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May 24, 2002

Well, glad they weren't very serious about changing their logo.


Micro Air Vehicles (picture). Small pilotless flying machines for military intelligence. This one's no more than 6 inches long and weighs around 50 grams. Interesting. Right now they're used for intelligence only, but with the right payload they'd make a devastating weapon.


May 23, 2002

Ok, so I'm finally giving back -- albeit a teeny bit -- to the community. Nice feeling.


May 22, 2002

Outlook: Riddle of the Spores.


Ravi Rao's (also?) journal. Wow. Wish I could write like that. :-)


May 21, 2002

Google Glossary: very, very useful. I bet there are a lot of people groaning at And Sets is pretty useful too, to find hidden patterns. Or for a party game :) And oh, why are they even thinking about changing their logo? It's good enough as it is!


May 20, 2002

Very good example of very bad reporting. The tone is hysterical and the claims ridiculous. I can take the reporter to any street in any Indian city he cares to name and show him people who feel that Pakistan ought to be fed to the sharks, even if we lose one or two cities in the bargain. This does not make it the collective wish of the people of India. On the other hand, the military establishment which rules Pakistan now does hate India -- with a passion that only two humiliating defeats (1947 and 1971, which led to Pakistan's partition) can bring about. After the Sep 11 bombings, there was a lot of talk in the western media about how many Arabs hate western civilisation and all that it represents. Without getting into the merits of that, I'll simply say that something very similar is going on here: India's very existence as a multicultural, polyethnic nation is a slap on the face of the two nation theory Pakistan was created on. There is a lot of very similar hate out there directed at us. And these rather pathetic hate filled creatures have nukes. And diplomatic passports. And travel around with titles like President. How do you deal with a country like that?


Nintendos down to $149. Almost down to impulse-buy levels. Gamers never had it so good. Question: why can't this happen to the family PC market? With a great gaming machine that also lets you browse the web and check email, there'll be a lot of people asking, who needs a PC? Put games, mail, web access, digital video and mp3 access, and a Office-like suite (+Quicken/Money) running part-on-the-client, part-on-the-server, and a credit card reader on the device and you have created a device that can take us back to a future of (albeit very smart) terminals. Manufacturers give away the box at a loss and make money on the apps. Btw, I don't think this is a very good idea for power users (I love my PC!) but I think it's inevitable -- the PC has become too much of a commodity game and volumes, at least in the developed world, have peaked. And the disconnect between the home PC -- (colorful, entertaining and filled with the the latest P2P malware), and the office PC -- beige, staid and utilitarian -- grows every day. A lot of people see this as an opportunity for the Sonys of this world. The PC will become a consumer electronic item, they say. Revenge of the White Goods Business. Well, as the first para said, "It's the apps, stupid!" The real genius of Microsoft and Intel will be not delivering a glorified set-top box, but in leveraging the crowds at WinHEC and creating reference designs which will be stunningly easy to produce by any electronics factory in Taiwan. Bring PC dynamics to the consumer electronic business, and use it to drive a rich, varied platform where ease of use is at consumer electronic levels. The next few years will be fun to watch.


May 19, 2002

Indian paramilitary troops now reporting to military ones. Leave canceled for Pakistani troops. The stage seems to be well and truly set. Shit! :-(


Was checking out OpenOffice over the weekend. Thoughts:
  • Someone should really start a SourceForge project to provide a Freely licensed clipart and template library for this. Maybe Creative Commons will do the trick?
  • Open Office is promising, but -- even with fonts, clipart and templates (which is effectively StarOffice) -- it is more comparable to Microsoft Works than Office.
  • Writer and (especially) Calc seem capable, usability falls off rapidly after that.
  • StarOffice retails for $75, probably with hefty discounts for enterprise adopters: but any company with retraining needs will probably think long and hard before dumping Office. The functionality one gets in Office is simply not there. For low-end requirements, however, it might do.
  • I'd expect to see a beefed-up version of Works -- perhaps packaged for businesses -- retailing for $49 if SO gets significant uptake. Or even a run-across-the-LAN version of Office with flexible pricing options.
  • While discussing Office suites, it's sometimes forgotten that IBM actually has a more capable office suite than StarOffice itself -- it's called Smartsuite. Wonder how many people buy it for $205. IBM is slowly sending a pretty good product to the shadowlands, imho.
Completely irrelevant point, but: Open Office takes the hat for the silliest abbreviation in the software space -- `OO.o', for Sheesh.


