December 31, 2004

New Year’s Day

Yeah…
All is quiet on New Year’s Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you
Be with you night and day
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day

I will be with you again
I will be with you again

Under a blood red sky
A crowd has gathered in black and white
Arms entwined, the chosen few
The newspapers says, says
Say it’s true it’s true…
And we can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one

I… I will begin again
I… I will begin again

Oh…
Maybe the time is right
Oh… maybe tonight…

I will be with you again
I will be with you again

And so we’re told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and day
Nothing changes
On New Year’s Day.

U2.

December 29, 2004

Keeping busy

I’ve been keeping remarkably busy the last few days. And I thought the holidays would be dull. Warning: long, dull post ahead.

First off, I finished reading Picture This almost a week ago. Spent the next two days thinking I’ll put up a review here. But for the life of me, I could not decide whether I liked to book or hated it. I’ll probably like it if I digest it a little. It’s more of a history lesson than a book, and I don’t care about history as much as other things.

So I’ll just try to describe it in a paragraph. The book begins with Rembrandt painting his famous picture (I guess, I don’t know anything about art) Aristotle contemplating a bust of Homer. As he paints, Aristotle comes alive. When Rembrandt completes an ear, he can hear; when he completes the eyes, he can see. Heller keeps jumping back & forth in time, from the Dutch glory days to ancient Greece. And most of the book is devoted to the time of Socrates & Plato.

Of course, I don’t know whether anything Heller writes is true, and don’t think I want to verify the facts anyway. We keep going to the subject of conflict/war and what not. And I can’t make up my mind about the book.

Then I’ve been getting acquainted with Python a little, again. Dive into Python is the best book to do so. I’ve also been reading Anna Karenina for the last few days. Should finish in a couple more.

Other than that, I’ve been trying to get my Ganpatipule photos scanned (no luck yet); and arranging for a few friends to watch a movie together (again no luck yet).

And the usual, trying to come up with the next big thing™, thinking about life in general… You know, the everyday stuff.

I’m forgetting listening to previous episodes of In Our Time. Available in crappy Read Media, but worth listening. Mostly listening to the science archives right now, will get to the other sections later. 40 minutes to an episode, and most of them are really good. A few episodes of note:

  • Pi — the number that doesn’t add up #
  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics — the most important thing you will ever know #
  • Schrodinger’s Cat — Quantum Mechanics #
  • The Odyssey — Homer’s epic tale of Odysseus’ return home #

Probably forgetting a few things, but that’s about it.

December 28, 2004

Download all attachments

Cool, it seems that people actually listen to suggestions. As I posted before, I was rather annoyed with downloading each attachment individually with GMail. I made a suggestion that they should add a feature like Download all attachments at one go.

Download all attachments

And presto, to opened a message today and there it was. And it even zips all the attachments into a single file. Again, cool.

December 27, 2004

Info on the Tsunamis

It’s amazing how fast these collobrative sites collect info. If you are looking for any news on yesterday’s earthquake, or the subsequent Tsunamis that hit various regions, look no further than these. Follow external links from there as you need.

Acrobat Reader 7

I like PDF’s much more than any other file format people usually use (usually Word files). And I really like the new Acrobat reader that’s out.

First things first, this will work only on Win 2000 or Win Xp machines. Acrobat Reader 7 will not work with any Older versions of Windows. There’s no Linux version as far as I can tell.

There are mainly two main improvements — firstly users can now add comments & notes to the document. Earlier this functionality was only available to users of Acrobat Professional. The caveat — the original document has to be created using Acrobat 7. As a result, I’ve not used this feature yet.

Another major improvement is the speed. Documents now open instantaneously, just like you are opening a text file. You can even see a preview in Explorer. This seemed too good to be true, until I realized that they add a background process (Acrobat Speed Launch) which seems to pre–load the application on startup. An acceptable tradeoff, I really use PDF’s a lot.

All in all, a great upgrade, even considering the large download size. There seem plenty of other feature, which I’ve not looked up yet.

Note: Users of Acrobat Reader 6 can also speed up the launch time significantly.

December 26, 2004

Amazon Cover search

I’ve been amusing myself with a little project of sorts. It only took an hour of coding, and that also because I’d forgotten all I knew of Python.

I wrote of small Python script that takes some search keyword as arguments, looks up for a matching audio cd on Amazon, and generates a HTML page with links & previews to the cd’s cover art. Quite simple really, if you use the excellent PyAmazon wrapper. And fun to do.

This is nothing of an achievement, it’s just that I’ve not been coding for a while. This is something that I can use. I’ve almost decided one thing, if I have to code my final project in Java, I’m gonna use Jython.

