Wise and not so wise cracks

I’m quite notorious for my wisecracks or mokkais among my friends. Last week I had the chance to unleash some of my custom, spur of the moment mokkais. Here you go:

During the India – Sri Lanka final:

Me: Can you name Thilan Kandamby’s brother?

My brother : ?!?!?!

Me: Thilan Kaanadha Amby. கண்ட அம்பி x காணாத அம்பி

(Note: Kanda and Kaanadha are opposites in Tamil for have seen and unseen :P)

After Federer lost (Aargh….):

Why didn’t Federer win what would have been his 16th grand slam?

He did not come to Tamil Nadu to seek blessings after his marriage. People here bless: “பதினாறு பெற்று பெருவாழ்வு வாழ்க.” (Literally means: Get 16 and live a glorious life). Come here Fedex. You can get No. 16 and more!

On the college bus, listening to உன்னைப்போல் ஒருவன் songs:

Kamal’s next movies:

Unnaipol oru VAN

Unnaipol oru BUS

Unnaipol oru CAR

Unnaipol oru TRAIN

Unnaipol oru LORRY and so on…

An old one from Instincts 2008:

While checking the mike before the light music contest, someone : “check, check, check”

Me: “Come on man! Don’t you know chess, so many checks and no checkmate yet!”

Guys around me: “Why blood, same blood!”

I can predict the comments now: ஒரு நாளுக்கு நாலு மொக்க போட்டா நாலு பேரு காதுல ரத்தம் வரும்னா அந்த மொக்கய போடாமலே இருக்கலாம்

Linux Lingo @ SRM

An event named Linux Lingo was organised today as a part of SRM University’s tech fest, Aarush 2009. Myself and Mr. Ramadoss from NRCFOSS, Fedora Ambassasador conducted the event. Ramadoss introduced the students to the philosophy of free software and Stallman’s crusade against the imposition of proprietary software. He delved into the GNU philosophy and gave several examples to emphasise the concept.

He then talked about the open source community following which we demonstrated a Fedora 11 installation. We got a volunteer to install the operating system. The audience had several doubts about the install process, and we resolved them. For the fun of it we tried to install in Hindi once, but reverted to English finally.

After the demonstration, I spoke about the software available in Fedora, and then about a few basic command line utilities. It was followed by a talk on bash scripting.

The day ended with our answering a few questions from the students about open source, real IT revolution and choice of software. Over a hundred students participated in the event and were introduced to the free software movement. We thank the coordinators of the event, Shiv Deepak, Vipul Jain, Anisha Kaul and Prakhar Agarwal for the enthusiasm they showed in organising this event.

Paradigm 2009 Rocked!!!

Well, the tech fest of our department was on September 5, and it was simply mind blowing. We saw 5332 registrations, a new record and the online events were such huge hits that we had around 20,000 hits on the online event pages. Paradigm 2009 truly rocked, eclipsing all others of its ilk. Our online presence was unparalleled (Yeah, some people’s online presence was not their own in the first place!) The online quiz was my event, and the first round was quite easy. For the second I went bonkers and set questions not normally expected of quizzers, with some out of the box (mokka!!) skills needed.

Many people have been asking about the answers to the two rounds, and here they are:

Paradigm 2k9 Online Quiz – Round 1

ROUND 1 ANSWERS:

1. Pakistan. The list of India’s opponents in the inaugural World T-20.
2. Rocky, Chuck Wepner
3. Lock and Key – Dindigul and Robert Key
4. Bombay University – All are graduates of the varsity
5. Intel – Ajay Bhatt and Gordon Moore
6. Ubuntu – Jackalope and Koala
7. Sherlock Holmes – Jeremy Brett and Rodert Downey junior
8. Holmesian Deduction using Modus Ponens

Paradigm 2k9 Online Quiz – Round 2

Now to the more diabolic(is that the right word?) second round answers:

1. The Google Chrome browser development team. Source: September 2009 issue of Linux Journal:) My favourite magazine.
2. Hardy ( Hardy Boys creator Edward Stratemeyer and G.H.Hardy(Ramanujan))
3. Postgresql – ITU, ETS and Database
4. Python – Python creator, Guido van Roosum and the only female artist in Monty Python
5. Ignobel prizes –Sanders Theatre, Harvard & MIA(for Paper planes, the tradition now stopped)
6. APOEL – A football club in Cyprus in the UEFA Champions League. APOEL stands for ‘Athletic Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia). Athletic Football Club – Charlton Athletic; Greeks – Zeus; Nicosia – Nicotine
7. Strawberry – The album cover for the Strawberry Fields Forever single by The Beatles and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida album has a track Strawberry Swing.
8. Iron Maiden – Both are pictures/engravings in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Murders at the Rue Morgue.

