The world, how it works, surroundings, myself, etc.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Making firefox real fast

Not for nothing is Firefox the coolest browser. A simple tweak and now all the sites open almost instantaneously. I don't have to see the status bar loading the page. Here's what I followed:

Open Firefox 1.0 and in the address bar type: about:config

1. Find browser.tabs.showSingleWindowModePrefs and double click on it so it = true
2. Find network.http.pipelining and double click on it so it = true
3. Find network.http.pipelining.maxrequests double click on it and change it from 4 to 100
4. Find network.http.proxy.pipelining double click on it and change it = true

That's it.

What do these changes do?
1. Then enables advanced tab options in your Tools/Options page
2. This enables option #3.
3. This makes FF use 8 threads to each page.. Bascially, if you thought FF was fast before, try it after this.
4. Use this if you are behind a proxy.
I'm sure tonnes of such tweaks can be done, especially with the myriad number of extensions available.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Using Google talk with GAIM

Kudos to Google for making sure that its newly launched talk service could be used with Gaim.
Google talk uses the standards compliant Jabber protocol. They will be the FIRST IM service to use the IETF messaging and presence standard. Thank you again, Google!

My Gaim settings are like: (they work at least here in IIIT)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

My AC hates me

The AC hanging over my head in the lab hates me.

I had complained about it at least once in one of my blogs about how people keep oscillating it between high & low temperatures instead of just setting it to the desired temperature. And now methinks I have to face the consequences. The AC spills water. Not every time, though; only when you want to have water being showered on your head the least (Murphy's right, you see). It doesn't spare my PC's monitor too. As a workaround I've put a paper on the monitor to protect it but what about poor me? Should I sit in the lab with an umbrella? Even though it has been cleaned two times, yesterday itself being once, it hasn't stopped it's outpourings. I know there's a Rain God, Indra, whom people plead to in case of drought or drain. But is there a God for rain from ACs? I'm yet to hear about it. Who should I offer my prayers and offerings to?

I hope the AC doesn't get angrier. In case it does, it might start dropping other things as well, and then I might not be left to complain any more.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The ctrl-alt-delete test

Abstract: There are so many clues that mute devices can give about their owners. One such effective method is described here as an example.

Motivation: Given a PC, you have to make out whether the owner runs Windows or Linux on it. The system is switched off. No, you are not allowed to switch it on. In case, it's a dual boot system, find out if the user uses Windows more or Linux.

Background: Any regular computer user would know that the keys on the keyboard erode with use. With time, dust settles on the keys but they are consumed by the fingers which touch them. However, this consumption of dust away from the keyboard is not even. The keys which are used the most, look the shiniest. Therefore, the shininess of the keys give an idea of the relative frequency of keys-usage.

The ctrl-alt-delete test: Any windows user knows the importance of the Ctrl-Alt-Delete dose. It's needs to be injected every now and then, often out of wilderness. I argue that if the computer runs Windows, the Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys will be the shiniest. Windows users spend most of their time with the Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys. One might refute the claim, saying that the Space key could be shinier and it's used most often. No. Windows users hardly touch the keyboard except for this Ctrl-Alt-Delete medication. Interestingly, windows users instead use the mouse to bring up the start menu even though there's a full-fledged key on the keyboard dedicated just to this purpose (the windows key / super key).

Conclusion: The keys on the keyboard provide several clues about the user. Some of these are quite unexpected. Had Conan Doyle been alive, Sherlock Holmes would have found many uses of these in his investigations for the truth.

Future Work: Space bar, the longest key on the keyboard, can reveal a lot. For instance, if the space bar is eroded from the right, this means that the user is right handed. The relative shininess of the other keys also tend to let the cat out of the bag. The F & J keys can reveal if the user has to look at the keyboard while typing or is a touch-typist (can type without looking). The W, A, S, D keys reveal if the user is a gamer. So much so that the ASL (age-sex-location) keys will tell you if the user is an avid chatter! Many more of these promising arenas remain unexplored.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Microsoft promoting viruses?

