Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Amazon kindle ... first thoughts

No sooner did I blog about non-availability of ereaders in India than Amazon announced the International Kindle 2. I thought long and hard, observed the release of the Nook, and decided to bite the bullet. I ordered a Kindle.

The Kindle for $259 is actually $378 with shipping and duties. And for that flimsy screen, I had to purchase a cover - I purchased the Amazon's Kindle cover, which at $29 is daylight robbery. The entire package cost $428 after shipping and duties. Pretty high.

I got it yesterday, delivered by DHL in just 5 days. Not bad at all.

I don't know why Amazon calls the packing as "frustration free". It was everything but that.

I have seen more attractive packaging for cheaper mobile phones than there was for the Kindle. It was a plain boring packaging - surely, they can spruce it up.


It is a confusing design. I want the keypad if I want to make notes. I tend to make notes on textbooks and typically, non-fiction books and papers. These are usually in PDF or PS or DJVU format - none of which are supported by Kindle. Kindle is useless for academic usage.

If I want to use Kindle just for reading novels, then I don't make notes, and the keypad is an obstruction. I would have preferred a larger screen with more text per page. If you read on an average at around 600 words per minute, you need to see an eyeful of text. The 6" screen is too small - actually, anything less than 8" would be a problem. The small screen makes it quite cumbersome for fiction reading. Definitely, the Kindle hasn't been designed by an avid reader.

It is a confusingly positioned product.

Whispernet works - I don't know what provider, but it connects to some EDGE network. The speed reminds me of a VSNL dialup connection nine years ago which had massive congestion problems. I can access only wikipedia. Though I don't know why anybody would want the whispernet.

OK, bearable. But definitely needs improvement

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Missing the wood for the trees

The way the climate-fanatics are going about linking global warming and climate change to greenhouse gases, I suspect there will be a case of eating crow later on.

I don't have a problem with associating climate and change and global warming with human activities. I have a problem with associating them primarily to greenhouse effect.

The shrill tone of politicians and environmentalists to reduce carbon emissions evokes some kind of suspicion in me ... Would a world powered by solar energy, wind turbines and cold fusion be free of climate change problems ? My natural cynicism about nature thinks otherwise.

Thank God I'm not a scientist, so I'm not gagged and forced to talk only in peer-reviewed journals. I also don't have enough data to back up my claims, so the ideal response to my claims would not be disbelief (disbelief without data to back it up would be irrational and therefore, unscientific !!) but scepticism.

Let me think about some questions aloud:
a) My laptop generates a lot of heat. The fan in the laptop dissipates the heat outside. Question: where does the heat go ?
b) A nuclear reactor converts water to steam to power the turbines. Where does the heat go ? Btw, do you notice there is no carbon emission here ?
c) My car AC cools my car. Law of conservation of heat dictates something else got hot in more or less equal amounts (assuming no wastage). Where does the heat go ? OK, forget the AC ... whenever I drive, the car engine gets hot. Where does the heat go ?
d) Everytime I breathe, the air I exhale is hotten than the air I inhale. Where does the heat go ?

See the point ? I contend that global warming has got to do more with energy released into atmosphere than to do with carbon emissions. Of course, since most of the above activities did happen via carbon dioxide emitted fossil fuels.

Taken in isolation, the heat goes out of each system. But taking the planet itself as a system, it appears that heat doesn't go anywhere else, except as radiation. It has to stay within the system.

Now, where is my Nobel ?

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Drive-by bullies

One of the scariest experiences on Bangalore roads (and there are several, including rain driving) is obeying traffic rules. It is dangerous to stop at the red-lights while the rest of the traffic drives by blissfully ignoring the stop signal, especially since the trucks and buses are on top of the food chain on these roads, and a lowly motor-bike is an insignificant road kill.

Initially, I used to jump unmanned (by the policemen, that is) red lights too. Then, a growing realization that traffic rules are a contract between me and every other road-user, and thus a more conservative approach. Also, began to realize the utter pointlessness of it. Those who jumped the signal didn't actually do so with impunity. They were getting bitten by a very guilty conscience, and drove very slowly (or may be it was their survival instincts). I realized that I could overtake them easily anyway, so why bother taking the risk ?

