Sunday, May 31, 2009

Electronic Future & Vintage Past

The more I read about Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Hispanic nominee to the US Supreme Court, the more I dislike her. She appears to be presumptuous, opinionated, dogmatic, intimidating, dismissive, vociferous and racial – great vices for a judge. I’m quick to jump to the conclusion myself, an aberration mitigated by our natural tendency to judge either way. My ideas are fanned by a darling icon on the right-side of my desktop that launches the Times Reader. It’s so easy to get updated on worldly events now; HTTP trickles factoids round-the-clock into my laptop to satiate my thirst for news. No more waiting for the newspaper guy to roll the day’s paper and tie it at the center or bend it like a boomerang before targeting my balcony.

It may sound ironical, then, when I say that I’m not exactly a fan of the new way of news delivery. It’s more convenient, but it’s also less fun. I miss spreading the newspaper on the table or bed, I can’t  flip pages and make that inimitable sound, I can’t fold and unfold, I can’t smell, touch, drop, scatter, gather or stack – all essential sensory delights intrinsic to the experience of reading the real thing.

An article from yesterday's covers Amazon’s Kindle 2, a milestone in e-book readers. The author owns one but laments missing the old way of reading books, magazines and newspapers. I wanna own the Kindle (or Plastic Logic’s e-reader) one day, but when I have one, I’ll have enough reasons to gripe about yet another technological marvel stripping us of the fond experience of holding a weighty book, cracking open a new arrival, smelling the glossy pages and searching for something in the bookshelf. The Kindle makes procuring a book in the US ridiculously easy. You punch your credit card number and the book is wirelessly transmitted to you within seconds. If what you’re looking for is a classic, you may visit Gutenberg and download it absolutely free of cost. The comfort isn’t without merit.

Magazines will suffer the same fate. Already publishers are realizing that dwindling sales will eventually make their present business model unsustainable. Many, like TIME and  National Geographic give out all their contents free of cost on the Web. Some, like India Today are going as far as replicating the magazine using fancy Flash or PDF. Others are charging for the luxury. The fun element of discovering an important cover story while casually browsing the local newsstand may be a thing of the past soon.

Music has altered course like none other with the advent of the digital age. I’m no longer as desperate and resigned to fate I once was in the hinterland of Jamshedpur. I don’t need to wait for my summer vacations to visit Symphony at Esplanade in Kolkata to add to my fledgling Jazz archive. Now I simply need to search for the artist or album and download the bytes via P2P. The music is free (though mostly illegal, I must confess), the music player is solid state (iPod Nano) and I can transfer my music between devices in seconds. Best of all, I don’t need to worry about the magnetic head’s friction against the tape eroding and eventually destroying my music. My music is less tangible now, it’s almost surreal - which explains why I no longer sleep with audio cassettes…or keep swapping favorite cassettes between covers…or even buy a 2nd copy of The Very Best of Jim Reeves.

Even the pen-&-paper relationship of yore now seems to be headed for a slow divorce. Paper is increasingly used for hard copies of electronic documents rather than as something you scribble on. The pen is being replaced by the stylus to tap on virtual keys on touch-sensitive screen or write a note on a screen armed with handwriting recognition software. Letters are no longer indispensible, they were long replaced by email, which made way for blogs that broadcasted personal egos to anyone willing to listen, which, people realized were still not worth the effort. Further economizing on diligence, it was finally the turn of social networks and 140-character limited tweets to send the message across.

I have a dream of detoxifying my life of digitized craze and embracing analogue warmth – like the warmth Dad’s valve radio radiated.

My School has a New Homepage!

I was hoping for this for a long time. It’s finally happened!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Y-O-Y

I don’t like this at all. Why did Archie have to do such a terrible thing? Maybe to leave Betty for the philanderers!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jumpcut Videos Salvage

Yahoo! is shutting Jumpcut and I spent hours yesterday downloading my videos from there and transferring them to YouTube. Yahoo! has not made the download process very user-friendly and I’ve decided it’s not worth the effort to guess which filename relates to which video. In effect, I’m forgoing some videos that I had painstakingly edited and uploaded to their servers. One such video regularly attracts traffic to my blog from Wikipedia. Damn!

