Monday, June 30, 2008


Linux distributions timeline:

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Interesting UI design:

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008


A useful site:

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Monday, June 23, 2008


A tabbed, pluggable alternative to Putty:

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Medicines and us.

Last year, i experienced the worst tooth-ache of my lifetime. I was at work and bearing it while working was an unforgettable ordeal . The pain was so much, that i was only semi-conscious. Generally, i do not go for a painkiller unless the situation goes too bad. That day, i finally took a Combiflam, and within a few minutes the pain subsided. This is magic!, i thought.

Then arose a curious question: How did the medicine know that i was having a tooth-ache ? What if i would have had a muscle pain ? Would it have worked ? Is the medicine 'intelligent' enough to go where it is needed, or is it our brain that redirects the medicinal chemicals to where they would be beneficial ?

Both of the options did not seem very feasible. It was something else, and in this case, it was not difficult to guess - the medicine probably goes everywhere. Although, i did not and do still not know much about medical science, this option seemed simple and logical. If this is the case, then a single painkiller should be able to reduce pain at different places in the body. This is a common experience. Many pain killers are documented to reduce 'body pain' in general, and are not targeted at pain in specific organs.

If we apply the same principle - the principle that, medicines spread all inside the body - to all kinds of medicines(not just pain killlers), then we come to a rather surprising and significant conclusion. If it works this way then, theoretically at least, there can be no drug in the world, without a side effect! Side effects as i understand are, nothing but effects produced by chemicals going where they are not supposed to go. But, if the medicine goes everywhere, side effects are inevitable. Then, how can any body promise 'side effects free' drugs ? May it be alopathy or ayurvedic or homoepathy(this might not have side effects at all, but does it have an effect in the first place? more on it sometime later...) , there ought to be some side effect.

Of course, all of the above applies to medicines administered interally i.e tabs, capsules, syrups etc. Locally administered drugs for eg. pain relief sprays, or balms or injections can have targeted effects, although i'm not 100% sure about their spread. The best way to avoid side effects would be to send nano-robots into our body and deliver medicines only where they are needed B-) Something of this sort was shown in a movie i'd seen a long time back. AFAIR, they do not have nano-things, but by using some technology they shrink humans down to a tiny size and send them into the blood stream in a (tiny)submarine or something :) It was a nice watch. Unfortunately, i do not remember the name of the movie right now.

Hopefully, we will have some technology developed in the coming future and we would have 'side effects free' drugs...

P.S: I'm not from the medical profession, all of the above is just a hypothesis of mine. Comments welcome. Corrections more than welcome!

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Extremely silly, but patented! -

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Saturday, June 21, 2008


A planetarium for your computer:

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Friday, June 20, 2008


Star Wars asciimation B-)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008


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Carrying the girl...

Tanzan and Ekido, two monks, were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross a large mud puddle stretching across the road.
"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple, then he no longer could restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females", he told Tanzan, "especially not young, lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"

"I left the girl there", said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"

This one is a beautiful koan and is one of my favorites.

We carry a lot of useless baggage in our mind which more often than not, makes our life less gleeful. It is better to drop off at the right time that what is unwanted. Continuous anxiety, fear, stress, worry or for that matter any negative thought is not good.

Here is the same stuff from above, put somewhat scientifically(from whatever little i know). Thoughts can trigger neurochemicals. Thus thinking can directly influence the health of the brain. Continuous anxiety and stress produced from thinking can disturb the feedback system in the brain which controls our responses to stress and emotions. This is not good.

The moral is - one should not carry the girl for too long...

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Found it useful - ajax based API help and search.

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Monday, June 16, 2008


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Sunday, June 15, 2008


Have been thinking about starting something like 'Link of the day' on the blog. Finally decided to do it. I'm planning to post one interesting link everyday about something. It could be anything, right from a youtube video to an IETF draft...

Here's the first LOD: A Tale of Four Kernels

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My favorite webcomics...

-xkcd and the Perry Bible Fellowship are two of my favorite comics on the web.
xkcd is immensely popular, especially among software professionals and geeks. One of my favorites from xkcd is the 'zealous autoconfig' one:

Perry Bible Fellowship is not a comic as such. The author depicts scenes which are sometimes comical, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes symbolic and sometimes even downright grotesque . But, I like the way he does is it. While reading PBF, subtleties become significant.

My favorite from PBF is this one: Transfer Patient

I just can't imagine how the author must have arrived at such a drawing for a serious subject like that. Taken to an extreme in the drawing, what he has conveyed is (unfortunately) true to some extent..

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Reverse engineeering the brain

Our brain is an extremely complex byproduct of evolution. After decades of research and centuries of thought(from Descartes to Pinker), a lot of questions about the brain still remain unanswered. Like - which is the best way to model a human brain ? Many attempts have been made to accomplish to task.

The brain is said to contain as many neurons as there are trees in the amazon and as many neural links as there are leaves on all those trees together! Simulating or creating a model of such a beast is, no wonder a Herculean task. Another big obstacle in doing that is - we still are not clear about exactly how some of the things work in our brain. A brain is often compared to a digital computer and the neurons to bits. But, the analogy is not quite exact. All the neurons are not at the same level of importance although functionally there are similar. Research shows that the neuron firings which earlier were thought to be strictly binary (on or off) can in fact be graded. The action potential can lie between the on and off voltage for some neurons for some time. This fact complicates matters, because now the neuron cannot be taken analogous to a binary digit while preparing the model. Apart from that, the firing depends on the inputs from hundreds or thousands of neurons connected to the firing neuron. The connections are not physical unlike in a digital computer. The connection is through a synapse, and the 'connector's are chemical rather than physical. A lot of complicated chemistry(and eventually physics) is involved in the whole process of making a neuron fire. Scientists say that, all that happens during this process cannot be explained by classical physics. Welcome quantum mechanics! If quantum mechanics comes into this picture, then naturally uncertainty and randomness are also in. It is indeed amazing that, with such a complex architecture inside, most of the brains continue to work well for decades! The brain (of course!) does what ever a turing machine can do. But, in addition to that it does what a classical turing machine cannot - generate new ideas! The quantum stochasticity in the brain is what is said to aid generation of 'new' ideas and that is why, in the big picture, the brain is a said to look like a quantum stochastic turing machine.

Simulating the brain by considering every neuron and every synapse is a work of a super computer, and a super computer indeed has been employed to do that work. A super comp based on the machine which beat the world chess champion - the Blue gene by IBM is being used to simulate the brain. The name of the project is Blue Brain. The project will take a decade to bear serious fruit. Nature took millions of years to build our brain, and we are trying to reverse engineer it in a few decades. Quite an ambition... :)

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Long Live My Prescott!!

My machine was behaving a bit erratically since the last couple of days. It would restart abruptly(happened twice while writing the earlier post ). So, i installed a temperature monitor and it was useful. The temperature was going a bit too high. So, i opened up the CPU and cleaned the motherboard, the RAM modules, fans and removed the CPU fan and heatsink from its mount. No wonder the temperature was rising, the fin gaps were full of dust and the layer of heatsink paste was too thin. After cleaning all the fins, i applied a layer of heatsink paste and put the heatsink back. Then, rebooted the machine and went straight into the BIOS to check CPU temp. Yikes! The temperature was 110° C now !! I immediately powered off the machine, and took a closer look at the mount, only to find that the base of the fins was not touching the processor properly at one end. Fixed that and found the temperature return to the normal 62-65 range.
I was one of the very early buyers of the Prescott. I bought it because i found the 'Hyperthreading' technology interesting, although it did not prove to be of any appreciable practical benefit. There was a lot of hype when Intel released the Prescott around 5 years ago. But, overheating was a major problem with the model . Mine is a 2.8GHz processor and has been working without any serious problem. I hope it lives for long... :)

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Ailing and Failing...

Since some time (a couple of weeks or so) i have started evangelizing a new idea. The idea goes in the exact opposite direction of the current trend. The idea is to use as small a harddisk as possible! Currently, 250+GB harddisks have become common. Many of the new machines are fitted with those. But, what i've learnt the hard way is - bigger the disk, bigger the data loss! It is better to use a small disk and 'flush' the content to optical media when the disk gets full. Recently, one of my HDDs failed without any prior signs of failure. Similar thing happened to my colleague's (Nikhil's) HDD at the office. Before lunch, it was fine. After lunch, gone.
Now, i'm using an 80GB disk(which also is quite a lot). I've stuffed it with movies and songs, so that, i do not have space to store downloaded stuff and photos and documents etc on it. That way, i'll have no option but to burn a DVD and make space for more data :) I know, this is as silly as keeping one's clock ahead to be on time :P But, this is the way i'm doing it right now. I do not trust magnetic media any more, especially the high capacity ones.
I wonder, how the likes of Google or Facebook or Rackspace maintain all their disks. Its a bit easier for Google or FB. Its their own data, and the servers are totally in their control. They can backup critical data whenever they want, or run SMART daemons to log disk health. But, what about providers like rackspace ? They cannot run backup cron jobs on their clients' machines. Too much of i/o or n/w traffic at an improper time can bog it down. I don't know how they deal with disk crashes. Actually, i'm curious about what their SLA terms are, when it comes to downtime due to disk failures.

From my experience, i would say that, the MTTF has reduced as the sizes of disks are increasing. My earlier drives were robust and lasted longer than newer, bigger ones, and some of my friends have a similar experience. Are companies cutting corners to keep the costs down ? Who knows ? The good part is, generally there are 3+ year warranties with the disks, so the consumer is not hit financially. The bad part of a disk failure is that, suddenly you are left without an OS. The worse part is that, you lose data. And, the worst part is that, your data goes into the hands of the company when you send your disk for replacement . If the disk has only had an electronic problem, then there is a very high chance that your data becomes accessible. Of course, the company will have rules regarding handling consumer data, but...

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Monday, June 9, 2008


Its been more than an year after i saw a movie in the theatre. Went with Tanmay and Pranav to see 'Valu' yesterday. I liked the movie. It is shot really well. Although, the movie does not have a strong storyline and, the story progresses really slowly, it was an enjoyable watch. The village folk is portrayed nicely. I enjoyed listening to the rural dialect of Marathi. I like the informality and straightforwardness in rural expressions. Girish Kulkarni ('जिवन्या') has acted really well in the movie. It was fun watching a movie in my mothertongue - Marathi. The last marathi movie i'd seen was 'लपंडाव' - around 15 years ago.

But, what made me nostalgic was a small girl sitting in the row behind us. I guess, she must be 6 or 7 years old. She was constantly quering her mother about the characters, dialogs, chases and jokes. At her age, some of the dialogues and jokes were a bit too much for her. As far as i remember, i too used to react the same way when taken for a movie. I wished to understand every thing that every one around seemed to understand and so, i would keep on asking my parents about whatever was going on the screen. They never failed to answer even the stupidest of my questions, inside the theatre and also outside. Each one of my doubts was cleared to my satisfaction. I think, it is not an easy thing to practice and, their patience has made a great difference to me...

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Not simple any more...

The dog simply lives. The cat simply lives. The crow simply lives and so do all the living beings on this planet... except the Homo Sapiens! We do not live simply.
For the last few tens of thousands of years we have not lived simply.
If you ask a scientist(esp. an evolutionary biologist) what is the ultimate aim of any living organism ? He would say: Reproduction. 'Reproduction' is just an abstraction over the word 'replication' when used in context of living beings. Technically, both mean one and the same. All the living beings live just to replicate and nothing else. It was the same with us, some time ago. But now, we humans have broken the billions of years long tradition of nature, and its an amazing fact that nature herself, over the eons has given us the ability to do so. Today, we do not live just for the sake of replication. Replication is no longer the (ultimate) aim of most of us humans. Rather, not to replicate is the aim of some individuals from our species! This is the power of our brain! We can choose not to do what every living organism on the earth has been created to do - replicate. Cats, dogs and others from the animalia can't drift from their way of life like we've done. They live to replicate, and do only the things which directly/indirectly facilitate it. That is why i call their life 'simple'. Sometimes, i think we have complicated our lives too much by the myriad of stuff we have created around us. I always wonder whether our ancestors living in jungles were happier than we are ...

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Kopy Kats

A few days ago, my primary harddisk literally smoked out! I saw white smoke come out from the disk. I was left OSless :( After living on (my favorite) Knoppix for a few days, i decided to install something on the other HDD. This was a nice opportunity to try out something for which i was waiting for eagerly - KDE 4.
KDE is my all time favorite window manager. Fedora 9(Sulphur) which was released recently, had KDE 4. So i downloaded the DVD and installed F9. Could not wait to see KDE4 and i logged in after booting into F9.
After entering the username-password, KDE4 kept me waiting for quite a bit of time. Old KDE was much faster, i thought. Finally, KDE initialized, and i could see the desktop. It reminded me of only one thing - the recent failed OS from Redmond - Windows Vista! The colour scheme, the taskbar, the start button - everything looked pretty similar if not exactly the same. This was certainly not what i'd expected. Poor KDE folks have copied from an OS which itself was a failure(and is said to have copied features from OS X). Still left with some hope, i clicked the KMenu, and even that turned out to be a direct imitation of Vista's start menu. The new menu sucks. With a lot of programs installed, you've to manually scroll the menu. To open a submenu, you've to click on it, mere hovering does not work. To return to the menu at previous level, again a click is necessary! What kind of HCI expert told them to do it this way ?? What helps a bit is the program search at the top in the taskbar (again, a direct rip-off from Vista). If you are, say three levels deep in the menu, there is no way you can directly return to the first level. You'll have to take one step at a time.
The desktop can be loaded with 'widgets' like it can be done in Vista(or OS X). KDE developers seem to have concentrated a lot on eye-candy, which IMHO is useless. Eye-candy takes time - both CPU time(cyles) and the user's time. How many times will you like to see a big 3D cube rotating everytime you press alt-tab, or windows that are consumed by flames when you close them ? Also, graphic effects make the system unstable (at least in KDE4). When i tried to enable some of them on my installation, KDE crashed for ever. I could not login using KDE. It started working only after i `rm -rf`ed the .kde directory.
With all the restructuring of the UI and code, i am not sure whether widgets for older versions of KDE would continue to work. A lot of developers had invested time in writing those.
Overall, K4 proved to be a big disappointment, at least to me. The features touted in release notes look inviting, the screenshots jazzy and the plasmoids powerful. But, does it really work that well ? Not in 4.0 IMO. KDE 4.1 was released a couple of days back, hopefully it is more usable and stable...

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