Wednesday, 17 April 2013

On advertising - a Banksy rant

Transcribed from here:
People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.
A little violent for my delicate sensibilities, but the underlying sentiment is about correct.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Not quite Pixar, but nearly there

After a harrowing Saturday that involved poor scheduling and dinner planning and thereby subjecting ourselves to having to suffer through A Good Day to Die Hard, it was with great relish that the wife and I looked forward to watching Wreck-It Ralph on the following Sunday.

I had been following the general positive buzz on the interwebs about the movie, but had successfully steered clear of any major reviews or discussions about it so that I could go in with a completely open mind.

We ended up thoroughly enjoying ourselves, starting from the delightful Paperman short right up till the credits rolled. (One complaint we had here is that we were eagerly awaiting the credits to see the cast of voice actors, but this took far too long in coming as Disney had decided it was more important to credit nearly everyone in the technical crew first.)

I believe with this movie, Disney has finally successfully integrated a Pixar-like quality to their output by incorporating several Pixar-ian touches:
  1. Right from the beginning, an animated short as a prelude to the main feature. (Incidentally, fans of Disney -- like me -- will instantly notice the similarity between the girl in Paperman to the Disney princesses, and between the Paperman guy and Mowgli from Jungle Book -- one of my all-time favourite Disney films)
  2. The trope of 'make someone want to subvert the status quo in their world' -- toys, cars, insects, monsters, fish, superheroes, and now video games.
  3. The animation is distinctly Pixar -- the ray-tracing and rendering appear to have been done using Pixar's RenderMan software.
  4. One of the executive producers is John Lasseter (who's come full circle -- he started his career off with Walt Disney, moved to LucasFilm, then Pixar and now back as creative head of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios)
  5. The sound design (which is absolutely gorgeous in this film) is by Gary Rydstrom, also a long time Pixar sound designer.
To echo the good doctor, it isn't Toy Story, but nevertheless, both of us completely loved the film and wouldn't mind going around to watch it again.

Monday, 15 April 2013


Sensory overload. Sounds are louder and more distinct. Lights are brighter. Things feel more tangible. Sweets taste sweeter.

This is where I get off.

...and then climb back on and continue from where I left off. Personal challenge to continue this line of investigation even when the investigatory incentives have worn off.

Much better, but only by a little. Running around in the sun does one's constitution a world of good. It's so beautiful today that I think I'll head to the park instead of stewing at home?

No no, IPL changes to be made. Park can come later.

And the stream of consciousness continues. Trippy trippy trap.

IPL ditched, park idled in, lake walked by. And most of the day is still left to enjoy. Been a great Sunday thus far. People must be thanked, activities and recipes must be repeated, and further fun must be had.

Over and out.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Last night

All these ideas floating around. They all seemed brilliant at the time, but are nowhere to be found now.

No sounds or voices, but the suggestions came over in a thick waterfall anyway. Not much food was eaten.

Oblivion. Thought it was Moon with a soap opera thrown in, but turned out to be The Matrix as well. And then seemed to swerve into a time loop of sorts. Really need to watch the movie again while in a less... profoundly analytical frame of mind. Maybe on Monday?

The train is at Knightsbridge now, and I need to get off at King's Cross. The attempt is to make it to the game successfully and then NOT run around with arms flailing wildly. And hopefully not forget and leave important stuff behind.

Everyone in the tube seems to be eyeing my backpack. I'm suddenly glad I didn't leave the wallet in it. Any minute now somebody could grab it and run. I'm hyper aware of the avenues of possibility around this event, and fully prepared to indulge in fisticuffs with the potential perpetrator.

Like the Peep Show title song, exactly! I'm not good but I'm not well, 'cause I'm in hell. Not entirely sure those are the words, but it'll have to do. But the key line is "paranoia paranoia, everybody's out to GET me!".

I'm actually literally amazed I've managed to ramble on this long with very few spelling mistakes. I could credit the reasonably OK predictive keyboard on the Nexus 4, but screw that. It refuses to predict profanity, even when the words are added into the dictionary. That's messed up, and another unfortunate example of Google overstretching in imposing their values on their users.

However, I, for one, welcome our smartphone overlords and don't particularly care for the underperforming, underpowered and one dimensional dumbphones of yore. Progress is a good thing, even when it isn't.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Kurt Vonnegut was right

Tralfamadorians are real. I am one now. The doppelganger watches from a safe distance the miracles on the revived bodies.

Only one difference. They can see all points in time at once. I can do the same, but have no credible way of communicating across to you chaps that my extortionate pricing may not cause the ever seeked elusive retail footfall and heavy walletted poseurs. Buy outside of that you're actually quite nice.

Early in the morning.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Just to continue

It never ends. Just comes and goes. But then all the stories come true and bounded rationality is violated.

It would be almost interesting to put these up on tumblr but enough.

How can I unify identity while still maintaining the decentralisation aspect of many identity providers?

Everyone always seems to have strong opinions on everything. I feel quite envious of such thorough convictions held about an entirely new field. Either genius or successful self deluders. Same reasoning as the .. .

Will sleep help? Don't want to, can't let go just yet. Tripolata. Lots of food, but tandoori chicken was missing. Would've gobbled that up by the bucketful.

Football is OK, NBA is OK. But playing is definitely better than simply reading and commenting.

Some people just sit and eat. They can be watched with interest too, because they may magically turn into zombies. Then we have to place plants that spit seeds out to kill the psychotic attacking flower army.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

It's all good.

Posting this from the blogger app on android.

One is not entirely of sound mind. But one is of fun mind.

Repeal everything. All is well. You may say that I'm a dreamer. So... Wonderful and naïve.

Great weather today. Great for the indian good that was gorged on. Sleepy now, but still attempting to document all this.

Actually not sleepy. Somehow everything is more.. Everything stands out more. Smell, hearing, pain, sight. All existence is magnified.

Seems late, but so much to do, so little time. The woods are lovely dark and deep.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hagrid never had these problems

Why is is that I'm so absolutely indecisive when it comes to facial hair?

The only serious attempt I've made has been to "wear" a goatee for a few months. All other experiments with beards and moustaches have been cut short for various reasons.

For the most part these reasons are borne out of a general "fear of the unknown" -- save for aging, my appearance has remained pretty much static for most of my life. Right at the beginning of adolescence, there was a brief period of a year or so when I was "rockin' a 'stash", as the kids call it these days. (Do they..?) But after I discovered the wonders of a good razor, it was wiped out.

Since then the only sort of facial hair I've allowed has been the occasional overgrowth of stubble due to (usually) laziness, (less usually) convenience, or (not applicable any more) religious reasons.

The other times I had to abort any experiments, has been due to "human error". I'd be on the path to an interesting new appearance, when the razor blade would go astray and lop off a crucial piece of carpeting. Initially, the attempted method of dealing with this was to balance out the mistake, but that -- without exception -- always led to merely doubling the error. This would force me to stop fixing errors and just wipe the slate clean. Eventually I gave up drawing on the slate altogether.

During the goatee period, I also realised that maintaining a consistent appearance is just as hard as remaining clean-shaven. This further levelled the playing field, as the amount of effort wasn't a deciding factor any more.

I wonder when I will come around to giving the whole facial hair thing another shot. I suppose the best time is now, unencumbered by professional requirements. Will I, won't I?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Go learn something new!

Over this recent period of "underemployment", I have been attempting to do multiple things.

The major effort here has been to acquire new technical skills, primarily around data analysis. One thing which I was unsure of was the approach to take, and this is where Coursera has been immensely helpful.

Initially, after I had signed up for a few courses, I was a little doubtful about them -- particularly because I have tended to find classes largely boring throughout my life.

The first couple of courses were quite hard to stick with, especially because I was travelling in India, and access to the Internet was patchy. There was a block of a few days in Bangalore when I was practically disconnected from the world, sustaining myself with the occasional borrowed hour of Internet.

The real turning point was when one of the quiz submission hard deadline coincided with a day on which I was flying out to Bombay. This was after I had used up all my "late submission" days, so missing this would mean the grade getting docked.

The submission was due by 11.30, and my flight was leaving at 13.30 on the same day. The house that I was leaving from didn't have any Internet, and tethering was out of the question on a ridiculously limited short-term mobile data plan. I left for the airport way earlier than I needed to, reached at about 10.00, rushed through all the formalities and finally took a seat at the gate, and connected to the airport Wifi. (On a side note: the number of power outlets in Bangalore airport is abysmally low.)

By this time it was 11.00, and as it turns out, this was just exactly the right amount of time to ram a perfect attempt through (each quiz in the course allowed 3 attempts, with a varying set of questions each time!).

After I boarded the flight, I had some time to think over my actions. I had put in a lot of effort to maintain a solid level of what effectively amounts to imaginary Internet points, and all because I really enjoyed the course I was doing, and was genuinely learning. In pretty much every other class experience before this, the focus was more on figuring out "the system" to maximise test performance, petty one-upmanship and sometimes just remaining awake through a monotonous drone.

It now appears that self-study is the best course of action for me, with the occasional group interaction. Using this approach, I've managed to pick up the fundamentals of R, Python, Django, and git over the last 3 months. Now, all that remains is to focus all of this into an appropriate work environment...

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Figuratively speaking

Just a quick post to make a collective note of some of the few graphing libraries I am attempting to try out over the coming weeks. Base frameworks like D3.js and Raphael.js appear great, but might just be involve too much work if all I want to do is throw together a quick few visualisations.

