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May 31, 2004

 
I saw The Day after Tomorrow over the weekend, largely because it's been ages since I saw a good ol' fashioned break-things-up disaster movie. This one had great eye candy, lots of great steadycam shots, a few good moments but overall very little impact. This is to be expected since climate change is very hard to boil down into simplistic cause and effect models: for example, while Day after Tomorrow largely deals with the North Atlantic Drift (which we know fluctuates), it fails to take into account other ocean currents, and aperiodic disruptive factors in those currents, such as El Niño.

(Mild spoiler ahead) Day after Tomorrow opens on the Larsen B shelf in Antarctica, where a massive sheet of ice splits away in the opening minutes of the film. Interestingly, in March 2002, about 500 billion tonnes of ice did break away from this shelf in a matter of weeks. While worrisome, the most reassuring result of this collapse is that it merely underlined (again) how little we -- Earth-firsters and SUV drivers alike -- know the complex web that makes up the climate of this planet.

 

May 27, 2004

 
Microsoft has Rational's developer toolset firmly in its sights with its updated Whidbey roadmap. Modeling, code analysis, testing and test management -- and even source control.

Yes, good ol' Visual SourceSafe is getting its guts ripped out and will be replaced by something codenamed Hatteras (aka Visual SourceSafe 2005) that I'm sure will finally be a real source control system offering from MS (too bad it'll only work well for Windows developers).

 

May 22, 2004

 
Way to go - Mil Millington of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About fame has published his second novel.

 

May 21, 2004

 
I saw this on Boing Boing and it's worth repeating: Hugo-Nominated Short Fiction for 2004 is available online. Especially recommended are
  • Jeffrey Ford's The Empire of Ice Cream - it's a shame to label this beautiful genre-defying story SF. It could just as easily be labeled romance, or even horror. If I were voting, this would get my vote.
  • Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald - I read this with no idea about the anthology in which it originally appeared, but the story stands on its own even if you know its premise in advance.
  • David Levine's beautiful, fable-like Tale of the Golden Eagle.
  • Vernon Vinge's hard-SF vision of escaping a Groundhog Day-like workplace: Cookie Monster.

 

May 17, 2004

 
Tavleen Singh in the Indian Express:
On the day of the election results, I happened to travel on a flight with a leading light of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. When I asked how he reacted to India having an Italian prime minister he spat out the word democracy as if it was poison. "This is what comes when you give illiterate, desperately poor people the vote." ... As for me, for the first time in my life I feel ashamed to be Indian.
Ms Singh's email address handily at the bottom of the page, I wrote to her (edited slightly here ):

--snip--

You wrote that "this is the first time [you] feel ashamed to be Indian." There is also Praveen Togadia's devastatingly revealing quote, "This is what comes when you give illiterate, desperately poor people the vote."

I wonder if your shame/pride in your country is purely a function of how much your countryfolk agree with your (presumably urban, upper-middle class) beliefs. I also wonder if Togadia would have been quite as contemptuous when these very desperately poor people voted him to power riding a Ram wave in the 90s. This attitude of the-unwashed-are-nice-only-when-they-agree-with-us appears hypocritical at best and fascist and venal at worst.

To be very fair, I am one of the those for whom India is probably shining, and, had the Election Commission not managed to keep my name out of the electoral rolls, I would probably have voted for the NDA. But, because I come from one of India's most economically backward states (Jharkhand), by merely visiting my hometown I knew that when faced with bad roads, no water, and little prospects for well-paying jobs, a hoarding that says "India Shining" would provoke anger not appreciation, and to the people there, the BJP spin-doctors who wrote such a slogan may well have come from another planet, as opposed to the Congress President who merely came from another nation.

I do not want to give you the impression that this letter is an unabashed apology for the Congress president. Frankly, I don't care [about her] one way or the other, and I firmly believe that my opinion carries no less weight than yours. But when you invoke the "people" -- as in, already, people have started talking about how embarrassed they are ...; wherever I travelled I asked people if they objected..; even people who voted Congress now say they would not... -- I feel it is worth remembering that there are people who are so far on their backs that for them the shining streets of Mumbai are as far away as the lights of Turin, and laptop-wielding spin-doctors more foreign than Italians in sarees.

--/snip--

I believe the foaming-at-the-mouth the "foreign origin" issue (examples here)invoked has actually help cement the urban/rural disconnect more than anything else. The BJP was People Like Us(tm), and now these barely educated so-and-so's have used their vote to take power away from them - Waaah!

Cry me a river. What a bunch of crybabies and sore losers.

Update: I found this comment from from Shivang on a ToI message board particularly telling:

To be an Indian is my birthright and Congress is doing nothing but trying to challenge my dignity of being an Indian. I will never tolerate any foreigner to sit on my head.

Shivang, Los Angeles, USA
I somehow feel the Indian voter had a slightly more prosaic view of what their 'birthright' entailed (for starters, clean drinking water and decent prices for crops), not some abstract concept of Indian-ness that a (comparitively) spoilt brat in LA has the luxury to think about.

 

May 13, 2004

 
Great quote on why the NDA stumbled in the elections: Wired: "What 'India Shining' are we talking about? We are dying hungry here," said Santram, a farmer just 45 miles from the gleaming new malls of the capital."

NDTV's Rajdeep Sardesai hits the nail on the head:

Ironically, its not as if the demanding Indian voter is expecting a dramatic change in life. Glossy ad campaigns can conjure up images of a farmer with a mobile but most Indian voters don?t see the mobile as the ultimate symbol of social mobility.

The Sensex may be projected as the ultimate barometer of economic well being, but not everyone is looking to become a member of the equity cult.

Yes, creating an aspirational society and capturing the excitement of the market economy is important, but ultimately most voters just want to feel that small changes are being made in their life that create hope for the future.

Which is why bijli, sadak, pani matter more even today than BSNL or a BSE for a majority of the Indian voters.

 

May 11, 2004

 
The Hindu Business Line had a story about the price of Gmail today. Among other things, they covered Gmail's privacy woes and how Gmail accounts are up for sale on eBay.

The curious thing is that most papers had covered this about a month back for the California Senator story (e.g. El Reg, Apr 13) and about two weeks back for the Gmail addresses on sale story (e.g. CNET, Apr 30.)

Why do The Hindu group newspapers feel compelled to give its readers yesterday's news, today? (This is especially true w.r.t science and tech news.) Which to my mind makes it even more amazing that this newspaper has an extremely passionate audience who will claim (as I have heard time and again) that their morning kaapi does not go down well if not accompanied by The Truth™ as written in the Old Lady of Mount Road.

What Chennai needs is a Telegraph/Asian Age style paper that'll rattle the Old Lady's petticoats, the way The Telegraph rattled The Statesman twenty years ago.

 

 
Google now has an official weblog.

The Blogger relaunch happened over Sunday night/Monday morning India time. Good new stuff include comments and post-level pages. The default templates are now glitzier. Categories and custom non-html templates would have been good to have, but it's not there yet. No RSS support either, for completely childish reasons (IMO if the Atom API is tied to Atom-the-format, it reeks of poor design.) And oh, the new interface is not as fast (speed and productivity) as the old classic interface, so could we please have the old one back?

 

May 09, 2004

 
New Blogger release on Mother's Day. Mm, RSS feeds would be nice to have.

 

 
Undocumented MSN Messenger (version 6.1.0211) ‘feature’: Shift+Ctrl+" toggles smart quotes in the Conversation Window. Unfortunately, not only does this completely undocumented keystroke not give any feedback to the user (and it's easy to press this by mistake while IMing away) but also breaks some emoticons: :'( produces a weepie [Weepie], but :‘( and :’( produce nothing.

 

May 07, 2004

 
On April 4 I wrote:
What'd really kick ass: a desktop app communicating over HTTP to my Gmail account (like Outlook Express communicates with Hotmail). Dredging through long conversations over a browser will not be fun, I assure you (anyone tried really long threads on Google Groups?).
...to which a couple of people have written over to say that they've been trying out Gmail's conversation view, which in their opinion is the greatest thing since sliced bread and is tons better than Google Groups' threads.

The problem here is one of UI scalability: newsgroups often have very large threads (100+ messages at 7+ levels of nesting are not uncommon) unlike personal email, where 25+ messages at 3 levels would be a big deal. Gmail's "flat" conversation view is ideal for personal messages, but it won't induce folk who subscribe to high volume mailing lists like india-gii or debian-user.

One other thing: Gmail should really consider a SOAP API to their compose interface. It is still far easier to send a message using Hotmail (using Hotmail's Outlook Express integration), complete with a decent editor for HTML email - something that the current Gmail beta just can't do yet. Of course, what'd be really good would be an IMAP/HTTPMail interface to non-archived email in one's Gmail account.

 


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