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August 31, 2002

 
Peterme: Abnormal American. `See, I lead a fairly simple life. I rent an apartment. I don't own a car. I don't make extravagant purchases on a bunch of different credit cards. And because of this, "the computer" doesn't know what to make of me.'

 

 
Queued this onto my reading list: The Millennial Project. This is definitely not fantasy, some very hard nosed engineering thought went into the writing of this.

 

August 30, 2002

 
I am now (and if only temporarily) the ninth Dutta on Google, sandwiched between Lara Dutta and the wonderful Mrs Dutta Writes a Letter, an early gem by Chitra Divakaruni. Inch by Inch :-).

 

 
Brian St. Pierre has an excellent rebuttal of Prof Lessig's proposal for code escrow. Lessig has been listening for far too long to people whose idea of software development lies in reimplementing stock protocols and IETF standards (not that there's anything wrong in that stuff). Somebody should take Lessig around the code -- and only the code -- for a largish CRM system and tell him to make sense out of it. Code escrow is meaningless without docs, and specs, and the entire painful process of business analysis that's so easy to get wrong that accompanies the creation of a large software system. And if you wish to escrow docs et al, you have just set foot on a slippery slope you cannot define. Me, I think Rahul Dave's Loving Software makes sense. If only it had a better name. Good luck selling Lovin' Software to your CFO ;-)

 

August 29, 2002

 
Netscape 7 released today. Topical slashpost
The browser war is over. We lost. The world has changed since those days. AOL is on the defensive now, even within its own company. It swallowed Time Warner and boldly promised a new era that never happened, so now the angry and vengeful Time Warner execs are retaking the company, relegating the AOL execs to "their place" and forcing them to be fiscally responsible and accountable. Launching a browser war is not fiscally responsible from Time Warner's perspective; it's just a suicidal waste of money to appease those zealots they believe screwed up the company in the first place. Web Browser War II is not going to happen. Not by AOL's hand.

 

August 27, 2002

 
Bharti's wiring of Mylapore continues apace. Lots of OFC (optic fiber cable) laid in front of my apartment. Yesterday my office got a line too, so we'll soon have an alternative to good ol' VSNL. The service promises a 300ms ping to the US in 4 hops when fully deployed -- let's see how it goes.

 

August 24, 2002

 
Ray Ozzie on nondiscretionary controls:
For years at Lotus, when working on Lotus Notes, customers kept asking for a feature that would enable the sender of an eMail message to "Prevent Copying or Forwarding" of a message. We kept explaining that there was no practical way to implement it. We could block the Print Screen key. We could disable the Forward and Reply and Export and Save As menu items. But because we couldn't block any programmer from writing a trivial add-in (using the API) to display or extract the email, we resisted implementing the feature for years. Ultimately, we relented due to the combination of competition and customer demand, and the feature exists in the product today.

 

 
In addition to passing judgement on your MSN sign-in name, MSN Messenger now gets upset about Messenger Display Names. If you use MSN Messenger, try using the word "message" in your sign-in name. No issues per se if some words are reserved, but it should be documented and the error messages should provide a link to this document. As it stands, the error message ("Invalid display name...") is uninformative in the extreme.

 

August 23, 2002

 
Ziv Caspi's succint rebuttal of Cringely's latest pulpit post: EDI didn't fail because it was big and slow. It failed because collaboration is hard, and because there's far more to passing semantics between loosely-coupled systems than just agreeing on the syntax.

 

 
DocExplorer (the MSDN Help viewer) is into version seven but still cannot show a context menu on the back/forward button like IE did in version four. [image: DocExplorer's Netscape 3-style back button vs. IE]. Of course, one can read ms-help:// URLs through IE itself, but you lose the index :-(

 

 
Walk around Mylapore these days and you'll see a thread like mark in a lot of roads -- that's where Bharti (?) has been laying fiber as part of their broadband push. So far the two buildings in CIT Colony which have the fiber going into them have been a private residence (lucky so-and-so's, which I was rich enough, etc :-)) and the NDTV office. We're still on old-fashioned leased lines :'-(

 

August 20, 2002

 
JRobb: Subtext: it's the networks of people that support you and keep you whole after you get old that matter.

