Sunday, November 25, 2007

paisa-vasool dept.

Om Shanti Om is very nicely done, funny movie. Its about as nice as a cherubic little friend who makes your acquaintance, or a nicely satisfying backrub after a tiring day at the office.

So there. I don't have anything even mildly sarcastic to say about it.

When I was little I had a cassette tape of Naseeb, and my favorite song which I repeated ad nauseam, was John, Jaani, Janardan. OSO is the kind of movie that little kids today will grow up with, they will know the dialogues and the songs and 30 years from now, pot-bellied and balding, as they gather round for a few drinks and some pakoras, some of them might even trade a few laughs by reminiscing about it for old times sake.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

fall-2007 dept.

असा गाफिल होऊन चालू नकोस
हे बघ, फक्त रंग बदलतायेत
माहितीये झाडांचे कसे पारे उडालेत
वाटतं पार कायापालट झालाय

असलं हे नेहमीचंच बरं-का
चांगलं हिरवं भरलं रान असतांना
रुसून सन्‍यासाची करायची सोंगं
मिरवायचे जरा भगवे-तांबडे कपडे

मग बर्फांचे फवारे लागले
थंडीनी चांगली जरब आणली
की येईल जरा डोकं ठिकाणावर
हळूच चढेल पुन्हा खराखुरा रंग

अरे सोंगं कधी टिकत नाहीत
मी कधीच फसलो नाही, सांगतो
तू ही जास्तं भाव देऊ नकोस
त्याचं हे असं नेहमीचंच आहे...

Friday, October 26, 2007

rielly-open-problems dept.

Rik Van Riel, linux kernel developer, posted a call to arms a few years ago for CS researchers to
consider focusing anew on systems research. Rob Pike wrote a paper in 2000, basically chiding the research community saying that Systems Software Research is Irrelevant -- the title sounds misleading: you would think Pike claims systems research as a field was dead; what he actually writes in the paper is that most researchers are into performance analyses (that too, using flawed methods) rather than building new kinds of systems, and so recent research is mediocre and irrelevant :-).

(Before all you grad students start throwing your Systems dissertations at me, this is what Rob Pike -- member of UNIX team at Bell Labs, programming style guru, father of Inferno and Plan9 -- claims, not me :-)).

I recently read a paper (CAR) about, of all things, Cache replacement algorithms. I came across the above links while researching ARC, the cache replacement algorithm for databases that CAR is based on (CAR is a clock-based implementation of ARC that's more suitable for OS page cache replacement). ARC is a pretty effective scan-resistant algorithm (it performs well even for bursts of sequential accesses that totally screw up LRU), and very simple conceptually (which makes it all the more brilliant). Turns out a lot of commodity open-source OS kernels (Linux/OpenSolaris) and Databases (PostgreSQL) considered and then abandoned ARC implementations because of patent issues with IBM. Too bad :-(.

If, what Rob Pike and Rik Van Riel are saying is true, I have a hypothesis for why this may be happening. Systems Research saw its greatest achievements bank in the '70s and '80s. This was when commodity hardware was not available, and software was at a pretty raw stage -- if you needed a compiler, there was no gcc, you had to write your own -- this is when most researchers grappled with building abstractions and systems -- because they had no choice -- there were no abstractions to work with.

Now that we have reasonably stable abstractions (they may not be the best, but they exist :-)) like UNIX, files and mouse-driven windowing systems, researchers have moved on to other areas. Systems problems are an annoyance at best, and not a high-priority. If systems problems were a bug in a bug-tracking system, they were triaged as "P5, S5" a long time ago.

Perhaps with increasing disk and memory size, hybrid drives, network speeds rapidly outpacing abysmal storage speeds etc. etc., we might see these bugs clawing their way back onto the priority heap. Until then, I leave you with the humorous, yet sublime words of Rob Pike:

...I started keeping a list of these annoyances but it got too long and depressing so I just learned to live with them again. We really are using a 1970s era operating system well past its sell-by date. We get a lot done, and we have fun, but let's face it, the fundamental design of Unix is older than many of the readers of Slashdot, while lots of different, great ideas about computing and networks have been developed in the last 30 years. Using Unix is the computing equivalent of listening only to music by David Cassidy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

poetic-routing dept.


I think that I shall never see
A graph more lovely than a tree
A tree whose crucial property
Is loop-free connectivity
A tree which must be sure to span
So packets can reach every LAN
First the Root must be selected
By ID it is elected
Least cost paths from Root are traced
In the tree these paths are placed
A mesh is made by folks like me
Then bridges find a spanning tree

-- Radia Perlman.

Extract from her paper on the Spanning Tree Protocol.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

red-faced dept.

The Communists have done it again -- screwed up a good deal for India and scotched a chance for its nuclear rehabilitation.
Although the decision to defer the general elections for a deal that will eventually be pushed through is a good one by the Congress government.
They probably could have avoided all this by putting the agreement up for debate in Parliament though.

