey with his good wishes. The Caspian, to the US, represents a vital source of non-Russian non-Middle Eastern oil. It is no coincidence that the US is one of the biggest consumers of oil and are constantly on the lookout for breaking free (or at the very least easing the hold) from OPEC. The Caspian economy and the region's political stability will defenitely benefit from the petro-dollars that will flow in from all energy hungry countries.

On a grand scale, President Bush's visit to this region with the ostensible reason of bolstering the democratic process and to encourage these countries to break free from Russian interference, Samuel Bodman's prescence at the opening ceremony of the pipiline (obviously to claim some oil for the US market) are not events of pure coincidence. The US economy is so fragile and oil-dependant that when one of OPEC's sheikhs even so much as coughs than the oil prices rise to reach new highs. Some people even think that the invasion of Iraq had little (if anything at all) to do with the submission of terrorism and confiscating the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam had allegedly amassed and more with the oil reserves that Iraq possess. In fact, there is NO news of any weapons of mass destruction that Saddam allegedly had stashed away in a sub-terraneous bunker. Amongst the list of nations ordered in decreasing order of proven oil reserves, Iraq tops the list with 10 billion barrels. Hmmm isn't that a coincidence?

Pipe dream? asks the BBC but I think it goes more than just another source of oil.

Forgive me for sounding paranoid, but US interests in freedom and democracy aren't exactly altruistic. Being, I think, the number 1 resource consuming nation and given the size of their economy and industry - in the interest of economic preservation and continuity they try to secure for themselves a sustainable source of resources even if it means long term harm for the source itself. In the meantime, their interests would have moved onto another source, another option and the story repeats itself. They are victim of their own prosperity.

This doesn't just extend to resources but also in protecting their interests. They have war monged with Russia/China in many a country in an attempt to curtail the spread of communism literally destroying the country in an effort to save it. Once the country is in ruins, they pour in massive amounts of money in a rebuilding operation, run the country (read as scope out resources, setup installations, all but take over these installations) for a while and then turn over control to a weak and near puppet government who in turn exchange all they can offer in terms of resources and commissions for security and US backing in the international community. It does help the country in a way but unfairly advantages the US in the process.

Maybe I should just take my valium and go to bed. What say?

Monday, May 23, 2005

XBox 360 - What Microsoft is doing and why?

I came across this very interesting article on the Xbox 360 . It details many basic differences between the Xbox360 and the PS3, I would say aimed at video console ignoramuses such as myself. Its a nice analysis of what you can expect from the two rivals, the basic differences in their design and marketing approaches, business decisions, timelines and of course, the kind of games that you can play on these engines.

I have never been much of a gamer but if someone wants to buy me one of these.....

Edit 1: I came across this awesome blog maintained Major Nelson who is on the Xbox 360 Team and he provides a very indepth technical analysis on all levels (hardware, software and services) of the Xbox and the PS3. Even though I am not going to buy any one of these, it was very interesting to read and the processes used to profile their performances was very useful information.

Pt 1 of 4
Pt 2 of 4
Pt 3 of 4
Pt 4 of 4

But I sure as hell don't know what to make of this

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Crown Ov Worms?

allo you 'orrible lot!

A lengthy post on Megadeth mainman Dave Mustaine and his new found faith in Christ -

First up, Dave, to me, is a guitar god to whom I pay homage regularly. His no nonsense cynical attitude is legendary. Sticking to his guns and fighting it out is what has brought him to the forefront of speed/thrash metal. Having said that, lets come to the issue at hand -

Dave Mustaine apparently threatened to pull out of several festival appearances in Greece and Israel because two of the support acts on the bill were "full-on Satanic" bands called ROTTING CHRIST and DISSECTION. Mustaine, who converted to Christianity several years ago after his nerve injury, explained his position in a posting at the official MEGADETH web site. "Yes, I did say I would prefer not to play on concerts with Satanic bands," he said. "That doesn't mean I won't, it doesn't mean I would not talk with the bands either...But to make a life-altering change and then not have some kind of effect would not have been a change at all, would it? It's not much different from staying away from booze if you have made a decision to be sober." Mustaine added, "If I don't feel it is right for me to do something, then (I) would just respectfully decline. I would not ask that anyone be taken off if they were already confirmed...I have to draw the line and stand for my beliefs or they aren't beliefs at all, are they?"