A multi-dimensional charting library built to work natively with crossfilter and rendered using D3.js.

Re-usable charts and chart components for D3.js.

Graphing library that takes many ideas from the Grammar of Graphics and the R library ggplot2, and adds interactive elements for usage on the Web.

Interactive charting library supporting many, MANY types of visualisation!

Simple HTML5 Charts using the canvas element. Currently doesn't support interactivity, but looks great.

Plotting library for jQuery, with a focus on simple usage, attractive looks and interactive features.

JS toolkit for creating interactive time series graphs.

YUI Charts
A charting module based on the YUI library.

Yet another D3.js based library. Some of the examples don't appear to work currently.

A fork of Flotr which removes the dependency on Prototype and a few enhancements.

Now it may turn out that most of these end up going unused, but hopefully that means I would have found the best fit library and will stick with it!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Editors of the textual kind

The one key component of any computer system I could call "mine" has been a solid text editor. Not a word processor -- most of the time, unless I'm working with "official" (work or school) stuff, I have no need for mixing fonts faces, sizes, colours, or inserting images into the document. I would just like to read information, or type out something without wasting time on bells and whistles.

Kudos to Microsoft for shipping such an absolute lemon of a text editor in Notepad, which couldn't open large text files or acknowledge that text files can be produced and used in non-Windows environments. This pointless truculence spurred on some great little projects in the Windows world.

This was the first ever Notepad replacement I discovered. It wasn't particularly lightweight, but solved the annoying problem of the standard Notepad being unable to handle large or binary files.

Metapad was the Notepad replacement I used, while in Windows 95/98. It was super light, opened everything in sight, and the ideal candidate for text file management on my underpowered (and -- although I didn't think so back then -- somewhat ugly) desktop. Syntax highlighting was for wimps, and on the occasion when it was badly needed, SciTE appeared to suffice.

Once I managed to scrape together enough competition winnings and had the security of a job assured (this was in 2004), I decided it was time to get my hands dirty and build my own desktop. While not quite from scratch, some reasonably smart hustling for parts meant I was able to put together a very decently powerful machine at a tight budget. This resulted in Metapad getting the boot from the brand new Windows XP install, and making way for Notepad2 (after a brief period of experimentation). This still-awesome marvel of a tool had a few more text manipulation features, and bundled in syntax highlighting, for the same relative load on the system as Metapad.

Ah, what can I say? This is the most indispensable tool for anyone using any flavour of Windows. Syntax highlighting, code-folding, lightweight project management, session management, powerful regular expression searching, file comparison, and an FTP browser. Everything anyone could ever want when dealing with text files, and then some more, aided by the rich ecosystem of available plugins. It's still around, being actively improved, and a permanent fixture on any Windows install I have to use.

Honourable mentions
EditPlus and Textpad -- these two somehow kept cropping up on a lot of other tech people's computers, and I had cause to use them sporadically. It was a little weird because these weren't free tools, but the nag screens were easily dismissed and no functionality was crippled. I would call them the WinZip of text editors -- mostly competent, gets the basics right, nags you to buy, but gets out of your way if you don't want to.

Current situation
gedit (the Notepad++ equivalent for Ubuntu) in the GUI, and vim otherwise. Not much exposition is called for here, except perhaps for smirking at emacs.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Deliberations on giving interviews

Giving interviews is hard.

I used to think interviews are a breeze, but this was before realising that "being yourself" in an interview is not an optimal strategy. Till date I'd been fortunate -- for the most part, my interviews had been conducted by somewhat like-minded people. In such situations, being "true" to oneself works quite well.

However, the trick is in sizing up precisely what the interviewer is looking for, in asking the questions that he is. The response then needs to be tailored to match the interviewer's expectations -- not the role's. and not the organisations, even though they should ideally be aligned.

In the case of a question looking for a factual answer, while the core of the response can stick to the facts, the language it is couched in can make a big difference (firm? conciliatory? with gusto? with a sense of distaste?). This also applies to the length and approach of the answer (curt? concise? rambling? detailed?).

Of course, the most correct, internally consistent, and confidently stated responses won't do you any good if the initial read on the interviewer is completely off-base. If your approach to validate a hypothesis is Bayesian when the interviewer is a fanatical frequentist, it may not matter at all that you were entirely right. Back in the day, expounding the virtues of JSP in an interview where the interviewer was an ardent PHP fan didn't work too well.

If you aren't applying to roles that are clearly out of your league (claiming knowledge of a tool or technology that you've only read about, or only dabbled in), then the associated interview should be a piece of cake. But humans being what they are, and ridiculously susceptible to biases, the best strategy for an interview is always to get a read on the interviewer(s) and manipulate said biases in your favour. If you're unable to do this -- ceteris paribus -- the chances of making it through the interview are entirely 50-50, which is really quite low.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Corking it up

One of the life changes I attempted to make recently is to clean up my usage of Twitter.

Up until now it was mostly irrelevant junk. Some of it was interesting links and the occasional stimulating conversation, but the stream pretty much ended up being dominated by random uninteresting and malformed brain dumps and running commentary on sports events.

One of the effects of this obviously an impact on the quality of the network -- a large number of followers were bots and spammers. The more invidious impact, however, was on blogging. Owing to ready access to a Twitter client at pretty much all times, every time I'd think of something, it would immediately get posted on Twitter. There might have been a modicum of thought applied to figure out the optimum way to optimise the information density in the tweet, to make it pithy, funny and/or link-baity. After this, the tweet and its contents would mostly be forgotten -- unless it was really memorable, which weren't very many.

An instant means of vomiting a thought out meant that any germ of an idea would remain just that. It wasn't nurtured and allowed to develop into something more substantial. And this phenomenon wasn't just restricted to me -- a lot of my favourite bloggers noticeably slowed down or outright stopped posting on their blogs once they got on Twitter.

All this combined with the gradual flexing of Twitter's closed-platform muscle meant that I no longer wanted to rely on Twitter as a log of my thought processes. I ended up unfollowing a lot of generally pointless "celebrities" and actors, and cleaned up my lists to include a healthy number of people aligned with my more useful interests (science, data science, programming).

But more importantly, I am learning to bottle up my thoughts and let them age, till they're developed enough to be written down. I can't say that I've succeeded in doing this quite yet, but hopefully, these are steps in the right direction.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Broken thoughts

  1. "[O]ur modern notions of wealth, money and currency are built on a type of social proof pyramid."
  2. Depending on good behaviour from participants doesn't scale well.
  3. Labels are stupid. It is perfectly fine to hold opinions that span a political spectrum, as long as they are orthogonal and don't contradict each other in weirdly hypocritical ways.
  4. How do you deal with a situation where a job has low desirability, great demand, but very low pay because it just doesn't provide more value just about minimum wage? This appears to be a problem with the "caring for the elderly" sector, and will only continue to worsen as the average age of the developed world keeps increasing. More importantly, who deals with this situation?
  5. Don't tell me to "hate the game, not the player". I am well capable of hating both equally strongly, TYVM.

Some day, maybe I will be able to string together a more cogent and developed position on some of these, but till then, this will have to do.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Aches can be blamed on footwear, right?

Everything aches.

That's been the constant refrain over the last couple of days as 4 of us climbed hills, descended into valleys and lost our way in woodlands in the course of hiking the South West Coast Path.

We had picked the 3 legs starting from Minehead and ending at Combe Martin. The first day wasn't a walking day, and would see us get to Porlock by a combination of buses, taxis and steam trains. We then proceeded to walk about 45 kms over the next two days (Porlock to Lynton, Lynton to Combe Martin), fuelled (for the most part) by a healthy combination of carrots, apples and water.

Swayed by their sleek appearance and a little marketing-speak, I (and another member of the party) had decided to don "barefoot" trail-running shoes for the trip, instead of the usual pair of hiking boots that's been a trusty ally so far in such endeavours.

The only problem with the boots had been that my feet would get sore after walking in them for long-ish durations, because they were quite heavy. So it was with great excitement that I had trialled the barefoot shoes on the treadmill in the week just before the trip. They performed fabulously well -- I ran faster, the legs didn't hurt and most importantly, the modified style (minimalist running) was plain more fun.

So it seemed like a reasonable idea to attempt the hike in the new shoes.

Well, I can honestly say I'm never doing that again.

While the shoes themselves didn't detract too much from the overall experience, they do have a rather unique characteristic of letting you feel every tiny irregularity on the "road". This meant that every time we hit a rocky -- or even just gravelly -- stretch, it would be an exercise in focussing intently on the path to avoid landing a foot on any slightly incongruous looking stone.

Additionally, because feet encased in these tend to land "naturally" towards the front and middle parts, my calf appeared to have become the primary load-bearing structure. And my load is not inconsiderable, so my legs had to heft me over hill and dale without any assistance from the feet at all.

All of this resulted in every muscle in the legs crying out in complaint at the end of both days of walking. Moving forward through pain is perfectly fine, but hobbling around at the same B&B where significantly older hikers flit around happily having completed the same trail is intolerable.

The next coastal hike I go on (and I plan to go on lots more!) , it's back to the old and comfortable Woodlands for me. The Vivo Barefoot Neos can -- all multi-terrain claims aside -- remain relegated to the treadmill.