May 18, 2002

USS Clueless: This isn't a Clone War, it's a Clown War.
How good would the Jedi be at defending themselves against cluster bombs? If you forget the gee-whiz CGI and analyze the abilities of the weapons themselves, the infantry turn out to be using weapons with approximately the same capabilities as the American M1 Garand, the standard infantry rifle used by the US Army in World War II. Their aircraft are approximately equivalent to Korean war fighters armed with medium caliber cannon. Nobody in that galaxy a long time ago and far away seems to have invented bombs or missiles! (We've seen them used once; to attack the first Death Star.) Their aircraft strafe; the weapons on their walkers are little better. Their infantry use human-wave tactics. The US military of 2002 would make short work of them. If one of their aircraft tried to take on ours, it'd take an AMRAAM up the snoot long before reaching gunnery range. Apache gunships would destroy their walkers. Then heavy bombers would slaughter their men on the ground with area-effect weapons. How good would the Jedi be at defending themselves against an FAE with a light saber? And the clones, the clones; why did the bad guys even bother with them? It's not like there's ever been any difficulty coming up with cannon fodder.
I guess the answer Lucas would have to that is: he never intended to make something along the lines of a realistic war movie. The real malaise is a little deeper, I think. See the opening sequences of Gladiator and LOTR:FOTR, the Mahabharata telesoap telecast on Indian networks, Attack of the Clones... all show epic battles, but the basic setting is the same: battlefields full of jostling soldiers, blood and mayhem all around. On the other hand, the rules of war have changed. The last major war fought that way would be WWII, with a similar pattern followed in (among others) Korea, India/Pakistan and India/China -- and Vietnam. Today, the attitude -- perhaps shaped by the huge losses in Vietnam -- is (and rightly so): put men on the ground, but don't turn them into cannon fodder. Hence the entire paraphernalia of cluster bombing, surgical strikes, media management, the whole nine yards. The entire paradigm of war changed in the last 10 years or so -- starting with the Gulf War in 1991 and the Afghan Conflict now. And while it is undoubtedly better for all actually involved, it makes for pretty tepid storytelling. Can you imagine the battle on Ice Planet Hoth in ESB reduced to a series of tactical sorties? No? Well, I wouldn't count on the battlefields disappearing from storybooks and movie theatres just yet.


Beyond 2000: Perfect Match. Until now, a donated kidney has been a tragic impossibility for many people with renal disease. But now scientists at the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland have come up with a way for kidneys to be used in transplants regardless of their type.


BBC: Fake fingerprints trick biometric systems. How long before retinal scans crumble, I wonder? Update: The good people (person?) at Neuroprosthesis News point out that iris identification may be much more reliable than retinal scans.


Dave on the Strange Case of Dr Lessig and the Campus Police.


May 17, 2002

ToI: Heavy Shelling along border. The situation's not yet out of control, because mortar fire is a level both India and Pakistan have done and come down from in the recent past. What's different about this time is that there's much less talk about retaliation and aggresive action -- which in Indian bureaucracy is a sign that they are serious about something. I still think India will find the diplomatic game easier to play. At least it results in less body bags.