This was in response to rumors that he had gotten those bands booted off the bill in those particular festivals. Then he made it clear that in the event that those bands were already confirmed then it would be Megadeth that would 'respectfully decline' from playing with these bands that have an obvious anti-christian stance. This coming from a guy who wrote 'Devil's island', 'The conjouring', 'Good Mourning, Black Friday'! Wouldn't playing these songs be in conflict with his faith? (even on a stage that includes bands of his choice, like Gigatour for example) . His values are now in conflict with the metal scene that he helped forge and he is using his position as an icon of the scene to influence fans of Megadeth to exclude bands that are in conflict with his faith. I want to ask a question at this point - does playing on the same bill mean that he is endorsing their point of view? I don't think so. Does he think his faith will be affected by playing with these bands. If it is, then it wasn't as strong as he thought it was eh?

I love Megadeth and I am not christian. Does that conflict with Dave's new found faith? I don't care. I am one of the biggest fans of Dave and Megadeth because of the crushing songs he composes and plays with blistering speed. I am also a really huge fan of Rotting Christ and Dissection. Does Dave's new stance mean that I have to choose between these two sides (though they were all part of the same goulash of metal genres to begin with?). I can't imagine how Dave's recipe for hate and angst will taste in a sauce of christian metal. Jung ho christians feel that it is their responsiblity to save the world from the fires of hell. I have been accosted by so many of these evagelists who try really hard to convince me that my faith will lead nowhere and Jesus is THE ONLY way for me to reach salvation. Even when I do not appear to sway (I am not one of those insecure persons who is searching for God and the purpose of life) they go out of their way in trying me to convert to their way. Dave defending himself by saying that it ain't much of a change if it doesn't stick, is a double edged sword - if you end being up so affected by even playing with these bands then your faith isn't as strong as it should be. It also goes a long way in giving us a sense of tolerance, his as a representation of a larger group of evangelists.

Going to something bigger - black metal and its obvious anti-christian stance. A christian friend of mine recently remarked that it was very easy for non-christians to like black metal. Probably so, but hey we are not the ones who invented this genre - christians themselves did! Atleast people on whom christianity was forced upon. But today, the scene is brimful of bands who come from all over the world. I agree that Philipino or japanese black metal bands are poser from the point of view that they can never associate themselves with the true feeling of anti-christian hatred that fueled the birth of this genre. The inclusion of these bands whose association with the scene almost became a point of ridicule (I would definitely laugh at a Christ hating, goat worshipping japanese/burmese band) gave birth to a sense of 'true pagan black metal' (pagan being the dominant word) and spawned another genre NSBM (Nationalist Socialist Black Metal) about which someday I post my thoughts (or someone else with more information could throw some light on the birth of NSBM?). But sure, they can borrow the same style and sing/growl/screech about religious oppression (or whatever it is that they don't like) and gain fans all over the world. Black Metal no longer is about being anti-christian - it is more of a statement of your religious freedom - freedom to practice, freely and liberally interpret the religious teachings and forming your own code of life. Some return to their asatru days (viking/pagan metal) while others sing positively about their religious beliefs (Rudra). Of course, NSBM is a very exclusive club and people who are offended by such view points are not invited to the party. In the end, it boils down to freedom - the very strand on which metal music stands on.

Whatever my thoughts and feelings in this issue, I am still a rabid fan of Dave and Megadeth. The man, his band and legacy are way too big to be affected by these temporal dispositions.

Enough said!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Thought for the day!

"Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events and great minds discuss ideas."

I am not sure who quoted that but it does underline that one must, in order to impart some meaning and purpose to existence, break out from gossip and move onto a higher plane of thinking. I feel that the intermediate stage is crucial in setting up the processes that aid great minds in assimilating and absorbing the essence of ideas that are exchanged. Exchanging ideas with an immature dolt can bring no greater good as that person lacks these processes to think and act upon what he is being told.

What are your thoughts on the issue, anything that I missed out on?

Corporate Buzzwords!

Krishnan Ranganathan pointed me to a very interesting article on a partial taxonomy of buzzwords that you hear floating around in your coporate environs.