December 24, 2004

MusicBrainz!

From the site,

MusicBrainz is a community music metadatabase that attempts to create a comprehensive music information site. You can use the MusicBrainz data either by browsing this web site, or you can access the data from a client program — for example, a CD player program can use MusicBrainz to identify CDs and provide information about the CD, about the artist or about related information. You can also use the MusicBrainz Tagger to automatically identify and clean up the metadata tags in your MP3 collections.

I’ve not gone through the whole site yet, but I did download the Tagger. To put in simple terms, the tagger scans my MP3 files, and fills out the correct metadata (Artist, Album, Track number) for me. As you know, I am an overzealous organizer, but I never did complete filling out all the details for my MP3 collection myself. Now that’s over, I can finally make full use of the Winamp Media Library.

Oh, and the whole database is open, with a client SDK for several languages provided. Could result in some cool applications.

December 23, 2004

MMS

I have refrained myself as much as I could from writing about this fiasco. I just kept hoping that all this nonsense would end. But there seems no hope for that. I’ve even heard that the proposed topic for debate at my college fest is MMS or something on camera phones.

I think that by now every one’s heard about the case at least. Two teenagers filmed an so called “obscene act” using a camera phone. The clip somehow spread, and a student from IIT K. posted a VCD for sale on Baazee. When people became aware of the nature of the clip, the item was pulled from the auction. So far, so good.

What I don’t understand is that the police arrested the CEO of Baazee for this matter. I did some googling around, and found out that under our far-reaching IT Act (which seems to cover everything from computers to cell phones to calculators), service providers are responsible for the content their users store. That is, the auction site is responsible for what is bought or sold there, a message board is responsible for the contents of the message, a mail provider is responsible for the content’s of the user’s mails, and so on.

This is just plain stupid. You don’t hold telephone companies responsible for what people talk (at least I should think not). I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but I would expect that people are held responsible on the way they use the resources provided to them.

Don’t expect me to put forth some points for consideration, or anything of a legal or technical nature. I’m only speaking from common sense here.

Anyway, here’s a news article about the way our esteemed Policemen handle technology.

December 21, 2004

Half-Blood prince complete

The manuscript’s off to the publisher, and the release date’s supposed to be out around Christmas.

Update: It’s 16th JULY, 2005.

December 20, 2004

Book review so far

I’ve read only a few books so far, and here are my thoughts on them.

Animal Farm is classic. It was so funny at times that I could not stop laughing (and ended up coughing, as I had a cold at the time). But it’s not a book for everyone — you should have a taste for political satire, or pessimism. I really like old Benjamin — “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.”

I didn’t like Wuthering Heights as much. The story’s too predictable (and convenient). And I could not comprehend most of the antique English used.

The Idiot is really fun to read; and it’s end is probably the most bitter ending I’ve read. I spent the first day just trying to decipher the Russian names. I was at Ganapatipule when I started reading, and so did not have anything on the net to help me.

First of all, the names are really long, and it’s hard to remember them. Also, each person is called by different names. For example, Ganya is the same person as Gavril Ardalionovitch, and same as Gavril Ivolgin, the first being a nickname. The full name of that person is Gavril Ardalionovitch Ivolgin (Name, Son of, Surname). It was really fun to piece this all together while reading the book, and this will come in handy while reading any other Russian book.

Also, I got the feeling that Russia (19th Century Russia at least) is not that much different from India, culture-wise.

RIP Suprnova

Now for some googling.

December 18, 2004

The Trip

Well, I’m back. Always wanted to start a post with that line.

Ganapatipule is a beautiful place. The beach is better than any beach I’ve seen in Goa. Really clean water, white sand, and only a few people about; all make the experience worthwhile. One recommendation — if you go there, stay in MTDC Konkani Huts, right in front of the beach. They would not be worth the money any place else, but there the location makes up for the cost. Just walk out of the room, sleep on the hammocks of you feel like it, or go down a few steps and you are at the beach. At night, the sound of the waves is the loudest noise you’ll hear.

A small stream of sorts meets the ocean at one end of the beach. The backwaters are fun to look around. At high tide, the seawater flows in; and at low tide, the stream flows out. As I said, the water is really clean. Clean enough that I’ve seen people fishing in the backwaters, and at the sea. At low tide, you get to see countless really small & transparent looking crabs scurrying around. Hell, you even see bits of sea weed drifting to shore.

I really don’t want more people to go there, that would ruin the place. Of course, the place is bound to keep increasing in popularity, until it becomes just another beach.

