The disconnect

Inside the campus, we are inside a shell; our identities kept a big secret by a proxy server (lol), and then protected by a firewall (lol lol). Secrecy and protection apt for a mafia, you may imagine. Feels cozy and comfortable, doesn’t it?
To me, it feels disconnected. There is a discontinuity between us and the world in each aspect. Right from CS servers and FTP access. And for me, the most exasperating disconnect is… time.
I can’t get my hardware clock to be in sync to the nanosecond with UTC. There are hundreds of Internet Time servers out there, and a frantic NTP daemon on my laptop that increases startup time by a few seconds, when it is trying to reach this server and that server. But the NTP port 123 is blocked by the firewall; and ntpd must rest in peace each time.
Apparently, there was an internal NTP server some time ago, but it does not reply now. Why block NTP, I ask CC. I am waiting for an answer.
You’ll ask, what do I want to do, with a clock synced to the nanosecond with UTC. I say: I want to blog about it here. So, instead of blogging about how it is in sync, I end up blogging about how people won’t allow me to sync it.
Besides, there are advantages of having the right time. If someone tells you that you’re late, you’ll make quite an impression by saying how much you are late by. Shows that your actions are well-timed, if not timely.
(Meta: Rate this post!)


Déjà vu

(Meta: This is a valuable excerpt from my autobiography, should there chance to be one.)
I have always been around and using computers. Gaming on them. And programming on them. My first game was Dave in my first grade. And my first programming language was LOGO, also in first grade. (That was CBSE board, and they really did notch things up!) Now, I don’t think that everyone thinks that making a triangle run around on the screen by mashing on the keyboard is called programming. But it IS called programming; you have to come to terms with that.
Forward the clocks: my first year at IIT; first sem. I find myself doing a CS101 turtleMain assignment; I had done it roughly twelve years before giving JEE.
Now, that’s planning.

No wonder history repeats.
(Meta: Rate this! Though that is exactly what the line below says; I think repeating it here makes a difference. Man can never quite claim to understand how he thinks, can he?)

Football: Defective By Design?

In case the title hasn’t already made clear, I’ll do so here explicitly: I hate football. Both the playing part and the watching part. And I am really puzzled as to why football is such a globally followed thing. In all frankness, from the game-theoretic design perspective, cricket is better.

Let me put forth my prime concerns with football. In any game, there are what-are-called “flukes”. An unintended touch of the ball, and it goes in the goal. Or, a very well planned complex move, but at the last moment it hit the pole, and no goal. Even in cricket.. a bad ball hit even badly and the inside edge brought it onto the stumps. Or the tail-enders just flexing the arm: it’s a six!

Flukes are part of the game, nobody can change that. However in football, flukes are far more likely to change the eventual result of the game than in, say, cricket. In cricket, a random six off the last man matters in maybe only 2% games. A lucky wicket could matter more, maybe. But in football, where results are of the order of 1-nil, 4-2, and hardly any game has more than 4 goals, a fluke causing or not causing a goal is a very important event for the course of the game.

Another design flaw in football: Why would I want to go and watch football? Sure, for the expert analyst, all those failed goal attempts in football are intriguing. But for the random guy, he just wants to scream when something happens. And a 90 minute game, typically having 2-3 goals, say implies that there are just 2-3 dramatic moments where I get to scream the hell out. Compare to cricket, where every single four or a six or a wicket offers me a chance to celebrate.

So, somehow, I feel that cricket is better designed both from the game-theory perspective as well as popularity perspective. Then, why is it not as religiously followed around the world as football?

I think the answer may be simply that people also don’t have time for day-long matches. That is where ODI cricket fails. But cricket learns, and creates 20-20.

(Meta: I’ll keep reminding for a few days, till it becomes a habit. Rate this post!)

Meta: Feedback

I expect that this post will get the 1000th hit. Now that we have come so far, I think it’s time to insist on feedback.

Not everyone likes all posts to the same degree, obviously. There even may be some people who come here just because they see this link on Buzz, and they do the only thing they know can be done with links: they can click it. For them, unimaginative is the word I’d like to employ.

Well, for all the readers, unimaginative or not, after you’re done reading the post, there is a provision to rate the posts with stars. I find that very, very few people have actually used it. So, I decided to make it a point to tell people to use it more often. Feedback is the only way for you to get stuff that you’d like to read about, irrespective of whether you liked all these posts or not. Don’t just passively read what I post. Take charge of your life, and rate posts to get more of what you want in the future!

Rate posts. Starting from this one.

P.S. If you are really enthusiastic about it, do visit the archives and rate even the earlier posts.

P.P.S. More direct feedback by commenting on posts, or actually mailing me, will only enhance the chances of you getting to read better stuff in future.


Yesterday, I saw Waking Life. It was a very remarkable and ingenious presentation of philosophical questions and answers related to many things like evolution, existentialism, and in particular, dreams.

And given this philosophical nature of the story(?), the medium of the movie just had to have the right touch of both the reality as well as the abstract. Actual shooting? Too real. Animation? Too fake.

So, the movie was made using a technique called “rotoscopy”, which is right in the middle of real life and animation. First, the actors act out scene after scene, like for any other movie,  and just as perfectly.

Next, a team of artists comes along and sketches/paints over each frame! Today, of course, computer aid greatly helps the artists complete the job faster and better.

The result: mindblowing. No animation could have been the same. For one, animated movies look fake because the “acting” isn’t real; eg. when two people are talking, they don’t just stare at each other; they often look away. Similarly, when you are doing one task, you always inadvertantly do so many other actions every now and then; eg. scratching your face, adjusting your glasses etc. These are small things that hardly any animated movie has consciously shown.

However, since rotoscopy is based on actual acting, all these little things are, in fact, shown; and that is somehow mentally pleasing. And, to add to that, are the artistic strokes. The artists consciously use different kinds of media to draw, and different painting techniques, varying stroke strength and thickness etc, to fully bring out the mood and individality of each frame. All this takes the experience to a different level altogether.

Rotoscopy is powerful, but it is also a subtle and delicate medium of expression. Although I wish to see many more movies to be made using rotoscopy, at the same time, I don’t think that our dime-a-dozen pacy action movies will do justice to the medium. Rotoscopy needs a slow, deep pensive atmosphere to really have its effect; and Dhobhi Ghat is certainly a movie that I’d like to see rotoscoped. Producers, are you listening?

Debugging.. ourselves!

(Meta: I had not posted for a week due to a range of reasons including net not working when wanted; but it also gave me a much wanted statistic: In this week of not posting, I still got about 50 hits.. which means that people ARE expecting content. That’s reassuring!)

We all know that none of us are perfect, and all that. However, what we don’t know is that we are generally imperfect in more ways than we know we are in. (That may not be written clearly enough, but you’ll grasp the meaning in a minute or so). And so, I think it is important for us to be told by others when we do something wrong. Problem is, hardly anybody will do this upfront. Even profs prefer to tell us by scribbling in red on pieces of paper.
I think I have The solution to this: A personal bug tracker. There are bug trackers for most open source software, where people post bugs they found, and the coders will work on them after excessive changes of tagging (read Open->Critical->Under Investigation->Fix Committed->Triaged->Again-and-again->Obsolete-Now->Haha->apt-get install moo).
Somebody should make a bug tracker for himself. In case you encounter this person and he does something you didn’t like; and you think it’s a bug in him, report it (anonymously if you want). Here are some of the bugs that I think I’ll have on my tracker, if one existed:
Year 2009 From parents: You don’t have regular baths. Status: Open->Fix committed->Obsolete
Year 2010 From parents: You don’t have regular baths. Status: Open->Fix committed->Obsolete
Year 2011 From parents: You don’t have regular baths. Status: Open->Fix committed->Fixed!
Yes, it is fixed now.

Year 2009 From parents: You don’t exercise. Status: Open->Fix committed->Obsolete
Year 2010 From parents: You don’t exercise. Status: Open->Fix committed->Obsolete
Year 2011 From parents: You don’t exercise. Status: Open->Fix committed
I hope I can fix it. It’s a tough one.

Since forever from everyone, many of them anonymous: Your handwriting will cause you issues in the future. Status: Open->Branched off from the trunk to a low-probability space-time; currently switching to typing whenever possible.->Hence fixed.

As you can see, this sort of a thing will be fun! I think someone should try it. I won’t do it myself; very busy with other stuff(bugfixing the known ones, lets say). But I hope someone else does. It will be a big thing! The next social revolution, perhaps? Of course, no bug tracker is perfect, and we MUST have a bugtracker to debug the bugtracker.

Bragging Decentralized…

Of the many interesting things that Freakonomics has taught me, one is that the internet has taken away some of the exclusivity of specialists in most areas. At one point of time, if a doctor prescribed you this or that tablet, you have no choice but to take his word for it. (Or consult another doctor ad infinitum). But today, one can google the drug’s name and find out infinitely more about it. Of course, in the case of doctors, I think they still do have exclusivity; it’s just that they can’t give wrong drugs now; and that is a good thing.
But in some other fields, this idea of making things easy for everyone, has caused select groups to lose credit. At one point of time a few years ago, if you said you can use linux, it was a big thing. And today, with the advent of easy things like ubuntu, the exclusivity of that group has diluted to a huge extent.

Not that I am against it. Linux should, after all, reach out to the public. But somebody lost bragging rights at the same time..

Which reminds me of the time last semester, when my roommate said he likes LaTeX only because of its beautiful font. And this was right before psycho endsem; by the time I could recover from that shock, the paper was over. I don’t want to know how much I scored.
So naturally, I had suggested to him to just google for the font and use it in Word directly. To my horror, he took it seriously and actually did install the font. Bottomline: through my sense of stupidity, I had managed another group to lose exclusivity. Now the next time you see a beautiful LaTeX document, you won’t know if the guy actually knows LaTeX, or he is faking it. Knowing LaTeX may not sound like a huge thing to brag about. But it still counts.