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July 31, 2002

A rumor I've been hearing persistently for the last couple of days has surfaced in that cesspool towards which all IT rumors are irresistibly drawn (and on /. too). Apparently the ISPAI, a consortium of Indian ISPs, wants web biggies to pony up if they wish to reach Indian audiences. I've been searching (in vain so far) for a online source to this, because the Hindustani [sic] Times El Reg quotes does not seem to have a website, and I was unable to find any mention of this on If true, this would have been a cretinous move. On the other hand, Udhay Shankar points to a post on a silklist thread which purports to come from a ISPAI office bearer:
The ISPAI is not split on the issue. On this issue, the ISPAI speaks with one voice: there is absolutely no intention of blocking Yahoo, Hotmail, eBay or any other popular site. The article is pure bullshit.
Good to see common sense is alive and well in the country. And to all El Reg readers: have you taken your pinch of salt today? Update: this ISPAI press release may have been the cause of the problem -- this is a spat between ISPs licensed to provide VoIP services and services that provide voice chat on their own -- MSN, Yahoo, etc. Cretinous anyway. Voice chat != VoIP.


July 29, 2002

I am not fond of using -- or writers using -- `she' in place of a pronoun that is inclusive of both genders. (English doesn't have one, `he' serves the purpose pretty well.) Call me old-fashioned, but this is tokenism. Where does it stop? Since `women' is obviously derivative of `men', should we now change it to womyn? Oh, wait... But now, either the NYTimes' style guide or the Pope has caught on, and is busily turning the (don't you wish it was so) asexual Catholic Church into something rather more feminine, along the lines of Mother Nature, probably.
"If you love Jesus, love the church," the Pope said during a homily at an outdoor Mass here this morning that was attended by hundreds of thousands of Catholics, many of them teenagers. "Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members.
Typo? Sure hope so. I mean, I would hate to find out that there was a secret worldwide conspiracy by language-tool software vendors to reinvent the English language in hugger-mugger.


July 28, 2002

Mangle. I've been looking for this feature for quite some time. would have been much cooler, though.


In case you are wondering who is responsible for the daily exploitations that go on in India's large underground porn film biz, it is morons like these. Holy? Films? Get a grip.
The public doesn't want vulgar films. Have you ever heard of a morcha taken out because the CBFC has cut scenes?
No, the public are too busy ignoring you wholesale, Mr Trivedi, and attending morning shows in Delhi (and quite a few other places, I imagine). They are busy renting out VCDs resulting from shoots like these. There must be a demand for these somewhere, hmm? There are two ways that a government can react to things that are popular but taboo (marijuana, alcohol, porn -- it doesn't matter): wipe it out in its entirety, or legalize and regulate it. We've tried the `wipe out' model with drugs and prohibition, and we know how well those worked. At least with tobacco, there is regulation and an income stream to the national exchequer. But yes, this is India, we don't talk about sex, we reached a population of 1e9+ through binary fission; and censors who propose (sacrilege!) a ``no cuts only classification'' policy are hounded out of office. Dumb!


July 25, 2002

Indiatimes chat with Aishwarya:
Ritika: Whose thought was 'Ish' in Devdas?
Aishwarya Rai: Definitely Sanjay Leela Bhansali's because it is a very endearing term in Bengali. So we all found it very charming and we even continued with it long after the film (shooting) was over.
Hmm. Was a little too endearing for my taste -- seems like the director liked the sound of the word and got carried away with it :-). ['Ish' in Bengali roughly translates to `tsk tsk' in English, with deeper connotations of regret, or in a humorous situation, humor.]


IE Bug: Try to select a couple of words in this post using the mouse (say the words `What gets'). What gets highlighted? On my system, the entire left column and all the text upto the word also gets highlighted. This isn't correct behavior, and doesn't happen in Opera/Mozilla.


If you don't want Search Engines to find you, maybe you shouldn't put up a family web page.


July 24, 2002

Insightful slashpost on the /. technical interviews story. Basically those asking about why riddles at all in a software interview are missing the point. The point is not riddles for the sake of riddles; the point is to, in the brief span of time that an interview lasts, get some insight into the interviewees' mental processes -- especially when s/he's faced with a (possibly stressful) situation unfamiliar to him before. Does he approach the problem with enthusiasm? Does he try to think through? Or does he tune out? (Tuning out is often a sign of jadedness -- something most product companies cannot afford). I'd be more inclined to take a guy who gets things wrong but explores the problem space than a guy who clams up. And oh, what works for me probably won't work very well for you -- there are at least five worlds in software development, and I think industry veterans can easily think up more.


