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

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

President who Talks to God

Pratibha Patil, UPA's candidate for the post of citizen number 1, now also appears to be the number 1 contact with God. She claims that she gets divine messages from God.

Of dramatic consequence will the proceedings at Rashtrapati Bhawan be if she's voted to power, as a scientist leaves the premises and a "tantrik" takes over. I suspect that Rashtrapati Bhawan would be turned into a full-time reception station for beaming hotline messages to/from God, for the way things are these days, God's advice would be needed quite frequently. Mughal Gardens will have not peacocks but instead chanting sadhus trying to appease the Almighty. The rare species of herbs and medicinal plants in the garden will be used as incense sticks.

Everytime a bill requires the President's assent, a yagna would be performed and out from the holy fire will rise sparks resembling God's powers and the warmth from the holy fire will be used as an indicator of the President's assent. As for the signature, "old" ways wherein a pen was used, will pave way for "progressive" ones wherein sandalwood paste would be smeared on the bill, marking President's assent. Article 356, President's rule, would be rechristened as "the Order of the Almighty". The President, the head of the Armed forces, while on regular rounds, would purify the army-men by sprinkling holy water from the Ganges onto their heads.

And for once, India would be a country "bhagwaan bharose" in the literal sense too.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


This Sunday I accompanied a friend to "Sree Chaitanya IIT Prep school" at Ameenpur where he had gone to see his brother. Now, this place on the outskirts of Hyderabad is an all-inclusive world for the near-1000 students enrolled for 2 years to crack the JEE. The points which I find striking are:
  • Students are not allowed to leave the campus
  • Students have to get up at 5:00 AM everyday
  • Students have to sleep by 11:00 PM, no late-night studying, no night-outs
  • Students have to study during designated study hours
  • It's a boys-only boarding school, so no girls within sight for days/weeks at a stretch
All this reminded me of Gurukul, the movie, wherein a bunch of youngsters defy authority in search of "love" outside the confines of the institution. Obviously the institute is well within its rights to provide a suitable studying environment but I ponder how the crave for IIT has transformed the students' life. The shortage of good institutes of higher learning in India has reached magnanimous proportions even as the government continues to deduct 2% education cess from the tax-payers -- I wonder where all the money goes.

I don't blame the institute -- it's just catering to the demand from the public, and it's doing a good job. I don't blame the students -- they're just working hard in hope of a better future, even if it comes at a huge price, literally or otherwise. Whether or not the students are grown up enough yet to realize their freedom is a debatable issue. But something still doesn't feel right.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Online Chess at

There was a time once when, at IIIT, all I used to do was play chess online from dawn till dusk. So much so that I wanted to document the steps for playing chess online but never managed to -- instead I played on. I'm just about beginning another such spell these days, and before I get too engrossed, I want to list down how to play chess online with 'real' people at

Getting the interface:

So, you'll need xboard (download version 4.2.7 for unix/linux, for windows). There are a number of other clients available, but I use xboard. On a Mac, an easier approach would be to install X11 (if it's not there already) and fetch a darwin port for xboard with "sudo port install xboard". You'd have a better luck with linux if xboard comes along with your distribution. A more complete list of all available clients/interfaces can be found here.

Access at

As the name implies, is a free, well-maintained, feature-ful avenue for playing chess online. xboard merely connects to the server and everything else is managed by freechess. The things you can do at are:
  • play chess online with other people. You can set the parameters for a match (time duration, time increment, color, type)
  • observe other (great) people playing. You can also observe live matches from grandmasters, along with expert commentary
  • take online step-by-step lectures on chess -- this includes lectures on tactics, tips, opening/closing moves, best practices and recognizing patterns.
  • examine past played games
  • save / adjourn games for a later time
Sold? Ok, now get access by registering at freechess using a unique username (aka handle). You'll have to follow another link to activate your registration. This is a one-time process.

Connection and Setup:

My xboard command that launches xboard and automatically connects to is:

xboard -ics -icshost -icsport 5000

If you have a firewall, there are workarounds discussed in detail elsewhere. Essentially, you'll need to have telnet access to a gateway server which can then connect to freechess. When at IIIT, I used to use:

xboard -ics -telnet -telnetProgram telnet -icshost -icsport 23

(this connects you to first, and then you can "telnet 5000" to start the session)

I usually save my username and passwd (on separate lines) in ~/.icsrc so that I don't have to enter it every time.

The Game:

There are >5 kinds of games on freechess:
  • Blitz: This is standard chess with short time constraints
  • Lightning: This is standard chess with very short time constraints. A match can conclude within 2 mins
  • Standard: This is standard chess with regular timings
  • Suicide: This is the suicide variant of chess. Whoever loses all pieces wins
  • Atomic: This is a variant in which bombs explode when you take a piece, thereby bombing adjacent pieces as well
  • Crazyhouse: As the name says, it's crazy. You have to try it out yourself -- it's interesting
Of these, Blitz and Standard are the most played.

After you have logged in, you can issue a huge number of commands. See "help commands" for the complete list. I'm listing out the basic ones:

List out all the matches currently being offered:
$ sought

To accept a match offer:
$ play 9
(where 9 is the id, as displayed by "sought"). There are lots of people online on freechess, so you need to be quick in accepting a match offer.

List out all players currently online:
$ who

Offer a match request to another user with handle "nirns"
$ match nirns
A match request is sent to "nirns" which if he accepts, a match starts.

$ match nirns 5 12
This starts a "blitz" game of 5 minutes and 12 secs increment after every move. If you run out of time, your opponent can "flag" you and you lose

To see your score/ratings/points:
$ finger

To see nirns's ratings:
$ finger nirns

To see the list of LectureBot's lectures:
$ tell lecturebot list

To observe LectureBot's lecture:
$ observe lecturebot


Apart from the game and the fun, you need to keep track of your ratings. Your ratings are displayed for each category of game with "finger" command. Newbies have ratings of 400 - 900 in blitz/standard category. OK players have 900 - 1400, Good players have 1400-1900. Computer bots have 1900-2400. Grandmasters have 2400-2700.

Apart from the rating, you need to keep an eye on something called RD -- Rating Deviation. It gives a sense of "confidence" in your rating. Mathematically speaking, if your rating is x, the probability that your actual rating is within [x - 2 * RD, x + 2  * RD] is 95%.

Intially, the rating deviates by a huge factor after every game because RD is high. As you play more and more, the RD decreases and therefore the rating settles to a near-true value.

That's it. Explore the tonnes of happy commands on freechess. Have fun!
Oh, and if you happen to get online, my handle is: nirns.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

1bn People, yet no President

1 billion. That's the population of India. But when it comes to deciding who the next President should be, our political parties don't appear to have a strong contender.

Smitten so many times by the current scientist president (Bihar assembly dissolution issue, reservation issue), congress definitely doesn't want an intellectual for the next President. Why, it's a democracy; every common man should have the right to become the President, and it appears that that's exactly what's going to be. Gone are the days when people of repute and excellence were contenders for the post of the citizen number 1. Only common people, those who have the distinction of having done nothing their entire life, thereby preserving their inability, are the contenders now.

Oh, and women should be Presidents. Why? Just because no woman ever has! If Left, the messiah of the common, the perpetrator of the idea that no one can go to college until the last limping sob has gone to school, has its way, so will it be.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Without Engineers All Around

Disturbed with the sad realization of spending most of my time with engineers, this weekend I decided to try something else. So, on Saturday evening, I went to a gathering of people where I'd ordinarily not. It was a group related to private franchisees -- Quickstar and Amway. There I was sitting with a lot of people from different walks of life -- there were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, teachers/professors, students, and of course engineers. There was a speaker who was supposed to give a presentation on "something which would change your life". A good deal of people jumped up to the stage before the "real" speaker did, trying to pull excitement out of thin air with their broken English and miserably impersonated accent, and each of them claimed that this evening would "change your life forever". This phrase was being repeated with such liberal efficacy as if the intent purpose of "something which would change your life" was either understood or unquestioned, as if it had been globally accepted as a common ask. I hung on, not for an opportunity to "change my life forever" but for an opportunity to analyze what was going on.

The real speaker ranted about why everyone wanted to change one's life, how one could make life comfortable, how one could be happier, and it was shocking to see that each of these were tied with an idea of not having to work. It was assumed that to be truly happy in life, you needed to quit work and spend time with family, and he would have me believe that as long as I had to work, I didn't have "permanent" happiness. I'm accustomed to let such brag pass unabsorbed through my head but I wanted to see what the speaker would arrive at and how he'd drive the point home, so I lingered on. To my astonishment, he didn't. He didn't have a point to drive home. He spent all his talk motivating people that they needed to change their life but volunteered nothing as the means to it -- as if it was already well-established, unquestioned. He beat around for long about how he had "changed his life" and now he didn't have to work anymore, as if work were a punishment. He would make liberal use of metaphors that I care not understand, citing examples of how the richest people in the world had made money, as if he had decoded all of them.

In essence, the speaker spoke about everything except what the real point was. It was unnecessary. The audience was in applauses.

The speaker had taken 2 hours for his beating around the bush. If I had given the same presentation, it would last no longer than 5 minutes and all of it would contain the points of essence, nothing more nothing less, as if hitting the nail on its head.

Now that's the difference between engineers and others. Engineers try to make a point, others consider that it's unnecessary to make a point. Engineers tend to go by logic, others tend to go by ... well, I don't think they go by anything. (no flames please, by "others" I mean the crowd that was there)

I'm better off with engineers anyway, but I'll continue with my analysis at such gatherings. There's an awful lot you get to understand about the world and its suction.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Engineers All Around

I had been contemplating the other day about the people I spend my time with daily. The introspection was shocking.

From dawn to dusk, I spend time with engineers of the most technical type. But shocking is the fact that it's only engineers that I spend time with. Of course there are other kinds of people which I don't happen to cross paths with, but are at least equally capable. Not only that, all the engineers that I spend my time with are computer engineers, so that's an even more specialized group. I'll have to strain my thoughts to recall the last time I talked to someone who was not a computer engineer. Despite the usual brouhaha about a large portion of the currently employed kind in the country being computer professionals, it takes out a certain spice/variety from life. I would have loved to talk to lawyers, writers, painters, poets, businessmen, detectives, criminals, and such. What a pity!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

McD buys IIT Kanpur?

At about 3:00 AM yesterday night, a friend pinged me to inform that IIT Kanpur's site had been hacked. And it had been done in with a funny story-line:

McDonald buys IITK for $40 billion. The institutes's mission has been revised to: carrying out original research of significance and technology development in the ever-green field of burger making. While the general look and feel of the website remained the same, funny links to McFries, Mccy, Fry Gold medal, McBurger appeared.

See the screenshot for the rest of the fun.