Thursday, October 30, 2008

Google SMS channels.

Google has launched an interesting service called SMS channels. A 'channel' is something like a mailing list for SMSes. The SMS sent through the channel is broadcast to all those who have subscribed to that channel. But, unlike a mailing list, you cannot reply to the SMS you got via the channel.
     Anyone can go to (for India) and subscribe to the already present 'channels' or create his own. The good part of the service is that - it is free :) The bad part is that, the delivery is not at all reliable(at least for Indian channels). I was planning to create a channel for us friends and use it to 'push' meeting times and other plans to everybody at once. But, i observed that the message might take from a few seconds to 12 hours to reach the reciever. So, the service cannot be used for such purposes. But, it is ideal for sending jokes and advertisements. Worth giving a try.
    You can also try out It is a service similar to Google's. I am subcribed to it for more than an year now and have got some nice jokes from them :)

PS: I've created a channel which will let you know about new posts on this blog. You can subscribe to it from here

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Monday, October 27, 2008

LOD 24

A useful site for converting files online and offline - YouConvertIt

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tracking laughs - laughing tracks.

I was watching 'Friends' on Zee Cafe the other day when, I realized that it isn't that funny. Of course, I like Friends and, Friends is by far, one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. Its screenplay and chemistry between the actors is unmatched. What i alluded to in the first sentence was, even though it is funny, it would not make one laugh/smile as frequently as it does, had it not been for the laughing tracks.

    Friends(among others) has laughing tracks all over the place! That day, as an experiment, i decided to consciously ignore the laughing track(LT from now onwards) and, take the joke(if there was one) at face value. Not to my surprise, most of the places where they've inserted the LTs, there is close to nothing to laugh about. At places where there is something, the LT was a bit long.
    I don't know who discovered(or should it be 'invented' ?) LTs, but its an extremely brilliant idea! The cost is close to nothing but, the results are appreciable. And not just that, most of us, most of the times, do not realize that we are being manipulated(or should it be 'forced' ?) to laugh. As far as i know, why a LT makes us laugh/smile is because of the fact that laughter is contagious. Not uncontrallably contagious, but contagious enough to be called contagious. We tend to laugh if, we see or hear others laughing. The important point is - even if we start laughing after looking at someone, we enjoy the laughter normally. What i mean to say is, there is no difference between 'imitated' laughter and original(for lack of a better word) laughter. So much is the effect that, one can start laughing against his/her will. This, I think, is the fact that is made use of, in playing a LT. I have experienced this while walking in a park where there was a laughter club. After hearing them laugh, i was about to start laughing(even though i did not want to) when finally, i changed my way. It takes quite a bit of will to stay away from laughter for long. That is why i was thinking of using 'forced' instead of 'manipulated'.

     Since the subject of contagiousness has come up, let me share a 'discovery' i made when i was probably in the 7th or 8th grade. The discovery was that - yawning is contagious. Sometimes, my mom/dad used to sit with me while i was studying; if i yawned, most of the times she/he yawned after me! I observed this many many times and later, i observed that i yawned if they did! I told my dad about my big discovery. Sadly, he already knew about it :(
    Many years later, i came to know that, this psycho-contagion is one of the effects of a certain neuronal assembly in the premotor cortex. This neuronal network is popularly known as 'mirror neurons'.

Very Offtopic PS: While i was reading the post before publishing it, i noticed that - in the second para, I had used 'place' to denote an instant of time! As if, to make the representation simpler, time was temporarily transformed into a continous strip of matter and, i could demarcate places(instants) on it. Of course, there is nothing great about that kind of usage, it is quite commonly used. To me, it seems analogous to Fourier and Z transforms which I tried to learn during my engineering days.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What is intelligence, anyway?

Here is an excerpt from Issac Asimov's autobiography (italics mine) -

What is intelligence, anyway? 

When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big fuss over me.
(It didn't mean anything. The next day I was still a buck private with KP - kitchen police - as my highest duty.)

All my life I've been registering scores like that, so that I have the complacent feeling that I'm highly intelligent, and I expect other people to think so too.
Actually, though, don't such scores simply mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the intelligence tests - people with intellectual bents similar to mine?

For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was.
Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles - and he always fixed my car.

Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an intelligence test.
Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or, indeed, almost anyone but an academician. By every one of those tests, I'd prove myself a moron, and I'd be a moron, too.
In a world where I could not use my academic training and my verbal talents but had to do something intricate or hard, working with my hands, I would do poorly.
My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of the society I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that society has managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such matters.