As if the already existing windows wasn't vulnerable enough,, Microsoft keeps announcing about the vulnerabilities that it discovers in Windows and releases a patch to be applied for it's protection. If you don't follow verbatim the instructions issued from Godfather M$, hell breaks loose over you. This happened with the recent Zotob virus too. Here's how: In barely 3 days after the announcement of this vulnerability on Windows, proof of concept code demonstrating the exploit was available on the internet, and in two days hence the worms were in their hunting spree. However protective the intentions of Godfather M$ be, for people who did not heed to its warnings in a mere 5 days, they rendered their systems useless.

Or is it a strategy from M$ to stop illegal usage of Windows? The patches are available to legal users only. If it is so, then M$ is trying to cash in at the cost of some legal users too, who happened to be 5 days late in analyzing the situation!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Why TeX?

10 Good Reasons for using TeX

These are the reasons most often cited for using TeX, grouped into four areas: Output Quality, Superior Engineering, Freedom, and Popularity.

  • Output Quality You write documents to be read and understood. Your first concern should be: how good is the output? Is it as readable and as useful as possible? Is it, even, beautiful?
    • 1) TeX has the best output. What you end with, the symbols on the page, is as useable, and beautiful, as a non-professional can produce.

      This is especially noticable for complex documents, such as ones with mathematics; see this sample (from Rogers's Recursive Functions). It also holds for documents that are complex in other ways: with many tables, or many cross references or hyper-links, or just with many pages.

      Even on simple documents TeX does a better job than a word processor. Compare these samples of plain text (from Herigel's Zen in the Art of Archery) done in Word and TeX. These are short and the typographic differences are subtle but even a non-expert may see that the TeX page looks "more right." The word processor's page has some lines with wide gaps between words and some lines with too many words stuffed in (contrast the second paragraph's second line with its third). TeX's output is more readable.

    • 2) TeX knows typesetting. As the plain text samples in the prior item illustrate, TeX's more even line spacings are a consequence of its more sophisticated algorithms for making paragraphs and for hyphenating.

      Another way that this expertise gives better output comes in setting technical material. TeX moves the task, as much as possible, into the software. For instance, it automatically classifies each mathematical symbol as a variable, or a relation, etc., and sets them with appropriate amounts of surrounding space. It also sizes superscripts, and many other things. The result is that, because your document follows the conventions of professional typesetting, your readers will know exactly what you mean. You almost never have to fret with the formulas. They just come out right.

    The quality of output is the best reason to use TeX.

  • Superior Engineering Everyone has been frustrated with software that is slow, fat, buggy, or that undergoes frequent incompatible version changes. TeX will not give you those troubles; from a Computer Science standpoint, TeX is very impressive.
    • 3) TeX is fast. TeX ran quickly when it was developed in 1978 and so on today's machines it is very fast. It is easy on your computer's memory and disk space, too.
    • 4) TeX is stable. It is in wide use, with a long history. It has been tested by millions of users on demanding input. It will never eat your document. Never.

      But there is more here than just that the program is reliable. TeX's designer has frozen the central engine, the actual tex program. Documents that run today will still run in ten years, or fifty. So "stable" means more than that it actually works; it means that it will continue to work, forever.

    • 5) TeX is stable, but not rigid. A system locked into 1978's technology would today have gaps. That's why TeX is extendable, so that innovations can be added on, layered over the underlying engine.

      An example is the LaTeX macro package, which is the most popular way to use TeX today. It is a front end to the engine, affecting the way authors input their work. It adds conveniences such as automatic cross references, indexing, a table of contents, automatic numbering of chapters, sections, theorems, etc., in a variety of styles, and a straightforward but powerful way to make tables.

      LaTeX also adds a philosophy of encouraging authors to structure their document by meaning rather than by appearance. For instance, a LaTeX author might produce emphasized text by typing "it is \emph{hot} here" instead of specifying italics. This approach has two advantages. First, since it is a computer language command, it makes the type style, size, and spacing uniform throughout your document. Second, once the information is in the computer then you can do more with it. You can, for instance, distinguish between text that is italic because it is emphasized, and text that is italic because it is the name of a ship, perhaps by adding a command \ship{..} that saves the names of all ships for a separate index.

      And, LaTeX itself is extendable. There are thousands of "style files," which do everything from adapting the basics to the needs of the American Math Society, to making cross-references into hyper-references, all the way to allowing you to add epigraphs, the short quotations that sometimes decorate the start or end of a chapter.