Google is a cool search engine, but has a pretty glaring problem when indexing blog posts. Acts of Volition documents this flaw using a picturesque metaphor of Joe, Sam and hang gliding. Essentially the problem is: the page is not necessarily the finest unit of web content. In a blog's case, the post is. Garrity went on to suggest BlogML, which would right these wrongs via XML. Others suggested proximity operators for Google. While proximity operators are nice, they don't necessary solve the problem. BlogML does, but it's overkill. A better solution would use what bloggers already use -- HTML and RSS. Here's my take. It's a voluntary system, but is a win-win for searchers, blog authors and a search engine's credibility. Here's how it'd work: any page that identifies itself as a weblog would include a meta tag like this in all its pages: <meta name="x-parse-semantic-uri" content="http://tempuri/resource.xml"> and <meta name="x-parse-semantic-formatname" content="RSS/0.92">. Further, the block within the weblog where the posts begin and end would be bounded by the HTML comments <!-- x-start-semantic-parse --> and <!-- x-stop-semantic-parse -->. Given markup like this, it would be trivial for a search engine to consult the `semantically enriched' version, but only for the content region within the html that needs to parsed in a semantically richer manner. And RSS (or any other public DTD) can be used -- in this case, RSS is perfectly adequate since it demarcates posts very unambiguously.


Hollywood movies finally releasing nearly on time in India: Look at these release dates: Spider-Man: May 24, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones: June 7, ET: May 31, Men in Black II: August, Minority Report: August. All of them screened in India within weeks of their US premieres, which is much better than the humongously stupid 4 months I had to wait for LOTR:FOTR. I think I have a happy summer ahead of me. All of these movies ought to be pretty watchable. :-)


May 16, 2002

While playing around with Metadot, I discovered WebGUI. If you are looking for a Free toolset to build an online community with, check both of these out.


The Standard: Everything you think you know about Star Wars is wrong.


The Best Star Wars Review Line goes to CmdrTaco:
Anakin is little improved from menace. I know he's supposed to be full of anger and angst, but mostly he just comes off as constipated and bitchy.


After the sweltering heat of the past month, some rain today. Walked to the office in a very light drizzle. Felt good :-).


May 15, 2002

We're going to be announcing a new partnership and feature to the site this week that's going to make a lot of Blogger users happy and drastically increase the quality of the Blogger service. Stay tuned.
Great! After all the press Userland has been getting, it's nice to see Pyra is alive and kicking, too!


BBC: Hubble's 'Pillars of Creation' are fading. And most people don't know that the Pillars of Creation look that good only after extensive image processing. Here's a picture of the same region of space in infrared, taken by the Paranal Observatory at Chile. Doesn't look quite as exciting now, does it?

Three-colour composite mosaic image of the Eagle Nebula (Messier 16)


CNet: Sun prices StarOffice at $76. Good. Sun's position as a Microsoft basher was seriously compromised by a refusal to give alternatives -- and Swing doesn't count. This, on the other hand, is a good start. (Microsoft ought to be celebrating -- some good old fashioned (read: non-Free) competition they can finally hit back at :-)) One quote from the article though:
Gartner puts the price of switching a Microsoft Office user to StarOffice a $1,200 -- costs that include factors such as retraining, lost productivity and the difficulties of translating StarOffice files to and from Microsoft formats. Sun's Chin acknowledges there are retraining costs, but argues "it could be lower than $1,200" and that Microsoft isn't exempt. "Anyone on Office 95 or 97 switching to Office XP is going to have the same retraining cost," Chin said. "Macros are different, file formats are different, the user interface is slightly different."
Macros are different? Wow. Never realized that. File Formats? Been largely stable ever since the Office team created the Future Record Type (or whatever they call it). User Interface? Changed less than the change from StarOffice 5.2 to 6 :). FUD, Chin!


