Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Pandora's box

The trouble with Pandora and Last.fm...

you setup a radio station with your favorite music, spend months thumb-ing up and down various songs and eventually it recommends Macarena to you...

you wonder what went wrong, and where...

P.S. May be this should've been presented as an xkcd comic.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Detecting computer addiction

People, especially my wife, have been telling me that I spend way too much time fiddling with computers, so much so that it borders on obsession. There have been times when my wife would be telling me something but I'm so engrossed in something that I actually don't hear a word of what she's saying. Yet, I never believed that I was at the point where I needed help. Until recently...

The first sign was a few days ago, when while chatting I needed to quote another person, and since the quote was a bit long, I wanted to type it out on multiple lines and I entered """ to indicate a multi-line string.

And today I was reading a headline on Slashdot, FBI Hid Patriot Act Abuses and the first thought that goes into my mind is: Why is HID written as Hid?. Once that thought was popped off the stack, the next thought that popped up was: Why is FBI interested in HID?

To those who're laughing at me right now, and mentally agreeing that I need help, I've got news for you. You understood what in the world I was talking about and you'll probably be like me someday soon.

And as for those who've no idea what I'm talking about. The """ is from Python programming language. And HID is Human Interface Devices in computer parlance.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Kittens and heart attack

Here I was shedding my mandatory semi-annual crocodile tears on the inactivity in my blog, and the futile-but-mandatory resolution to make amends to it, that I come across a cat and heart attack article linked from Slashdot.

The article states that the researchers have found that having cats as pets reduces your risk of heart attacks. Now knowing our cats, I know my wife would strongly disagree to this. And looking at some of the really hilarious comments on Slashdot, it would seem that many cat-owners do agree with her rather than the research's findings. If anything the cats seem to be hyperactive at 4:30am in the morning, thus waking us up. Now how can that not lead to stress and heart attack? Is that their sinister way of imposing on us the age old adage "Early to bed, early to rise..."?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bizarro world

I am beginning to get this feeling that the powers that be are trying to tell me something, something regarding my work. And I think the message is, although a bit obscure and probably entirely my imagination but everything seems to, at least in my interpretation, point to it, that I should stop coming to work. Now does it want to say work from home, or even the drastic quit altogether and just give up? I don't know.

So far this week, I've been locked out of my office on two days (as you'd already know from my last post). And yesterday, the metro train that I was in traveling to work suddenly lost all power and came to a standstill. The only lights that were on were near the emergency exits. I was contemplating the possibility that all aboard might have to get out and walk along the tunnel to the next station, when somehow the power was restored and the train moved along without further incidents. I guess that is nature's way of telling, I told you to stay out of the office, but you were too stupid to take the hint. So now I'm having to mess with the metro and inconvenience everyone else on board too. Are you happy now?

Surely, I should have been able to put two and two together. The last one month has been quite disappointing at work. The codes have gotten extremely fussy about running, let alone generating results that would appease the funding agencies and produce more funds and grants. Nature is saying, Look buddy, I'm just helping you out here.

But it seems that I still didn't get the hint. For today, there I was back again traveling to work. However, because of various reasons I'd to end up driving to work. Now anyone who has lived where I live and commuted to where I work would tell you, it ain't no picnic even on the best of the bright, sunny, lazy laidback sunday mornings when most of the populace is attending mass at their local churches. But I was driving to work at the peak rush hour, and what's worse, it is raining cats and dogs. I don't know what it is with rains and people crawling down to 10mph on the highway. But it is just the fact of life and I've learnt to live with it.

So while I was crawling along the interstate at snail's pace, I was surfing through the radio channels and got to hear some offbeat news which you don't usually hear everyday. According to the DJ the links are available at their website Hot 99.5 FM, but I am unable to find them.

Now I know many of you will say that listening to commerical radio is stupid, and that only news on NPR or some such is worth listening to. To those people, I say "pfft", I don't care. What follows is what I remember listening, so it might not be entirely accurate, be warned. Among them...

Fight over chicken dance: Apparently some place in Australia a few guys kept requesting the chicken dance song and kept doing the chicken dance on the floor repeatedly. This annoyed the bouncers so much that they manhandled the guys and threw them out of the joint and a fight broke out where one of the bouncers injured his opponent seriously. Well, I didn't like bouncers because they were huge and strong and can pummel a scrawny guy like me to death. But damn, they've got taste and I really side with them on this. Anyone doing the chicken dance deserves to be hit hard over his/her head.

Drunk kids: Underage kids were caught drinking by one of the kids' parents. A few of the kids held others hostage with a sledgehammer. The police were there trying to get them out, but gave up and left after a few hours at around 4AM. Apparently the kids eventually gave up and left at around 6AM. I seem to have forgotten a lot of details in this story. I remember there were more hilarious bits to this, but I was busy negotiating traffic and trying to swerve to avoid rear-ending someone who jumped in front of me.

Raccoon skinning in Arkansas: This one takes the cake in to my opinion. There was a planned skinning demonstration of a raccoon in a school. And the parent of the kid surprised the teacher by bringing a live animal in a trap instead of a dead one. Apparently, the teacher didn't have anything to kill the raccoon with before skinning it, so he used a nail gun to kill the animal before proceeding to skin it in front of the kids. Apparently only one of the kids in the whole class opted to sit out and not watch the proceedings. The AP article has some more details.

Now one of the DJs (No. 1) was wondering about how it is considered not so outlandish an occurrence in Alabama, but might be considered quite out of the ordinary here in north-eastern US. He opined that the teacher might be under a lot of heat for doing something like that. Of course, none of the DJs thought that a wild animal would even be allowed in school premises in these states. However, another DJ (No. 2, a woman) said that there were hunting and fishing clubs for kids in high school in certain states, and trapping, skinning and eating animals was essential knowledge that is taught to kids in some places. So to most people in those places, as probably in Alabama, it is just nothing more than a science project where you dissect an animal to learn about its internal organs.

So DJ No. 1 said that the teacher should be shot with a nail gun for using a nail gun on a raccoon in front of the kids. Then DJ No. 2 asked if DJ No. 1 would be OK with the whole skinning of the raccoon in front of the kids, if the teacher hadn't used a nail gun to kill the raccoon. He didn't think the whole skinning of the raccoon in school in front of the kids was acceptable either.

I am not sure what my feelings are on this issue. Yeah, the nail gun is a bit bizarre, but would you be OK if there was no nail gun involved? It would then just be a normal dissection class?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

When it rains, it pours

And I'm not even talking about the rains that we're subjected to in this parts of the country for the last few days. Now was it two or three? I forget. My memory is degrading faster than my weight, but I'll get to that later.

So this is going to be a rant against my working conditions. And if you're allergic to rants, then I suggest you stop reading right now, I am not longer responsible for you dying of a brain hemorrhage. You've been warned.

To provide you with some background. I am a postdoc at a university in a department which shall be unnamed. Now the life of a postdoc isn't any better than the life of a PhD student. You get the same dingy cubicle, a desk, a very uncomfortable chair, and piles and piles of old printouts mysteriously end up cluttering your desk no matter how hard you try to keep it clean. And if you're lucky, the heating/cooling system will actually maintain a comfortable atmosphere in your cubicle. However, that almost never happens. What happens instead is that the vent directly above you blows hot air in summer and cold air in winter. They don't trust you with the thermostat settings because you don't have the requisite number of brain cells to set temperature on a thermostat. You're, however, expected to research on how helicopters fly. Now these cubicles often a dozen to room with the roominess of a VW bug, are often guarded by a strong door with graduate students often having electronic card access, or if you're really unlucky still managed by keys which you can get only after a three-month wait period... during which period you're at the mercy of your peers.

In my particular case, we're in the postdoc office. While dingier and more ancient looking than the graduate students' office, it does provide a sub-office (numbered XXXX-A, XXXX-B and so on) for each postdoc. There is, however, a catch. Isn't there always a catch. No one has keys to these sub-office doors. Everyone leaves their sub-office doors open and just hopes that the main door (numbered XXXX in our example) is secure enough to keep nosey types at bay. Things went on fine where everyone just left the door alone until this Monday. I show up at work and I find the door to my office locked and I'm without a key. I go up to the department office and apparently they don't have the master key either. So I was asked to track down a senior professor who happened to have the master key, so that I could gain access to my own office.

To make sure that this doesn't happen again, I diligently used duct tape to prevent the locks from locking and hoped that this would sort the problem. So imagine my surprise when I walk in today and find the duct tape removed and the door locked again. This time the senior professor was nowhere to be found. The people at the department office washed their hands off of any responsibility and refused to help me. So after a good two hours of running around I was able to find a person who was able to open my room.

Once I gain access to my office, I'm craving a cup of coffee. So I start brewing coffee, and as fate would have it, my coffee machine decides to have an abortion. The coffee grounds block the small opening that drips the coffee down into the cup and the water from the reservoir overflows in the filter and makes a mess of my desk. I manage to clean my desk, my coffee machine and salvage about a quarter cup of coffee from that ordeal.

I guess this is nature's way of saying, "you should've stayed home and not bothered to show up to work".

Friday, June 01, 2007

(defclass lolcode (programming-language lolcats) ... )

The latest phenomenon that has taken the internet world by storm is lolcats. OK, I exaggerate. It isn't really that new, the first reports came in around April, 2007 and has been reported on various net culture watch-blogs. But with the pace at which my blog gets updated, this is new enough. Yet another sore reminder of how I'm completely oblivious of the hip-culture on the net. I always considered myself net-savvy and up-to-date on the latest craze and fads, but I guess I'm getting too old for that. I first saw it on Language Log and have been seeing a lot of examples recently, because my wife loves looking at those cat macros.

Of course, to preserve the guy image, I've to profess my utmost disgust at this silly fawning over cute cat images, despite the fact that the captions are quite clever and require quite a bit of imagination. So why am I blogging about this?

Well, a recent post at Language Log indicates that out of the lolcats phenomenon has emerged a new programming language lolcode which uses the lolcats slang for its control constructs. I'm neurotic about learning new programming languages and cannot sleep with the knowledge that there is a programming language out there in which I cannot write a simple "Hello World" program. Thus, encountering languages like Whitespace and Brainfuck previously. So I headed out to the lolcode website to see if there were any tutorials and interpreters for the new programming language. Turns out they're still arguing about syntax for the control constructs. The discussion is quite funny, especially the ones for if-then-else conditional and for-loops. You guys might want to check it out.

And thanks to Wikipedia, now I've found an entirely new list of programming languages that I've never heard of! Look at the Categories section at the end of the wikipedia link for Whitespace or Brainfuck. There is a programming language based on Klingon. Neat huh?

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Luddite in me/us

Recently, my wife was telling me about how the senior staff at her workplace were quite wary of dealing with electronic equipment, how they'd panic if the printer or the photocopier had a paper-jam, or how they were quite uncomfortable about the prospect of handling a certain task using M$ Office Excel spreadsheet than using tables in M$ Office Word.

*Shudder* Tables in Word! Why don't people just strap themselves to an electric chair, and have a sadist pull out each tooth in your mouth with a pair of pliers without anesthesia, while being electrocuted simultaneously? I wager it will be less painful than dealing with the formatting of the tables.

Anyway, coming back to the topic, we got talking about technology and technophobia and one of us (I don't remember which)...

Aside: This is a diplomatic maneuver usually employed by husbands when they aren't sure what stance their wives would take, and don't want to annoy them.

Anyway, back to the topic...
... and one of us (I don't remember which) ended up wondering how we might be considered Luddites when we grow old and cannot keep pace with the technological changes around us.

Does getting older impact ones ability to grok fancy new technology? Or will we be as sharp as we're today with the advent of new technology? Why do people lag behind, assuming that at one point they were up-to-date with the day's latest technical gizmos? Is it because, after a certain stage, we get comfortable with the tools we've because they seem to do all the things we want to do? Or is it because with age, we slowly lose the curiosity and don't want to pursue the latest fad of the day?

At that point, I was feeling mildly confident that no matter what happens I'd definitely stay abreast of the technological advances, and never appear clumsy using the latest technologies. However, a few days ago, I'd to use text-messaging on my cellphone/mobile/or-what-you-will and I realized that I might be wrong.

I dislike text-messaging, partially because I feel it is clumsy having to type out the letters using the numerical pad. Of course, i cud ve rittn smth lik this, but I'm over that phase. I like to feel smug after having typed out the text in proper English. And typing out words properly using the normal text entry mode is painful. Hip people would point out that I should be using T9/iTap for text entry. I tried it once when I first got my cellphone, couldn't figure it out and so never tried text messaging ever since.

However, a few days ago, I went back to it and it seemed so straightforward and simple that I feel quite stupid to have avoided it for all these years. I must say it is quite nifty! I guess the words I was trying to type weren't too complicated, and so it was easy for the algorithm to guess at the words I was trying to type.

So I'm mildly consoled by the fact that even though I gave up T9/iTap a few years ago, I was able to learn it a few days ago. I guess to fully get rid of the stupid feeling, I probably must learn Morse code, type my text-messages in Morse, and figure out a way to have them automagically be translated into English text before it is sent out. Well, what can I say... I belong to the weird group of people who think like this.

P.S. Just to annoy my wife-y: ये मेरा दिल यार का दीवाना| ;)

Blogging goes desi (देसी)

At the risk of annoying two-thirds of my readership, here goes a blog about Hindi, written in Hindi.

आज का ताजा खबर! अब आप हिंदी में ब्लोग कर सकते हो| अधिक जानकारी के लिए इस लिंक पर देखिए|

For those wearing the Babel Fish in their ears, you'll read this as (hmmm... I don't know how reading works! May be the eggs that Babel Fish lays swims in your aqueous/vitreous humour, and renders them correctly?): Breaking news! Now you can blog in Hindi. For more details, follow this link. (I'm too lazy to paste the links here again, you can click on the links in the Hindi text. Not sure which is which is which, then it would just like shooting in the dark, wouldn't it?)

I must say that this "transliteration" thing works pretty well. Because I'm not using a Hindi keyboard, or using the Hindi character map to generate these. All I did was type "Aaj ka taaza khabar" and it converted it on-the-fly (at the end of every word) to its Hindi equivalent.

P.S. I guess this means that I can write things like हाल कैसा है जनाब का? क्या ख़याल है आपका... and Kate will just have to learn Hindi fast enough and make sense out of it. ;)

To spoof livejournal

Current mood: Impressed
Current fad: think about more blogs to post in hindi