I took around two rolls worth of pictures, but it seems that the first roll is doomed to fail. It’s tough to operate the manual SLR that I have, and I’m only just learning photography (by the old fashioned trail-and-error method). The second roll should come out well, and I’ll scan and post the pictures if they are (hopefully) any good.

December 13, 2004

Beaches & Showers

I’m going off to Ganapatipule tomorrow with some friends. It’s a small beach south of Ratnagiri, and I hear that its really good. The aim of the trip being to relax and unwind. Hopefully to get some good photographs as well. And get some reading done if nothing else (I’m not much of a beach person, I personally prefer mountains).

Today’s the peak day for the Geminid Meteor Shower; which a friend of mine says is really worth watching. I should be able to see a few tomorrow night then. I’ve always been a big Astronomy buff, but its not really possible to see the stars from Mumbai.

Of course, there will be no posts until Friday/Saturday.

December 12, 2004

Trailer roundup

Some good movies seem to be coming up this time around. There’s life after LOTR, it seems.

Let’s start off with Batman Begins, which seems to be promising. I had seen the last few Batman movies when I was a kid, and loved them of course. Recently while channel surfing, I came across one on HBO. Seeing it for a few minutes, I was horrified that I actually liked that movie earlier on. Still, the Batman Begins Teaser looks really good. Directed by Christopher Nolan (of Memento fame).

Then there is the big daddy of all franchise films, Star Wars–Revenge of the Sith (Or Star Wars–ROTS as I like to call it). I’ve seen the original triology only once before, and the last two prequels on TV. I actually liked Attack of the Clones, guess you have to be a Star Wars fan “since the elder days” to hate it. And I really liked the teaser for ROTS, again most SW fans hated it. Don’t know what it is with all these manic fans, then again 20 years down the road, I’ll probably be dissing LOTR remakes, so I can’t say much about them.

There is also the Spielberg–Cruise remake of War of the Worlds. The teaser’s been out recently, and it looked good. “In Spielberg we trust.” Even if its a simple action movie, it will be worth watching.

There are a few other movies worth noting — The Hitchhikers’s Guide movie which I have repetitively mentioned. There is Sin City, which seems too bizarre to miss. Check out the really old, really good quality, really big size, Comic Con footage. Oh, and there’s one really low budget film called Primer. Looks good, but don’t think that it’ll be showed around here.

Happy viewing!

December 11, 2004

Votes

Arthur: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!

Woman: Order, eh? Who does he think he is? Heh.

Arthur: I am your king!

Woman: Well, I didn’t vote for you.

Arthur: You don’t vote for kings.

Woman: Well, how did you become King, then?

Arthur: The Lady of the Lake,… [angels sing]…her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!

Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

Arthur: Be quiet!

Dennis: Well, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ‘cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

From Monty Python & The Holy Grail.

Google Suggest

Everyone has been unanimously raving about this cool new thing by Google. I posted this to the sidebar, but this is too important to not get its own post.

As always, don’t take my word for it, try it out. First of all, this saves a lot of keystrokes while searching, which is always a good thing. Also, it helps us refine our search terms before we start searching. We can see what terms give the best results, as we type them. You’ll probably need a modern browser with decent Javascript support to use this.

Also, the technology is really cool. You’d expect this to be slow, but its not. From what I get, there is a Javascript library that does all the work. They have pretty much obfuscated the code, I can’t read any of it. Although it may be because I don’t know Javascript.

Whatever you type into the search box is queried to get the suggested results. This query is not actually carried out, it seems like Google just has an index of popular queries (probably in memory!) which is used for this purposes. The results are in, you guessed it, Javascript form. Check them out, for an example entry of “black”. Pretty cool, I think even I can write some app using that.

This is similar to the way GMail works, passing information in the form of Javascript data. Which is a lot faster then sending whole HTML pages.

Read this Slashdot thread for more info. Or read Hacking Google Suggest by Adam Stiles.

December 10, 2004

UI

Haven’t written any tech stuff lately. So here goes. Incoherent mumblings mostly.

I’ve been thinking a lot about UI design for the last two months. A good UI is really important, take it from a guy who’s spent many hours explaining people how to use some software. If it is not easy to use, people will not use it.

Linux, any Linux, is tough to use, if you are a non-techie. You need to put in efforts to learn stuff; and most of the end users have put in their efforts to learn Windows. Nobody wants to learn the basics again. Heck, even I don’t have Linux installed at home, I just pop in a Knoppix cd when I get too tired of XP.