From the creative marketing department, this email in my inbox:
I saw your mention of the Spider-man movie in your blog (hyperlink mine, not theirs). I thought you might be interested in this story from the Seattle Times newspaper on Saturday about a Spider-man game that launched last week. There are some cool photos of the Spider-man and Hulk figurine. (URL) If you're interested in the game, you can learn more at this site: (URL)
This would be a classic, by the book piece of responsible, well-fashioned, one-to-one direct mail that would have risen above the common herd of spam if it was not for one reason: it was not addressed to me. It was bcc'd to me. That one act destroyed any chance this mail had of making me sit up and take notice; instead, I imagined a direct marketing droid sitting up fishing for Spider-Man links in Daypop or Google, and bcc'ing them his marketing message at the end of the day. For a letter that went to such lengths to connect with the addressee, this was a very curious lapse.


May 14, 2002

$20 Bill Commemoration of 9/11. Farfetched.


I kept typing start "E:/Apps/Editplus 2/editplus.exe" into a Windows 2000 console today and was frustrated as to why the darned thing would open up another empty console instead. Then I had the bright idea of looking at the help: START ["title"] ...blah... [command/program]. The stupid thing assumed anything in quotes would be a window title. Someone gift the author a copy of Joel's Book, this breaks my model of how command line programs work completely. I can't imagine what harm a command like START [command/program] [/TITLE="title"] ...blah... would have done.


May 13, 2002

Microsoft Shared Source Availability by Country. Except for Japan and South Korea, the rest of Asia is conspicuous by its absence.


Don McArthur points to Brendan O'Neill's Linux rant, and says that the Linux phenomenon has no real clothes. Actually, Linux was never intended to be an instrument of world domination -- it was a kernel created by one person, unaffiliated to any cause, for fun. My two bits on the subject is: Linux will never become more than a power user's tool until its fanboys shake off the `users are sheep' mentality so commonly seen on message boards. Like Ogilvy said, the consumer is not a moron. No one ever gained mindshare by insulting their potential userbase.


ZDNet: US to monitor overseas students via the Net. Rights, Schmights.


El Reg: Rob Burgess, Macromedia CEO: "The score is now Adobe one, Macromedia one, customers zero."


There's an old article on BusinessWorld on the Indian recording industry's plans for digital music. What's interesting is that in the two years since the article was written, most of the schemes came to nothing, and T-Series and Indiatimes are the only vendors today (with T-Series being the only one shipping actual CDs of MP3s). Indians love MP3s, since they are good value over CDs (which are getting cheaper too, but are still in the Rs 350-500 range). And slow cable/DSL penetration ensures that downloads remain a very minor problem to most producers -- downloading MP3s over dialup doesn't make sense when local calls are not free. Also, Indian music producers get hit by piracy (not the digital kind, but the real bricks-and-mortar kind) anyway, so I think they will be realistic enough to admit that RIAA-style hard lines won't work here. Thankfully, the T-Series and Indiatimes examples seem to indicate the the Indian recording industry sees an opportunity, and not a threat, in digital music.


Spent some time at Shoppers' Stop's Music Store yesterday. One of the more unusual items on sale there was a smallish clutch of `MP3 Audio CDs' from T-Series. Now I don't listen to the stuff T-Series produces, but they do well in the Hindi/Devotional music space, and this is a good move if done right. The CDs were priced at Rs 150 which is about right; but they all seemed to have around only 20 numbers each -- which seems too few for the compression levels Layer 3 encoding can achieve: for Rs 150 I'd expect at least 50 to 75 numbers at a high bitrate -- 256 kbit or better. Has anyone out there actually bought these things? After this and Indiatimes' music download service and I'd be really, really curious to see if any other Indian vendors are taking the digital music plunge.


May 10, 2002

Leaving for the weekend. No posts for the next two days.


I am disappearing off the face of the earth ^[7bd$ taking the weekend off (for a change! :-)). Only now I find I've to send about 8 `urgent' emails off before I leave. Why does this have to happen on a Friday evening? :-(


BBC: Life expectancy to soar, centurions to become commonplace. The majority of the world's work culture and education systems -- even corporate hiring procedures -- on the other hand, remain mired in the 1900s, when you started a job in your 20s and retired at 60. More flexibility in high school and college programs and an increased awareness of age-ism worldwide (especially in recruiting) would help young and old alike.


