Archive for 2009

[2009-12-27] Hard Lines

I find myself agreeing with the author of the article "Good Novels Don't Have to Be Hard": a lot of "good" fiction in modern times is just too much work. It should not be too surprising to find many people giving up on it and moving on to simpler and more entertaining stuff. A struggle is not what I usually look forward to when I take up a novel during my precious free time.

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[2009-11-25] “Terror In Mumbai”

Mumbai was attacked by ten terrorists a year ago in an incident that has since become known in India as "26/11". The attacks were accompanied by hysterical, and at times quite misleading, media coverage here in India. The subsequent media coverage didn't get any better and was more often than not filled with pointless analyses. This was especially noticeable on television where the news channels would feature endless rounds of debates among the usual bunch of bickering "guests", none of whom would ever get to complete a point before being interrupted by another guest or the anchor. Thankfully there is now a documentary film titled "Terror in Mumbai", made by Dan Reed, that rectifies this situation. This film is a must-watch, but we don't know if/when it will be shown here in India.

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[2009-11-23] Google Chrome on Slackware

Google Chrome has been out for a while now, but only on Windows. There are pre-release Linux builds of Chrome, but they work out-of-the-box only on Ubuntu or Debian. As a Slackware 12.1 user, I couldn't therefore check out this browser and I was too lazy to build it myself. Fortunately for me, it turns out that the available builds can be made to work on Slackware with a little effort. Chrome turns out to be surprisingly usable and fast on Linux. That said, I'm not shifting from Firefox to Chrome yet, at least not right away.

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[2009-11-08] “The Story Of Art”

“The Story of Art” by E. H. Gombrich is a classic and popular book that charts the evolution of art through the ages. Using a plain language and written in a non-condescending style (sadly quite rare for the art books that I have seen in my life), it is a book that I wish I had read much earlier in my life. It would make a great gift for a teenager to gently initiate them into the wonderful world of art.

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[2009-11-05] “Paris”

“Paris” by Colin Jones is a history of the city of Paris, covering the period of about 2,000 years from its days as the Roman camp of Lutetia to the present. The author chronicles its rise to prominence as one of the greatest cities in the world and a major centre for art and fashion. He does not shy away from talking about the horrible attrocities of its past either. This is a book written by someone who clearly loves the city for what it is and what it has been.

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[2009-11-02] The Landmark Quiz 2009

I participated in the Landmark Quiz 2009 (Bangalore) yesterday on a lark along with a colleague and a remote acquaintance of his. Our team was appropriately named "Last Minute Line-up". We only managed to get 19 correct answers in the preliminaries for the 40 questions that were asked. We didn't make it to the finals, but it was fun watching the quiz.

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[2009-11-02] “Buyology”

“Buyology” by Martin Lindstrom is a book that purports to show that our subconscious drives our buying decisions in ways that we rarely suspect. Marketers can successfully sell products to their target consumers by understanding these factors; otherwise their campaigns are a waste of time, effort and money. The author tries to back these claims by citing the results of some studies.

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[2009-09-24] A Good Reader Indeed

I was looking for an application for the iPhone which could display PDF files on this device, especially those containing images, in a way better than that provided by the built-in support for PDF files on the iPhone. I stumbled upon an application imaginatively named "GoodReader" that does this job very well. It is not free, but at the current price of 99 cents (versus the usual USD 4.99), it's a bargain.

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[2009-09-23] PDF Manipulation Tools

I wanted to manipulate a few PDF files recently and was on the lookout for suitable tools. More specifically, I wanted to convert a few double-page PDF files (containing two pages of text on a single page) into single-page PDF files. I also wanted to drop some of the pages in order to have the files contain just the text that I was interested in. Fortunately for me, there are several freely-available tools that do the job well.

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[2009-09-12] “101 Essential Tips: Wine”

“101 Essential Tips: Wine” by Tom Stevenson is an introductory little book for those interested in wine. It is a copiously-illustrated book with easy-to-read text and is so small that it can be finished in just a single sitting. It serves its purpose fairly well, though the title is a little misleading.

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[2009-09-01] “Capital Gains”

The latest issue of Granta has an article by Rana Dasgupta titled “Capital Gains”. It talks about the huge wealth and power recently accumulated by a few in Delhi, their unabashed flaunting of this new-found wealth and power, their displacement of the previous elite who are now disgusted and the resulting class divisions in the society. It is a long article, but well worth the read.

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[2009-06-30] ICFPC 2009

I spent this weekend participating in the ICFP contest. This year the task was a series of problems of increasing difficulty in which we had to steer a satellite orbiting the Earth in order to accomplish various objectives. Like the task last year, it depended heavily on physics, mathematics, your knowledge of a particular domain and the stability of your numerical calculations, not to mention the need for the occasional compensating manoeuvre. It was fairly tedious and I didn't quite enjoy it as much as I did the tasks from some of the previous years.

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[2009-06-21] Up and Down

Are you better off if your investment first gains 10% of its value and then loses 10% or if it first loses 10% in value and then gains 10%? Many of us immediately tend to think that we're back to where we started in both the cases, but a little thought would reveal that we have lost money in both the cases.

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[2009-06-05] “An Introduction To Database Systems”

“An Introduction to Database Systems” by Christopher J. Date is a classic text-book on database concepts by one of the foremost writers and thinkers in the field. The book has been kept fairly up-to-date over the years by the author and includes topics like logic databases, temporal databases, decision support systems, object databases, object-relational databases, etc. Most of the book however concentrates on the relational data model and relational database management systems. This is not surprising since most of the popular database management systems today are based on this model and the author too clearly prefers this data model over all the others.

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[2009-05-31] Readability

I get to read a lot of articles on-line thanks to feeder web-sites like Slashdot, Reddit, Hacker News and Arts & Letters Daily. Many of these articles have web-pages that are very "noisy" in that they have advertisements, logos, unrelated links, snippets of arbitrary text, etc. In addition they often have uncomfortably small fonts and are broken into several short web-pages. These make it quite difficult to read such articles. Fortunately there is now a magic wand I can wave over them to make them more readable.

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[2009-05-20] Reynolds Liquiflo

It seems silly to gush about a pen on a blog, but I can't help it: the Reynolds Liquiflo pen seems to actually live up to its claim of having an "ink that glides on paper" and it's a delight to write with this pen. At just Rs 10, it's surprisingly affordable as well. It's the kind of pen that makes you want to write on paper simply for the pleasure of writing with it. I am tempted to keep an old-fashioned diary just to have an excuse for using this pen every day.

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[2009-05-17] “Computer Networks”

“Computer Networks” by Andrew S. Tanenbaum is a comprehensive text-book on the topic written by an author with many popular text-books to his credit. There are more than 800 pages in this book, though the prose is fairly accessible and peppered with the entertaining wit and sarcasm that is the hallmark of the author's text-books. Even though its 2002 vintage shows through every now and then, the book on the whole is fairly up-to-date and still quite relevant. It is therefore a great text-book from which to teach yourself about computer networks.

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[2009-05-10] Extreme Demos

One of the goals in creating a demo is to push hardware to its limits. With PC hardware getting more and more powerful, watching a demo on a PC is getting more and more underwhelming. Some demo coders seem to have decided to go back to minimal platforms where you can readily appreciate the effort and skills needed to produce the respective demo.

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[2009-05-05] Driving Directions for Bangalore

Some time back I noticed that Google Maps has now started provided driving directions for Bangalore (and some other Indian cities). This is a very useful feature if you live in Bangalore and wish to avoid its awful traffic as much as possible. It's invaluable if you are new to the city and trying to figure your way around it.

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[2009-04-19] “Operating System Concepts”

“Operating System Concepts” by Abraham Silberschatz, Peter Galvin and Greg Gagne is a text-book that teaches the basics of operating systems design. As is implied by the title, the book focuses more on the concepts than their implementation. Almost all the concepts that you need to know to appreciate the working of an operating system are explained here and illustrated with numerous case studies.

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[2009-03-30] “Computer Architecture”

“Computer Architecture” by John Hennessy and David Patterson is an advanced text on the subject that is a sequel to their other book “Computer Organization and Design”. The authors assume in this book that the reader is already familiar with the topics introduced in the other book and build upon these topics. Even then there is a fair amount of overlap among these books that is a bit irritating if you have only recently read the other book.

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[2009-03-20] “Computer Organization And Design”

“Computer Organization and Design” by David Patterson and John Hennessy is an introductory text on this subject for budding computer scientists and computer engineers. The field has been in a state of constant flux in recent times and this book serves as an excellent reference even for professionals, since its authors have kept it up-to-date with all the latest developments. The downside is that such a book becomes dated pretty quickly by its very nature, assuming the field continues its breakneck pace of development even into the near future.

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[2009-03-15] “Data Structures And Algorithms”

“Data Structures and Algorithms” by Alfred Aho, Jeffrey Ullman and John Hopcroft is a relatively-short introductory text for data structures and algorithms useful for computer programming. It covers a surprisingly-broad set of topics considering its size. It is fairly dated now but it still has all the essential data structures, algorithms and algorithm analysis techniques.

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[2009-03-01] The Tormentor

About ten years ago, I was assigned as a mentor for the "Data Structures and Algorithms" course in a boot camp for freshers who had joined the company that I was working for at the time. My task was to answer any queries that the students might have had about the concepts taught in the course and then to test their understanding by giving them a related assignment. Looking back at one of these assignments, I can understand why I was nicknamed the "tor-mentor".

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[2009-02-21] Color Junction

I came across an interesting and addictive puzzle game recently called “Color Junction”. It was created by Mihai Parparita of Google and is based on SameGame (formerly Chain Shot!) by Kuniaki Moribe.

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[2009-02-19] “Irrational Exuberance”

Robert Shiller (of the Case-Shiller housing index fame) is one of the few level-headed economists who have been able to recognise and point out market bubbles in the making and who have had the courage to stand by their analyses even in the face of ridicule. His book “Irrational Exuberance” became famous for calling out the stock-market bubble in the US when it was published in early 2000, just some time before the bubble burst. The second edition of the book has again been remarkable for pointing out the housing-market bubble in the US when it was published in 2005, though this time it took a little over a year since then for the bubble to burst.

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[2009-02-14] An Ideal Electronic Book Reader

As a bibliophile with a limited space to hoard dead-tree books and without an access to a well-stocked library, I would like to move on to reading electronic books on electronic book readers. However, I am holding off buying one of the many electronic book readers already available in the market since I feel that they still have some way to go. So what would I like to see in an ideal electronic book reader?

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[2009-02-10] The Kindle 2

As was widely anticipated, Amazon launched the Kindle 2 yesterday at an initial price of about $360. Though the new Kindle has many improvements over its predecessor (and some surprising regressions), it still falls short of what I wish for in an electronic book reader. Despite its shortcomings, the Kindle 2 provides a great overall package compared to other electronic book readers, but only if you live in the US.

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[2009-02-02] Jazz and Blues

This Saturday Anusha and I went for a jazz and blues festival organised by Radio Indigo. I liked it so much that I went back on Sunday as well. Five hours of great live music is not something to be missed.

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[2009-01-29] “We, The Bloggers”

Chyetanya Kunte dared to criticise Padma Shree Barkha Dutt of NDTV for her coverage of the recent attacks by terrorists on Mumbai. He had to pay for this by having to apologise and withdraw his post. His post seems to have irked NDTV into gagging him, despite their professed belief in “free speech and expression”.

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[2009-01-19] The End of DDJ

Just after my DDJ subscription ran out, I got to know via Herb Sutter's blog that DDJ will no longer have a print edition. The sad part was that the last print issue of DDJ had a big grammatical error on its cover page.

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[2009-01-12] The Return of Priya Ganapathy

Priya Ganapathy, one of the best radio jockeys that Bangalore has ever had, returns to Bangalore after a hiatus. She now hosts a programme called "Playback" on Radio Indigo (91.9 FM) from 9 AM to 12 noon on Sundays. She played a lot of good music on the first programme - as one of the callers to the programme gushed: "How do you know all of our favourite songs?"

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[2009-01-06] “The New Cambridge History Of India: Vijayanagara”

After our recent trip to Hampi, Anusha and I became quite curious to know more about the history of the Vijayanagara empire. Our high-school text-books on history barely touched upon the rise and the fall of this great empire that ruled over almost all of southern India for about three centuries beginning in the 14th century. We picked up Burton Stein's “The New Cambridge History of India: Vijayanagara” mainly because at about 150 pages it looked like a more manageable read than the other such books. It was also far more recent than the other books and therefore had a much better chance of incorporating the findings from recent research into this aspect of Indian history.

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[2009-01-01] Hampi

Anusha and I recently visited Hampi to take a short break. Hampi is what remains of Vijayanagara, the capital of the Vijayanagara empire. It is about 350 kms north of Bangalore and is famous for its splendid ruins. Many of these ruins are very well-preserved and are made of granite that is found in abundance in the surrounding hills.

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