Friday, January 30, 2009

LOD 2A - A very useul tool for sharing links.

Here is a sample sqworl that i created -

   My common usecase is  - A friend ask for some links during an online conversation. I paste them then and there. Later some time, eithier I myself  need them or the same friend asks for them again. It becomes time consuming to search and retrieve them from the chat history; worse still - if the chat client does not store history(Yahoo messenger for eg) then, the links are gone forever.  Sqworl comes in  handy here!

   Another use is to share links in an email. A small short link looks much better than a bunch of long ones. Also, there is no risk of newlines or any other characters breaking up the link(s).

Sqworl reminds me of Microsoft's ThumbTack but, sqworl's UI is extremely plain,  simple, efficient and loads in an instant as compared to thumbstack.

P.S: For the uninitiated, the LOD (Link Of the Day) counter is in hex. Thus, this is actually the 42nd LOD. Yes, 42 - the answer to life the universe and everything ;)

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

LOD 29

Here is a nice photosynth* of the new US president taking oath -

I was always dubious about photosynth's abilities and utility, but this one has managed to convince me to some extent.

*Photosynth is a software which analyses multiple digital photographs of a scene and, generates a 3D model of the scene from those photos.

PS: If not already installed, Microsoft Silverlight will have to be installed. It is a small download and, the link is available on the same page itself.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What a pity!

What a pity that, the Indian premier (Dr. Manmohan Singh) could not be there to accept the salami (salute) from the armed forces on the eve of India's Republic day. I felt really bad about it. Although, not being there to accept a salute does not make any huge difference, I think Indians are unfortunate to have aged PMs and presidents.
     I personally do not believe that someone who is physically unfit can run his responsibility well. That applies more if the person is old (65+ years). How can someone with a major heart problem(current PM) or somone who cannot walk on his own legs (previous PM - A.B.Vajpayee) run the country ? If they are so seriously ill that they have to be admitted and operated upon, will they ever be able to concentrate on what the nation needs and where it is going ? I do not think so. One argument against this would be - operations are rather rare, may be one or two during their tenure. But, the critical point is, they had to be operated because they were ailing since long. Thus, their ailment has always been there. Its just that, it reached the peak when they had to be operated upon.
   Just imagine this - the parliament is bombed while in session, will the PM be even able to run for a few meters to save his own life ? I doubt. And not just the PM, many others also won't. In my opinon, 50-60 is the right age for someone to become a PM.
     The root of the problem this lies in an accepted philosophy in the Indian political arena - age matures the person. In Indian politics, 55 is young and 40-45 is amateur, below 40 is just a  bacchha (a child). 70 is mature, and 75 ripe with maturity. But, at the age of 70-75, the body has wore too much to take the mental and physical load of office. And this is an unescapable biological truth. Age affects the body in ways that can never be reversed (with the currently available technology, i mean).
    One of the organs worst hit by aging is (unfortunately) the brain. Aging reduces brain mass. Scientists say that, people can lose upto 20% of their brain mass by 85. Myelin content in the brain reduces with age. As a result, the brain actually becomes 'slow'. Interconnections between neurons in the brain (called synapses) decrease with age, so the processing power of the brain inevitably reduces. Due to change and imbalance in concentration of neurotransmitters, memory becomes weak and unreliable. What old age brings to humans should not be new to people who have ever lived with their grandparents.
    With such obvious problems that age brings, should we have a 76 year old PM ? Never. Old people should definitely be respected and cared for for what they have done in the past. But their age should not be considered a plus when appointing for a responsible post. And this same is the way of nature - a lion who is the leader of the pack has to retire when he gets old. His age and previous experience beget him no advantage then. But, in Indian politics we do the opposite. I wish and pray that, this philosophy of Indian politics changes soon and, we get to see some young and dynamic PMs in the future...

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Monday, January 26, 2009

LOD 28

Can a fringe branch of mathematics forecast the future? A special adviser to the CIA, Fortune 500 companies, and the U.S. Department of Defense certainly thinks so.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Taste of the Strawberry.

Here is another one of my favorite Zen stories. I could not appreciate it when, I first read it in a book a few years back. Today, i can make some meaning out of it...

One day while walking across a field a man encountered a vicious tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him.

Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he picked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted.

The characteristic of traditional Zen stories is that, there is nothing in them that cannot be literally understood. The language, the depiction and, the characters are extremely plain and simple. Unlike in other stories, there is no surge of emotion and the protagonist generally keeps calm or in some cases he/she even stays mute. In fact, this is what differentiates a Zen story from a normal one. In a Zen story there is no obvious highlight, one has to search for the highlight on one's own. The stories are open to arbitrary interpretation although, the writer writes it with a definite and purposeful interpretation/morale in mind.The substance in the stories remains very much relevant today, even after thousands of years have passed since their writing.