I hope the standard of quizzing was up to scratch. And we had this General Quiz on the event day, where Hari whackily signed off asking his own name. And guess the answers? All in all Azhaguraja, Mr. Bean, Vadivelu, Comedy Boy, Mr.Smile and so on. The finals was funny, with some humourous answers coming our way. In the end two cocktail teams(means all the members were from different colleges) won the first two places. Two from the winning team also won an XBox 360. Congrats guys!

We hope Paradigm rocked as it does every year. We only hope that brand Paradigm will grow in stature and become one among the premier events in the country.

When open is not open, and reviving a hard disk

I was doing some work on OpenOffice.org when I saw the term Microsoft Office Open XML(OOXML) on a site and was duly shocked at this openness, then it struck me that I had heard someone talk about this format(at a FOSS event in college) and Microsoft’s attempt to get it ratified as an ISO standard. I wondered if they had managed to buy people out, and unsurprisingly they had. I don’t have anything against the corporation, they develop some good looking (don’t get me started on the performance) software and good hardware. What I don’t believe in is the abuse of their position as an established and respected company. If you want your format to become the industry standard so badly, try to make it better than the current benchmark, which still is the Open Document Format. I do not see any advantage of OOXML over ODF, be it file compression, compatibility, uniform implementation etc. The previous document format, .doc was fine, but was not compressed enough.

If Microsoft was so particular on using an Open format, they could have adopted ODF. Why can’t you? Star Office is commercial, and uses ODF, so there’s no stopping Microsoft from using it. The only advantage of OOXML is that it is supported by the office suite with largest user base, Microsoft Office. The argument no longer holds water, since Office 2007 supports ODF from Service Pack 2 onwards. This unethical buying of approval is what makes me dislike MS. I still respect Bill Gates as a messiah of the personal computing revolution, but I am no longer reliant on MS software. I have the freedom of choice courtesy Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall, Guido van Roosum and numerous other people who have made the world of open source heaven.

A rather interesting thing happened this week. A friend’s external hard disk had gone berserk and wouldn’t open in XP or Ubuntu. Saravanan(A genius, an RHCE and a linux freak/geek all rolled into one person! ) and myself helped him out, but it didn’t work out. So I got his hard disk home yesterday and set down to work. I booted up my favoured OS, Fedora 11 and it detected the disk but did not display the contents. So I got into a virtual terminal and force mounted it and voila, everything was normal. I copied all data to my hard disk, formatted the external drive and then copied back all the data. It worked fine on Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE, XP, Vista and Seven. This is another advantage of using open source software such as Fedora. It helps you solve others’ PC troubles and yours too!

I went to a research conference Dhi Yantra 2009(means Intellectual Machine in Sanskrit) which focuses on High Performance Computing and Human Brain Modeling(I’m more interested in the former). Today was the first of the three days. It was an illuminating experience listening to people like Dr. Murali Murugavel from from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and several other WARFT alumni and research trainees. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions which are to concentrate on supercomputing. Dr. Rupak Biswas, who is Acting Chief, Supercomputing Division, NASA Ames Research Center; Dr. Rajesh Kasturirangan, Associate Professor, National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) Bangalore and Research Scientist, MIT, Boston and a few others will deliver their keynote lectures over the weekend.

The Ashes test seems to be going Australia’s way after a long partnership between Katich and Ponting. I wonder why Harmy is not playing, he could have changed the course of this game. If Aussie selectors were fools in dropping the crazy diamond Symonds, their English counterparts are fools on a higher plane. Here’s hoping England get back into this game, and have a nice weekend ahead!

Chinese government using pirated software?

We all know that software piracy is rampant, especially in developing countries. Among the larger nations, China must be the largest consumer of such illicit products. A new development is the regulation that a particular screening software named Green Dam Youth Escort must come pre-installed on all systems sold in China. The regulations come into force in a fortnight’s time from July 1. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said:  “The purpose of this is to effectively manage harmful material for the public and prevent it from being spread….. The Chinese government pushes forward the healthy development of the internet. But it lawfully manages the internet.”

There is a limit to what the responsibilities of a government are. An initiative to remove all sex-screening ads from Indian search was laudable, for it helped fight the evil of female infanticide. But what is happening in China and has been happening for long now, is cyber dictatorship. You cannot browse any site that the government says you should not.  Mr. Qin Gang added the software would filter out pornographic or violent material. There is no clear definition of those terms, so I wonder what all the fuss is all about. The internet is a source of knowledge, good and not so good, and it is left to the user’s discretion to decide between what to use and what to ignore. This type of patronising attitude on the government’s part is worrisome in that the users have no choice but to follow whatever the government does. We very well know bloggers who do not agree with the communist philosophy are sent to solitary confinement, and these bloggers have been intellects like professors and teachers.

Now to the point, the software named Green Dam Youth Escort is not actually their own product, but the rip-off a child internet safety software, Cybersitter made by a California based company Solid Oak.

“If China had gotten hold of free pirated copies of Microsoft’s Windows and told Dell and HP to put this on all computers you ship, you would hear a loud outcry. China has a very loose interpretation of what is intellectual property,” said Mr Brian Milburn of the Santa Barbara based company.

According to the BBC the company is contacting Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other computer makers to stop the compromised material from being shipped. Chinese programmers vehemently deny these facts, but cannot hide behind their veils these days. After all, the Chinese have reverse engineered Russian warfare technology, rebranded it and proclaimed it as their own. That is surely not indigenous, sir! It is plagiarism, and an act of theft committed knowing full well that you are making fools of the Russians who sold you that defence equipment.

I believe that this is the first instance of a government promoting use of pirated software, throwing to winds international laws on intellectual property rights.

Linux outgrows itself!

A few moments before I began typing this, I checked out the Ubuntu Free CD request page to see if I could order Jaunty Jackalope (that’s the code name for Ubuntu 9.04) which was released yesterday. Lately my torrent client has stopped working since I bought a new router, and I did not want to increase the load on HTTP/FTP servers. So I went to the Ubuntu Free CD Request Page, to see if I could order a CD online. Surprise, surprise! The site was offline and this was what I beheld:

Ubuntu's Free Media Page Offline!
Ubuntu's Free Media Page Offline!

Now this is the first time I’ve seen this page taken offline. So it’s clear that Linux, specifically Ubuntu is making a dent in the mainstream desktop OS market, which has till date been monopolised by, you know what that thing is, yeah, Windows. A major story that has been making news this week is the dip in sales for the Redmond based Microsoft, the big daddy of software manufacturers. This can be due to fall in PC sales, but another factor that may go neglected is that Linux based operating systems such as Ubuntu have been replacing Windows slowly. They may never overtake Windows in the desktop space, but they present an alternative, free to tweak as far as you take it, to Windows.

I’ve been using Linux on my PC for the past three years now. The first distribution I tried was openSUSE 10.1 in September 2006. I was amazed at the eye candy and the speed. Yeah, it was cooler than Vista or Aero, and ran on a quarter gigabyte of system memory! I’ve since used many other distributions, but the images of my PC performing faster than I could ever dream of, and those marvellous visual effects, will remain etched in my memory for long. I can’t say Linux is perfect, though. Out of the box (as soon as you install it and run it the first time) many essential features may be unavailable. These are mostly audio-video support, driver support (that’s no more an issue now, Vista is worse than Linux in device support) and some small quirks (such as where the hell is office!). But these do  not bother me at all. I’m patient enough to download and compile/install all these packages. Many are not, so I suggest you take a look at Sabayon 4.0(I’m using it right now, and its a breeze to install. Only quirk for the new user: compiling from source, although many packages are available as binary installers these days.) This is an awesome distribution, breezy and easy to  use. I wish there was more awareness about this alternative to Windows, so that people who cannot afford the money to buy shareware could benefit from this new wave. Yeah, for the cost of a Windows licence(5000+ rupees) one can feed a child for two months. So I think this is the time for a new revolution to make knowledge accessible to all.

