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“Give me advertisers and I promise you free content” December 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, technology.
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Thats quoting Subash Chandra Bose. (who some believe is still alive.)

Anyway, this happened when I wasn’t watching. But all forgiven (!) – India Today, which to me is India’s best news magazine, is now available online for free !

Here is Sanjoy Narayan, Chief Operating Officer, India Today Group Digital.

…decided to change to a free access model for two reasons. The first says , “Our earlier subscription model found takers mainly among Indians living abroad or those who wanted information about India. Also, that was a time when Internet penetration was low and the user base was small. Now, with both of these increasing rapidly, particularly among the younger people, we want to tap this audience.”

The second reason is revenue. Online ad revenue is growing and the group feels as though they can attract an audience by keeping their readers engaged everyday instead of just periodically when their magazines are released.

Looks they are going the way of the NYTimes – generate revenue from advertising that comes from having a large readership than from subscription fees. I hate to call tipping-points but is this another statement about internet advertising in India ?

And yes, I will gobble anything that S. Prasannrajan writes, a favorite since the 90s.

Link.

Inner luddite December 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, technology.
2 comments

Every once a while at the freakonomics blog, Steve and Steve conduct informal polls, sometimes to get data for back of envelope calculations (see example) and sometimes just seeking advice from what one may expect to be a very intelligent and well-informed reader community (thats another of those nice things about top economics blogs). A while back Levitt went :

I’m a notoriously late adopter of technologies. It is not a conscious decision, and I don’t take any pride in it.

… As such, I need some advice from blog readers: what are some technologies I need the most that I’ve been slow to adopt?

I’ve been relatively slow myself. Cell phone in late 2003 that too because someone was selling it :p . Did not learn driving until I was way past 18.  And after 40 months in the US, have not got my license yet ( just use my international license 😉 ). I have not bought an ipod and may not in the foreseeable future primarily because I hate to carry around things that are really small and forget/lose and all that. And of course, not things that are too big either, simply because they are not meant to. 😉 [ Except a bicycle maybe 😀 ]. I did not buy a Mac either because back then I could not afford it, but now that I have one from work, I am so used to it that I am not that impressed any longer.

I have been a recent adopter of 2 technologies (if you can all them that) and I am loving it. Hold your breath for here it goes

  • RSS reader
  • Tabbed browsing in Firefox (I don’t use IE unless that is the only way out)

( So, if your blog stats have come crashing down, its because I am not showing up on your blog that often 😉 )

News from Europe December 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, humor, technology.
1 comment so far

A fully robotic parking lot, hats off to German engineering.

parkinglot.png

 Picture credits : Courtesy Autostadt GmbH. Photograph by Rainer Jensen.

Equally dramatic, in a high-tech way, are the parking towers at Autostadt, Volkswagen’s exhibition complex and automotive theme park in Wolfsburg, Germany. This parking garage is entirely robotic. Two 160-foot circular towers store 400 new cars on 20 levels, serviced by a central elevator that can retrieve a car in 30 seconds. Stacking cars in close-packed racks can be up to 50 percent more efficient than a conventional garage, but since it is currently more than twice as expensive, it is viable only in cities where land prices—or space—are truly at a premium.

Bangalore and Bombay please.

~~~

Sentence of the day from Roger Cohen of the Times:

Europeans still take the Enlightenment seriously enough not to put it inside quote marks.

Thats comparing European secularism to America’s ‘faith based democracy’. Religion is so much an election issue that one of the elections issues for 2008 is about religion being an election issue. Not too different from India, eh !

~~~

Quoting positive thinker Scotsman, who got locked and spent nearly four days trapped inside a men’s toilet with no food or mobile phone.

At least there was a toilet to use.

On the blogroll control-freak widget December 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, technology.
3 comments

I wonder if there is a widget out there that you can plug into your blog such that it will order your blog roll according to any logic you desire. I would then order my (incomplete) blogroll by some function* that  can be automatically computed and accounts for the frequency of posts, length of posts and some other variables I haven’t yet thought of. They can perform the added function of removing (temporarily or otherwise) blogs that don’t meet a particular criterion.

Of course, given that this blog is not among the prime movers of traffic in any sense of the term, it may not make much of a difference other than quenching my geek hunger. But I am sure that vastly popular blogs would want to reward blogs that meet some criterion by promoting them up the blogroll. Or even randomize the blogroll every once in a while to promote all blogs equally (in which is becomes an equal outcome function 😉 )

* Of course, needless to say that function would be an equal opportunity function that does not discriminate on, among other things, the basis of attributes the blogger is not responsible for – such as age, gender, height, weight, race, sexuality etc

Assorted links November 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, economics, life, technology.
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Okay, so if you could read say 15 blogs, which should you read to be most up to date ? (No ! not this one 😀 )

Being among the first to pick up on Internet news and gossip and rapidly detecting contamination anywhere in a water supply system are similar problems, at least from a computer scientist’s point of view. Both can be solved with a versatile algorithm developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers.

Check the website for more details and their list here.

~~~

Questions that people ask economists these days. The answers they get are more impressive (to me) than they get from other Agony-aunt columnists. Except I don’t know Gloria finds them as impressive or useful.

More in the same series is Tyler’s incredible exposition of ideas on when to utter the “I love you” phrase. I hope this inspires a new round of Ballywood dialogs and lyrics.

 ~~~

Tyler Cowen’s “The cost of the Iraq war.” For which as Cowen says “….I’ve received more email about it than any other article I wrote this year and the paper edition isn’t even out yet.”

Politically incorrect algorithms/’wisdom’ of the crowds October 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image, politics, technology.
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wisdom.JPG

 

 

Another kind of westernization that I bet you never knew about (unless you are from the pertinent profession ).

Looking forward to an impassioned Outlook article about Arundathi Roy’s agitation against ‘Epicanthoplasticians’/’Epicanthoplasti-narians’/’Epicanthoplasti-cists’.

 

Read disclaimer

Security and Cyber-security August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, politics, technology.
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This is both bizarre and scary :

Taking a dig at cyber security preparedness levels, a hacker, who claims to be based in Sweden, posted online this evening the passwords of 100 email accounts of embassies and government offices across the world, including 13 Indian accounts, containing classified information and correspondence.

Top on the list of passwords that have been posted on http://derangedsecurity.com give access to email accounts of Indian Ambassadors to China, US, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Oman, Finland besides officials of the National Defence Academy (NDA) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

~~~

Two articles on consecutive days in the Express about how political correctness is likely to cost India dear. From former IB director :

The worst reaction of a government to such a serious national challenge would be to underplay it, divert the discourse from core issues to the peripherals. Asserting that all is well and nothing needs to be changed, emphasising maintenance of social harmony as the core concern, complimenting people for bravely suffering losses and returning to normal lives, talking about human rights and protection of minorities — these are all laudable objectives. No one disputes them, but they do not address the core issues.

In the face of a threat as serious as this, the national focus should be on: how serious is the threat; its long and short-term implications; our capacities to counter the threat, both in policy formulation and policy execution; and how to address the deficiencies. This would involve considering ways to leverage civil society, media, the scientific community, religious leaders to the best national advantage; ways to neutralise the fast-growing domestic base of terrorism, including availability of hardware and human resource, collaborative linkages of the terrorists with organised crime, gun runners, drug syndicates, hawala operators, subversive radical groups, and how to break the nexus. Debate on the adequacy of the country’s laws, judicial administration, security systems and doctrines, etc, in the light of assessed threats is also important. The right discourse should also centre on our policy options vis-à-vis countries and groups involved in terrorist incidents in India. This is not happening, and that’s the tragedy.

And from Bibek Debroy. Before you head to his article, take a challenge and try to name the location and approximate month of the terror attacks in India since 2000. Once you are done, match your list with Bibek’s list in the first paragraph of the article.

There is some cross-country literature on the link between political freedom and terrorism. In autocratic and dictatorial countries, political freedoms are low, but terrorist acts are also difficult. And in advanced democracies where political freedoms are high, terrorist acts are rare as the political process provides a vent. Terrorist incidents are highest in intermediate democracies. India ought to be in the advanced zone, but seems to be in the intermediate category.

Pictures and locations ( and times maybe ) July 2, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in technology.
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3 parties – A, B and C.

A has the photographs  and the information about the locations where the pictures were shot.

B has place to storage space online to store these pictures.

C has the infrastructure that enables the linking of the pictures to the locations they were shot.

A – YOU ;  B – Panoramio ;  C – Google

Such a simple, beautiful idea.  Visit Panoramio, search for your favorite city/town and find out more for yourself.

For example, search for Empire State Building and get several pictures shot by random people. Then use the map to see the neighbourhood, sort of non-walking tour of area around the Empire State.

A somewhat similar service from Yahoo, where Yahoo maps is integrated into Flickr.

Web 2.0 rocks !

I imagine that now that the location aspect has been covered, time should be next. Say I want to see how the MG Road in Bangalore has changed over the years/decades. Being able to tag pictures ( infact digital cams have this information as part of picture already ) with the date that it was shot and having people retrieve is cool. Ofcourse, its probably not as exciting as location based retrieval to most people, but those with an interest in history will relish such a service.

Hiring spree June 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, technology.
6 comments

Stuff like this makes one wonder – What on earth is going.

IT major Tata Consultancy Services is on a hiring spree. The company recruited a record number of management graduates from Chennai’s Anna University after taking an online test on the campus. A total of 2,330 students had registered for the test, which included 1,270 undergraduate students and 1,060 post-graduate students. Among the 1,006 students selected 668 were graduates and 338 were post-graduates.

I would imagine that TCS must be working hard to hide this ’embarassing feat’ rather than boast about it as evidence of the company’s growth ( which, well, it actually is ). Because such a statistic begs a few questions – Where in the company are these guys going to be absorbed ? What kind of a career path are they going to choose ? How many of these guys will be around in a year from now ? How different is the organizational structure different from that of a coal mine or a cottom mill ? Will they have 200 people reporting to 1 manager ? Or will they ‘report’ to a computer program ? How wide is the pyramid at the bottom ?

I have never really been in this software services business/sector. If I am asked to talk on this subject, it will probably last 5 minutes. Yet I wonder if there is so much growth coming at such a rate that a company however big it might be is able to make 1000+ offers on one single day from one campus.

Apparently an online test was conducted and that means they are hiring without any interviewing or even a 2 minute chit-chat with the candidates. What does that say about the job they are recruiting for ? And are these people really happy about getting that job ? Perhaps, for the several out there for whom this is a journey to financial freedom, to the many who come in from economically backward sections who will be the breadwinners for their aged parents/younger siblings. For them a job with a big and respectable company like TCS is a great deal, but I am not so sure about the others.

I am the last one to insist that merely because most of these candidates have spent 4 years studying ( meaning – more time learning by rote ideas in ) mass transfer, power transmission, thermodynamics from ‘text books’, they should continue to do seek low paying, routine jobs in other sectors with fewer jobs and less growth. I am just trying to point out that is likely that the job that they are hired for will not require anything more than basic programming skills that can be learnt on the job. Infact the 4 years after secondary school are merely to give some time for ‘kids’ to grow up and be a bit more responsible to take on professional duties.

(I realize that the above paragraph has ended up being a round about way of saying that our way of looking at formal education is completely screwed up. )

As usual I stand to be corrected.

Update : And then we hear stuff like this.

Update 2 : Well, even everybody’s favorite company is starting to have problems.

Update 3 : Buddy from high school and current (TCS’ian/TCS’er ??) Supreeth has clarifications on this – comments section pls.

Honey, you stole my idea :-( May 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, life, technology.
3 comments

( This post thanks to reader Achala who sent me the link below )

About 5 months ago, I had asked of this possibility.

When prospective alliances are sought, why do people exchange photographs, why not (even in addition to photographs), audio recordings ?

And now I am pointed to this link

Now Bharat Matrimony, a leading Web portal, has added technology to make this possible. In addition to posting text, pictures or videos, candidates can record a brief statement about themselves and upload it using a mobile phone. One can also listen to the expectations of a prospective partner and if one decides to proceed further, can even exchange voice messages for a better understanding.

Ofcourse, I don’t make any claims to the originality of the idea – its no big deal and only a mere extension of current methods used. But its kinda cool anyway. 😀

Complicated, (yet) amusing solutions to life’s problems April 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, technology, weird.
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…even when simple ( and boring ) solutions exist.

Dance based authorization system : If you want to log in to your machine, no usernames/passwords/biometrics and such. You have to face an in-built camera on your computer and perform a certain dance. If the dance roughly matches your previously saved dance ( call it passdance ), then you are through. That way you don’t have to hide anything. Every day at work, you will see your colleagues ( they will see you ) getting off their seats to dance every once a while. ( especially they have a pass-dance protected windows machine ). Everyone has a good laugh and it also improves work environment and helps employees bond and in the long run increase employee productivity. This can also be extending to cars, so that people don’t clog Google searching for their car keys. 

Today’s computer vision technology is nowhere near making it possible. But if and when it can, there should be a startup somewhere with the corporate motto – “Lets make life complicated, yet amusing” – and taking on established, but boring companies.

Ofcourse, over time you get used to people dancing all over the place and the amusement is lost. But that not deter the pursuit of amusement in the first place.  Other suggestions to make life “complicated, yet amusing” are welcome.

Blog search issues April 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in blogging, technology.
2 comments

There is something wrong with the idea of blogging the way its done now. And I am not talking about the media itself, but this linear style which somehow does not make it amenable to quick search/retrieval. I am having a hard time trying to retrieve a previous post I penned myself. And that with merely 500 odd posts over the past 14 months. Shudder to imagine how things will be down the years ( even if blog at one-fourth the rate that I do now). Even the presence of tags do not seem to help already.

The problem is perhaps with me – I think I am a good searcher. It takes me very little time to conduct normal searches on Google to get information I need. Even getting that one page I saw a few months back is relatively easier than searching for stuff on my own blog. The problem is the way we are organizing information. Actually, this medium will see lot of change simply because there is so much that can be done offline. A blog grows at a fraction of a pace of the entire web as a whole and so much of info-organizing can be done at each blog level. I don’t know what I am getting at, but something seriously is wrong with blog search if we are treating blogs like just another web page while we index it.

Maybe another day when my mind is clearer I will write more on this.

Catching up March 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, technology, weird.
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Its been so long since I last blogged that I am almost feeling older for it. Then I know its been just 3 days really.

I finally had to resort to the universal solution to all problems plaguing a Windows machine – reload the operating system. Other than the obvious painful 1.5 hour long process, its really a thrilling feeling. ( Okay, I am an idiot, but MS has not paid me to write this, so read on anyway.) I mean who doesn’t like a sense of a new beginning – a virgin computer, if such a thing ever exits. But its going to be abused all over again, 15 hours a day slogging towards questionable ends.

Aah, thats the other thing. For about 11 minutes the evening before last, I realize that I had the universal question to all of life’s answers – “What the point ?”. Yes, whats the point of it all – anything – working, vacationing, marriage, hatred, love, technology and damn – even economics 😉 ? ( Note : “You work so that you vacation and vacation so that you can get back to work” won’t do ). Yeah, I know, I was merely reinventing ( rediscovering ??) the wheel radioactivity. 😀 Its a question we all have some of the times, and so did almost every man who ever was. Animals too maybe. No, the question doesn’t bother now and I dont think about it anymore. What’s the point !

By the way, I would love to write a long post about it, but to make a long post short – I returned to the Google world, I am liking it.

Pun of the day & others February 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in life, science, technology.
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On why “beautiful people are mean*“. Very fascinating indeed.
A related article about suggests that so much of talk about beauty is hypocrisy/denial. The least that one can take out of this article is that beauty is a source of bias, although by no means is it the only source of bias or source of just bias and nothing else.

If you ever wondered why models are supposed to cultivate dumbness and depression and then show it off on the ramp ( and maybe even elsewhere too 😉 ).

* – mean refers to average in statistical terminology.

~~

Totally off-topic, if you have not heard of Gordon Bell’s lifebits project until now, you should :

MyLifeBits has also provided Bell with a new suite of tools for capturing his interactions with other people and machines. The system records his telephone calls and the programs playing on radio and television. When he is working at his PC, MyLifeBits automatically stores a copy of every Web page he visits and a transcript of every instant message he sends or receives. It also records the files he opens, the songs he plays and the searches he performs. The system even monitors which windows are in the foreground of his screen at any time and how much mouse and keyboard activity is going on. When Bell is on the go, MyLifeBits continually uploads his location from a portable Global Positioning System device, wirelessly transmitting the information to his archive. This geographic tracking allows the software to automatically assign locations to Bell’s photographs, based on the time each is taken.

Robert Hansom at Overcomingbias.com calls it unbiased memories – everything recorded unlike stuff we generally choose to record that are biased in ways we choose. I don’t mind signing up for this – for a day, maybe a week at the maximum.

Speech recognition caveat February 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, humor, technology, videos.
2 comments

In my post yesterday, I spoke about building a speech recognition system for Konkani. Well, if you speak anything like this, my system (might have a problem)*.

Please watch the whole video – interestingly he reads out two of my favorite lists – a) List of Oscar winning movies b) American presidents. I happen to remember a small parts of both these lists.

* – Will get all words wrong and might even add some of its own.

~~~

Meanwhile, my colleague Sanjika who generally sends me links to Youtube videos has taken note my google ban and has been nice enough to send this link to a non-google site. This video appears to suggest ( via spurious reasoning ) why smokers must not be nice to non-smokers.

…and non-smokers must not be nice to themselves. ( now you know why the google ban 😦 )

“When I was growing up…” February 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in life, reminisces-1990s, technology.
1 comment so far

Likely* conversation circa 1999.

Hey, want to go check mail ?

Where do we go ?

There is a cybercafe about 5 minutes walk from my uncle’s place.

How much per hour ?

75 bucks.

Thats good yaar. Near my house he charges 90.

No man, this guy just started off. So first week its 75. Some promotion offer. So we have to go before this Sunday.

Okay, I will come over to your house saturday evening.

Likely one afternoon in 2007.

Hey, did you see that video I sent ?

No, when did you send it ?

I just sent it like 10 minutes back.

Oh, I just came in a couple of minutes back, didn’t check mail yet. No wonder I didn’t see your mail when I left from home.

1 second today is as long as 1 second used to be 100 years ago. It is just busier doing more things now than it used to. Maybe this is what Ray Kurzweil means when he talks of the Law of accelerating returns that might ultimately lead to a technological singularity. ( Although there are skeptics out there. )

All of the above apart, I have grown old enough to be able to construct sentences that start with “When I was growing up, ” ( and still say something interesting ).

* – Very close approximations to both the above conversations have taken place. No exaggeration, only modified to facilitate succint expression

Google and Uma Bharati February 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, india, technology, weird.
6 comments

The “ad” you see below is NOT an advertisement.

Its an image and is used here because this post is about Google ads.

 

Over an year ago in Dec 2005, I read an article by Vir Sanghvi that was about Uma Bharati’s life, around the time she was on the way towards being kicked out of BJP or so. When I finished reading the article, the ads from Google at the bottom caught my eyes. I generally don’t notice these ads, far from clicking on them and so its clear from Google’s revenue that they can do without people like me. But this was strange and I had the good sense to save that page. Here are the ads.

Okay, its not completely out of place because the article talked about Uma Bharati’s failed affair with Govindacharya in these terms:

When she began to discover her emotions, her rivals in the Madhya Pradesh BJP spread the foulest and most vicious stories about her character. Her relationship with Govindacharya became the subject of scandalous gossip and, ultimately, she was driven to such deep despair that she considered giving it all up.

Yeah, I know – why blame google when Vir Sanghvi is the real curlprit 😀 . Later Vir Sanghvi says :

Meanwhile, we in the media (and as somebody who has been sued for libel by Uma in the past, I don’t think I can exclude myself from this category) did our bit. We called her the sexy sanyasin’. We focused on her gender and her love life to the exclusion of her politics.

So you see, not very surprising because Google uses the linguistic content ( words ) to automatically decide what ads go on to what page. But somehow any follower of Indian politics would find these ads out of place. No, I am not saying they are offensive, just saying they are amusing !This inspite of the fact that in the same article Vir Sanghvi writes :

She emerged from that phase as a sanyasin, having been forced to abandon her last chance at living some kind of normal life.

Now imagine ads that are inviting people to explore a prospective alliance with a “beautiful, hindu, single” sanyasin. But then current technology has not got to a stage where it can use common sense to rule out certain ads. Ofcourse, folks at Google might still argue that if not Uma Bharati, atleast Govindacharya is “beautiful, hindu, single” non-sanyasi 😉 . But lets keep that question aside.

It was now natural to check out what ads are present on the same page right now because ads change depending on several factors. It turns out there are no ads from Google on that page. Why ? Is it because Google no longer considers Uma Bharati “beautiful, hindu and single” enough ? 🙂 Or that she doesn’t read the Gita !

Or is it the more natural reason that people hosting these ads ask google not to put it on a year old page where normal people are unlikely to see it. But I am worried why the Bajrang Dal and VHP haven’t taken this issue up with Google. 😉

Why the Google ban February 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in ideas, technology.
7 comments

Deepak in the comment to an earlier post says :

“Your experiment is doomed to failure like the one conducted by many in KREC to live like Howard Rowark :-D”

I agree man DK, infact thats the purpose as you will realize when you read through this post. Hence the 1 month limit. 🙂

I am not even here to succeed in the strict sense of the term. I am not trying to prove that its possible to live indefinitely without Google and its products. Google has a few great products that I dont intend to deprive myself of – I would consider it stupid to do so. I don’t intend to inflict pain on myself for the sake of it. I am not given to these dogmas one way or the other and intend to use any software that my PC can support as long as it serves my purpose – works smoothly, doesnt slow my PC etc. No other consideration – of belonging to one camp or the other – or the love for any company/brand irrespective of product quality – dictates what software I use. I love products that work to my satisfaction. Period.

But the comparison of Mr. Rowark does not hold. There is a critical difference between the wannabes you are mentioning and this particular case. People motivated to live like Mr. Rowark are motivated by a single act of reading that book and somehow see themselves in the Rowark’s image with all that drama and hyperbole. You know exactly what I mean. They are making a fundamental departure from their way of living which I am not. And its quite an elitist position – they are withdrawing from the world, deeming much of it unworthy of their attention/regard/time etc. That is an ideological position, this is not.

People the world over do this with MS – the cult of Apple is inseparable from the hatred of Microsoft. I don’t endorse of these dogmatic positions. I concede many of Apple products are great – design, functionality and everything – but much of the software that comes in takes a while before it works on Apple. Like for example for several years, there was no Yahoo messenger voice chatting for Apple machines. Not Google talk. Not Google desktop search. Several Engineering softwares did not work with the Mac to start with. The utilitarian that I am, these considerations dominate any sense of ‘cool’ or ‘cult’ that Apple has. And seconly, my appreciation of some of Apple’s products doesn’t translate into a blind faith that Apple is incapable of making products that suck or reading the market wrong.

The same goes for Google – I am not taken in by the aura of it ( or for that matter aura of pretty much anything ). I don’t think that everything they touch is necessarily gold. Their search is great ( I am already beginning to realize it ), Google maps have a easy interface and so does Google desktop search ( MSN DS is slow, Yahoo DS hangs now and then, Copernicus is okay) . I am missing Youtube into day 1. Google talk anyway misbehaved on my machine, so I am not missing it. Toolbar I could not care less, except the pagerank part though not indispensible. Bloglines is a good substitute for Google reader. I am not missing Picasa so far – Adobe photo organizer is good. The Blogger service was awful anyway. I am not fond of Gmail interface either somehow ( except the image downloading part ). Google news is convenient when I want to read what Australian newspapers say about their cricket teams 4th consecutive defeat.

Yet, I don’t agree with folks who believe that merely because its from Google it has to be great – I don’t think any company should rely too much on their reputation to make things work – merely because search is great, doesn’t mean reasonable, discerning consumers should extend this sentiment to every product from the Google stable. Nothing fancy, nothing personal – just a very demanding customer.

I am not considering it necessary to mention Microsoft because enough has been said about them already and I have nothing new to add. ( I am installing Office 2003 right now – I have 2 CDs that I have been asked to insert and remove 4 times and restart the machine twice ). Nevertheless, I still believe that if I die tomorrow, Bill Gates would be the greatest philanthrophist of my lifetime.

So finally, why am I attempting this ? Its in some sense the attempt to separate grain from chaff. I am trying to see the breaking point – which of the Google services will I miss the most. As I said I have no reasonable, scientific, objective way to measure this, so I have to do with mere sentiment. My guess would be Orkut in the short run – for the reason I wrote about in the last post, ironically a division that probably contributes less than 1% to total revenues at Google. Or perhaps Youtube. And in the long run, the sucker that I am for superfast search means Google search and desktop search. ( unless the others catch up )

Living sans Google February 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in technology, weird.
11 comments

My computer is (nearly) google-free for the next 1 month.

I went a step ahead from my last post and am trying to see what life without google is like. So everything gone – talk, accelerator, notebook, reader, toolbar, picasa. Gmail is forwarded to non-google accounts. ( It still means I use them but I have never used gmail extensively anyway). I have substitutes for most of them. The one big problem though is orkut and such applications where the ties are stronger due to the very nature of the service. If I have to try out the really google free world, I would have to convince others to do so. The same goes for the fact that I have honor/read/reply to mails that come to my yahoo account from (others’ ) gmail accounts. So am I making an exception for Orkut ? No, I am not. Check my orkut profile. Youtube is another difficult thing.

That apart, how do I really measure my discomfort, if any, of living in the google-free universe ? Blood pressure perhaps. That an expensive affair. Alternative suggestions welcome. Meanwhile, at different stages in the next month, if and when I find something compelling to return to google services, I will make a note on the blog.

Coming to the question of why. This is experiment I would love to ( and have attempted with different levels of success failure ) do with pretty much anything – depriving myself of certain phone calls and conversations, food items etc. It is not a principled stand against google – my substitutes are not necessarily from MS or Yahoo. And finally, it is certainly not done to please a certain non-existent divine superpower nor any existent superpower 🙂

I only hope google, in an apparent personal battle over this blogger, desists from taking Microsoft, Yahoo and Wikipedia in the next one  month.  I will be left with linux and my Carnegie mellon email account then.

As I say in my orkut profile :

In an arguably misguided attempt to experiment living in a google-free world for the next 1 month, I am out of Orkut.

Change of guard February 17, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, numbers-in-my-life, statistics, technology.
2 comments

I am doing a couple of things unthinkable :
After over 5 years of having google as my homepage, I am switching to this one – the consequences being there will only be yahoo searches for a while instead of google searches. No, this is not a statement against one company and for another. I just want to see if there is any observable increase in level of frustration. Meanwhile, here is making a part-mockery of the privacy aspect of personalized search. Google used to be my homepage for historical reasons – in the days of dail-up, it was the fastest page to download. I dont know if people ever bothered about the quality of search results – because it was something hard to measure given that very little time was spent online.

This is what my search patterns look like – 1489 searches in the last 20 days – averaging 75 searches a day. And here is my hourly search statistics – what time of the day I am most busy googling.

Search patterns

Between 10 and 1:30 pm on two days, I have classes, so that effect stands out. I sleep late ( 3-4 am ) and rise late ( after 9 am other than when I have classes ) – that shows up too.

[ Previous “numbers in my life” post ]

Secondly, I have ripped apart from regular reading bookmarks. Economics/Politics links are gone. No newspapers, no mainstream media. Any exceptions ? None. Why ? For the heck of it – to create a new experience for myself. I know I will lose some interesting tid-bits, but that will happen anyway – the internet is too vast to not miss stuff. What am I having instead ? Lets see, that might be apparent in the links coming out in the next few days.

How long both these changes will last – I don’t know.

Congestion pricing February 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, economics, technology.
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An informative article on the idea of congestional pricing – something I wrote about a few weeks ago. Most interesting part :

“Everyone accepts that if your car is stationary, it’s fine to pay for parking,” said Alexander Tabarrok, professor of economics at George Mason University. “But if you tell people they have to pay to move their car between two points, they think it’s crazy.”

True, isn’t it. Counter-intuitive infact. If someone had made the other argument – Why should I pay when my car is parked, I would rather pay if I were moving it around – that would have sounded more reasonable. Ofcourse, there are fuel costs when you move it around, but fuel is something that is between you and the car ( and the environment ). Congestion is between you and the road. ( Uhm, am I making it sound like road is some living, walking entity !)

Ofcourse you pay road taxes, but they are regressive – different people use public roads to different extents, then why pay the same taxes – and hence should be limited. Congestion is based on a simple idea from economics – you have to pay to use a scarce resource and the scarcer the resource, the more you pay. The pity is that we all understand this and its an idea that has been internalized over centuries of trade and organized societies – but the moment its used as a systematic tool in policy making, there is talk of class exploitation.

The other interesting part :

The greater willingness of drivers and policy makers to consider congestion pricing is a recognition that building more roads will never be a solution to traffic problems.

No, not a lesson for the developing world. Just because there should be and generally are soft upper limits on how many roads one can have, does not mean the limit is 0.

~~~

As the law of unintended consequences may have it, this man was probably responsible for increased TV sales, increased divorces and sibling rivalry. R.I.P.

Yahoo answers stuff February 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, humor, india, technology.
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Yahoo answers is an undisputed leader in this sub-discipline of social networking.

Sometimes very interesting things happen. Like this question from Hillary Clinton. Or this one from, hold your breath, Abdul Kalam. ( Yahoo (somehow) ensures there is no impersonation here. ). Some questions though are funny, to say the least. An example. Another example.

Let’s be (a little) evil February 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in technology, videos.
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Yeah, there is lot of talk about how everyone’s favorite company is becoming what everyone’s almost everyone’s former favorite company supposedly became – evil. I guess once you become that big and are getting bigger at a breakneck rate, your footprint increases to such an extent that you now have more chances to make mistakes, are under more scrutiny, less chances to satisfy everyone, have more at stake and hence have less incentive to be idealistic and eventually you become indistinguishable from the folks you grew loathing.

So is the honeymoon over ?

The real thing.. February 9, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, technology.
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One item in the really funny post here that (partly) takes our favorite company to task summarizes why you here instead of there.

What makes me ( and millions others ) an angry young man … February 8, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in life, rant, technology.
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Yahoo mail is down right now !

Infact I am so distraught that I can’t think anything worse happening other than my primary e-mail account being inaccessible. Can you ?*

..oh wait, I can. If it got hacked, it would be worse because then there would be a human face behind it. I can understand (even if I have grown increasingly intolerant of system failures), but not human transgressions are another thing altogether.

* – No, google search being down for a while is NOT a big deal. There are so many other search engines that can substitute.

Bill Gates and Poverty July 16, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, technology.
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A very unlike and (perhaps therefore) interesting unwinding session with Bill Gates. Just loved this one !! Its not interview, its just him doing the talking it appears.

Warren (Buffet) started thinking about what should happen in the context of his will. This was after his wife, Susie, tragically died two years ago. And as he thought more about it, he thought, Hey, I don’t think I’m going to wait to give my fortune away. He’s always been the most generous person and said how his wealth should go back to society, and his articulation of that had a big influence on me.A few years before, Melinda and I had started making presentations about the work of our foundation, including to a group Warren hosted at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, and he could see how energetic and excited we were – Wow, if you just get the right people together and you get the right incentives, you could have an impact on millions of lives.

Actually think about it – we in India, from India are accustomed to poverty, the intellectuals glorify it, the ruling class perpetuate it and the poor themselves are resigned to it. But there is something else about poverty – continents-wide poverty and consequent lack of healthcare, that millions die of diseases for which there exist cure – malaria, cholera etc – may just be the single biggest failure of mankind – its a failure on the biggest scale imaginable and a failure in every way – politically, intellectually, economically and morally as well.

Its hard to think of an equivalent failure – maybe NASA attempting over a 100 times to put man on the moon and each time the rocket plunging into the sea ( or worse a crowded city ) minutes after takeoff – that would be some failure. Ironically, that would then attrack more attention than world-wide poverty.

Bill Gates, hopefully will find as much success in his second venture ( fighting poverty ) as he found in his first – making the PC near ubiquitious. ( notwithstanding everything else he is hated for )

( Thankfully, NASA is generally doing well. )

The orkut hoax !! May 30, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in rant, technology.
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If you are on orkut, you have come across this ‘spam’ going around that goes like this –

“Dear user because of sudden rush of people signing upto orkut is come to an attention that we are vastly running our of resources so with in a week any one who does not receive this scrap will be deleted of our server . We know that you are still using this account ….”

This is being forwarded to anyone all and sundry – not by the uneducated who may be excused for their ignorance but people who are in the top 1% of the Indian educated class by most socio-economic development parameteres. Does that message even look like its genuine ? And this inspite of Orkut clearly posting a disclaimer

In my opinion, doing this is the equivalent of spitting on someone’s face in public in broad daylight in a crowded city market. Would you do it ?

We are yet to realize that like there is something called civic sense, table manners, etc. there is something called network etiquette ( I dont know if there is such a word, but you know what I mean anyway. ). I previously have written something on this subject here – but I cant take it any longer.

I have to admit that I am ashamed that I have people in my friends list who fall in one or more of these categories –

a) a network-civic sense / netiquette
b) can somehow not guage that the message is most likely fake.
c) an idea how much damage they are doing
d) know they are doing damage, but couldnt care enough.

I am going to mail this link to every person who sends me this message – if you want to remove me from your friends list, please go ahead. Good riddance !

John Tierney in the NYTimes almost went to the extent of saying that capital punishment is inadequate to for such offences”.

“Published: July 12, 2005

Last year a German teenager named Sven Jaschan released the Sasser worm, one of the costliest acts of sabotage in the history of the Internet. It crippled computers around the world, closing businesses, halting trains and grounding airplanes.

Professor Landsburg, an economist at the University of Rochester, has calculated the relative value to society of executing murderers and hackers. By using studies estimating the deterrent value of capital punishment, he figures that executing one murderer yields at most $100 million in social benefits.

The benefits of executing a hacker would be greater, he argues, because the social costs of hacking are estimated to be so much higher: $50 billion per year. Deterring a mere one-fifth of 1 percent of those crimes — one in 500 hackers — would save society $100 million. And Professor Landsburg believes that a lot more than one in 500 hackers would be deterred by the sight of a colleague on death row.

Read his complete article here ( requires registration )


India’s most wanted – Arjun Singh ! May 26, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, india, politics, statistics, technology.
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[ Picture courtesy Google Trends ]

Search statistics for Arjun Singh ( BLUE ) and “OBC reservation” (RED) since Jan 2006 – look at the spike in early April and the correlation in the two statistics. Better view here.

Meanwhile, our Prime minister can either do this –

“I am pained to see the agonising experience the youth of the country are undergoing. They should call off their strike and I assure that the government will find a viable and credible way to protect the interest of all sections of the society”

i.e. mouth platitudes like any politician would.

Or do this

I think the matter is already settled”.

i.e. make strong statements unilaterally, like any politician would.

Who says he is technocrat and not a politician. Does he believe in what he is doing ? Or is it just another political expdiency ?

If he doesnt believe in the proposal for OBC quotas but goes ahead anyway because the parliament can pass the bill while maintaining that he supports it, does that make him a liar. Can a Prime minister possibly ever say something like – “I dont personally believe in this but its a political necessity” ? If he could, then Manmohan Singh would have spent most of the last two years saying just that ! Its a crown of thorns, sure is.

Its ironic that people like Arjun Singh who will unlikely live another 10 years have been given ministries such as HRD which are essentially far-looking – what HRD does and doesnt do has far-reaching consequences – to witness Arjun Singh will not ever live. ( Nor will Manmohan Singh himself ). I am probably being harsh, but true it is. So why is Arjun Singh who doesnt have a stake in the system given the reins for controlling it.

HRD and such ministries which dont require specific expertise ( like for. eg. Finance, Commerce) should be handed over to someone who is essentially below 50 years age ( and sane ) – who has a proved track record in policy making not 75 year old derelicts like Arjun Singh. If you call this age discrimination, then what do you which is going on right now ? Isnt dynastic rule some form of discrimination as well ?

Bad old days ! May 19, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in numbers-in-my-life, reminisces-1990s, statistics, technology.
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Some dates and numbers here 🙂

First phonecall made – Feb 1990

First STD call – sometime in 1993

First use of pager – Never !

First telegram received – Jun 1995

First telegram sent – Never !

First use of cordless phone – Oct 1995

First computer to own – May 9, 1997 – Pentium-1, 133 Mhz, 8 MB RAM, 1 GB HDD, Monochrome

First internet site visited – TimesofIndia ( bad choice I know ) in Jan 1999 – with Rajaram and Supreeth

First email ID created – March 1999 – sharrahs@usa.net ( never used it ) – with Ashith Hegde

First fax sent – Nov 2003

First cellphone used – Sometime in 2002 at KREC

First use of wireless internet – Aug 2004 at CMU

Time and again I come back to wonder at the some things, same things – one of them being how life has changed in the past say 10 years thanks to our exposure to technology, more specifically communication technologies. I just posted 2 elaborate posts on thelittlerocker and that got me thinking – how a bunch of people spread across distances have weaved a network of their classmates from school.

Let me take a closer look.

Okay, today is May 18, 2006 – 10 years back – May 18, 1996 – we were at the summer camp at Little Rock – the starting of Class X. We were barely 15. I had made my first solo night journey to Bangalore. How many STD calls had I made then ? Email ? Net ? I am sure I had heard of the words – email and internet – although I hadnt a precise idea what they were. I know I knew these words because there was my senior at Little Rock Abhishek Arora who apparently had email at home – that was a big thing then. Also he had a Pentium machine while a couple other I knew had a 80286 ! Skip next paragraph – wont hurt.

( That reminds me of something else – and let me digress – when we had a computer exhibition in Little Rock in Aug 1995 – I was demonstrating games for the visitors and was in charge of a 8088 machine most of the time showing people how to play “Dave” – once in a while I got to demonstrate the “Prince of Persia” which would run only on a 80286. A step backward, the first machine I programmed ( in BASIC ) in 1992 at the Army School, it was a 8086 machine !! )

In 1998, I remember seeing several KMC doctors with pagers fixed to their belts when our school bus stopped to pick up students. Today, pagers are obsolete – I have never used one and its unlikely I will ever get to use either.

When we first saw the color monitors at Little Rock, it was a big thing – it was the only machine with a Pentium (66 Mhz) with a color monitor and a CD ROM drive – Sajji Sir would lock it with a password and we would hate him for that ! Are you reading Sir by any chance !!

Cellphones first came in 1997-98 and a single phone call would cost Rs. 16 and that too for both parties ! Internet parlor that opened in Manipal in 1998 – the Cyberlogin near Manipal Drug house – costed Rs. 90 per hour !! Infact, by those standards Manipal is still expensive – we had access at Rs. 15 per hour in Suratkal in 2002 – I hear Manipal its still Rs. 30 and above.

What about the times when the email storage was 2 MB, 5 MB !! I remember when I was in Sirsi in July 2000 ( just before Rajkumar was kidnapped !! ), my then 13 year old cousin asked me to open an account with sawaal.com because at that time we got 10 MB storage which was a big deal since Yahoo and Hotmail gave 2 MB at that time. ( Its a different thing that sawaal.com, a product of the dotcom boom went bust without a question !! )

When we started the alumni group, most of us had 2-10 MB and this was one of the reasons we banned attachments – should you return on Monday without checking mail over the weekend, so many mails would have bounced !!

Well, today I have 5 email accounts with a combined capacity of 10 GB and I have atleast 10% of that full. When was the last time you wrote a letter ? If we dont receive a reply to an email within a day we grumble – thats true irrespective of distance – my expectations from my friend in Bangalore is the same ( or above ) the expectations of his friends in other parts of Bangalore.
This connectivity is insane – sometimes counter-productive or unproductive !!

Thats all okay. Now answer this – what have I done to enjoy all this ? Did I work hard to be able to enjoy any of these comforts ? Thats the beauty of the market !!

I quote Donald J. Boudreaux from here.

“I love this market process. People such as me — people who lack even a whiff of creativity, people who are terribly risk-averse, people who lazily prefer to read novels and work at secure jobs and spend our evenings at home dining and drinking with family and friends — just sit back and wait for profit-hungry hard-working anxiety-ridden creative entrepreneurs, each in competition with others, to find new ways to improve our lives. And we don’t even have to accept what they devise. If we like it, we buy it. If not, we don’t buy it.”

I was somewhat inspired by the two books I am currently reading.

The Naked Economist

The undercover economist

Both highly recommended – okay, if you are not a math geek, must remind you – both of them dont contain a single graph, curve or an equation.

How the internet continues to ruin my life ! March 29, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in history, ideas, technology.
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This is what happened to me yesterday that not only left me shocked, but also answers a few questions, namely :

  1. How I spend much of weekdays and most of my weekends
  2. What I mean when I say “I am mostly reading stuff online” and what “stuff” means.
  3. “Hey, where did you get that piece of fact/rumor from ?”

 

Stop 1 :

 

I took a break from my reading of the EM algorithm (actually the break came soon after I downloaded the study material and before I even started reading it 😉 ) and started read this article from the NYTimes. It talked about how search engines are making us dumb !

 

Stop 2 :

At some point in the article I came across this word called “satisficing” – a word that suggests that human beings are not perfectionists – that we aren’t looking for perfection most of the time – only for workable, satisfying solutions. This word is coined by Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon from my institution ( Carnegie Mellon University) so I got interested in that – typed satisficing in google – took me to the wikipedia link for satisficing. Read that page.

 

Stop 3 : On the wikipedia link for satisficing, I again came across a link on Herbert Simon and decided to read that. On this page, it said he consulted for RAND corporation – a name I came across several times before but never cared to look it up. I linked to RAND.

 

Stop 4: Linked to main RAND corp. page – read their history – what an amazing institution – its high time India had something like that. I would love to conduct multi-disciplinary work there – the range of things they work on and the impact is not too well known really.

 

Stop 5: On the RAND Corp. page on wikipedia, a number of names that worked for RAND were listed. Two names got me interested – Condi Rice and John Von Neumann.

 

Stop 6: Linked to Condi Rice – about how she overcame segregation – also learnt that the person who inspired her to political science was her professor who happened to Madeline Albright’s father !! Looking at the condition of blacks in the US, I really admire the lady – never mind her politics ( but hey, she is Pro-India – so double wow for her – I back for 2008 🙂 ). Came back and linked next to John Von Neumann.

 

Stop 6: John Von Neumann is one exciting person to read about. I never knew that there was so much about him I didn’t know – all I knew was that he was the inventor of the John Von Neumann architecture and of Game theory ( from a lecture on John Nash, again a Carnegie Mellon alumnus ). Here is a sampling about John Von Neumann –

– Choose the targets for the atomic bombing of Japan. Initially choose Kyoto, but it was rejected by Secretary of War ( got to find out why !! )

 

on Neumann worked out key steps in the nuclear physics involved in thermonuclear reactions and the hydrogen bomb.

He was a profoundly committed hedonist who liked to eat and drink heavily

insistently gaze at the legs of young women

He also favored a preventive nuclear attack on the USSR, believing that doing so could prevent it from obtaining the atomic bomb.

precise altitude at which the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs should be detonated in order that they would produce the most extensive damage possible was calculated by von Neumann himself !!

– He was also the inventor of the MAD theory ! This was just too interesting to resist delving deeper into. Its hard to believe that we lived in times when we were actually preparing our own annihilation – it was one of the ‘acceptable situations’ of day-to-day life ! Here is more on MAD –

“In the event of a Soviet conventional attack on Western Europe, NATO planned to use tactical nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union countered this threat by issuing a statement that any use of nuclear weapons against Soviet forces, tactical or otherwise, was grounds for a full-scale Soviet retaliatory strike. In effect, if the Soviet Union invaded Europe, the United States would stop the offensive with tactical nuclear weapons. Then, the Soviet Union would respond with a full-scale nuclear strike on the United States. The United States would respond with a full scale nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. As such, it was generally assumed that any combat in Europe would end with apocalyptic conclusions.”

Stop 6 : That page linked me to Robert McNamara’s speech where he proposed this strategy. A must read.

 

Stop 7 : One of Neumann’s collaborator in the A-bomb work was a Klaus Fuchs – who turns out to be a Russian Spy !!!

 

Stop 8 : Linked to Klaus Fuchs. Worked on the A-bomb at Los Alamos – a friend of Feynman !

 

This interesting bit about him – “The information Fuchs gave Soviet intelligence in 1948 coincided with Donald Maclean’s ( another spy) reports from Washington. The Soviet Union knew the United States did not have enough nuclear weapons to deal with both the Berlin blockade and the victory of the Communists in China at the same time.” Linked to the other spy Donald Maclean !!

 

Stop 9: Read about his partner in crime Donald Maclean ( a bisexual ) and the story of his escape.

 

This took about 2.5 hours. Insane isn’t it !