This meme has been doing the rounds of blogspace. Ananova, which was the source for the story, now says the EU has no such plans. Our eyes thank the EU czars :-).


May 09, 2002

I am trying out a news aggregator called Newz Crawler. It's done largely by one person, in Delphi, and has an awesome interface for reading newsfeeds -- this would definitely be my newsreading interface of choice. The software's still in beta, and has some glitches once in a while, but nothing very serious. (The program also has a blogBuddy-like mini blog client, which implements the Blogger API. I'm writing this post with that.) My first reaction on seeing this was, wow, this could be one of the first building blocks for my dream personal CMS, but based on email with the author, I guess he has other plans (NNTP, etc) for it. Oh well :-(.


El Reg: Akamai confirms IBM as Java partner. After the eBay win, IBM is on a roll with Java. As Sun increasingly moves into a hardware + software model, it will find a potent competitor in IBM who have a much better-thought-out hardware + software + services model.


On Flangy: The 80 Percent Company.


John Robb:
It's clear that we won't likely have an economy where productivity doubles every 12-18 months, but are trend productivity growth rates of 10%+ possible? I think they are. In that scenario, we all get very rich, very fast.
Productivity seems to be on the rise, yes. But so's fiscal over-prudence and a distaste for spending, probably because of the excesses of the late 90s. And without some spending in the marketplace, it's unclear how the boom (long or not) can really kick off.


The Onion: `The Lord thy God has warned you and warned you, but you have, in your hatred and selfishness, chosen to turn away from Him', read a press statement from God, delivered by seraphim and cherubim acting as His earthly agents. `Prepare now to face His wrath and be drowned beneath the cleansing waters of His righteous rage'.


USS Clueless: For the last few months, France has been trying to say to the terrorists, "We're not the enemy, they are".


May 08, 2002

MSNBC: Click and Tell. Boy, this infographic really depresses me. :-)


I wrote a XSL transform that will convert RSS (tested 0.91 and 0.92) to viewable HTML. This works only with IE as of now, unless you use the W3C's XSL Transform Service. Look at my RSS feed now (here's a non-IE link). Or check out some other RSS feeds.


Updated the code that drives the RSS feed for ChaosZone! It was earlier tuned to text-only viewers, it now renders HTML-ized text so the output's easier to read in readers like AmphetaDesk and Radio.


On John Robb's Radio Comments site, Adam asks: I can understand tcp/ip needing to be integrated but [Internet] Explorer? Traditionally, OS theorists think of the browser as an application, not a service, which is what OSes should be providing. But, Microsoft changed the rules of that game with Windows 98 and its integrated shell. (Whether one likes it or not does not matter -- the fact is it was done, millions used it, and at least two other projects (KDE and Nautilus) imitated that approach.) After Windows 98, HTML rendering did become a service -- used in dialog boxes, help files, even the OS applets (like the Add/Remove Programs dialog in Windows 2000). Since neither Navigator nor Opera at the time implemented the same COM interfaces that IE did, neither could be used as drop-in replacements for these services (to be fair, MS didn't help matters with very scanty docs on shdocvw behavior or IE's stream parsing model). Today, though, at least one rendering engine -- Gecko -- is capable of doing this. Of course, I do not realistically expect Microsoft to offer better documentation of OS-level services as a solution to the trial, and the plaintiffs are either too aligned with (read: paid stooges of) Microsoft's business rivals to suggest practical, meaningful ways by which competition can be returned to the Internet browser market without taking us to a Tower of Babel of browsing services.


May 07, 2002

USS Clueless: Andersen strikes again. Did Andersen have a secret reputation in the industry for incompetence or benign neglect or even for willing complicity in fraud? Did companies who wanted to play fast and loose deliberately choose Andersen as their auditors?


mpt: [History] is annoying in Mozilla in almost every respect. Yes! :-(


Tokyo's Akihabara. Chennai has to make do with good ol' Ritchie Street.


May 06, 2002

Microsoft: From hypergrowth to hyperconsistency. The last piece is especially good.


Time: Larry and Andy Wachowski, the fraternal directing duo, had always envisioned The Matrix as part one of a trilogy. Aaaiiie!! First I've to wait for The Two Towers, then Episode III, and now Reloaded? Why can't they make this stuff all at once in the first place? I want instant gratification now! Ye hear me? Now!! :-)


Adam Barr on Windows XP Embedded.


Password Bouncer
Administrators can set policies that force the use of upper and lower case letters and [...] requiring the fourth character in any password to be a numeral or restricting passwords that end with numerals or special characters.
The problem with controls like these is that they get in the way of sophisticated users and actually compromise the integrity of the system by reducing the choices available for a passphrase. Less sophisticated users, on the other hand, continue `bucking' the system by scribbling passwords on pieces of paper. IMHO, a rule like `at least 8 characters, and having at least one non-alphabetic character' is adequate for the vast majority of non-critical systems.


May 05, 2002

Lawmeme has a great review of Kellner's `going to the bathroom is thievery' interview. I love it when execs in the entertainment business take themselves too seriously. A lot of the interview talks about video on demand (VOD). I think VOD is interesting, largely because it is vapor today, because of the content owners' greed and fear of `losing control' thanks to digital delivery. Interestingly, the company that's best placed to build exciting new applications (including VOD) on VOD-capable infrastructure is AOL TW's cable arm. But the so-called synergy between AOLTW's `content' and `distribution' arms seems nonexistent, which makes you wonder what the merger was all about. Think about it: a $49.95/month broadband internet connection, with 4 movies (per month) from the Time-Warner library thrown in for free, in formats which are easy to view on a standard computer, and difficult to copy but not a pain to use. Side by side, work with set-top box makers and consumer electronic companies to equip their hardware with firmware that hosts a browser and email client: WebTV on steroids. If I was a AOLTW shareholder, I'd love to know why this scenario is vapor today.


Flangy digs Spider-Man. Also confesses to liking Unbreakable (Hey, me too!). When in school, Sunday afternoons (1pm) was dedicated Spider-Man time. Aaah, gotta wait until May 24, when it premieres here.


Techblog: IT industry is lousy at lobbying.


May 04, 2002

Not much to blog about. Bug reports, bug reports, bug reports... :(


May 03, 2002

Xerox should have patented the drop down menu. And the mouse/pointer system. It would have made millions on licensing alone. But hey, back in the day, computers were considered geeky curiosities, not mega-business.


May 02, 2002

A lot of programmers have had the RMS-ian `if I don't program I will starve' feeling at some time or the other. And in these economic times, the danger of starving is (while not strictly true) more real than ever before. And in keeping with the times, kuro5hin presents a Guide to Eating on a Shoestring Budget.


I've been trying out BestCrypt for awhile now, and it's pretty good -- it seems to strike the right balance between privacy and security. I wouldn't throw away my PGP though -- this strikes me as protection strictly against the garden variety snoop, against whom the pain of individually encrypting/decrypting PGP files is a pain not worth taking (yes, I know about PGPdisk, and it crashes my system for some weird reason). All I have to do now is check this out during network use. The interesting bit is, there's a developer on my team who (on his spare time) been trying to create something similar for sometime for sftp -- essentially create a namespace extension in Windows so that sftp-accessible resources show up on the desktop. Anybody with experience creating namespace extensions out there willing to help out, for a product that'll be released under an MIT or BSD-style license? (The scp code uses psftp's routines, and the namespace extension code is pretty half-baked so far, primarily because this was an exercise in learning how to write NSEs). Please contact me if you have ideas.


May 01, 2002

Slept through half of Labour day. Fun. While on Labour Day, here's a topical Slashdot thread.


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