      Just because LaTeX is the most popular macro package doesn't mean that it is the best one for you. Many others are available; see the the TeX Users Group's interest page.

      So TeX has been, and is being, developed and extended in many ways. (See also the nex two items.)

    • 6) The input is plain text. TeX's source files are portable to any computing platform. They are also easy to produce automatically, for example as output from a program. They are compact; all of the files for my 450 page textbook and 125 page answer supplement fit easily on one floppy. And, they integrate with other tools such as search utilities.

      Use of this type of input file stems from an overall mindset. TeX arose in the world of science and engineering where there is a tradition of cooperating closely with fellow workers. A binary input format, especially a proprietary one, is bad for cooperation: probably you have had to go through the trouble of upgrading a word processor version because coworkers upgraded and you could no longer read their files. With TeX systems that rarely happens -- the last time that a LaTeX release lost some backward compatibility was in 1995.

      There are even ways to run TeX directly from XML input, which many people think is the standard input format of the future. So, with the TeX formatting engine in the middle, the input front end may be adjusted to meet your needs, and changing times.

    • 7) The output can be anything. As with inputting, TeX's outputting step is separate from its typesetting. The TeX engine's results can be converted to a printer language such as PostScript, or to a web language such as PDF or HTML, or, probably, to whatever will appear in the future. And, the typesetting -- line breaks, etc. -- will be the same no matter where your output appears. (Did you know that word processing output depends on the printer's fonts, so if you email your work to someone with a different printer then the line and page breaks may come out differently?)

    Many people find that TeX's input language fits with how they think about their material. For instance, a scientist might describe a formula to a colleague over a telephone using TeX constructs.

  • Freedom Most computer users have heard about Free and Open-Sourced software and know that, as with the GNU programs, Linux, Apache, Perl, etc., this style of development can yield software that is first class. TeX, along with associated materials such as index makers or style files, falls into this category.
    • 8) TeX is free. The source of the main tex engine is open (the Free Software Foundation uses it for their documents). All of the other main components are open, also.
    • 9) TeX runs anywhere. Whatever meets your platform -- Windows, Macintosh, a variety of Unix, or almost anything else -- you can get TeX, either freely distributed or in a commercial version.

    So although the core of TeX was written some time ago, it fits well with today's trends.

  • Popularity Using the same system as many other people has advantages. You can get answers to your questions. Your problems might well have already been solved. And, because of this large user base, your system is sure to be around for years.
    • 10) TeX is the standard. Most scientists, especially academic scientists, know TeX. Research preprints, drafts of textbooks, and conference proceedings, all are regularly produced with TeX. As a result, many publishers of technical material are set up to work with it.

      Because it is the standard, TeX's support by other technical software is the best. For example, there are editing modes to make input convenient, such as AUCTeX for Emacs. Another example is that most computer algebra systems, such as Maple and Mathematica, will give output in TeX. And no doubt technical software developed in the future will support TeX, also.

      In addition, TeX is used by many people outside of the sciences, for all of the reasons given in this document. For instance, there is a way to produce beautiful critical edition texts.

    You wouldn't want to use a bad system simply because it is popular. TeX has earned its user base for sound reasons, some of them given above. Nonetheless, the existence of such a base is itself one reason to adopt a software package.


Thanks to Parry for leading me to

Monday, August 08, 2005

What after bleeding?

To bring out the technical edge of a product, I used to hear it being termed as burning edge. But that was long long back. Then came the term cutting edge which referred to really out of the world capabilities for use by professionals. And now I hear bleeding edge. Such products (esp graphics cards) have fundoo amateurs and single-headed fanatics too as their audience. I wonder what edge the future would be on. What after bleeding edge? Rubbing edge? Wiping edge? or.. is it clotting edge?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The perils of Over-Expression

Over-Expression is a routinely occurring phenomenon in world order these days. Things are often over-stated. Communication, it turns out, takes place mostly in the superlative sense. For instance, if the mess food is bad, one might label it as intolerable even though it would have been quite agreeable a meal. Most advertisements promote their products as the best of its kind. Mediocrity is infamous. Average expression is unheard of, though average quality is not uncommon. As if the superlative band has expanded to gobble up the average band.