Yet the problem of appearing foolish while stopping at a red-light while nobody else bothered to stop remained. Then there was the absolute fear of a reckless bus or truck ramming me from behind. This was especially true at night - since there are no cops around, and most signals are on blinking amber, and *nobody* else, obeys the traffic rules, and everybody is going at minimum 60 klicks.

I started to change the world, and then realized that these road bullies are actually sheep that need only a little guidance. I began to stop at traffic signals even if they are unmanned and even if they are completely ignored by everybody. Wisdom gradually prevailed, and I started stopping at the extreme side of the road, caring a damn about those drive-by bullies. Then, an interesting thing started happening. People actually started stopping beside and behind me ! Show an example either way (jump the signal or stay behind) and they will choose to follow. A really fun experience at 10:30 pm ...

Are atheists same as theists

I don't understand atheism. I don't understand how atheism is different from theism. The latter believe in existence of God, and the former believe in non-existence of God. In either case, it is just a belief in something that can neither be proven nor be dis-proven enough to convince the other party.

While I can understand somebody saying they don't believe that God exists (ie, being agnostic), I can't understand equating with believing that God doesn't exist.

Ebook readers in India ??

I'm trying to buy a Ebook reader ... desperately. But, you know what ? I can't seem to buy one.

Amazon Kindle would have been ideal had it not been awfully product-managed. On paper, it is ideal - after all, Amazon has a lot of books of which I can purchase the ebooks versions. But, not only is it bloated with features I don't want (EVDO, etc), not only is it expensive, not only are the ebooks limited in number, not only are the available ebooks expensive, it is also not sold or supported outside US.

The other popular choice is Sony Ereader ... Again the same problem - not sold in India, not even in Singapore (I searched through Sim Lim with no luck). And, they have bloated the latest with a touch screen.

Do these guys think that people in India don't read books ? And why make things simple when you can make them complex ?

Can't I get a simple E-ink based ebook reader, with around 10" screen, no colors, no back-light, no touch screen, no keyboard, with support PDF, HTML, LIT files ?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Market for lemons - H1B and competence

I'm finally extremely happy that US is tightening the screws on H1B visas. It may be ironic, but I feel it is the only way Indian IT industry can survive. The reason is simple - Darwin's theory.

If there is one thing that I feel concerned about, it is the dismal technical skills of software engineers. Over the past one and half years, I've interviewed over 70 candidates, but I could clear less than 10% of them. I can't refer most people from the only IT company I've worked with previously, because they are unemployable.

I have listed the probable causes here ...
a) People learn tools, not the concepts. Most CS engineers don't know the fundamentals. Exposed to the IDEs, they don't know what happens during compilation and what happens during linking. Exposed to "safe programming languages", they don't know what basic issues of memory allocation. Exposed to the frameworks and toolkits, they don't know how things happen actually. Abstraction is a great concept while programming, but not for learning.

b) Nobody writes code. Easiest way to filter out people (in my experience) is to ask them write a code snippet on a white board. It's real fun watching them struggle.
One thing is sure: these guys are not programmers. They have no idea about programming. Some don't even indent the code (in my book, that's a shooting offense).

c) People who passed out during the dot-com boom or bust had to be good. We weren't even sure whether we would get a job. So, we had read all sorts of books in the library and yet, get screwed in interviews.

d) All this is driven by mindless, mass recruitment. The typical IT setup works like this: the sales people sell a project to a customer, and then scramble to find the "resources" (as people are termed euphemistically) to allocate to the project. If the customer wants to look at the CVs, then it is possible to embellish the CVs to make them more attractive. If resources are not found, then they find sub-contracts who can provide the resources for the necessary time for a certain cut. If 10 people can accomplish the project, then 15 people are allocated, because the objective of the IT company is to maximize "billability". The customer pays through the nose for all this.

If this sounds unethical ... it probably is.

e) The IT companies screwed up. No amount of training can replace 4 years of slogging and getting screwed by sadistic profs/lecturers in college. To even imagine that their internal training can replace the learning during engineering is a fallacy. Cross-domain knowledge is good ... where cross-domain knowledge is required (say in engineering simulations, FEA etc). But to think that a mechanical or civil engineer after 3 months of training can somehow gain the skills of a computer engineer is a stupid concept.

The job market in Bangalore has become a market for lemons. There is no point in going to consultants or posting ads on job sites. Most CVs are embellished (that's an understatement). The only way of hiring people is through referral.