Consider my auto-repair man, again.
He had a habit of telling me jokes whenever he saw me.
One time he raised his head from under the automobile hood to say: "Doc, a deaf-and-mute guy went into a hardware store to ask for some nails. He put two fingers together on the counter and made hammering motions with the other hand.
"The clerk brought him a hammer. He shook his head and pointed to the two fingers he was hammering. The clerk brought him nails. He picked out the sizes he wanted, and left. Well, doc, the next guy who came in was a blind man. He wanted scissors. How do you suppose he asked for them?"

Indulgently, I lifted by right hand and made scissoring motions with my first two fingers.
Whereupon my auto-repair man laughed raucously and said, "Why, you dumb jerk, He used his voice and asked for them."
Then he said smugly, "I've been trying that on all my customers today." "Did you catch many?" I asked. "Quite a few," he said, "but I knew for sure I'd catch you."
"Why is that?" I asked. "Because you're so goddamned educated, doc, I knew you couldn't be very smart."

And I have an uneasy feeling he had something there.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Height of advertisement!

Here is a height of advertising - US presidential candidate Barack Obama advertised himself inside a game on Microsoft's XBox 360 gaming console!
Have a look at the image here -

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

LOD 23

A very interesting read about Apollo Lunar Module's software.

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Only 4 digits now!

The Indian stock market fell yesterday too, and it fell to an unimaginable level. The BSE30 (commonly known as Sensex) fell below 10,000! Its a four figured Sensex now. Too bad, really very bad. The Sensex today is available at more than 50% discount compared to its peak of 21,000 in Jan '08. It took 1 and half year to go from 10K to 21K and, hardly 10 months to go back to 10K. We are today where we were in July 2006!!
It was predicted some months ago the sensex would breach the psychologically important mark of ten thousand. But, it was only a prediction. There are so many predictions being told by so many 'experts' that one amongst them will always come to be true. It is like one expert saying it will be heads and, the other saying it will be tails. One of them will be correct no matter what.
People who have invested in Mutual Funds and direct equity have lost a lot. When the market was at 21K, it was predicted that the rally would take the market to 24K. No wonder, some people invested into the market at peak! It was just then when, the hyped Reliance Power IPO happened! The IPO was oversubscribed within the first minute of its launch!! When it closed down, it was oversubscribed more than 60 times, which means, Anil Ambani wished to generate only 11,600crore Rs from the public but, around 7 lakh crore Rs were generated! Most of the subscription was from stock brokers and institutional investors. But, how did so many of them manage to shell out so much money to subscribe to the IPO ? What they did was - they sold the stocks they owned to put money in the IPO. With such enormous selling, the market naturally fell. The market never saw a good day since :( And, the worst part is - Reliance power was listed at a much lower price than was 'predicted'. Today the value of the share is less than half of what it was sold in the IPO(including the bonus issued later). Too bad :( Of course, it was just a matter of events, i do not mean to say that Reliance guys had engineered things to happen this way...
After the subprime crisis hit the US hard, India too was not spared. FIIs took away a lot of their investments in the Indian markets and the markets fell further. Yesterday, Sensex and Nifty fell down breaking all resistances! Nifty broke the one at 3600 long ago, then 3400, then 3200, 3150 and even 3100. The Sensex yesterday had a huge resistance at 10K and, it hovered between 10,100 and 10,000 for around 5mins, once even going to 10003 and rising again. Ultimately it fell below 10K to 9998, to 4 digits again after 2 years! Nobody can say whether this is the bottom, and it is probably not. But, one can say that it is the right time to invest for the long term (5+ years i mean).

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Google helps.

No doubt Google helps. Google has attained an extremely important position in the lives of software developers like us. And not just us, Google has an extremely useful offering for non-technical people too - Google local.
A couple of years back, I was in a small shop to get something photocopied, when i noticed a Google logo stuck on the wall. I asked the owner about it and he said, 'गूगलची माणसे आली होती इथे' meaning, people from Google were here. That day, i discovered a wonderful service called 'Google local'.
   It is amazing that, Google actually hired people to visit shops in lanes and bylanes of Pune to collect information. From wheel alignment to dentists, google local knows about everything and, more importantly, it can pinpoint the location on a map. Another splendid feature is that, you also get to know the phone numbers of the shop. Thus, google local becomes a yellowpages killer! A search for 'computer hardware pune'  gives a whopping 862 results!
   Since the day i've told him, my dad (and his colleagues in the office) has started using the service effectively. Nothing better :)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

LOD 22

An interesting plugin for GMail, amongs many other things...

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Monday, October 13, 2008

LOD 21

Useful app - allows you to share a part of a youtube clip.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Big Boss etcetera...

