Thursday, May 31, 2007

Unlimited

I noticed only today that Yahoo! Mail now provides me with unlimited storage space!

Call from Canada

Mithu dada called this morning from Toronto. We discussed work, life and a possible 'thing' he could possibly bring for me when he visits India in July-August. I just hope things work out as planned.

Air-Car Ready for Mass Production (reproduced from Yahoo! Green)

The world's first commercial compressed air-powered vehicle is rolling towards the production line. The Air Car, developed by ex-Formula One engineer Guy Nègre, will be built by India's largest automaker, Tata Motors.


The Air Car uses compressed air to push its engine's pistons. It is anticipated that approximately 6000 Air Cars will be cruising the streets of India by 2008. If the manufacturers have no surprises up their exhaust pipes the car will be practical and reasonably priced. The CityCat model will clock out at 68 mph with a driving range of 125 miles.


Refueling is simple and will only take a few minutes. That is, if you live nearby a gas station with custom air compressor units. The cost of a fill up is approximately $2.00. If a driver doesn't have access to a compressor station, they will be able to plug into the electrical grid and use the car's built-in compressor to refill the tank in about 4 hours.


The compressed air technology is basically just a way of storing electrical energy without the need for costly, heavy, and occasionally toxic batteries. So, in a sense, this is an electric car. It just doesn't have an electric motor.


But don't let anyone tell you this is an "emissions free" vehicle. Sure, the only thing coming out of the tailpipe is air. But, chances are, fossil fuels were burned to create the electricity. In India, that mostly means coal. But the carbon emissions per mile of these things still far outdoes any gasoline car on the market.


Unfortunately, the streets of North America may never see the Air Car, though; it's light-weight, glued-together fiberglass construction might not do so well in our crash tests. However, that does not mean the Air car is confined to the sub-continent. Nègre has signed deals to bring its design to 12 more countries, including Germany, Israel and South Africa.


And this isn't the last we'll hear of the technology. The folks making the Air Car are already working on a hybrid version that would use an on-board, gasoline-powered compressor to refill the air tanks when they run low. Negre says that technology could easily squeeze a cross country trip out of one tank of gasoline.


A variety of videos (of varying quality) on this technology can be found on YouTube, or after the jump.

Islands in the Stream

Social Networking used to be a cool hang-out for people who wanted to remain in touch with each other or get acquainted with new people. It wasn't a bad idea at all. It still isn't per se.

But with the proliferation of such sites sprouting every day, each touting unbeatable features, people are being entrapped into fractured islands thats are isolated from each other. Each individual wants you to join his network; you dilly-dally for some time before agreeing to some of them, your membership gradually spans over multiple networking sites, you eventually lose interest and refuse continued loyalty to the sites that haven't gained critical mass, the islands run out of steam and you're finally left with networks that have a constantly dwindling user base and active accounts.

I've lost count of the social networking sites that regularly invite me to join them. They really make me sick nowadays. The only two networks I ever joined were MySpace and Orkut. And I rarely login to either of them nowadays. Good old email is still the greatest application of the Internet age. The rest are often little more than passing fads.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A modern art

Stone pelting is a way of life here. It's an art with innumerable advantages over more mainstream weapons. Stones are available for free and in abundance, they can hardly be identified as a weapon, you can easily dispose them and it's potential for destruction is directly proportional to your level of intent and exasperation.

Sometimes we pelt stones just for fun. That's what happened when the slum dwellers lining the railway tracks of Mumbai came up with a proprietary and ingenious way of fighting boredom for free. They began pelting stones at railway passengers without any provocation. It was great recreation and it soon became a rage. Innocent passengers were injured ( I don't remember if there were fatalities although I do remember someone losing an eye), and watching them suffering had an innate element of satisfaction. Let's face it, sadism rocks!

What happened to the entire and prolonged episode? It died a natural death. People gradually lost interest and the impotent administration heaved a sigh of relief for the humanitarian service rendered by the slum dwellers by not attacking passengers!

Pelting stones is often one of the few means of registering your protest when all other means of influencing nonchalant officials prove futile. We are a poor people and much of our daily living goes into the struggle to survive. Possessing man-made weapons is a luxury most can't afford and don't bother to, expect perhaps for the politically affiliated goons of Bihar and UP. I'm sure if we could afford, we would have many good reasons to possess them.

I would be dishonest to say that pelting of stones is exclusive only to India. People from a few other equally devoid (of culture/wealth) civilizations are equally at ease with this paleolithic art. Parts of Middle East and Africa still regularly put this practice to efficacious use.

Anyway, getting back to a civilization that prides itself for being one of the oldest, stone pelting is in the news yet again for another burden of our grand inventions: the Caste System. The Indian army was deployed to restore order in the tourist hotspot of Rajasthan yesterday after nine people were left dead in rioting by 30,000 members of a caste who are demanding to be socially downgraded in order to gain government jobs and university places.

Belonging to the lower castes was a curse only in the prehistoric ages. It's now a great privilege and people are ready to lay down their lives to fight for this (ig)noble cause. Belonging to an officially acknowledged, downtrodden caste throws open the floodgates of great opportunities that would have otherwise been grabbed only by the deserving. How boring! So we invented a modern day slick malady of our own to keep us engaged forever. It's called the Reservation Policy and it includes many and burgeoning avatars. To describe it in a nutshell, Reservation is a labyrinthine social institution with artificial complexities thrown in for good measure to empower those whose never-knew-so-never-forgotten ancestors belonged to the lower social stratum. We can't mend history but we surely can redress the anomaly of the past by providing privileges to a select few.

But we're losing focus here. Remember, it's about stone pelting! Bangalore has had its own grand exhibition of the art. When an aged local superstar left for his heavenly abode last year, people's remorse of the national calamity knew no bounds. So what did they take to? Stone pelting, of course! When a Canadian friend of mine visited the city for the first time (famed for having the most number of engineers in the world and being an IT hub), she was greeted with a rather curious spectacle and had to run for cover.

And if I race my memory towards childhood, at least one incident comes to mind. Those were the pre-Jharkhand days. Well, let's not get into the gory details. But it's fairly easy to imagine how supporters of the movement to create a state of their own were gradually going bonkers over the government's curtness to their demands. So they resorted to the same time-tested trick. Even our school wasn't spared and I remember a sudden volley of stones being furiously thrown at our classroom window. Thankfully, no one was injured and we had to acquiesce with a bandh. Needless to add, Jharkhand did become a reality not long after.

Such is the cumulative power of the modern art!

Romance in the dark

I was already cozily tucked into my bed. It was the dead of night and I was sound asleep. That's when she literally dropped in...though, going by past experience, I wasn't in the least bit surprised. She began exploring my body but I wasn't really in the mood. My overtures were clear but she wouldn't take no for an answer.

She managed to get on top of me and began exploring my body. I began to fret and meekly protested to her advances but even that wasn't enough to spurn her. I ran for cover, but she managed to squeeze in. Now this was getting intolerable and painful. She would noisily move all over me, touch me and then suck me. I gave in. When she was finally satisfied, she left without even a kind word or two. I was hurt. Does she have the right to exploit me like this so often?

Damn mosquito!

A local transformer went kaput owing to which we lost power last night. The mosquito repellent went on strike along with all the electrical appliances and that's when the physical exploitation began. Transformers in Bangalore are more vulnerable than even their Ranchi counterparts. Come some rain and you'll find them going bust all around you. Well, I guess it's another way of reinforcing our famed spartan way of living. We're so at home with miserable existence that even a nuclear holocaust wouldn't have a significant effect. Way to go! Come what may, we're prepared for the worst. We're almost there!

And there was no power by the time I left for office this morning. Can't one of our countless gods and goddesses have any pity on us? Is nepotism rampant in Hindu airspace? I'm sure the authoritarian gods of other religions are less corrupt.