ESR on one of the things Texas does right:
Barbecue, dammit. Red meat with enough fat on it to panic a health-foodist right out of his pantywaist, slow-cooked in a marinade sweeter than a mother's kiss and eaten with sauces hot enough to peel paint. Garnish with a few extra jalapenos and coleslaw and wash it down with cheap soda, lemonade, or beer. Food of the gods.


July 22, 2002

New Scientist:
Emailing a question to hordes of people is no use if you really want to know the answer, says psychologists. They found that the more people you copy an email to, the more each recipient is likely to ignore it.
Somebody tell this to the cc-philiacs in my office :-(


Rob Fahrni:
I found it interesting that Apple is incorporating ideas from other vendors into OS X (Jaguar). Oh, I'm sorry, it's called integration. This is what killed Microsoft in court. Integration, or bundling, of features into the OS. It's ok for Apple to do it because they haven't been found guilty of monopolistic practices, 5% market share and a competitor walking on egg shells can do that for you.
Add Sun's drivel about sedimentation to that, and the irony is complete. Some of these guys may now be suing Microsoft, but are at the same time liberally taking pages out of MS's playbook.


July 18, 2002

El Reg:
The kudos Apple won by introducing a generous all-you-can-eat pricing for its server offerings has been lost by gouging its most loyal consumers. If you've been working with OS X since the public beta, your bill for the OS alone will have topped $400 by now. In the same period Microsoft has introduced one upgrade costing consumers $99 or $199 for the "professional" SMP-enabled XP.
Even if we forget the beta, which IIRC cost $20, it's still a goodly $350+.


USS Clueless:
When Motorola just racked up losses in the quarter larger than most companies have gross incomes, why is it that it's had a consistent "buy" rating from the brokers since, well, nearly forever? And why is it that out of 26 broker recommendations, only one is negative?


July 17, 2002

Outlook 11 screenshot (sourced from MS Presspass, so has an air of authenticity to it). Good use of screenspace. Got the link via neowin, I'll probably be visiting this place more often in future.


How long before this page turns into


$129 for OS X Jag-wire. Hee Hee, this is good. It is now obvious that the relation between Apple and its customers is a strong, healthy, one; based on love, mutual respect and lots of money changing hands :-). No other company imho has such a loyal user base so positively excited about being screwed over time and again. I had written once about the dangers of a hardware+software monopoly -- I think I'll continue to be a happy [WL][intel|amd] user for some time to come -- A decent PC will set me back around $800, plus zero OS cost if I go with Linux; or $200 more for Windows XP Pro ($100 for XP Home). And I can live without buying an upgrade for years. Macs may look droolacious, but I think I'll pass -- give me the wider app base of a PC anyday.


July 16, 2002

Dean Ornish in the NYTimes:
So the diagnosis is correct: we are eating too many simple carbohydrates. But the cure is wrong. The solution is not to go from simple carbohydrates to pork rinds and bacon, but from simple carbohydrates to whole foods with complex carbohydrates like whole wheat, brown rice, and fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes in their natural forms.


Saw Devdas on Sunday. This is probably the seventh or eighth of a long line of adaptations of one of India's most enduring tragic heroes, and the first `musical' to boot. Bottom line: this doesn't come close to either the 1936 Sehgal or the 1955 Dilip Kumar version. That said, it has a number of things going for it, and I'd say watch the movie if you can. Quick notes:
  • Eye Candy. Strongest point of the film. Gorgeous sets; art director Nitin Desai will safely take a Filmfare award home.
  • The background score was promising but disappointed, it started well but was too monotonous, and was a bit too loud and overbearing in parts.
  • Not-so-good group dancing. Somebody should have picked the extras with greater care; the dances of quite a few wouldn't have been out of place in a typical Bollywood jhatka number.
  • Madhuri was good. Have to say that even though I'm not a Madhuri fan.
  • Ash tried, and was good in parts. But dancing is not her forte -- yet.
  • Shahrukh -- good in parts. But he has to lose his mannerisms before the actor comes out of the star persona. As a SRK fan, I was disappointed.
  • Atrocious Bengali. After spending crores on the sets, you'd think they could hire one diction tutor. Or at least excise all the Bengali lines out of the script. I know Bengali and this one point basically ruined the film for me.
  • The original novel on which this is based has a great deal on life and politics of 19th/late 20th century Bengal. The film glossed over most of that. Read the novel (or a translation) -- it's good.
  • For a musical, the music was strangely .. forgettable. Nothing worth coming out of the theater with. In fact, the dance remained in my memory for longer.
  • Kiron Kher gets a thumbs up for her role as Paro's mum. Smita Jayekar as Devdas' get a thumbs down -- `thakurains' are made of sterner stuff, or should be. In fact, Ash as the newly wed thakurain looked more convincing than she.


    Blogger seems to be back up, after a long-lasting outage involving a template server. Troubles not over yet, though.


