Archive for 2008

[2008-12-25] “Dimensions”

I came across the "Dimensions" video via Reddit. It tries to help you visualise four-dimensional objects via their projections onto ordinary three-dimensional space. If you have even the slightest interest in mathematics, you should check it out. You can either view it on-line or order a reasonably-priced DVD. The video is about two hours long.

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[2008-12-20] Decision Tables

I still see a lot of code with complicated if-then-else conditions that can be simplified quite a bit by the simple technique of using decision tables. A decision table is a compact yet exhaustive way of encoding conditions and the actions to be taken under those conditions. The rows and columns of a decision table denote the conditions and the cells denote the actions. Since it simplifies complicated conditional logic, it can make your code a lot easier to maintain and a lot less error-prone.

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[2008-12-19] “God Is Not Great”

“God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens might well become the little red book of modern antitheism. The roughly 350 pages in this book are an erudite exposition of its subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything”. The book seeks to show that it would do modern society a lot of good to get rid of religion. If you are an atheist, you will find a lot of reaffirming material in this book. If you are religious, this book might rekindle some of the suppressed incredulity you probably felt when you were first introduced to your particular dogma.

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[2008-12-14] “You Can Leave Any Feedback You Want...”

"...as long as it is good." This seems to be the unwritten instruction on feedback forms handed out to diners by many restaurants in the city. If you thought that such forms help a restaurant to improve itself by taking the feedback of its customers into account, you are apparently mistaken. Such forms are seemingly designed only to stoke the egos of the restaurants' owners and managers. A couple of recent incidents have led me to this conclusion.

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[2008-12-08] “The Black Swan”

“The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a follow-up to his last book “Fooled by Randomness”. A Black Swan is a completely unforeseen event with significant consequences. It could be the sudden crash of the stock market after a prolonged bull phase or the unexpected success of a book by a previously-unknown author. The term refers to the shattering of the long-held idea of a swan always being white by the sighting of black swans in the newly-discovered land of Australia. The book is a warning against using induction to derive conclusions that are then prone to Black Swans.

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[2008-11-20] “The Design Of Everyday Things”

As I struggle with opening a fruit-juice pack by tugging at its inconveniently-placed pastic ring (that hurts your finger if you pull it too hard or for too long) or try to open a cola can by trying to get my thick finger under the metal ring that is placed too close to the surface of the can, I think to myself: “Who designs such things? What were they thinking?” In “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman I find a kindred spirit who is frustrated by the apparent lack of thought put into the design of most of the things around us and who suggests several ways of improving such designs.

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[2008-11-18] “Fooled By Randomness”

It is not easy to put “Fooled by Randomness” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb into one of the standard book categories like “Business” or “Science” or “Philosophy”. This is because the book is about all of these and more. The main message of the book is that humans have an innate tendency to overlook the randomness of most of the events in their lives and they must learn to recognise this. Chance plays a much greater role in our lives than we are willing to believe. The success or failure of a person depends a lot on luck as well as the usual suspects like skills, hard work, risk-appetite, etc.

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[2008-10-16] EOF on the DDJ Subscription

I have let my subscription to Dr Dobb's Journal (DDJ) expire, even though I liked the magazine a lot.

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[2008-10-13] Indian Edition of the Purple Dragon Book

After a long wait, the low-priced Indian edition of the Purple Dragon Book ("Compilers: Principles, Techniques and Tools", 2nd Edition, by Alfred Aho and others) is finally available in bookshops. The ISBN for this edition of the book is 9788131721018.

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[2008-08-28] “The Undercover Economist”

“The Undercover Economist” by Tim Harford attempts to explain some of the basic principles of economics using a jargon-free language that is easy to understand for the lay person. He provides several examples of these principles at work in our day-to-day life. Peppered with his great sense of humour, this book is an extremely interesting and insightful read.

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[2008-08-19] Investment Basics for Indians

My colleague Ryan stumbled upon a nice guide that explains the basics of equity and debt investment for Indians. It is available via the web-site for the National Stock Exchange (NSE) as the study material for the "Financial Markets (Beginners)" module of its certification programme.

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[2008-08-17] “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows”

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is the seventh book in the “Harry Potter” series by J. K. Rowling. At least as of now, this book is supposed to be the final book in this series. So it was natural for me to wonder before picking it up whether it would provide a closure and a satisfactory resolution for this saga.

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[2008-07-17] ICFPC 2008

I participated in the ICFP contest again this year. The task this year was to write a programme that guides a rover on the planet Mars towards its home base within a time-limit of 30 seconds, while avoiding boulders, craters and hostile Martians. The rover would get telemetry data from its sensors (which could see over a very limited portion of the terrain at a time) roughly every 100 milliseconds. As usual, we were given 72 hours to solve this problem. As it turned out, I encountered an unexpected problem during the contest and my final submission turned the rover into a "buggy", if you get the drift.

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[2008-07-02] Major Programming Contests This Month

There are a couple of major programming contests coming up this month. The first one is the ICFP Programming Contest 2008 (11-14 July). The second one is the Google Code Jam 2008 (qualification round on 16 July).

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[2008-06-15] Firefox 3

I have been using the release candidates of Firefox 3 on Linux for some time now. The experience has been quite good so far. I would encourage you to try it out for yourself - in fact, download it on the 17th of June and help Mozilla set a world record.

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[2008-06-02] “Atonement”

I was tempted to read “Atonement” by Ian McEwan after having watched the eponymous film based on the novel. The film was good, but a novel has more space to develop the characters and present their thoughts. The downside of having watched the film based on a novel before having read it is that it constrains your imagination to be based on the scenes and the actors in the film.

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[2008-05-24] ACM

I received a mass-mailed letter this week from the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) asking me to join it. The ACM is an organisation of computer scientists and professionals. It publishes several magazines, journals and newsletters related to computer science and engineering. It organises conferences, has several Special Interest Groups (SIGs), conducts programming competitions and provides a network for seeking jobs. The ACM Bangalore chapter in particular has been quite active in recent times.

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[2008-05-22] “Granta 100”

Granta is a quarterly magazine dedicated to new writing. It usually contains a motley collection of fiction, essays, photographs, poems, etc. Granta 100 is a special issue celebrating the 100th edition of this magazine featuring contributions from the likes of Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Doris Lessing, Hanif Kureishi, Ian McEwan, etc.

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[2008-05-18] Electronic Book Readers

As I have lamented before, I do not have access to a well-stocked and conveniently-located library here in Bangalore that lends books at reasonable rates. The alternative of buying all the books that I want to read is not just an expensive proposition - I also do not have enough space in my home to stock all such books. For some time now, I have been eyeing electronic book readers as a solution to this problem. It looks like I will very soon (but not quite yet) be able to get such a device at an affordable price.

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[2008-05-12] Disenfranchisement

I went with great enthusiasm this 10th of May to the nearest polling booth to cast my vote in the current elections here, only to discover that I could not vote since my name was not present in the voters' list. This was despite the fact that I had a valid Electoral Photographic Identity Card (EPIC) issued just a couple of years ago. My name just does not appear in the revised voters' list that was drawn after the recent delimitation of constituencies in Karnataka. I had to come back home disappointed.

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[2008-05-08] Dr Dobb’s Journal

I have had a subscription of the print edition of Dr Dobb's Journal (DDJ) for a little over six months now. This renewed relationship with my favourite professional magazine has been a mixed experience so far.

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[2008-04-29] A Non-Cellular Organism

Granta is a quarterly high-quality literary magazine that attempts to showcase some of the best "new writing" in English. It has had a decent record in recognising some of the best young novelists before they became famous. It recently published a celebratory 100th issue with contributions from the likes of Martin Amis, Doris Lessing, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, etc. Naturally, I had to have it.

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[2008-04-29] “The Calculus Wars”

In “The Calculus Wars”, Jason Bardi writes about the bitter fight in the beginning of the 18th century between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz over the right to be known as the inventor of calculus. Since this episode paints an extremely unflattering picture of the two great men, it is either ignored or only mentioned in passing by most authors writing about the history of mathematics.

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[2008-04-06] Stop Taxing the Interest from a Savings Account

It is utterly unfair for the Indian government to impose an income tax on the interest earned by an individual on a savings account. The government merely adds insult to an injury caused by low rates of interest, lower effective yields and high inflation.

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[2008-03-18] A Dismal Quest

I am looking for a good introductory book on economics to teach myself the basics of this dismal science. From the little I know about it, I have come to realise how important it is in helping one make sense of much that happens in the modern world. I am looking for a book that systematically provides a comprehensive introduction to the principles of macro-economics and micro-economics.

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[2008-02-10] “The Little Book That Beats The Market”

With a title like “The Little Book That Beats the Market”, this book might appear to be peddling nothing more than snake oil to gullible people looking to make money from the stock market. It still merits a look since the author Joel Greenblatt is a respected value investor and a professor, who started and managed the hedge fund Gotham Capital that achieved an average annual return of 40% over more than 20 years.

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[2008-01-27] Web-site Slightly Reorganised

I have once again slightly reorganised this web-site in order to make it a bit faster to load, a bit easier to use and a lot easier to maintain. Among the major user-visible changes are a web-site feed, per-post pages, lighter aggregating pages and a web-site-specific Google search.

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[2008-01-05] A Taste of Haskell

"A Taste of Haskell" was a tutorial given by Simon Peyton Jones during the OSCON 2007 conference. It introduces programmers to the Haskell programming language using the xmonad window manager for X. The complete video of the tutorial is available in two parts (Part 1; Part 2; about 798 MB in total) and lasts for about three hours. The slides for the tutorial are also available (PDF; about 7 MB; 119 slides). The first time I read about this tutorial was in a post on Jao Ortega's blog. I have been meaning to check the video out ever since, but only now have I been able to finish watching it completely.

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