Mantu buys a laptop!

Yeah! It's an Acer with minimal configuration to get you going. He's been fixated on buying the laptop ever since he came across an advertisement in TOI touting its features viz-a-viz price. Sure, Rs22,000 didn't look too much of an ask for a laptop. Se we visited Acer Mall (Jayanagar) yesterday after work, and after making up his mind, we had to return from home (to fetch my Mastercard) to take possession of the heavenly machine. The final price was Rs26,000 after including miscellaneous charges and VAT.

The machine was preloaded with Linux. No good. Mantu will visit Manilal tonight to wish Suman a happy birthday and get XP installed on his machine.

This is the cue for me!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Blogger Ban Continues

I'm still unable to access my blog or log into my account from my workstation. I can't reply to comments, I can't edit my posts, I can't change my blog settings, I can't...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Over to Podcasting!

Yeah! I'm experimenting a lot with my humble phone and I must say it has proved more than equal to a majority of the tasks. Podcasting has been my latest craze. Though I've used podcasts on the desktop for long; traditionally, podcasting was meant for porting temporary audio feeds from the desktop to mp3 players. I'm now going a step ahead and downloading the podcasts right into my phone. The foray has been very successful so far, though the process isn't nearly as easy as on a desktop. I don't have a podcast client and I'm consequently using my RSS reader for the trick. It's a disruptive process and everything else, including the browser, is halted during the downloading.

CNN and BBC feeds are the obvious favorites. Yahoo! Podcast seems to be selfish (as always) and wants me to subscribe to other podcasts only through its web interface. Maybe that's okay for the desktop, but on my Symbian  that's a compromise I'm not willing to make.

The one heart breaker was VOA. While I've used its podcasts heavily in the past without any glitch, it just won't work on my mobile. I wonder why.

Next Up: Vodcasting!!

Rain, Bank & Sabu

It rained heavily on Friday evening and the trip from office was a pain. It took more than 2 hrs when it normally takes 1. Parts of the city had plunged into darkness and that aggravated our problems.The bus driver, being the adventurous kind, tried a new route when he got frustrated with the jam and ended up with a detour that seemed to lengthen the trip by miles and minutes. Anyway, it was fun as it was a Friday.

Visiting my bank on Saturday in continuation of my previously failed attempt to procure my Netbanking PIN and debit card met with partial success. While I got the elusive debit card, the other item was not traceable. This in spite of my clear instructions not to have them couriered to my place. While the debit card had been rerouted back to the bank, the PIN must be blissfully languishing somewhere. I am giving up.

Sabu called on Saturday. He's back in Pune after having spent 7 months in the US. Lucky chap!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Like a Virgin

May there be more virgins like Virgin Radio! I've been scouring the web (and draining the cell) for audio streams that support mobile phones. Unfortunately, there aren't too many to choose from. The only one that has been working flawlessly on my phone is Virgin Radio, though its 3 stations aren't exactly to my liking. Still, it's fun to stream audio from the Net through the phone when others around me listen either to vanilla FM or locally stored MP3.

The bandwidth is generally good enough to support the streams without intermittent periods of silence (when the buffer cache is empty). There are a few mobile audio services that help provide streams from conventional Internet radio stations, but you need to pay up. One exception is Mundu Radio, a service that sounds too good to be true.Unfortunately, you need a PC to install the software on your handset. One dream product that has recently surfaces is SymTorrent, a BitTorrent client that supports my Nokia. Unfortunately, here too you need a PC to install the software on your handset.

I'm now literally a roving news reader! Ever since I subscribed to RSS feeds through Opera Mini's integrated newsreader, shuttling between home and office has become considerably less boring. This is the most engrossing article I read in recent times. And this morning I was overjoyed to learn that CNN Pipeline will go free from July, although my mobile still won't be equipped to exploit it.

All blog posts post Monday have been published through my mobile since the proxy server I use from my desktop refuses to log me into my Blogger account. I guess such servers have trouble dealing with forms. Correcting typos through my phone is extremely cumbersome and I must apologize for the slips (if any).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The weird logins

My latest workstation is spooky. Almost each time I try to login to any of my web accounts, I'm logged into some random account that doesn't belong to me! I initially though it was the host site that was erring. But many sites behaving this anomalously rules out that possibility.Then I assumed my primary browser (Firefox) was playing tricks. But IE was behaving just as erratically. Sometimes even logging out fails. While the confirmation message is
shown, returning to the login page automatically gets me logged
in...and I never save my passwords. Thankfully, not all sites misbehave this way.

My conclusion: There are invisible/spiritual forces haunting my workstation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

History in the Mobile

The previous post was published (but not posted) via my mobile.
The current post owes its existence in its entirety to the mobile.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Oft running into trouble

I'm seldom impulsive. But that doesn't mean to say that I remain indecisive for too long. Once a decision is taken, I stick to it and seldom have a change of heart. Though I would like to think that I'm flexible enough in my outlook, I guess others don't always share the same view about me. In fact, some might even say that I'm extremely obstinate and confrontational. I guess it's hard to be a self-critic.

In my few years in the corporate world, none of my peers have had as much trouble accepting things as they are as I have. No one has run into trouble as often as me. Few have refused to ridicule me for the notions I bear. I find it very hard to have others dictate terms and conditions to which I must adhere. It's a fundamental question of choice, as I see it. I have scant respect for hierarchy and easily reach out to people at the top when treading the down-to-up way doesn't work or is too slow for my liking. And I've had more than my share of high-profile antagonistic stances in the meantime.

Really, either there is something fundamentally wrong with the way I think or the way the world around me works. I have reason to suspect the latter. The daunting numbers against me are hardly impressive. I don't mind being solitary.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Visits

This was a disruptive Saturday. I generally love exercising the art of doing nothing on weekends. No chance today. A much-procrastinated visit to the bank to get my netbanking password and new debit card was on the agenda. The exercise proved to be futile. Neither of the documents had reached the branch. This in spite of the much-touted 4 working days deadline...and it had been 6 working days already. Ha, such things are commonplace.

A visit to The Hutch Shop at Koramangala was next. It had yet to open (11am-8pm) as I was too early for them. Visited Landmark at the Forum and selected 2 books. Buying was a different issue altogether. The card readers were malfunctioning and I was asked to return after some time. So I shuttled back to The Hutch Shop and got my mobile Net enabled via Hutch Access. I was told that the connection would be activated the following day (this was not to be). I went back to Landmark and, thankfully enough, the card readers were up and running by then. The books were finally bought (must have been close to noon) and I called Rohit for directions to his resthouse.

It was a mammoth task. The directions were fuzzy and I was as clueless as ever even after his rudimentary instructions were delivered. The manager stepped in and this time the instructions were precise, though only good enough to help me reach a prominent landmark. Rohit, the great man, finally surfaced at the spot and we walked together to his temporary dwelling.

We caught up with old times, had lunch, fiddled with his laptop, slumbered and bid adieu before I left in the evening. Carrying the two books wasn't easy. Rohit will stay in Bangalore for another fortnight before heading back to Kolkata. I came to know through him that Sumanta Deb is also in IBM, Kolkata.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Prateek, Mantu and all that Jazz

Prateek leaves Bangalore for Kolkata in a day or two. Mantu must have reached home (Bangalore) as I write this post. The TV tuner will probably be reset to the previous settings. Goodbye, Star World!

I'll visit the Hutch Shop at Koramangala for a Net connection on my mobile phone, and this time I'm not falling for the your-phone-does-not-support-XHTML crap.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Grrr

The emotional upheavals over the past few days have been immense. I was on top of the world when I received a call from an onsite opportunity (6 months in Canada followed by a stint in Hyderabad). I readily consented. Then everything went blank, corporate malpractice took over and I was inducted into another project even without my approval. The opportunity was blown in spite of Zoya's sincerest efforts. I feel disillusioned and down in the dumps.

The bus journey back home was a pain yesterday. We were stranded for 45 minutes because of a jam and when we finally did begin to move, the Bengali couple (not in the conventional sense of the word) sitting in front of me started talking non-stop about everything from an over fried fish and Durga Puja to Bangalore Traffic and the steep prices here. Worse, they reclined their back rests so much, I almost had difficulty breathing. Any more reclining and they would be all set to become a couple of the intimate kind.

Dinner has become a serious issue ever since Mantu and Suman left. I've been experimenting with a highly unconventional and varied diet that I'm sure is either boosting the nutrition content or stripping it. Either way, the experiment will come to an end when Mantu and the gang that flocks around him return. Buying 3 oranges for dinner on Monday taught me a vital lesson: don't judge an orange by its skin. While the threesome looked turgid enough on the outside, peeling revealed the most dehydrated oranges I've ever seen.

Guess what, blogging is not permissible from my current workstation! I can't even visit my page. I'm sending this post via mail but I don't remember if I've configured my account for post-by-email or publish-by-email. Either way, the urgency for a Net connection at home has only increased. I now intend to read my posts via Google Reader. As ill luck would have it, GR has gone cranky since morning. Guess it'll have to be Yahoo! Reader then, at least for the time being.

Here we go, p*-by-email! Typos will be incorrigible now! Well, almost!

Monday, May 14, 2007

8-2=6

Ever since Mantu left for New Delhi, I've become a TV addict. There are two factors that have primarily contributed to it: No computer (so no Internet) at home & I can tune in to the channels that cater to my tastes.

Mantu's tastes are very different from mine. So while the channel selector (2 of which were busted) was formerly set for the likes of Aaj Tak and Zee Cinema, I've painstakingly reset it to channels like Star World, Zee Cafe, BBC, The History Channel, Star Movies, etc. Even ETV Bangla has found its way into my list.

While ETV Bangla can be a real pain back home, I rather enjoyed watching it in spite of most of its programs being no brainers or dedicated to the epitome of all sedatives the world has ever known, Rabindra Sangeet. So omnipotently placating is it that it could effectively put a bull in heat to sleep. Why do all exponents of Rabindra Sangeet sound exactly the same? I'll never know.

The weekend was spent in eating, sleeping and watching the idiot box. What a perfect waste of time.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A question is answered

What's the great urgency in translating Java source code into byte code instead of machine code? OS independence hardly seems of any relevance today since people seldom change it. Then why...?

These are some of the answers I got:

  • Bytecodes are translated to native format on loading. Since server classes are only loaded infrequently, and thereafter kept in memory, it is not a big issue.Servers load slow, but run quick.
  • Even you are right, OS seldom changes, it is designed for that purpose. If the conversion is made to native code for every developer, they will not know the advantage of JAVA, being "platform-independent". If you really want to make it to native code after considering in your case, you will not switch to another OS, and really want it to load faster, there are many tools available which helps you to convert JAVA source to native code.
  • In many cases, develop on commodity WinTel boxes, deploy on expensive Sun servers. A Java source to native compiler can make certain optimizations, but it is basically guesswork as to which optimizations will help the most. Most compile-time optimizations are therefore a bit conservative. A JVM that runs interpreted bytecode has real runtime data to determine where aggressive to-native compiler optimizations will help the most. Only a few places in the program are turned to completely native code, but the native code can be aggressively optimized.
  • Java does translate into machine code (which I assume you mean by "native format" - correct me if I'm mistaken). Furthermore, the beauty of running server code in a JVM is that the same product can run on different OSes. I routinely develop and test my Java projects, server, client and application, on Windows (XP these days), Linux and Solaris. Companies like IBM and Oracle, just to name two, are /awfully/ glad their server products are cross platform. The optimizations that Java (especially in server mode) can perform on your bytecode are generally superior to those performed statically at build time on compiled executables. Hey, isn't the object code in a compiled executable an intermediate format, too? Doesn't it get translated to "native format" also? Sun does not "force" you to keep your "codes" in bytecode. You are perfectly welcome to use .Net and C#. Of course then you are stuck using Windows servers, which are more expensive and less reliable than, say, Linux. Oh, and you are tied to a single vendor, Microsoft. Oh, and also all your support software, like the web servers and cluster-facets, have to come from that vendor. Hmm, maybe it's economics and the desire for functioning products that forces you to use Java. Short answer: Sun runs Java in a JVM because it works to do so, on technical grounds. Not as some sort of weird strong-arm tactic to oppress you. Maybe you should abandon the paranoid approach and just consider the technical and economic merits. The main tool that helps convert Java (not "JAVA") to native code is the JVM. It does a bang-up job and you don't have to go through a whole lot of fooferol with third-party products that will not improve the situation. How is load time even a consideration?
  • Java is not especially suited to little, fast 'command line' based tools. Who would want to load a JVM (even a minimal or core one) just to do a directory listing, or delete a file? OTOH - it is best to start *learning* Java from the command line. So when the developer sees a 'hello world' application take 0.3 seconds it seems (because it is) 'slow', and gives the vague impression (to people who do not yet understand the strengths of the way Sun does it) that 'Java is slow'. The same applies (in some ways) to applets, with the added complication that some VM/browser combos. will cause a web page to 'freeze' while waiting for both the byte codes (and possibly media) to download, and the JVM to load and complete 'init()'! The places where Java is best and fastest, the server and long running desktop applications, are usually not 'seen' by end users and beginning developers.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Prateek showed up at my place on Saturday and we spent the evening scaling the streets and overeating.

It's Manilal birthday today. Mantu leaves for New Delhi in 2 days and will be back after a week-long stay.

I've been voraciously reading The Google Story for the past two days and have been totally engrossed in it. A great read.

I've just backed up my entire blog. Blogger servers have acted cranky in the past and that was enough to give me the jitters. I was looking forward to a reliable archiving service and The Internet Archive, after having indexed and archived my blog in the distant past (when my blog was in its infancy), refused to do so any further. Repeated requests failed to elicit anything positive and I was getting rather desperate for a long term solution. For a while I thought of manually copying my posts to Yahoo! 360, one of the worst products in the Yahoo! arsenal. I finally hit upon the right solution today.

I got a big scare when the rumor mills began working overtime with the news of Microsoft approaching Yahoo! for a possible merger. What a revolting thought! I hope it's Google rather than Microsoft taking over my favorite site someday.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A few things transpired...

...over the last few days. However, since I'm keeping my blog under heavy sedatives for the current year (!), I won't run into the details here.

  • I met with some disappointment owing to which I had to take an important decision.
  • I came across a law-enforcement agent who was misusing his office to dupe others. The fellow, however, couldn't get the better of me even after thoroughly checking my mobile for 'adult' content. His disappointment was clearly evident as he returned my phone and I felt like choking him to death. But what really shocked me was the way he initially grabbed my sleeve and pulled me over as I walked completely oblivious of his malicious intent. I would have probably written a complaint about the incident had I expected disciplinary action. But it's an open secret how the higher echelons of power work hand in glove with the criminal minnows. It's a well evolved and parallel machinery used as a secondary source of income forged by those who have enough state-entrusted power bestowed upon them to bully hapless people. Corruption runs deep in our society and a lack of transparency and accountability is responsible for fueling it all.
  • I finally got my 5.7G of music copied to my 9 CD's. Western Classical & Jazz are way above the crappy noise that often pass for music. If only people could realize what they're missing.
  • Yahoo! Mail Plus works like a dream. It's just perfect. I guess this is how I'll use mail for the rest of my life. No more handling multiple accounts over multiple domains. There are only three factors where Gmail beats Yahoo Mail: Grouping related mails together, Tags and Search.