    July 15, 2002

    BBC: Humans have anti-HIV gene.


    July 12, 2002

    setx sucks. If something as simple as setx CLASSPATH %CLASSPATH%;d:\jars\foo.jar doesn't work, I won't use it (All I want to do is globally set environment variables from the command line). I'll probably cook up a quick Perl script for this, using Win32::Registry.


    July 10, 2002

    SecurityFocus: Yaha Worm Takes Out Pakistan Government's Site.


    July 09, 2002

    ToI: From the reclusive Simi Garewal to the garrulous Urmila Matondkar, everyone wants to see Devdas — and wants to see it now. Ditto here.


    July 08, 2002

    Jet Airways reduces prices by 64%, Indian Airlines follows suit. This scheme is operational for three months -- August to October, the lean tourist season. This is, of course, also a way for the airlines to recoup losses from the lack of tourist traffic (because of the travel advisories), but also has the salutary effect of giving Indian Railways a solid kick in the pants and rousing it out of its slumber. 2AC and 3AC (sometimes called `upper class') berths cost a lot (in part because they subsidize freight and SL (`sleeper') berths). Now, August through October, flying will have a cost comparable to that of traveling by train. Done round the year, this would kill off the market for xAC berths, with the entire customer base flocking to planes instead. I can only hope airlines would revisit this decision in September. (Relatively) cheap air travel round the year would transform Indian society and business, as distances will begin to matter less and less. Update: The Railways prepares to slash prices on their fastest trains. These trains are comfortable for sure, but going from Chennai to New Delhi via train takes 29 hours on the fastest train (which is available twice a week), and 33.5 hours on a slightly slower train which is available everyday. Given the chance to cut that down to 4 hours for an extra 1000 bucks, I'd bite. About the only reason I can think of for choosing trains in a scenario like this would be capacity. A fully laden train can carry 1000+ people, and the Railways has a lot of 'em. And while the airlines aren't exactly lacking in planes, they have far less capacity to handle the sheer numbers the railways move every day. Ah, deregulation, where art thou?


    As someone who is perpetually 8-16 pounds overweight, and doesn't really do anything about it, I read the NYTimes Big Fat Lie article with great interest. Thankfully, most (non-vegetarian) Indian diets, while carbohydrate-adequate (for the hot climate and the higher metabolic rate), are not fat/protein deficient. And processed flour (``maida'' and friends), while more common than it used to be, is still looked at with disapproval by `traditional' wisdom.


    Rob Fahrni on build breakage:
    Working for a large company has it's ups and downs. Once Visio became a part of Microsoft we had immediate access to cool tools to make our jobs better. Our test organization has probably benefitted the most, but we've also seen some cool stuff in development. Every large software company has their own set of home grown tools to help with the process. We had them at Visio, just not in large quantities like we have at MS. Anywho, back to the story. There's been one area that has totally stunk since we started using some of the Office teams tools. Builds! The single most important thing to keep working is now often busted. Breaking the build should be punishable by death, ok maybe not death but you get the picture. The other cool tools we have access to don't mean squat if you don't have a build to work with.


    Seth Schoen's second post on Palladium has lots of juice (and less Descartes :-)). I stand corrected, Palladium != TCPA, Palladium is similar to TCPA. On the other hand, the similarity extends far enough: alternative OSes will be able to run on a Palladium PC, largely since the extra, Palladium functionality can be ignored. Also, most OSes should be able to enable the Palladium featureset if they so choose.


    July 07, 2002

    ToI: The Strange case of China's Miss Universe.


    July 05, 2002

    Message to Sun: please please pretty please lose the goddamn fucking classpath in Java 1.5. Or add a saner alternative. Thank you. From another disgusted soul. PS. I use this script to save myself from turning into clarence-the-cross-eyed-lion:
    #!perl -w
    $#ARGV eq 0 || die "Usage: perl ENV_VAR\n";
    $vars = `echo \%$ARGV[0]\%`;
    $vars =~ s/;/\n/g;
    print $vars;


    Btw, for those who asked if I have turned into a penguinista: nope. I still am using Windows 2000, Office XP, and Visual Studio.NET. But, as always, I still have PuTTY and a trusty SSH prompt by my side :-)


    Scoble again. Now you know where the pressure for Palladium is coming. This need for control is certainly plausible enough, but if msft went that way, then Linux has won the desktop already. The triumph of PCs was a revolution through the back door. That's exactly the way Linux is spreading right now, with increasingly generous dollops of big-business support. Linux will win on the home desktop by placing the user uber alles -- if it is porn, p2p and music they want, then that is exactly what they'll get. And oh, if determines that companies really need TCPA, (say) Redhat may just determine that it's worth it to offer a TCPA-enabled Linux desktop to companies (with source -- the source would go to MIS :-)) and the TCO would still be lowered. For, like it or not, today many MIS-ers (rebus unintended) are asking themselves, "How do we decrease the dollop we pay to our IT vendors, year after year?" However, not all of Scoble's analysis is correct: when he talks about Outlook not having a newsreader, he forgets that Outlook Express has a very usable one -- beats Mozilla for now in my book. And any admin savvy enough to use IEAK to remove OE will also have a rabid dog and firewall guarding their outgoing TCP requests. And application level filters, for good measure.