What’s x64?

If you’re an IT guy, that shouldn’t be too difficult. A friend choked our bandwidth for days to download 3GB of 64-bit Linux for his 32-bit CPU! It was only when 90% of the download was done that I noticed the mismatch. If only…

The Racy TV

I have a grudge against TVs for stealing precious time. The idiot box made its intrusion when I was a 3rd grader, thought television broadcasts weren’t yet round-the-clock and the channel-selector was a vestigial ornament since we had only one channel to ‘select.’ Antennas aiming for the relay tower proliferated and jostled for precious space atop all buildings. The remote was a luxury and our set didn’t feel terribly handicapped without one. Though color sets were the object of envy, B&W set owners still had their pride – especially since India was the largest manufacturer of such sets in the world.

TV watching habits were synchronized across demographics. The young ones especially loved Chitrahaar and the Sunday movie. Monday mornings in the school assembly area were spent in discussing the comic passages from the previous day’s flick. Television reruns were unheard of, the only exception being UGC’s Countrywide Classroom – a 1 hr Monday-Saturday afternoon broadcast meant strictly for academics, repeated in the evening.

The current set I have to contend with is a 14” relic bought for a bargain price by Mantu. It works well, except that the remote is overzealous and sometimes races up the channels without manual orders. I’m watching a movie – a blonde says something romantic and I almost fall for her charms, when…all of a sudden, Mamta Banerjee is crying hoarse about the greedy CPM, Aaj Tak uses dramatic effect to fill its air-time with rhetoric in the absence of news, the business channel talks about recession blues, a fat and ugly South-Indian star is singing and dancing his way into the heart of his lady love, … . I leap at the remote and press the erring button to put a stop to the auto-surf. Sometimes when that doesn’t work, I have to hide the remote in the shelf.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Latest Crush

creative 705

Cambridge Soundworks 705 TableTop Radio

This will be the perfect companion to my iPod Nano, which I now refuse to twine all the way into my ears. AM and FM are the real attractions though.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Royal Enfield Bullet Classic C5

If there’s one bike that Indians should be proud of, this is the one.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

F*R*I*E*N*D*S

A cacophony of television blare and vociferous exuberance awoke me early yesterday. Santosh had just returned from work and was enthusiastically talking to Mani. My slug vanished in a flash as I listened hard to the import of words. I soon discovered the cause behind the unusual ebullience – marriage.

Santosh’s relatives have been scouting for a bride for him and they seem to have finally found the perfect match. Everyone says she’s pretty, Santosh reminds us with annoying regularity. The girl is a science graduate and can adjust to city life – just what the doctor ordered. Our newly-in-love boy is desperate to catch a glimpse of his phantom bride-to-be, but there seems to be no means to this end. He can’t visit her place for now, there are no scanners or internet access in his village and he’s too embarrassed to ask for her photo to be couriered. I hope my roommate is pulled out of this misery soon.

Sam, who now visits our place less regularly, dropped by after noon and almost immediately set about hunting for his shorts. He finally discovered them blissfully worn by the napping Mani. Sam was a man on a mission to reclaim his shorts; he made this amply clear when he tugged at the pants with all his might. Mani, awakened suddenly by the prospect of going bottom-nude, put up a spirited fight against Sam’s invasion and held on to the shorts. Sam relented after a mercy plea; Mani wrapped a towel and let the shorts slip. They went up Sam’s legs just as quickly.

The inexpensive & used things I liked on ebay

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It’s not you, it’s me

Have netizens taken to opium? I’m truly stumped by people going gaga over the new TR. I’ve photographic evidence to stake my claim that the old TR was better.