There are two programs whose interface I love. One is Picasa, the other is iTunes. Google acquired Picasa just because of it’s wonderful interface. It’s no way near a full featured image app like ACDSee, whose interface sucks BTW. But what it does, it does simply. And looks good doing it. I’ve seen people going WOW as I use it, and that is pretty cool.

iTunes & Quicktime are the only Apple apps that I’ve used. Quicktime is good, but iTunes is where Apple’s famed interface design becomes apparent. The program is pretty much useless to me, it performs a pitiful amount of tasks compared to Winamp. But I just like looking at it, and hence it being on by system for the last couple of months. Honestly, if I used a PC/Mac for the first time today, iTunes would be the app I’d use to play music. It makes me wish I could buy a Mac.

See, this is the reason I’ve put off writing tech pieces. They all end up raving about the stuff I like. But seriously, I care so much about interface design because I know I suck at it. Not my forte, look at the only piece of interface I’ve ever created. I hated creating the interface, it’s hard work compared to the other stuff. So I’m almost certain that I’ll try a nice web app for my final year project, no messing around with graphics widgets for me.

December 09, 2004

Thunderbird 1.0

Get Thunderbird

I keep raving about Firefox usually, but Thunderbird’s also a great piece of software. I use it daily (or rather my dad uses it daily). Another milestone release.

December 07, 2004

Stuff to see

It’s time to make my recommendations on what’s good on TV right now. I pretty much have seen every show on TV. Lets do it channel-wise this time around.

Starting with HBO, there’s Carnivàle. I think only two or three episodes are left, and hope that they show the second season sometime soon.

Star World’s good, but the current selection of shows is not that great. Whenever I’m free, I try to catch The Simpsons. I sometimes see Smallville, but am getting tired of the constantly repetitive stories. Then there are of course the X-Files repeats.

Zee English has some great shows, but I have a major gripe: They keep repeating the same season over and over. Which sometimes does comes to my advantage, as I am not regular with my TV watching. There’s Six Feet Under, where I’ve seen almost all the episodes twice. So am getting a little bored with it. There’s ER, where they are showing the fourth season again over here. The show is in it’s 10th season in the States. There’s Gilmore Girls, which is a recent favourite. It’s the only family drama I can bear to see.

AXN basically has no good shows except CSI right now, and I don’t even like CSI that much.

That’s it for now, have fun.

December 05, 2004

Getting high

I went a little crazy yesterday. And found out something new: Shopping can sometimes be fun. You’ll get what I mean when you read this list of books I bought yesterday. It’s huge, it’s ambitious, and somewhat scary.

  • Orwell’s Animal Farm
  • Kafka’s Metamorphosis
  • Tolstoy’s Anna Anna Karenina
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  • Machiavelli’s The Prince
  • Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, and Crime & Punishment
  • Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead
  • Heller’s Picture This
  • Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones

11 books! Don’t know what got into me, I just thought it was time to read some classics and kept buying stuff. I’ve not even heard the names of some of these books, while I wanted to buy some for a very long time.

I was saving up some money to buy more books than I usually do this time around, so it was not all crazy impulsive stuff. But if I get through reading these books by the end of this semester, which I doubt, then it’s time to start looking for a library.

Almost forgot, also bought a new printer yesterday. The Lexmark Z615, for 2100 only. Got the cheapest one I could find, but had no idea that printers are getting this cheap nowadays.

December 03, 2004

Now for some more

My exams are over, so I’ll probably be posting more often now. The last month was lean, too few posts & too few visits. I do keep track of that stuff.

Maths sucked beyond belief, hope I just clear it. This is the last time I need to study Maths as a subject, the next three semesters are mostly computer related. So: “Goodbye, and good riddance.”

Now it’s time for my end-of-semester book shopping. I’ve not decided what to buy this time around, will simply start browsing and pick up anything that seems interesting. Anytime I try to pick up specific books, I can never locate them. Strand is a great store, being the cheapest place to buy original books in Mumbai. So I ordered three books online, a few days back:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card for Rs. 196, original price was Rs. 262.
  • Picture This [Hardback] by Joseph Heller for Rs. 250, original price was Rs. 962. The best deal.
  • Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco for Rs. 193, original price was Rs. 386.

The total cost being Rs. 639 to me, and I was happy. Until I got a mail saying that only Picture This was in stock at the moment, they didn’t have the other two. I really like that shop, but this has happened each time I’ve ordered something from there. I’ve come to expect this, and I would have been surprised if I got all those three books anyway. I usually order stuff from Strand at the end of every semester, fully expecting to not get all of it. Then I go pick up whatever is in stock, and roam the streets of Churchgate for cheap second-hand books.

I’ll probably go tomorrow or on Saturday, I need to go to Lamington road anyway to search for a cheap printer. Mine died.