Me and my team members make constant fun of these words at my office. Some of them, such as 'low hanging fruit', 'idea warehouse' and 'thinking out of the box' are thrown at us at meetings in an attempt to convince us to bite off more than we can chew and then have us work 18 hours a day so that we can grab those low hanging fruits. I agree that effective speaking goes a long way but these buzz words are always floating around adding some much needed comic relief to otherwise dragging corporate meetings.

I plan to post some threads regarding effective speaking and corporate culture. watch this space for more.

I am also working on the template for the blog that allows me to categorize posts and in general give the appearance of a nicely organized blog. All part of my grand attempt to lure the unsuspecting reader to his death .

Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith

Just back from watching the last installment of the Star wars saga - was much of the standard bill of special effects, blindingly fast light saber fights and a drug store good Vs. evil plot. I am going to write a short review starting off with the premise that the movie was a good entertainer and will mainly point out its faults. Before I go on I do have to say that the movie was a good entertainer and overall was good fun to watch.

The movie at times was so patchy in narration that I wondered if George Lucas wasn't tiring of the saga himself. It suffers from one of the faults most movies suffer from- its plot moves so quickly at times with things happening just so that the story moves ahead and at other times it moves so slowly that your beard starts to turn gray with anticipation. Tacky and overly sentimental dialogues on love made me shed some of my hair in frustration.

The storyboard did tie everything up nicely though with the rest of the series with a few or no loose ends. And of course, the fight sequences are spectacular but one is desensitized by so many of them over the entire series that they have lost their charm (much like the matrix fight sequences).

And in yoda's style of speech - enjoyable it was and home I have to go, so stop writing I will.

After thought - I read somewhere that it grossed over $50 million in the first day! I contributed my $5.25 towards the third day earnings, have you?

Edit 1: Forget did I another point of the battle of the two sides of the force within Anakin. There is absolutely no time for the audience to appreciate this battle and realize the circumstances that drove Anakin to embrace the dark side of the force. This transformation, inevitable to complete the circle, was such a matter of fact and over simplified that it came across as a trivial and lame transformation executed just for the sake of the story. Even potentially powerful scenes such as the one where Anakin distracts Samuel Jackson's character long enough for the emperor to pulverize him (Sam Jackson) was so artificial with regret and remorse in one second and subservience and allegiance in another that the transformation seemed too quick and affected to be true.

The storyboard and its urgency to come full circle is the driving 'force' behind this movie and overrides any other incidents that serve the bigger picture of the series.

Special effects and the like are state of the art but then which movie isn't?

Tyrant in his pants!

Thats the front page of today's edition of the british tabloid "The Sun" and it features the once mighty Saddam, tyrant of Iraq, in his underpants. It is also rumored that there are other pictures of him sleeping, washing his clothes and has been equated to a street bum.

Obviously, the US military are red in the face. They say it is in direct violation of the Geneva convention and other Defense Department directives aimed at the humane treatment of detainees and have launched an investigation. Saddam probably didn't afford detainees any luxuries either but publishing inappropriate photographs and ridiculing a public figure (he was after all the president of Iraq), I think, is in bad taste. On being asked if this will trigger another anti-america wave, President Bush had this to say - "I don't think a photo inspires murderers. I think they're inspired by an ideology that is so barbaric and backwards that it's hard for many in the Western world to comprehend how they think." "We want to look at the story and weigh the news value of it," said Dean Baquet, managing editor of The Los Angeles Times. "But we don't see any ethical reason not to run it. This is clearly a story". Huh?? Run that by me again. No ethical reason not to run it and is clearly a story. A story? I must have missed the tabloid journalist led revolution. I wonder what that story would have been if President Bush's underwear was all over CNN - I really have to reassure myself that this high value of journalistic integrity would have been maintained in publishing this story.

I am not pro-Saddam but just don't entirely agree with the way the US has handled him.

It's hard for many in the western world to comprehend - that pretty much wraps up how President Bush and the military have handled the war on terrorism. It has turned into a PR mightmare for the military with less than respectable showings by military personnel in Abu Grahib and Guantanamo Bay. The whole war on terrorism, in my opinion, has turned into a America Vs. The muslim world. Their lack of understanding of muslim ethos and apparent lack of any interest in trying to learn just keeps them busy first shooting themselves in the foot and then in the inevitable damage control exercise.

Edit 1: I just read that the US is investigating lock up deaths in Afghanisthan. This wraps up what I said.