 

The NEW Science Page (look at the ad.)

new

 

The OLD Science Page (more like a newspaper and no ad.)

old

 

How text appears in the NEW Reader

text_new

 

How text appears in the OLD Reader (it’s clearer)

text_old

 

Ads by Google in the new Reader (old Reader didn’t have them)

ads

Need more screenshots?

Monday, May 11, 2009

My angry mail to NYTimes

The new Times Reader 2.0 is a DISASTER. On a Windows machine, have you ever done a juxtaposed comparison of the old and new Reader?

  • The new Reader isn't remotely as legible. WPF beats ADOBE Air hollow. Since you're in the news business, this surely shouldn't be news to you.
  • The new Reader takes more time for news updates.
  • The new Reader takes far more memory. ADOBE Air applications are always bloated.
  • The new Reader has less reading space.
  • The new Reader bombards me with extremely annoying internal ads. and ads. by Google. When I'm paying you, I'm expecting you to remove the noise factor. You were...until now.

There's no doubt in my mind that TR 2.0 is a regressive step. The only good thing about the new Reader is that it supports video.

I know these are desperate times for newspapers, but is the New York Times this desperate? It's understandable that NYTimes is looking to broaden its reader base by making Times Reader more platform agnostic. However, as far as Windows readers are concerned, the new Reader is undeniably a raw deal. Maybe you could keep the old version available for Windows readers.

What worries me the most is the poor legibility of the new Reader. Even the browser makes for easier reading. Frankly speaking, I've made up my mind to unsubscribe when my current subscription expires next year. Using FeedDemon to subscribe to the free RSS feeds makes better sense. Wouldn’t you agree?

Regards,
Deepanjan Nag

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The chimes

As a kid, I loved looking through the glass walls of our clock. I remember mounting the cement shelves to peep into the mechanical organs, the intricate motions endlessly fascin70006992_cf793fc6b7_oating me. But what really stole the show was the hourly chimes. All of a  sudden, seemingly passive parts would spring into life, wheels would being to rotate at varying speeds, their collective vigor finally transferring into an arrow-shaped blade that would furiously rotate into near-invisibility and cranking up a tiny hammer that would strike as many times as the hour. Half-hourly chimes were no less fun.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A smoking gun

Personal blogs are generally so boring, I hardly read them, my own being no exception. The trail left behind by the forgotten posts of Deepanjan Nag’s Magnum Opus has sometimes landed me in serious trouble and I’ve been left ruing the fateful moment when I decided to test the murky waters of web logging. To be honest, I’m more grateful than rueful, but that doesn’t discount moments of deep anguish I’ve suffered for being proverbially BIG-mouthed while blogging.

More than the trail, it’s the individual posts that are to blame for heartburns. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes impossible to give the whole picture, often it’s just an aspect that gets projected. When taken out of context, the impression painted is completely misrepresentative of the original thought. The reader isn’t at fault, but the realization that posts come with this innate handicap shouldn’t be lost on him. Some details are deliberately jettisoned to avoid chronicling the immensely painful moments I’ve lived through, which, I’m sad to say, I’ve had more than a fair share of.

Blogging has been a huge solace, especially when Dad passed away and I had no one to turn to. I felt trapped in a dark dungeon with writing being my only way of expression.I shared thought that I needed to and some that I didn’t. When I am referred to posts reflecting nothing but supreme moments of imbecility, I can hardly believe my eyes. Was it really me, I think. Therein lies the beauty of blogging – it’s an entrapment of ephemeral thoughts preserved for later. With time, well written personal blogs end up capturing a whole gamut of emotional upheavals – a treasure trove beyond compare. The hazards, though, are more immediate and come with a heavy price. With my frugal living, I’m not sure how far I can afford it.

This blog will end one day, perhaps long before my own time is up.

Pallavi, Mani & Movie

Pallavi, her mom and some relatives left for their native place this week. When they return at the end of the month, it’s unlikely that I’ll get to see my little friend. The folks are expected to shift to a new place, the security deposit with the present landlord being the only hindrance. I miss Pallavi running into my room each morning and giggling me awake.

Thursday was Mani’s birthday and we broke into an impromptu celebration late in the evening. To my surprise, even a birthday cake was smuggled into my room to mark the occasion, much in keeping with a tradition we had established and religiously followed until recently. I had always looked down upon this silly practice with utter disdain. The rekindling made me realize how much I missed it. I guess being occasionally silly is immensely wise.

I downloaded Saheb Biwi aur Ghulam this week and relished every moment of the nearly 2.5 hrs that it took to watch. It’s still as riveting as it was 20 years ago when I saw it for the first time.

A Radio Program on Jazz

My constant prowling unearthed another jewel.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty

I’m unilaterally signing the NPT to reduce the proliferation of posts in my blog for the current month…and this might well be extended into the next. I’ll try to confine posts to the weekends. Weekday posts will happen only if something earth-shattering happens, like an alien coming for a visit, my lost briefs being auctioned at the Sotheby’s or my nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for finally cleaning my bed sheets.

A New School of Thought Opens

It’s amazing how indelible ideas etched on us while we were kids really are. Childhood is an age of innocence, ignorance and gullibility. Religious faith is forced upon us even before we develop cognizance to corroborate or refute its tall claims. Often, years or even decades of disciplined study of reality (an art we call science) aren’t enough to purge flawed assumptions. A healthy debate to deal with glaring contradictions is seldom or never encouraged.

Humans are innately resistant to change. Ideas of spirituality and self-preservation as promulgated by religion are immensely gladdening to the self not comfortable with the obliteration of conscience. The proverbial carrot dangled by all religions (Christians are promised a halo and a harp, Hindus are exempt from the birth-death cycle and Muslims are assured infinite libido and unending promiscuity) is all too much to resist even in the face of glaring discrepancies.

However, it’s hard to entirely dismiss contrarian evidence. Religion puts up a brave fight in many ways, ranging from the absolute denial of reality and repression of dissent (epitomized by the Taliban) to treading the middle path and hoping the believers will continue with their patronage. The crusade to salvage religion has been through several rounds of evolution itself, an ironical cycle of versioning that morphs according to need.

The BioLogos Foundation is a case in point. Founded by Dr.Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, the foundation’s mission is euphemistically put as promoting the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeking to harmonize these different perspectives. The real agenda, in layman’s terms, is to prove that science and religion can amicably coexist without necessarily contradicting each other. It’s hard for Dr.Collins to bend the laws of science to meet this end. After all, he’s the former director of the Human Genome Project. Instead, he’s chosen to implore the faithful to not take religious manuscripts literally. We’ve heard that before, but Dr.Collins has cleverly put his years of scientific training and insight to good use by evolving ideas that promise more mileage to antediluvian notions, albeit not without ceding some ground to science. This ingenuity has won him a fan following, mostly from less evolved Evangelicals desperately seeing reconciliation between scriptural teaching and scientific evidence.

The ingenuity is commendable. Dr.Collins contends that evolution is right after all and that this was how God chose to create life on Earth. Regarding how did Cain (son of Adam and Eve) manage to get a wife, Dr.Collins conveniently latches on to scientific evidence suggesting a larger population at this point in history. He contends “human-like creatures had evolved to the point where they had the mental capacity to reason; God then endowed them to distinguish between good and evil, and in that way they became ‘in the image of God.’" To me, all this is convoluted and essentially flawed thinking. You can’t really pluck arbitrary ideas from fundamentally incompatible models hoping to erect the perfect sanctuary for the faithful.

The mileage of this latest caravan of faux wisdom remains to be seen. What’s a foregone conclusion, however, is its inevitable faltering. The faithful will then have to scamper to a nimbler postulate.

Some local spamming for a good (internet access block government censorship free surveillance)

If you’re in a country that heavily curtails your right to information and communication, Tor could be very useful to you.