Programming must be fun, not a chore. This is a broad generalization, but most people have joined CS because of the money and the overseas vist ("onsite") opportunities ... and not because they like or they are good at it. Onsite also increases the value in the "marriage market", and that isn't small.

I look forward to the day when software goes "out of scope" (translation: doesn't fetch fat pay package for not working hard), and some other stream takes priority. Atleast, we can rescue the brand value of Indian IT. Currently, Indian IT industry is like the Titanic, presumably unsinkable, extremely big, very well known, but slowly homing in on an iceberg.

That is why the H1B restrictions are going to be useful. The IT companies will hopefully shed the flab, and try to focus on what made them effective in the first place. This is the only hope. Else, in the next 5-10 years, IT will go out of India. It was good while it lasted.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Defranchised by ignorance

Continuing my election related comments ...

While Wikipedia'ing for my last election post, I came upon something curious and something that I'd forgotten after middle school ... elections to Legislative Council.

Quoting from Wikipedia article
The members of the Vidhan Sabha are directly elected by people through adult franchise. The members of the Vidhan Parishat are elected indirectly by members of local bodies, teachers and graduates. There are 76 members of the Vidhan Parishat.
So, what is this bit about graduates ? Just in case I'm wrong, I looked into another wiki article
The size of the Vidhan Parishad cannot be more than one-third the membership of the Vidhan Sabha, the Legislative Assembly (lower house) of that state. But its size cannot be less than 40 except in Jammu and Kashmir where there are 36 by an Act of Parliament. One-sixth of its membership is nominated by the Governor from among persons who have excelled in science, arts, social service and other activities. Another one-third is elected by the local government bodies and one-twelfth by teachers of secondary schools, colleges and universities.

See the absence of any mention of graduates ? So, let us go to the source, the Constitution of India, Article 171, Section 3, Sub-section b
b. as nearly as may be, one-twelfth shall be elected by electorates consisting of persons residing in the State who have been for at least three years graduates of any university in the territory of India or have been for at least three years in possession of qualifications prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament as equivalent to that of a graduate of any such university;

That settles it. As a graduate (post-graduate, actually), I'm eligible to vote. Google searching yielded only one site - http://bangalore.metblogs.com/2006/04/24/graduates-its-your-time-to-vote/ which said I could vote.

This is indeed puzzling, because I hadn't heard about it before. Is it because very few states have got bicameral legislature ? I asked my mother who is a graduate and she had no clue.

Is this a big secret or something ? Or am I defranchised because I'm ignorant ?

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Elections 2009 - Hobson's choice

As the country prepares for a periodic festival of insanity called elections, I'm required to make a tough choice. The difficulty is because of the peculiar form of Government that we have

a) I can't elect a Prime Minister ... I can vote for an MP who'd elect or horse-trade his PM candidate.
The Parliament is also kinda useless, because no work happens there - only fist fights. If there is a rank for number of walk-outs, then I'm sure my incumbent MP would pass through with flying colors.
There are of course, well meaning armchair rear-admiral/strategists who were advocating presidential form of Government. After 8 years of George Bush, nobody wants to talk about it. It is nice to have a figure-head lameduck head of state who has no powers, but can take all the blame. It is a very cute idea.

b) It is nice as a whole to have a lot of regional parties, thereby giving a voice to each region. But, at the same time, the Central Government can't be allowed to destabilize by the regional chieftains, who don't care about anything other than their own power. So, that means I have choose a national party.

There are two principal national parties, and then there are the sub-national parties. I don't want to vote for Congress, because they are what we have been having for past 50 years or so, and look where we landed up. They also want us to go into some sort of kingdom, which ofcourse won't fly with me.

I don't want to vote for BJP, because they try to preach that my friends are actually enemies because they were born into some religion. No, thank you. I want my country to stay united.

I don't want to vote for the mythical Third Front, because firstly, they don't care, and secondly, they want to be anti-Congress and anti-BJP, meaning they won't take up even the little development the other two undertake.