I have been wanting to write this post since i first heard about 'Big Boss' - a reality show similar to 'Big Brother'  which is shown in the US and EU.
     Since they have kept the show running for more than a month on 'Colors', I guess it's TRPs have reached the break-even and, probably have gone beyond it. My question is - what's there in programs like Big Boss or MTV Roadies or even those Saas-Bahu serials* that makes them popular ? Some of those Saas-Bahu serials have been  on TV for the last 100-110 years!  (in binary i mean :P)
     Big Boss season 2 is broadcast every day at 10PM on the channel called 'Colors'. This program is said to have brought the channel to notice, rather than the other way round. Do BB, Roadies and SBS (Saas-Bahu serials) have anything in common ? I believe they do. Is it the common factor which gives them their longevity ? I think, yes. The common factor is: in all those shows, the main theme is - individuals scheming against one another. Each one is trying to outwit the other(or group of others). Emotions rise and fall during the doing and, this makes the show even more popular. 
      But, is this factor enough to make a show popular ? Ratings indicate that it is. But, why does showing people scheming bring so many viewers ? It is because, the viewers have been doing the same thing all their lives! This is only a hypothesis of mine, it could very well be incorrect, but it might be correct as well :)
      Looking around carefully, one realizes that every one is continuously scheming. Trying to get the most out of the resources one has access to. One has to compete with fellow human beings all the time! Its there so much that, we do not realize that we are in a 'competition'. Climbing in a bus we compete for space, working in the office we compete for results/success, investing in the bourses we compete for money, to get a boy/girl friend we compete against suitors and, so on. Who are we competing against ? Humans beings all the time. Very rarely do we have to compete against nature. A child who cries louder will quickly get noticed and will be fed earlier than his sibling who cries softer. Isn't this a competition ? It is, and we participate in such competitions every day without consicous realization.
       Generally, the one who can manipulate human beings around him to his benefit wins the competition. To manipulate, one has to scheme. Isn't this the very thing the shows are all about ? Whether it is inside a family or between participants in a reality show, scheming is the thing. I think, we are innately attracted to scheming! It must be (i guess) an evolutionary adaption - the one who observes and learns more will probably acquire better manipulative techniques and be successful in the long term. We are always curious about things happening to others. Our brain is geared to be attracted towards such happenings from which it might learn something which will help it defeat other brains it is competing against. SB serials and reality shows are a treasure trove of cheating and vicious gossips. Gossip is an excellent way to manipulate people's opinions about other people. One who can gossip effectively, is certainly at an advantage.
     Apart from the above reason, there must be other reasons too. One of them is - if the participants are non-celibrities(like in Roadies), then people will tend to identify themselves with some of them. Also, if a certain reality show is the talk of the town then those not watching it will begin watching it because they do not want to be left behind when friends are discussing about how x made an ass out of y on the show.
     Today's reality shows last about 80-90 days, so, they have all the scheming concentrated into a short timespan, which makes them even more attractive. Actually, every one's life is worth showing in a reality show and  I'm not the first one to have gathered this idea. If you've not seen it yet, then 'The Truman Show' is a must watch!

*Saas-Bahu serials - These are a kind of popular Indian soaps wherein, intra or interfamily conflicts(in affluent families generally) are portrayed with stupendous exaggeration. Generally, the conflicts start between the mother-in-law(Saas) and daughter-in-law(Bahu) of a family, and later engulf all the family members, their ex-husbands/wives, their children, children's friends and sometimes, even those dead!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Internet in 2001

Google recently celebrated their tenth birthday . In the honour of that, they have opened up their 2001 index for searching. You can search using it from here. Searching for Xen, Windows XP, wikipedia, wtc 9/11, digg and many other things gives no meaningful results. Its an interesting travel back in time...

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Linus starts blogging.

After Sergey Brin, another biggie from the software world has started blogging. Its Linus Torvalds this time. His blog is located at:

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Windows Cloud OS.

Microsoft to release 'Windows Cloud' operating system within a month. Details here.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

LOD 20
Create online databases having some interesting and useful features.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008


While surfing, i stumbled across - Google's new application engine. By using the app engine infrastructure, Google allows you to host your own web application on Google's servers. You can go through the documentation, starting here.
I decided to give the engine a try and so, wrote an app using the engine. The app engine is extremely easy to use and, the interface to upload stuff is really simple and non-clumsy. Google also provides support for Django(an MVC framework) amongst other things. One of the reasons i liked the engine was because, it employs Python - a highly productive language IMO. Google has been a proponent of Python since long and they have continued their support for Python, at appspot. Google internally uses Python on a large scale and, i suspect that, they must have rewritten quite a bit of it to suit their needs (similar to what Facebook has done to PHP).
You can check out the app i wrote at :)

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