There are a number of factors which lead to such a world order:
  • Strong feelings
This is the case in which things are over-stated without intention or deliberation. One might have a deep attachment with something which one sees getting damaged and therefore reacts voluptuously. One doesn't see the larger picture here. For instance, the recent MMS imbroglio in which a college student was caught selling (potentially) obscene stuff was a clear depiction of emotional outburst. Several people saw it as a misuse of technology. Some other stringent-minded people, however, viewed it as an attack on the women race -- as if this was the last straw and they had no choice but to demonstrate vehemently their outburst. World order becomes an exception for a while. Clearly, the entire scandal was over-advertised. Other significantly severe abuses of women's rights go unheard of while this one attains herculean proportions. Such narrow-minded syndrome needs a broader and beyond-the-sight therapy. There is more than meets the eye (or even emotions/hearts).
  • Partially deaf reaction mechanism
Owing largely to insensitiveness to routine behavior, normal expression goes unheard. Unless a situation is expressed in leviathan proportions, it doesn't beat anything on the ear-drums of the people involved in the reaction mechanism. For instance, a stoic complaint made to the telephone department for a non-functional line would have large chances of going amiss. Same for a complaint for preparing a faulty electrical line. However, when the situation assumes titanic proportions (dharnas, bandhs, etc), the reaction mechanism springs to action in a whisker. Call it nature but the bottom line is that humans are surprisingly adaptable and react only when over-expressed (damage mode). Computers, however, don't work in this damage-control mode. They continue with the routine mode equally well even after millions and millions of repetitions. Perhaps, therefore, it'd do good to replace reaction mechanisms with automated (lifeless) controls.

A very commonly occurring example of all this is with the operation of the AC in my lab. Instead of keeping the temperature to an agreeable value, it's often kept intolerably low. This is when it's hot and the AC is just started. As expected, the room starts freezing in a while and then someone would just pop up and switch it off (instead of increasing the temperature to the agreeable value). And the room heats up again. Greedy desire of instantaneous results leads to this cycle being continued, even though in a long run it is far from optimal.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

To remain or not to remain.. contemplations

For some time now I've been sitting over a decision which I need to make -- Should I quit my sysadminship? No, it's not about money. SysAdminship was never about money anyway. So what is it? And am I prepared for it? These are the questions I must answer.

True that I was filled with joy when Nayani asked me (circa March, 2004) whether I wished to become the sysadmin. My joy knew no bounds then. I was always fascinated to see the smart black servers through the server room's glass doors. I was just a DigLib maintainer then and I did have a few reasons of entering into the server room, albeit only occasionally. And then it happened. I was appointed as the sysadmin (along with smr). Likewise I bequeathed the technical air around myself, which is the characteristic of anyone on this responsibility, I presume. I had long undergone the changeover from Windows to Linux. A certain degree of pride naturally infused into me as I was permitted to open and enter into the server room whenever the need be. All the servers lay there before me, which I best describe as: waiting for being commanded by my fingers. Not surprisingly, my image too underwent a changeover. My nickname changed from Ajeeb to root. A signboard bearing "System Administrator" was hung on my door.

All this was as if my complete self was getting submerged into the being of a sysadmin. As if I was getting lost behind this tag. But the job was interesting, the power addictive, , the road challenging, and I continued to tread on it. To avoid myself getting pampered and lured into misdemeanor, I had vowed to myself never to encroach upon the privacy of any person -- I needed strong determination against this temptation and I have been successful satisfactorily. A number of major changes took place in the server room management and network infrastructure and my number of hours in #111 (Server Room) had gone up, and I kinda loved it. Being on this hot seat also chanelled a lot of queries from people to me, all of them technical, and it's always fun answering them.

But all this has been there for over an year now. Things have changed. Times have changed. I have changed. Power doesn't allure in the same way now; don't know if the lack of it would hurt, though. I've learnt a lot of things in this responsible position. But the cynosure of my contemplation is -- Shouldn't I move on? I mean, being a sysadmin was good, but that's not nearly the destination. There's a long long road waiting to be traversed. In some ways, I've just now embarked upon the journey. The sysadminship load constantly mitigates my independence. Of late, there have been a number of instances when I've been irresolutely frustrated and dissatisfied with the latency of the server room activities (most of them beyond my hands), but the net result tends to reflect my efficacy too. My numerology indicates that I'm a bit stubborn; I have trouble leaving a thing once acquired. But with seasoned thoughts I know I can achieve a changeover. Does quitting sysadminship give me this changeover?

Submerged with such notions I had asked PJN sir for an advice. I was equally inclined towards both sides and all I needed was a backing from him to push me further in that direction. According to him, however, the decision is all mine. There are so many strategic developments that I'd like to see undertaken in the server room; so innumerable ways in which the process should be improved. But should I continue to get myself involved? I must lessen my load, I agree, but should I quit altogether? Should I listen to my gut feeling and quit now to avoid tumbling down the rabbit-hole? I'm looking for answers. The decision is still under contemplation.

Friday, August 05, 2005

My_new_roll_no % 3 != 0.. still

It's hardly been 3 days after I posted about my joy when I realized that my new roll no was divisible by 3. But now, it's not. Today it was announced that my new roll no is: 200102005 instead. Now, this isn't divisible by 3. The numbers less than 200102005 which divide it are: 5, 43, 215, 930707, 4653535 and 40020401. But the good thing is that of these factors, 3 are prime and 3 are composite. Having 3 prime factors is not bad! And.... if you add 5 to my roll no, it becomes divisible by 3 again. :-) (5 because my dual degree is a 5 year programme and that *should* have a part to play in the calculations.)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Darwinism, the guiding principle for opensource and blogging

Little did Charles Darwin know about the idea of open source or blogging when he explained about "The Origin of the Species", but the same idea of "survival of the fittest" prevails here as well. That open source is analogous to letting a person choose what profession he wants to be in is the crux. This is because he'll perform the best in the profession he really wants to be, otherwise perish, giving way to better ones.

Accepting open source as a business model might seem foreign to most. "Why do something for free," one might argue. Well, you don't have to. No one forces you to blog. No one forces you to write and distribute open source. The crucial factor here is "force". You can do something best *only* if you truly love it. FULLSTOP. RedHat, supporting the Fedora project, is a gallant example of making money in symbiosis with OpenSource. And we've not even talked of the Google yet. Isn't it a working business model?

The threat of non-reliance on open source is a non-threat actually. Same for blogging. No one would read a blog which is poorly written or wrong. But something which many people do read *has* to be good. As humans, we communicate. One could ask, "Why speak for free?" I'd rather say, it's human to speak. It's just natural. Hearing is optional. And if there are many who hear me, it implies that I'm a good orator. So my speech will thrive only if I'm fit enough to speak -- survival of the fittest, or auto-perish of the frail. Parallely, to blog is natural. To try one's luck in working open source is natural.

Paul Graham has an excellent article on What business can learn from Open Source. Amateurs giving professionals a run for their money is natural. So what does that mean? -- there can be no professionalism? No. A person doesn't have to do one thing only. If I'm an employee, that doesn't mean that I don't talk, does it? But perhaps I'll be able to perform excellent in my amateur self -- or better still if my profession self and the amateur self are the same.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My_new_roll_no % 9 == 0

For the last 4 years, I had the roll no 200101049. Not that I'm superstitious or anything but this wasn't divisible by 3, and I didn't like it. Having switched to the Dual Degree Programme, my roll no has been changed to 200102049. This is divisible by 3, and, to add to my joy, divisible by 9 too! -- and I can't believe it even 27 divides it. Wow! I love my new roll no.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What Everyone Should Know About Blog Depression

The Nonist has published (in PDF form) an interesting little pamphlet called What Everyone Should Know About Blog Depression.
There is a growing epidemic in the cyberworld. a scourge which causes more suffering with each passing day. as blogging has exploded and, under the stewardship of the veterans, the form has matured more and more bloggers are finding themselves disillusioned, dissatisfied, taking long breaks, and in many cases simply closing up shop. this debilitating scourge ebbs and flows but there is hardly a blogger among us who has not felt it's dark touch. we're speaking, of course, about blog depression.
That's some deep, dark stuff. Nice! (Via zephoria.)
--   from: