January 30, 2006

Tediousness

College really sucks right now. Just when it seems that it can’t get any worse, they come up with a new kind of torture.

It’s made me feel so dull that I sleep a couple of hours extra each day. I can’t seem to think properly lately: just been too bored with life. No good posts recently. No excitement.

And I’ve not even started writing any of those damn assignments so far. Those are sure gonna screw me in the end.

Plus the fact that I really don’t like the project I’m supposed to do, which makes it impossible to finish even though it’s rather elementary. A word of advice to engineering students: don’t ever approach a company to get a project for your final year. Once you’ve been selected and your project details are submitted to the University, you can’t change it. In all probability, you’ll get a crappy project that’s been handed down from department to department that no one’s interested in doing, and you won’t be able to re-consider. Just do it yourself, if you know what’s good for ya.

Once I realized how pointless engineering really is, I’ve had a period of depression every semester. This time around, it seems even worse than usual.

January 28, 2006

Neuromancer

Neuromancer Cover

“Neuromancer,” the boy said, slitting long gray eyes against the rising sun. “The lane to the land of the dead. Where you are, my friend. Marie-France, my lady, she prepared this road but her lord choked her off before I could read the book of his days. Neuro from the nerves, the silver paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead. …”

Kaleidoscopic. Visionary. Slightly over the top.

Starts off with:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

The world as shown in the book is not too far off from reality. I can imagine it forming right now, courtesy a whole generation of SciFi. But to have imagined it in 1984, the year Neuromancer was published, is no mean achievement.

The novel is truly a masterpiece. Hard to get into if you don’t like SciFi, but fun. I don’t like cyberpunk that much: way too grim for me usually. This book’s an exception.

Now go away and research the book yourselves. I’m bored.

PS: Is it just me, or is the cover really ugly?

January 24, 2006

Likes & Dislikes

I can only guess of course: most people have it made—they either like something or they don’t. BOCTAOE.

I, for one, like torturing myself over my choices. I think about whether I like something because it’s good, or due to the fact that other people liked it and recommended it to me. Then I start getting all paranoid about my choices, and decide to dislike something arbitrarily just ’coz it’s generally well liked. That’s my way of holding myself separate from the herd, being an individual.

Then I start agonising about my dislikes. Do I hate something ’coz it just sucks, or am I being daft and missing out on something good because I can’t get myself to like what others like? This goes on and on, till my head starts hurting and I stop thinking.

I’m crazy. Analysing yourself is not recommended: you’ll never get yourself to stop. The problem is that I don’t trust my choices enough: in hindsight, I know there’s a lot of stuff I missed out on due to some really stupid decisions. Life’s no fun if you’re right all the time, but that never stops me from trying to get it right.

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January 20, 2006

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station cover

I don’t know… the book was really nice, but I think Miéville over-did it a little. It just feels like too much has been put into one book. I’m a fan of huge books and complex plots, but in this case it didn’t click.

It’s pretty grim. The best thing about it are characters: they’re human even when they’re not. That didn’t come out right—it’s better to say that they’re relatable. They’re got glaring flaws. And no, it does not all turn out rosy in the end. Worth reading just for that, I tell ya.

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January 15, 2006

PyBook?

In the elder days—when men were real men, when computers were real slow and when software was real software—I used to catalogue all my books in a spreadsheet. Open Office format, not Microsoft Office. I entered the book’s name and author there, and kept fields for whether I had lent the book to someone. The books were few, the process was simple, I was happy.

Then the times grew dim. My collection, modest though it was, became unwieldy to catalogue. I ran out of physical space to keep the books, and I ran out patience in entering all the information manually into the ever-growing spreadsheet. Discipline grew lax, and I committed the greatest sin any organizer can commit: I put off entering more information for later, when I would have more time.

Listen: that’s a common trap. Once I begun to put off work, it grew to monstrous proportions. Every new book that I didn’t enter added to the ever-growing pile of stuff I had to do later. I frankly did what any man would have done—looked into the eyes of the beast of my own laziness and ran as hell. In other words, I gave up.

But wait, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Just as the times were looking grim, I stumbled upon a link to a site named Delicious Monster. They built a great product named Delicious Library. I literally drooled looking at it. It made everything so effortless. And it had bookshelves! Virtual, but it’s better to have virtual bookshelves than to have none at all. The next house I’m living in, if I have enough money, I’m going to line at least two walls with book shelves and spend all my waking hours there.

Alas, it was not meant to be. The software was made for the Mac, which a lowly student leeching of his parents could not afford to buy in many a year. I digressed, stopped thinking about it and was content for a while.

In my mind I had already built up the perfect software for me. So when I met different web apps that promised to do something similar, I was naturally disappointed.

First to come to my notice was Colib: not yet released and with no indication of being released still. Then I noticed different sites like Reader2, Listal and LibraryThing. I tried some, was disappointed. This software was fast becoming Holy Grail-esque to me.

The software I had in mind was just perfect. None of these were. And worst of all, I didn’t see any options to export all my data in some standard format.

You see, things had got to such an impassé that I would not use a software unless I had confidence of using it for a long time. I didn’t want to be stuck with a crappy solution when a better one came along, so I didn’t use anything at all. The more I waited, the more my expectations grew.

I recently chanced upon MediaMan after hearing some controversial things about it. Sure it was a Delicious Library clone for Windows, but that was no longer enough for me. Plus the fact that it costs $40 does not help it’s cause.

So now what? I’ve decided to go with the craftsmanship option: build something myself. It’ll suck, but I’ll use it just due to the fact that I built it myself. Not a full featured app; I just plan to get all the metadata for my books using Amazon et al. and store it in a database (SQLite anyone?). And I hope to use other apps to make the data useful. Time will tell.

I already know a really simple way to query Amazon. I also heard of a simple service to use for those pesky cases when a book’s information is not available at any of the Amazon sites. Now all I need is some free time, and lots of coffee. And the will to complete that which I have started…

Update: Tim over at LibraryThing sent me a nice mail a few days ago, telling me about a few features that I missed on. The main thing for me is the ability to export my data—which I can now use with any other app if I feel so. Book import is nicely done, it recognised almost all of my books, except the ones by Indian publishers.

Words & Metaphors

Words are tricky little buggers. I love ‘em.

I’ve got a new game that helps me cope with lectures at college—word associations. It’s really simple: just pick two random words and try to reach from one to another with the least number of associations.

So, for example, if I wanted to go from virus → independent, I could use virus → parasite → dependent → independent. And so on.

You must have heard of Six Degrees of Separation—but in my (limited, so far) experience, I haven’t found a pair of words that need more than four associations to link together. Ain’t English great.

Metaphors rock. I love the way you need to keep switching the context you’re thinking in to grasp ‘em. They’re intellectual calisthenics—they’re breadcrumbs on the road to bliss. And so on.

Attending lectures at my college is the most boring thing you’ll ever imagine. I need to continuously come up with newer methods of distraction—I dread to think of the day when all I can do is listen to those idiots. This is my latest attempt, and so far it’s worked exceedingly well. Here’s to hoping that I remain distracted enough…

January 11, 2006

Dune

Dune cover

This is my second Dune post, read the original if you want.

Dune is a magnificent book, that gets even better on a second reading. The remaining books in the series are good, but don’t compare to the original. Still, I plan to buy all of them when I have some cash.

Love the whole mythos of the ‘verse. The book gives you a feel of what it’s like to be swept up in something bigger than oneself. Something that holds power over you even if you know it’s not really true. And it says that sometimes life has strange designs of its own.

I don’t want to commit the sin of trying to explain the plot here—I’d fail miserably. Suffice to say, if you’re a SciFi/Fantasy fan, and you haven’t read Dune yet, then you’ve done something wrong.

Here be the quotes:

Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It’s shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad’Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson.
—The Humanity of Muad’Dib

Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere. Climb the mountain just a little bit to test that it’s a mountain. From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain.
—Muad’Dib: Family Commentaries

The person who experiences greatness must have a feeling for the myth he is in. He must reflect what is projected upon him. And he must have a strong sense of the sardonic. This is what uncouples him from belief in his own pretensions. The sardonic is all that permits him to move within himself. Without this quality, even occasional greatness will destroy a man.
—from Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib

The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called “spannungsbogen”—which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.
—from The Wisdom of Muad’Dib

On Linux, the project, Instiki and more…

Linux is great, but takes some getting used to. Compilation is especially a pain—trying to make gcc link together different libraries is annoying. I gotta learn about them make files soon.

I don’t use it as my primary OS at home—my PC is kept in regular use by my whole family and I don’t think I have the energy to teach Linux. Showing my dad how to use Thunderbird was pain enough. I can’t teach. Well, actually I can’t teach my family and close friends—I get annoyed real soon with them. Being patient with strangers comes easier to me.

It’s a good thing that me & Sunil are connected via a (not so local) LAN. He keeps his machine booted to Linux, and I login there via SSH or VNC.

Oh, getting the VNC server that ships with FC4 to run properly is a huge pain—if you’ve messed up the configuration files that is.

The project’s just getting started. Today we partially finished with a bare-bones, stripped-down, inflexible, rudimentary and crude version of one module. Notice the different adjectives to get to know how far along we are.

The application’s simple methinks, but it’ll be a pain to finish it and to build it right. We at least we’ve made a start now—the last four months were just spent loafing around.

Oh, on the project management side, Basecamp was a total failure. That was due to the facts that no one was using it, plus the fact that no one was actually doing anything at all. Now we’ll have to go for marathon coding sessions in the month of Feb., and screw any plans & schedules as we go along. No criticism of the software, I think this is the way most IT projects get done.

Which brings me to Instiki. It’s a beautiful software.

Instiki is a simple-to-use and simple-to-set-up wiki. Just download the distro, un-pack and run the script. Fire up a browser window and it’s done. (If you’re using Windows, you do need to install Ruby first though.)

You can see recently revised pages. There’s a diff mode. It supports Textile & Markdown syntaxes (is the spelling right?). What more do I need?

I’ve set up a Instiki web at Sunil’s, and we use it to document whatever’s going on. Arcane compiler directives, quick how-to’s et cetera all go in there. We’ll keep finding more uses for it I’m sure.

Now I just need to convince the guy to get a faster connection and setup a DynDNS address for him, and I’m with a free desktop that I can use anyway. Muahahah.

January 07, 2006

Shōgun.

Shogun cover

The book is not an epic, I like to think of it as an epic epic.

First of all, it’s really huge—over a thousand pages—and does not feel long at all. You start reading it, and it’s like you’re sucked in to the story. You just can’t stop reading.

Set around the 1600s in Japan, it is filled with many diverse yet detailed characters. It provides a wonderful contrast of Western and Japanese cultures from the eyes of John Blackthrone, a ship-wrecked pilot (not the flying kind) who ends up in the centre of a political game of mammoth proportions. As he learns to adapt to the Japanese, so will your reactions change to the different customs depicted here.

The Last Samurai is a terrible knock-off of this novel. Really terrible. I liked parts of the movie, but now I don’t think I’ll be able to watch it again.

Politics is a grand game, but here it’s literally a matter of life and death. And watching a master at work (Toranaga) is truly inspiring. Machiavelli’s got nothing on him.

And did I mention that here be a really good love story as well, in fact, one of the best I’ve read?

Off topic: Haven’t been blogging much recently. Have put off far too much work, and I gotta get on track soon. Baby steps…

January 01, 2006

Dabble

I’m impressed. Especially after watching the great video

Dabble DB is a really neat software that I can’t wait to get my hands on. Think of it as a database combined with a spreadsheet, having the benefits of both. Seems they also provide RSS export of your data, which means you’ll easily be able to post it to your page.

Methinks I’ll be having a lot of fun with it once it’s out in the open.