 

August 19, 2002

 
Is there a single News Aggregator out there that supports HTTP User-Authentication (Basic/Digest)? Better still, one that can read IE's cookies so that it can read intranet weblog feeds as long as an intranet login is valid? This is important because many teams are geographically dispersed (i.e., not on the same LAN/VPN) but still need to share stuff the rest of the world would be better of not knowing about.

 

August 17, 2002

 
The Times of India says it is now the world's largest circulated English newspaper. On the other hand, it remains too ad-cluttered and badly written to be called a quality broadsheet in the same sense as the NY Times, Wash Post, LA Times, The Statesman or even that staid old lady of Mount Road, The Hindu (the same is true of the other rag it competes against in the North). Reading Indian newspapers these days is definitely not a happy experience -- budget cuts have led to a reduction in the number of overseas correspondents and an increasing reliance on Reuters, NYTNS and the like. Sport coverage relies heavily on agencies or syndicated columnists. Writing quality (bar The Hindu) is plummeting, and ads are encroaching on more and more column-inches. The Times of India (and India Today, and to a lesser extent the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times), in particular, have become massive -- and unabashed -- promotion engines for their parent media companies in ways that would make an AOLTW exec wistful. I wouldn't gloat if I were working at the ToI -- in some ways, it still has a long way to go.

 

 
Now that the X-Files have closed, there's an opportunity here for desi Chris Carters to get into the act -- lots of inspiration here. Anyone remember the monkey man sightings in Delhi last year?

 

 
Ftrain: How Google beat Amazon and Ebay to the Semantic Web
It's hard to believe Google - which is now the world's largest single online marketplace - came on the scene only a little more than 8 years ago, back in the days when Amazon and Ebay reigned supreme. So how did Google become the world's single largest marketplace?
Well worth a read.

 

August 14, 2002

 
Microsoft discontinues web core font downloads. Reason cited is "EULA abuse". Of course. Can't have penguinistas prettying X with it with just an 'apt-get install msttcorefonts' now, can we?

 

 
Thomas Friedman: Where Freedom Reigns. His earlier column, India, Pakistan and GE, was also pretty interesting.

 

 
A lot of people don't know that India's national anthem [listen to it (Real)] is but verse one of a five-stanza poem that Tagore wrote c. 1911. I've been unable to find the original Bengali version anywhere on the net, but a translation is available here (the translation is correct -- the poet's himself, apparently; the Latinized rendering of the original text is near unreadable unless you have experience reading Bengali with Latin alphabets). Anyone willing to volunteer recordings?

 

 
USS Clueless has a longish article that talks about, among other things, how the American military machine and the Information Economy has this in common today: empowering the line worker, be it an employee or a soldier. One sentence caught my eye:
And it's just about the opposite of any nations whose traditions derive from monarchy or authoritarianism, where the governing elite do not trust (emphasis mine) those they rule and fear letting them have access to information and fear letting them make decisions.
That was because I had just finished reading this tale of what it took for a man to fly the Indian flag in his own country.
But, in January 1996, the Government of India appealed against this judgment. In its special leave petition to the Supreme Court, the government said the policy to restrict the use of the national flag to the barest minimum was meant to ensure that it was not dishonoured. Jindal, it said, had taken a questionable position by imagining that one of the ways of showing his patriotism and love for the country was to fly the flag. The petition pointed out that there were millions of Indians who were not swayed by a desire to fly the flag in their houses.
And we are supposed to be the largest democracy in the world. Of course, it's quite legal now to fly the flag in one's own house on any occasion, thanks to the Supreme Court clarification. They've been selling reasonably well too, though not as well as expected. I suspect the reason is a niggling suspicion on the part of the long suffering Indian -- why fly something that can get me into trouble? Do I really want someone to turn my life into bureaucratic hell because someone suspected (or cooked up a case) that I was not flying the flag `respectfully' enough to merit action under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971? (Though the flag code now clarifies that anyone can fly the flag, it still carries some conditions and provisios intended to safeguard the flags `dignity, honour and respect'). At its frigid bureaucratic heart, inherited from the colonial Brits' Indian Civil Service, the Indian bureaucracy, 55 years after Independence, does not trust the classes it governs. It still has a `we know better' mentality that is one of our biggest failures 'til today. Indian Flag

 

August 13, 2002

 
Psychologists researching a high incidence of suicides in thirteen blocks of South 24 Parganas, West Bengal say they may have hit on India's "zone of melancholy", with some 500 suicides in one year and 936 documented suicide bids last year. Apparently, `hundreds of thousands' of people in the region suffer from depression, home to the Sunderbans and man-eating tigers.