Monday, October 15, 2007

homeo-apathy dept.

Homeopathy is quite popular in India. It is quite common for practicing homeopaths to have long queues of waiting patients outside their doors, and have established clinics. There are many Homeopathic Colleges throughout the country, which presumably churn out thousands of Homeopathic doctors and pharmacists each year.

I have been taken to Homeopaths (mostly for recurring sinusitis, which seems to be a popular reason to go to a Homeopath :-)). I have always asked -- What exactly is Homeopathy? And well, if you ask that question, no one really has an answer. Its quite astounding really -- well-educated people, even technologists will not be able to tell you the scientific basis of Homeopathy. Most will tell you its based on administering inorganic compounds in small amounts -- which is not true at all.

The sad truth, unfortunately, is that its a bogus science -- much like reiki, astrology, intelligent design and other fanciful theories. Most Indians will be shocked to learn this, I bet. Especially the thousands of freshly-minted Homeopaths themselves, who are poised to make their living using principles that do not stand the test of scientific method.

Ars Technica published an excellent article some time ago about the pseudo-science behind Homeopathy. Recommended reading.

But seriously, this article scares me -- I know quite a few practicing Homeopathic Doctors -- I will not look at them in the same way again. Over the years, the scientific method as a system for exploring the world has worked for me so well, I really cannot deal with any profession that lacks a sound scientific base or rational explanation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

innovative-sql-injection-attack dept.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

indians-still-do-it-cheapest dept.

Recent figures published in the Economist shows India still is the most attractive outsourcing destination. Not surprisingly, it does well on all counts -- cost, skills and business environment.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

rupee-shining dept.

The Indian rupee has quietly made its way into the 39s against the Dollar. I anticipated at the beginning of the year that it would get into and perhaps cross the 38s. That still remains to be seen. The rise of the Indian economy and the massive inflows of foreign investment into India make this inevitable. The implications for the software industry in India are interesting.

Cheap Labor?

Right now most of the industry located back home is based entirely on the labor cost differential and the Rupee-Dollar ratio. Indian programmers and software technologists are paid much, much less than their American counterparts *and* Indian software company executives :-) even accounting for purchasing power parity. Both these differentials were so high until recently (as recently as 2 years ago, the Rupee was still orbiting in the 47+ per dollar range), that companies had no motivation to change their business model, which was essentially a form of labor arbitrage. Companies made money in one of two ways:
1.) Hiring programmers in India and paying them a low salary, and earning more dollars per hour on their behalf from their customers.
2.) Hiring programmers, getting them H1Bs, and paying them a low salary in the US :-), and etc., etc., etc.

Cheap is not Cheap Anymore

However, two things are rapidly changing this scenario and threaten to change the industry as we know it. The first one is of course, the rise of the rupee. The second is the gradual entry of software multinationals into India. This is putting pressure on salary packages and increasing the attrition rate in Indian companies. There have always been engineers who looked down upon the 'Labor Arbitrage' way of doing business. The difference now is, these people don't have to work for these companies in India if they have the right skills. There are just too many better choices. Maybe these choices are available only to the top 5-10% of engineers right now, but over time, I can see it lead to a cascading series of attrition.

Its getting easier and easier for multi-national companies to set up base in India, and most are doing so. They are gradually cutting out the middle men and managing their own set ups, leveraging their existing Indian employees to manage their India operations. The days of the "Offshore Development Center" managed by an outsourcing company are definitely numbered.

This does not bode well for indigenous companies. They will now have to look at product development as a *real* and focussed business model. In most companies today, there is usually some "in-house product development", which is a euphemism for keeping people busy during lean times, and for maintaining some staff redundancy. The up-side is that the growth of the Indian economy means that soon, India in itself will be an attractive software market, and the companies that have products targeted for this market will reap rich dividends.

Some Crystal-Ball Gazing

The worst case scenario would be this nascent market for software products and services being gobbled up whole by muti-national software companies, who have the financial muscle to overwhelm Indian companies. This is a pie that Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and SAP could neatly divide among themselves.

We could draw a parallel to what happened to the Indian car industry after liberalization. The biggest names -- Hindustan Motors and Premier Automobiles -- all but disappeared. Some plucky companies that innovated and adapted to new market conditions (Tata, Bajaj, M&M) survived and even thrived in the era of globalization.

Its all going to be interesting to watch. Just make sure *you* aren't working for a 'Premier Automobiles' of the software industry, when the time comes :-).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

one-man's-food dept.

Begin Rant.

I confess. My favorite hobby when I have nothing better to do is to desultorily surf random articles on Wikipedia.

But there is something deeply unsatisfying about wikipedia to me these days. It is the flat nature of the material, the lack of dimensionality. Dimensionality which is ubiquitous, so pervasive in real life. If I ask three students at my university about which courses to take, I get three different responses, all sometimes orthogonal, all equally rich and useful at the same time. One gets the feeling this is how information really is -- a dynamic, shifty, multi-colored and shape-shifting animal.