Who’s the Fake IPL blogger?

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo in the internet over a fairly new blog, Fake IPL Player that is supposedly written by a member of the Kolkata Knight Riders IPL franchise. Even the venerable Cricinfo has an article about this blog. Now this blog certainly makes for interesting reading. The author leaked that Dada would not open the innings in their first match.  And yes, Gayle and Mccullum opened the batting in that match. So this blog looks pretty authentic. And there’s more interesting information on the midnight antics of many cricketers and commentators. It seems that Warne got 3 women into his bed after losing his team’s opening rubber and the opening ceremony. And his team didn’t practice the next morning either. Well thay didn’t need to, because they had not a match on that day and even if they practice they’re gonna be in the bottom three.

Now we come to the main question, the identity of this mysterious blogger. He says that the KKR management had shortlisted four young players whom they suspected of writing the blog. But it seems that his name was not on the list. Another fact that I used in my theorising was that he talked about Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli. Says he, “We have played against one another for a few seasons. I think he deserves to be in the Indian side. Definitely ahead of that Virat Kohli whom nobody likes in the domestic circuit.” I was thinking that it could be that Delhi batsman Akash Chopra, but ruled him out since he could not have playes against Shikhar Dhawan.

Then I read another post, where he says, “The word I heard a lot as I was growing up in Cal. ” So I confirmed he was a Bengal player. I went through the profiles of Bengali player in the KKR team who were born in the City of Joy, shortlisting Ashok Dinda, Sourav Ganguly(Yeah, the Lord!),  Saurasish Lahiri and Laxmi Ratan Shukla. These were the only players who I think are in SA with the team. Since the blogger speaks of domestic cricket, Dada is out of my list. That leaves three players.  The blogger also says, “And if the team’s 16th man like me can get affected by this, I am sure the others are getting severely affected. “, in a post where he laments about Dada’s removal from captaincy. So I guess the guy is Saurasish Lahiri. Or it could be anyone else. This is only my deduction. I’ll also write about my view on the IPL, but that’s for another post. Till then, ciao.

Is technology in cricket a burden to the game?

“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” is an oft-quoted remark in Software Engineering. The same holds true in many other realms, including the rules of cricket. Of late, we’ve seen many new rules coming into effect for the sake of introducing new technology. In this article, we’ll delve into this development that has fuelled many debates.

In this era of technological advancement, where technology has pervaded every aspect of our lives, cricket has remained among the few sports that have resisted the urge to adopt technology to a large extent. But this scenario is changing and changing fast. Over the past three decades, we have been witness to the slow and sometimes controversial adoption of technology in cricket.

With the advent of Kerry Packer were born the concepts of night matches, entertainment during breaks and television coverage. For the first time since the fifteenth century, cricket was being – as some called it – monetized. About the same time as India won the World Cup in 1983, the introduction of colour television helped bring about a sea change in the way the game was played and viewed. White balls were introduced, coloured clothes were introduced for the shorter versions and the game became more spectator oriented.

The 1990s saw further adoption of technology in the form of slow motion video. This was primarily used to aid the umpire in deciding on close appeals.Through all these advances in cricket technology, one aspect of the game remained unchanged – the sacrosanctity and authority of the umpire. We have been privileged and honoured to see one of the greatest umpires in cricketing history – David Shepherd. Umpires of his ilk, such as Dickie Bird are still revered by many. Theirs are names that evoke respect in players and followers of the game alike.

But in recent years, technology has been introduced that supersedes the authority of the umpire. The International Cricket Council, earlier the Imperial Cricket Conference, has been experimenting with rules that allow for technology to be used in case the players do not agree with the umpire’s decision. Among the technologies available are:  Snickometer to detect faint edges, hawk-eye to measure and predict ball trajectory, hotspot to check ball or bat impact. The ICC rules allow only for non-predictive technologies. For example, in a leg-before decision, the umpire can see the trajectory of the ball till its point of contact with the pad/bat. Technology is available that can predict the path of the ball beyond this point, but no one can ever predict the path of a cricket ball due to its unique shape and aerodynamics.

The introduction of these new rules by the ICC has fuelled many debates regarding the status and authority of the umpire. Cricket is among the few sports that can claim to be steeped in tradition from the sixteenth century since the creation of the Hambledon Cricket Club in 1598. Cricket has always been regarded as a gentleman’s sport, and central to this status are two clauses:

1. Respect for the rules and the opposition players.

2. The sanctity of the umpire.

The first clause is almost always adhered to, and rarely do we see anyone show disrespect for the rules or his opposition players. But the second clause stands the risk of being offended by the continually diminishing authority of the umpire that has been the handiwork of the ICC. Due to these new rules, players frequently question the umpire’s decisions and dent his authority that has been a cornerstone of cricket over the centuries. So it is high time that the ICC take a call on whether to maintain the gentlemanly status of cricket or to modify rules for the sake of technology. Bob Dylan’s lines hold true here:

For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Cricket can lose out on adopting technology, but the traditions of this wonderful game shall be carried forward for many more centuries to come.

The author is a student of Computer Science and Engineering at SSN College of Engineering, Chennai.

Microsoft dive into social networking, or do they?

Researchers at Microsoft plan to release soon, a search engine to test their latest technologies. This site will be separate from Live search, that is already offered to customers. The site named Viveri for now is currently still being developed. This site was among the new products at Microsoft TechFest 2009 on February 24. Some of the features of Viveri might be ultimately be integrated into Live search, but for now the development threads are not being merged.

 

Viveri URank -  snapshot of the sign-in page.
Viveri URank - snapshot of the sign-in page.

 

 

Researchers will have a new way to test their newly discovered concepts and get feedback from the users, without the need to add them to Microsoft’s mainstream search engine.  Among the features  shown today was one that automatically puts results from niche search engines in modules next to the main search results. 

Says a Microsoft Research software architect Robert Rounthwaite: “Most people are not going to want to have their lives interrupted by the latest wacky idea we have, but some people will, and their feedback will help us figure out which ones aren’t so wacky.”

Microsoft currently holds a 9 percent market share in Internet Search in the US, and it remains to be seen if Viveri can help improve on that figure. But Rounthwaite analogises it to concept cars used by carmakers to show the public what their future cars might, or might not look like. For a useful tip on using this search engine, goto the URank blog.

Google phone with new Android firmware launched.

This year’s edition of the GSMA Mobile World Congress at Barcelona has seen only one phone launch as of this writing, and it is a Google phone! The new phone, HTC Magic was

The hTC Magic, unveiled at GSMA Mobile World Congress 2009, Barcelona.
The hTC Magic, unveiled at GSMA Mobile World Congress 2009, Barcelona. Image source: BBC

unveiled by Vodafone. It has updated Android firmware, named “Cupcake”. This touchscreen(isn’t that obvious!) phone has a 3.2 MP camera, Wi-Fi and GPS.  It does not, however have a slide out keyboard.  This phone will contain the on-screen keypad from the Cupcake firmware.  The Android Market, Google’s competition to Apple’s iPhone App Store, currently has over 800 applications. This is where users can get applications, currently free, for their Android phones.

Another interesting development over the week has been that the Android Market could be opened up to commercial applications, which will make it more popular among developers. This means that more applications for the Android framework can be anticipated. It remains to be seen if this phone can be a worthy competition to the iPhone. I presume it’ll take a few more firmware revisions and better acceptance from manufacturers before the Android platform truly takes off.

The HTC Magic will be on sale in the UK,  Germany, Spain and France as a Vodafone exclusive phone. It’ll also be available soon in Italy non-exclusively.  The phone won’t accept standard headphones as it uses a proprietary jack. It comes pre-loaded with several Google applications such a Maps, Mail and Search. Pricing details are not yet available but it is estimated to go on sale at around 150 to 200 euros, remember it it launched by Vodafone Europe. And no, it won’t be available in India anytime soon.