    Scoble: I wanted Microsoft to have a monopoly. Why? Because then all my friends and family would have the same software that I did.


    Dave Winer:
    Why is it pointless to argue with Microsoft people? Answer: because they hold you to a higher moral standard than they themselves support. When discussing their transgressions, they argue that they have the right to do that. They overstate your case and rebut that, leaving you stuttering "But I didn't say that." If that doesn't work, they question your objectivity or qualifications, or resort to veiled ad hominems (a quick subject-change).


    July 03, 2002

    sshd security advisory, rev 4: the [defect disclosure] release process was geared to place the community on a security stance. Well, they certainly succeeded in scaring the shit out of a lot of people, who then upgraded their boxes asap. Not bad.


    Well, if msft is coming to exhibit, I guess they got their distro finally working together after all :-) More seriously, even if the Linux Today article didn't mention something about XP Embedded, I'd have guessed this to be a demo of something like how easily LAMP sites can migrate to IIS 6. The size of the stall itself indicates they are not planning anything major, like say, an announcement of official SQL Server drivers for unix-based boxen. Or a version of SQL 2000 for Unix (now that would be cool! :-)).


    July 02, 2002

    The eminently readable (though now seven-of-nine-less :-() Josh Allen on Cringely's doomsday article on Palladium:
    We don't know what Microsoft is planning, and we don't know whether they can pull it off, and we don't know for sure if it is a conspiracy. But at least we know that it is called Palladium, and it is probably bad for the fish.
    Incidentally, seeing that he thinks that El Reg's coverage "has substance", I wonder what he'd think of this article from them -- the first phrase that springs to mind on reading this is "foaming-at-the-mouth".

    Josh is bang-on when he says that there are too many separate issues here, and some of them get hopelessly muddled when mixed up. What's more interesting about his little write-up is the points he didn't raise:

    Fair Use. Most early DRM systems were basically dressed-up copy protection systems, and sucky copy-protection systems too: DeCSS, Cactus. Most of these infringe badly on fair use (right to backup, use on various devices, right to quote excerpts, etc) To be fair, MS's DRM (in WMP and MSReader) is far better, and I'll hold judgment on Palladium until I actually see a working Palladium device.

    User Expectation. This is the kicker. The software industry discovered in the 80s that users prefer unshackled products. (Sidebar: These days, Microsoft has gone back to Activation for two of its products that have achieved 85%+ penetration so the company no longer has to care a hoot about what users think. And if you think that sounds cynical, you should ask yourself why Activation isn't included with every copy of VS.Net, or better still, SQL Server Enterprise Edition)

    The recording industry will gradually, grudgingly discover that today's teenagers are, if anything, less tolerant of shackleware than the previous generation was of nagware 20 years ago. If DRM is to work at all, it will have to be far more sophisticated than today's systems -- and someone will then break it anyway.

    Update: Mitch Wagner counters by saying litigation is in fact better than innovation when it comes to DRM. Microsoft should know -- the BSA operates a multibillion dollar industry this way.

    A year or two ago I came to agree with Bruce Schneier's conclusion that Digital Rights Management is simply unenforceable. It's like the perpetual motion machine or travelling faster than the speed of light, it simply cannot be done. Whatever technology the developers come up with to guard content, some bright hacker will be able to break, and once broken, the hack can be distributed in software instantaneously over the Web. If all else fails, you can simply put a microphone next to your speakers and make an analog recording of the DRM-protected music, digitize that recording, and pirate THAT.

    The way to guard digital rights is not to build Rube Goldberg software and hardware contraptions that punish legal consumers while failing to stop copyright infringers; the way to do it is go after copyright infringers in court. "Better Living Through Software" is precisely wrong here; Litigation is better than innovation when it comes to copyright.

    Josh further says: Lack of good, ubiquitous DRM is the only thing holding us back from some really cool advances and cites a really poor example -- ebooks. I say poor because, speaking as someone with a largish book collection, ebooks leave me cold.

    I really wonder what the good examples would be. Can't think of any. Maybe a pay-per-use Word that would charge .5c a spell-check? Oh wait, that'd only be cool for MS' bottom line :-)

    [I updated this piece since the original posting -- the original post rambled too much, methinks.]


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