The Legend of Laxman

Every cricketer is defined by his own unique character. I have been fortunate to have seen in action, the grit of Steve Waugh, the technique of Rahul Dravid, the style of Brian Lara and Saurav Ganguly and the brutality of Matthew Hayden and Sanath Jayasuriya. But what elevates Laxman to another plane altogether is that he has three of those defining characteristics in abundance. Maybe that is why we do not have any word to exalt him, as we do with Master Blaster or The Wall.

The first time I saw him with interest was in the Eden Gardens test against the Aussies in 1998. He was opening with Sidhu, and scored a 95, in an innings where the top 6 scored fifties, with Azharuddin scoring an imperious century. Remember, this was the time before the emergence of new India: they still played with three spinners at home with Ganguly sharing new ball duty with Srinath.

After that, he remained in the shadows until the glorious 167 at Sydney. Scored at breathtaking pace, this is an innings I love to watch, although India surrendered for less than 250. Then came the mother of all monumental innings – that knock at Eden Gardens that gave birth to the legend of Laxman. Here was a man unperturbed by the situation or bowlers, heralding the arrival of a new fearless India.

His 89 at Port Elizabeth during Sehwag’s debut series was a match saving innings, although it was in the first innings – India folded for 201 and Laxman had a 9th wicket partnership of 80 with Kumble. This was the first of many rescue acts involving batsmen of lesser calibre, who were inspired by the calm and panache of the seemingly soft man at the other end.

He is like a prodigious student at the end of his school life – tough exams such as the JEE bring out the best in him, igniting his brilliant mind into overdrive; and lesser school exams are too boring for him to expend his energy. He rarely makes wild guesses, but relies on his intuition at times. Laxman rarely slogs or hits out, and relies on the good judgement of the tailenders batting with him.

There are times when the Twenty-20 loving Indian public question the inclusion of technically sound and more importantly, stubborn batsmen in place of the dashers. They’ll realise their folly if they think of one man: Laxman.

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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!

Back to college in an eventful week.

It’s been quite a while since I have had the time to update my blog. The past week has been a pretty interesting one for me.

College kicked off last Monday for the new semester, and we had some fairly decent subjects and staff. I’m taking a C# course as an elective, and it sucks big time. I guess C and Python would be my favorites while I might do some coding using C++ and Java.  The labs we have this semester (only 2) are fun, what we call Jolly Labs, where you do something useful for half an hour and talk away the remainder of the time.

I finally got my Ubuntu One account, and immediately chose the 2GB free plan. I would evaluate it, and then when it is mature enough and distro-independent I’ll upgrade to a paid plan. I’ve also joined up with Saravanan to do something about Linux, and I’m learning something from him.

A few(very few, seventeen) of my classmates have chosen Natural Language Processing as an elective this semester, and we hear that no one else has chosen it for the past few years. I guess they saw the large syllabus and backed off, but they missed a lot. It is a very interesting area, and I just love it.

Seshadri finally came to college this Monday after a week’s holiday and he looks awkward without his spectacles. Guess it’ll take some time to get used to the sight if him without spectacles, but I’d have to stop poking fun at his eyesight. He’s a fine fellow, and a good friend. It’s great to see him back again.

Mozilla Firefox 3.5 was launched and it hits the competition for a sixer with the revamped and new features. It renders almost every page flawlessly, and a page I designed using CSS 3 worked only on Firefox versions 2 and above. TraceMonkey is real good, considering the speed at which I could use Google Docs. Firefox matched Google Chrome while typing text real fast, and beat it while opening and saving files. The most important feature I’d have loved to be in the specifications for HTML 5 is built into this version – open video and audio using Ogg Vorbis and Theora codecs. For more on my experiences with Firefox, look here: http://bit.ly/shiretoko_week

I had some trouble setting up a Drupal site on my local PC, but upgrading from 6.12 to 6.13 fixed it. I could not go past the database configuration page in 6.12, but after downloading 6.13 last night I created a small site in no time. I also learnt to back up and transfer a Drupal site to another host using a module. I must learn to do it manually by this month-end.

I’m looking forward to the Ashes and hope for a series like 2005, which is the best Ashes series I’ve seen. The first Test starts today, and I’ve bunked a few hours to catch the action. And I’m going to report on a couple of days at World Cricket Watch, my first matchday reports. The first Sri Lanka – Pakistan test surprised me. I was in class talking with my friends when the match would end, and how much Yousuf would score, but when I saw an update on my phone, SL had won! Now that is test cricket! Given a Test like this, and who wants T20?

Meanwhile in the cyberspace, rumours about a Google OS have finally become reality, according to a post in the official Google blog by Sundar Pitchai. I don’t see the need for another OS, whatever Google says about it. I think they’d better adopt a community project like Fedora and optimize it for whatever purpose they see fit.

Tata DOCOMO have launched their GSM services in my city, and I got a card. The voice quality is very good, but I’ll wait till enough people choose the network to see the quality. The GPRS charges are on the higher side compared to CellOne, and anyway I won’t be using DOCOMO regularly. It has the same status as my Reliance GSM connection, which I use sparingly.

That’s it for now, I’ll write more on all these matters as the events unfold.

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.