There are the same well-meaning armchair rear-admiral/strategists mentioned above that want two-party system here. Now that is an awful idea as seen from American experience. If there are only two principal parties, they are going to disagree on almost everything ... so no room for compromise. Idealogy is for idiots ... not for real-world. Future (even for next 5 years) can't be concretized into a printed manifesto or a 1000-year old (150 year old, in case of communists) idealogy. I absolutely won't vote for any party with ideology or a manifesto.

c) Then there are the newspapers and media (and cute anchors) and associated astrologers, optimistically called psephologists. At one point of time, it used to be good to watch Tonight Show -> Star News -> NDTV and have Prannoy Roy and Dorab whoever explain the various permutations of caste politics. Unfortunately, that's where they are - ten years behind. They can show on the map, precise populations of Vokkaligas and Lingayats and other castes, precise proportion of age group in the electorate and expect me to vote as per their analysis. As a reaction to stereotyping me, I'm determined to single-votedly make them unemployed.

d) Then there is the fundamental fact that I dislike politicians ... across the board. They want the opportunity to rule me, and while I can't do anything about that, what I can do is to make them nervous ... not take my vote for granted.

That is why I've decided to confound all of them. Statistically, my vote is insignificant, but I don't want to think so ... who knows it may be the last straw that can break a camel's back ? It would be nice to have a Tamil Nadu system, where there is a landslide anti-incumbency vote every election, no matter what they do. Keeps the politicians on their toes, you know.

Then there is the difficulty as to what am I voting for and what can the MP do ?

Over the years, I've grown to realize that we really do get the Government we deserve. If I vote for a candidate who claims to represent my caste, then I can't complain if that is _all_ I get. Only caste identity politics ... no development, no Governance. So, whatever be my vote, I get to live with the consequences.

If I want the MP to shout in Parliament, I'll vote for the loudest one (they are usually found in B-school group discussions). I really don't know what an MP does, because I haven't seen any MP yet. If he has done anything with that 5 crore constituency development fund, he has kept it invisible ... possibly, some sort of Skunkworks project going on ?

The only thing that I can experience is my neighbourhood, for which there is a corporator incharge ... whom also I haven't seen so far.

So, where does that leave me ?

Is it worth to choose the MP who is a puppet to dance to the tunes of the party whip, who in turn dances to the tune of the party head, who usually isn't elected or is accountable to people ? Should I even bother ?
Does this election campaign address my fundamental requirement - "What's in it for me ??".

Have I decided who to vote for ? Yes
Am I going to reveal that to anyone ? Absolutely not. Secret motive is key to keep a puppet dancing....
What's in it for me ? Nothing.
Does it matter ? No. Either way, we're all screwed.
Doesn't it bother me ? No... in the long run, we're all dead anyway.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Theory of nations

Two and a half years ago, I made a funny claim about the Israel-Palestine conflict and suggested the most unpalatable solution to the problem - that they live together. Now, I'm being supported by, of all people, Col Gaddafi of Libya. Hurray !! :P

It doesn't matter whether this is acceptable or not. The point that is obvious to any outsider is - there is no other way. They can realise this now or after few years or after few generations. The only difference will be the number of people who would die in the meantime.

If there is a two-state solution, then there will be India-Pakistan. The basis of India-Pakistan partition was the assumption that hindus and muslims can't live together. Similarly, the two nation theory of Middle East is that Jews and Arabs can't live together. I still don't understand why. To call the Middle East conflict an ethnic conflict or a religious conflict would be to give undue importance to irrelevant factors. The basis of the conflict (or any conflict, for that matter) is: attempt of one to have power over the other.

If everytime two groups hate each other (which happens all the time they are jockeying for power), there is a new country or a new province, the world will have tens of thousands of countries, no two neighbours being able to stand each other. Then, we will have cold war, proxy war, limited war, nuclear war and what not.

It is also important to think about what will be the future of the weaker state. Will it become a tool to carry out a proxy war by other regional states against the powerful twin ? Will it ever stop becoming a sworn enemy of its twin ?

A bean-counting MBA would also ask - what is the business plan ? How would they feed their people (if at all you plan to) and where will they get the money ? Or do they plan to beg from World Bank and IMF ? If they have no source of money and no clue to making it, won't they be dependent on others to carry out their agenda against the twin ? No money, no country.

Perhaps the most important reason of all .... if you start hating the other person or other "that-is-not-me-or-mine" group, _you_ lose. India-Pakistan partition, Kosovo are bad events of history. That is why the divisive movements in Sri Lanka, Jammu and Kashmir are doomed.

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