 

August 12, 2002

 
There was a post today on affordable web hosting in India on the ILUGC mailing list today. My two-minute braindump about it.

 

 
USS Clueless:
Indeed, a finely tuned bullshit detector is a survival trait in the information age. When we are inundated with data, much of which seems contradictory and much of which is intended to persuade or deceive us, we need to learn how to reject that which has a high probability of being invalid, and to that end we begin to understand what kinds of messages or ways in which they are delivered tend to suggest that the messenger is less than honest. Those of us who have grown up in information-rich societies have learned this skill over time, although to differing degrees. This is a real problem for those using these media, such as advertisers, to try to influence us in ways which are to their advantage but not necessarily to ours, and as our access to information grows, the effectiveness of advertising has declined. We're just not that easy to convince. Indeed, it's not all that easy to even get our attention any more to even deliver the message, let alone to have the message convince us and change our behavior. That's why there's a long term trend for advertising to become more strident, more intrusive, more obnoxious, and more emphatic; it shows that the advertisers are growing desperate. Ironically, those very characteristics in turn decrease the effectiveness of their message because they more strongly set off our collective bullshit detectors. (Advertising is falling prey to the tragedy of the commons.)

 

August 10, 2002

 
Bruce Sterling says that Windows is rapidly becoming like an airport -- an armed terrorspace. He gets it half right -- the PC platform itself is becoming an armed terrorspace. Before the 'net, in the days of floppies and BBSes and company wide ethernets, PCs were little islands of information -- cute to work with, but not for serious use. With the onset of the net, the copying flexibility of the PC is a scourge for content hoarders. And for the vast majority of trusting humans who connect to what is essentially a hostile public network without the benefit of a Infosec 101 course, the net is an endless source of detritus online life leaves behind -- spam, viruses and exploits designed to trip up an OS never really designed to guard Fort Knox among them. Between scheming business people threatened with extinction of business models and irresponsible crackers and social engineers, the PC of yesteryear is growing up to adulthood -- and the loss of innocence adulthood entails will not be a pretty site. The sad part is: the companies who once championed the PC most are turning away from it. Microsoft (with Palladium) and Intel (with TCPA) both hope not only to eliminate the spam and the viruses, but also the unique flexibilities of a PC that consumers love so much and which give content hoarders so many sleepless nights. Today, Apple (for all its faults) is perhaps the only company that celebrates the PC as an instrument of individual expression (apart from the geekish allure of Linux, of course). Microsoft is too caught up in readying Windows "for the enterprise" when it is not busily turning Windows Explorer into real estate to be used for MSN ads; it also treats its smallest customers like dirt, subjecting them to insulting activation procedures (which it can afford to do, having 90% of the market). There is no message from Intel that makes me think that their thinking is in any way different. Bottom line: between the crackers, the content hoarders, Wintel and me, there are at least four groups fighting for control of my personal computer. I'd cut it a little slack if it felt embattled.

 

 
Slashpost:
Reminds me of a time back in '94 when I went to a Pink Floyd concert. As per usual, people like to sing along with the songs. To dying day, I'll never forget the sound of 30,000 people droning in unison: "We don't need no thought control".

 

August 08, 2002

 
Companion Pieces: Read Rahul Mahajan's Iraq and the New Great Game and Steven Denbeste's What Comes Next?. Then see the Powerpoint slides at the end of this article. One thing still puzzles me, though -- Iraq as a "tactical pivot" I can get, but why do the slides call Egypt "the prize"?

 

 
John Robb:
The media industry continues to cry out for a DRM solution that meets their desires for complete control over content delivery and use. Microsoft can supply a 60% solution now, and a 99% solution with Palladium (and derivatives for use on devices). However, the media industry doesn't want to give over implementation of DRM controls to Microsoft. They want to pick their partners. Given the rule of power politics in Washington, this means that the only thing really stopping the implementation of a mandatory DRM solution based on open standards (or media selected proprietary ones) is Microsoft. It isn't fair use, privacy considerations, or the needs of you and me. This is a battle over control of the technology. As long as Microsoft can delay this in Congress we win. In the end we all are losers.

 

August 06, 2002

 
Radhika Nathan's Temple Again brought back vivid memories of why I shudder inwardly at the thought of visiting a temple. The notion of a group of priests, ticket collectors and sundry temple officials mediating an encounter between me and my Maker is somehow repulsive to me.
Farther away from the special queue, this other crowd was getting bigger and more unforgiving by the minute and they were being pushed and pulled as they struggled to get a glimpse of Her. By the time we crossed the gate and entered the inner sanctum, I was beginning to seriously doubt the purpose of my presence there. Where was the peace and serenity that I was expecting? The inner sanctum was another story. Some wise guy had deemed that those with the special tickets deserved to sit in the small chamber in front of the deity for a few minutes. Now there was already enormous traffic, those entering into the chamber, the priests and the assorted staff regulating the flow. To top it, the good people in the chamber hardly seemed satisfied with the opportunity given to them and were sitting rooted to their spots or worse, upon entreated to leave, were standing right there, blocking the view of the less unfortunate ticket less mass of people, who could hardly stand let alone sit, passing by beyond the chamber straining to see the deity. The priests vying to get our attention, the incessant monotonous chanting with no depth to it, the police woman desperately cursing to get the attention of the blockers, the faceless crowd with a thousand folded hands moving like an automaton, crying for help.. I felt suffocated, even guilty and need to run away from there arose from the middle of my being, constricting my throat.
Btw, Radhika's got to be in the reckoning for being one of the most readable writers in blogdom. Unlike most hacks, er, bloggers, she actually knows how to turn a phrase. A blog worth watching.

 

 
I'm now a Subcontinental Singer on Suman's blogroll (can I keep the title even if I can't sing worth beans?) And sathishr very kindly linked to me as well. Thanks! Actually, there are quite a few Indian blogs that aren't on either of the two lists -- Ravi Rao's LiveJournal is one I enjoy looking at from time to time.

 

August 02, 2002

 
shdocvw: never say die. In the settlement-mandated app preferences dialog (in Win2k SP3), even as the confirmed IE-phobe switches to Mozilla with a sigh of satisfaction only the righteous can emit, the UI continues to be powered by the same evil browser the confirmed IE-phobe had fought all these years. I can almost hear the defense addressing Judge Kollar-Ketally: Yes, your honor, IE's html renderer really is a system service. We use it to show dialogs. Accompanied by peals from laughter coming from Redmond ... :-) Actually, here's an easy, compatible answer to folk wanting to embed a html renderer within Windows apps -- Mozilla as an embeddable control that implements IWebBrowser2 -- the same API IE exposes to AOL, Outlook, and many other apps. If only Netscape had created something like around Netscape 3. Wonder if they had ever considered this idea seriously, though, or were too high on their "the browser is the OS" trip to take notice.

 

 
Check out this Slashdot thread for a great example of why Slashdot is more than just another web discussion group for nerds :-).

 

August 01, 2002

 
From a letter I wrote to the Reg (in response to a post from Rishab Aiyer Ghosh):
a couple of years ago it was always indian ISPs that had to pay for access and didn't get peering. now that the equation of revenue with bandwidth flow direction is pretty much reversed (i.e. india->us traffic actually implies more revenue to US sites, not just more demand from indians for them) there is a strong economic incentive for US companies to want traffic from india.
Even if Indian ISPs would like to charge for supplying traffic, they should _not_ be charging eBay et al -- makes little sense: they should be approaching the carriers. I am pretty sure Ebay is not _dying_ to receive traffic from thousands of Indian users who drain bandwidth but hardly ever *buy* anything. Ditto the US operations of MSN and Yahoo. (Both have Indian operations -- and I am pretty sure Yahoo India serves *it's* content -- including local ads -- from Bombay.) I wouldn't be surprised, if, pretty soon, advertisers insisted on using RDNS lookups to only pay for users within specific geographic zones (for all I know, it could be happening already) -- if I was advertising DIMMs on the Reg, I could say, I'll only pay for hits from customers with the EU, US, and Canada. Or pay a lower rate for hits outside these zones. Some of this is already happening for some types of ads I've seen. This would kill Rishab's argument that US sites see some perceived value from Indian traffic.

 

 
GE to report stock options as expenses. MSFT would do well to follow CA's and GE's lead, waiting for compulsory regulation would not help them retain their image as a leader.

 


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