Here is my interpretation of the story -
IMO, this story comes near the common saying 'Live every day as if, its your last day on earth'. That is to say that - enjoy the present, the now. By 'enjoy' I don't mean to say 'get enjoyment from' or 'seek pleasure/fun'. 'Enjoy' in this context means, realize fully; experience without prejudice; become aware of. The story says don't think too much about the past (the vicious tiger) and, don't care too much about the future (the other tiger below). Even when caught in a bad situation, don't get drowned in worry, enjoy every little aspect(the strawberry) of life as you would have otherwise done.Of course, the interpretation is highly subjective and should not be taken to the extreme. If somebody stops paying his insurance premium because 'one should not care too much about the future' then, Lord save him and his dear ones.
The interpretation problem arises because of the limitation of words. Masters say that Zen can never be understood by words alone. Words are there just to help.
Interpreted in another way, the story means - be indifferent to change. No matter what comes, stay natural. Niether too calm, nor very excited. Just be.
Easier said than done...

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Untimely upgrades.

When i came home from office yesterday, my mother seemed visibly perturbed. She was watching  the TV and, just as i came inside, she said 'बघ ना, हे काय होतय दर दहा मिनीटांनी! चार वेळा टीव्ही बंद-चालू करुन झाला!' (Look at what has happened to the television, I've tried switching it on-n-off four times already).
What i saw on our television was this -
    Our set-top box was having a firmware upgrade! NDS is a big company which specializes in CAS and digital TV solutions.
    Although my mother could read and understand the message saying 'do not interrupt power during this process' she did obviously did not care. Why should a TV viewer be missing his/her programme because the device decided to upgrade itself ? In general, end-users should not be bothered about technicalities of everyday devices. In this case, my set-top box showed up this screen every ten minutes or so. Even after interrupting a couple of times, it continued to happen. Ideally, the programmer should have asked the user whether he wants to proceed with the upgrade right now. The box and its remote control definitely have the capability to display and handle a yes-no dialog box. One good thing the programmer had done was that even if the process was interrupted, nothing bad seemed to happen.
    Ultimately, out of the fear of bricking the box, I convinced my mom to let the box complete the upgrade. Fortunately, my mom is not addicted to any of those (horrible) daily soaps. She is only interested in news and Marathi music programmes. So, convincing her to was very easy.
After the upgrade was done 100%, the box rebooted. I could spot some UI changes which they brought into the upgrade - a useful one was related to displaying the audio volume. The channel switching speed also had improved slightly.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Windows 7.

I'm writing this post using the lastest version of Windows - Windows 7

Microsoft recently released a public beta of 7. I signed up and have installed it. Can't comment about the internals, but going by the appearance, it seems to me - a souped up version of Vista. There are some major and minor UI changes into 7.

Let me say it upfront, this post is not intended to be a review of Windows 7. It is just a summary of changes that, in my opinion are worth mentioning.

One thing I noticed on the first reboot itself was the speed. My system becomes usable within 22 seconds of selecting Windows 7 from the boot menu, and, it shuts down in around 6 seconds. These timings come very close to Leopard - the fastest booting OS I've ever seen (graphically rich OS I mean :) )

Windows 7 consumed a whopping 12GB of disk space! That is quite a lot for just a bare minimum operating system.
Here is what my destop currently looks like -

The side bar has been removed and the gadgets have be put on the desktop directly as I've done to the right.

One of the major changes I saw is that, they have introduced the Ribbon UI (first introduced into Office 2007) in all the programs in 7. Here is a snapshot of WordPad with Ribbon instead of classic toolbars -

Another major they've made is the way the taskbar looks. Instead of the rectangular elongated buttons, only a icon is displayed in 7's taskbar. Also, you can 'pin' the program to the taskbar i.e irrespective of whether the program is open, the icon will be present on the taskbar. Both these ideas have been 'inspired' from Mac OS X :) IIRC, Mac people call the pinning 'dock'ing. The rationale behind pinning is - for frequently used apps(explorer for eg) the user need not do a separate action of opening the app. Clicking on the icon in the taskbar should bring it up whether or not it had been launched. On hovering over the taskbar icons, app specific buttons show up. For example, hovering over the media player icon shows media player's preview as well as play/stop buttons. Right clicking on it shows the history of files/urls.

The taskbar by default groups multiple windows of the same app into a single icon, and hovering over the icon shows all the windows, then one can click the right one after looking at the preview. I'm sure the the folks at MS must have observed and analysed hundreds of hours of user footage before introducing such a major change, but I find this rather cumbersome. Choosing the right window now takes at least 2 clicks, earlier it used to be done in a single one.
This IMO creates a serious problem for Internet Explorer. On clicking/hovering on IE's icon, one gets to view all the tabs and then, one has to select the tab to go to. Thus, everytime one has to select which tab to go to, there is no option to 'just maximize the windows and let me look at the tab I was looking at last'. That can only be done by alt+tab.

   A welcome feature that has been put into IE 8 is 'InPrivate browsing'.
No history or cache or cookies will be stored for the websites visited using the InPrivate browsing feature. This a nice to have feature, but I noted a surprising thing while trying it out. When you hover over the IE icon in the taskbar, even your InPrivate tabs and their screenshots are displayed! IMO, somebody who is using this feature will certainly not want his private tabs to be visible when ever one clicks/hovers on the IE icon ;)
The very useful 'Show desktop' button has been moved to the right hand bottom corner. Actually, since it does not have any icon, it is hardly noticeable. Hovering over the button shows a preview of the desktop with windows shown as empty rectangles.
Switching on/off the internet connection has been made easier by having a menu pop up when you click on the networking icon in the system tray.
Other mentionable things include the new improved calculator with 'Programmer' and 'Statistics' mode. Unit conversion and date calculation panes have been introduced to the right. The user can keep a history of his calculations in all modes except programmer.
PowerShell comes bundled with Windows 7; as does 'Chess Titans' (reminds me of the Chess on Mac :) ).
Here is a screen shot -
Overall, I was impressed a bit by the speed and the UI (and also by the fact that Windows Media player could play a lot many formats out of the box) . But, i did not see any strong reason for any user to migrate to 7 from Windows XP. For those troubled by Vista, 7 might be good option ;)
Even with all that eye-candy and other improvements, 7 does not even make me think of moving to Windows, from Linux :)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Creating life in the lab.

These folks succeeded in creating something very very close to 'life' - Life As We Know It Nearly Created in Lab

Are we (humans) trying to play God ? God knows...

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Friday, January 9, 2009

A cracker's audacious plans

A Hacker's Audacious Plan to Rule the Black Market in Stolen Credit Cards - A very interesting read. Reminded me of Shimomura's Take Down .
Ideally, the word 'cracker' should be used here in place of 'hacker'. Read this for the explanation.

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Some geeky jokes and oneliners...

I love science jokes and puns no end :) Especially biology related.
I'd posted a joke earlier, here are a few more jokes and oneliners  - 

Q. How many evolutionists does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Only one, but it takes millions of years.
(nice dig at evolutionists ;) )

Q: Why are chemists great for solving problems?
A: They have all the solutions. 
( a pun on 'solution')

"The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance." 

I heard this morning that veterinarians are beginning to use on household animals expensive  diagnostic equipment previously only available for humans, including CAT and PET scanners.

Q: Why won't Heisenbergs' operators live in the suburbs ?
A: They don't commute.
(a beautiful pun on the mathematical property of commutativity of quantum operators and also on the word 'operator' which might mean a mathematical operator or, a human being - machine operator for e.g according to context) 

Do molecular biologists wear designer genes?
(nice one on the gene-jean pair of homophones. We have had designer jeans for long, and we are moving towards technology which will actually make modifying and designing genes possible in the near future.) 

Q: How do you tell the sex of a chromosome?
A: Pull down its genes. 
(another good one on the same homophonic pair) 

Q: What did the thermometer say to the graduated cylinder?
A: "You may have graduated but I've got many degrees"
Did you hear about the biologist who had twins?  She baptized one 
and kept the other as a control.
(on meticulous biologists who would do nothing without first allocating a control group) 

A mushroom walked into a bar. 
The bar tender said, "Get out of here! We don't serve your kind."
Mushroom: "Hey, what's the problem?"
Bartender: "Just get out of here. We don't serve mushrooms."
The mushroom in anguish says, "Why not? Ain't i a fun guy ?"
(doesn't 'fun guy' sound like 'fungi' :D)

According to latest news, the huge new prime number discovered recently is exactly four times bigger than the previous record.
(A subtle one; how can a number be prime if it is a multiple of 4 ? ;) )

There are three types of mathematicians: those who can add and those who can't.

Do add any good ones you know as a comment to the post... 

Found these at:

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