Wikipedia does not model information about the real world accurately enough, I feel, because the underlying assumption is that we all see the world in the same way. That's not true at all, the human model of the world is also highly modulated by experience -- subjective, in plain English.

Wikipedia has no room for subjectivity, in fact it marks it to be a bad thing. That's simply ridiculous because that means it consciously chooses to leave out a lot of useful information that could add more dimensionality about the data.

This is true of all information repositories -- they leave no room for annotations by people, showing the subjective dimension of that information.

I would like documents to evolve in the future to encapsulate subjectivity somehow, retain it, possess the ability to have annotations and notes, and the ability to still present a navigable interface to the reader.

In that sense sites like slashdot provide a much richer information view with comments on articles etc. But there's no site that allows a wiki-like model to the recording of subjective information.

End Rant.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

from-the-cartography dept.

A Japanese website has come up with a trend map for Web2.0. Its modeled on, of all things, the Tokyo Metro System map. The various lines in the map are best described as content themes (insider blogs/political blogs/music sites) or specific technologies (search/social networking/p2p sharing). The 'stations' on the lines are the websites themselves. They've rated each website with the generation of technology used to build it (1.0/2.0/2.5? :-)) and the future prospects (sunny, cloudy, stormy?).

Saturday, July 21, 2007

oms-the-man dept.

Thanks to Om Malik for the pownce invite.

I have 4 pownce invites for anyone else who's interested.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

safely-anonymous dept.

A site that could do without some publicity -- The Hype Machine.

Monday, July 16, 2007

web-three-point-oh dept.

Here's a potentially high-profile site that claims to use Adobe AIR extensively: Pownce seems suspiciously like a web-based IM system. Does the world need another Instant Messenger, you might ask? So did I, but perhaps the delivery and usage model is novel, so I have queued up for an account.

Pownce, incidentally, was started by Kevin Rose (current age: 30 years), founder of digg, Internet tech celebrity podcaster and entrepreneur.

AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) is an interesting piece of technology that should go head-to-head against Micro$oft's recently announced Silverlight technology. These 'integrated runtime' APIs are really the generation-next of AJAX, one step above the Google Web Toolkit and (not too sure about this) Google Gears. Essentially, they provide a language independent API for generating animation and other rich content objects that was the previous domain of Flash.

It seems that, in the coming years, all applications, in one form or the other, will be built as "webapps". That is, they could be either desktop or browser based, but they will have a significant Internet-based component. Naturally, webapp developers should be increasingly drawn towards these technologies that provide easier development models and hide the nittygritties of asynchronous application design for the Internet.

Both offerings differ a little in approach though. The AIR philosophy seems to be to let developers use existing web technology like Flash etc. to build browser-independent desktop web applications that can also provide offline storage capability. Silverlight, on the other hand, leverages .NET runtime technology to allow developers to build browser plugins that are more integrated with the host OS and that provide richer offline functionality.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

sigh... dept.

11 Reasons Not to Buy an iPhone.

Sigh, the heart needs its consolations, sometimes.

Friday, June 22, 2007

and-the-future-is dept.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

something-to-think-about dept.

"But you go to a great school, not for knowledge so much as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the habit of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and mental soberness."

- William Johnson Cory (1861)


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

good-artists-borrow-great-artists-steal dept.

Hmmm...both Microsoft and Apple coming out with multi-touch technology in the same year???

The natural question, given the past history of these companies is: Whom did they steal this technology from? ;-)

Here's one possible answer:

These companies are really the "Anu Malik"s of the technology world :-).

Monday, June 18, 2007

this-week-on-the-web dept.

The Web 2.0 Social Networking revolution continues. Some new sites this week:

Roy Added me to this nice site, where I've been writing some (real) book reviews:

Goodreads - Write and view book reviews, share book lists.

I'd been reading about this site for some time, finally checked it out:

Twitter - A mini blog to put in all the little things you did during the day. This could be very addictive. And a privacy risk. But I think the notion of privacy and private v/s public content is just going through a complete paradigm shift.

Twitter's no relation to the TWiT podcast, but here are other links that I heard about on TWiT:

Tumblr - Similar to twitter, but you can also "tumbleblog" links to images and videos. I can now get a digital trail of where Leo Laporte has been on the web. Scary :-). - Audio books online. One free audio book download.

StumbleUpon - Pretty interesting site. Claims to "learn what you like and make better recommendations".

Thursday, June 14, 2007

another-poor-indian-grad-student dept.

After putting down people with graduate study plans for years, I am preparing to join their ranks. I am glad I never really lost my way irretrievably in the maze of temptations that jobs can be. There is nothing more empowering that education. A job can provide this, but I had felt a bit stagnant, lost, mentorless for a few years now. I think a new environment is the only cure for this malaise, and no better place than a decent US graduate school.

I am putting these thoughts down as a personal amusement, really, to see how much I agree/disagree with them a few years down the line.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

roots dept.

The human migration from Africa, illustrated: