Friday, December 24, 2004

Steve Bass

I've been a long-time fan of Steve Bass, who writes the "Home Office" column on PC World. In his newsletter to which I subscribe, I came across a Java applet which creates these beautiful pictures.

If you want to subscribe as well, click here. It's worth it!

This one is Grappa White. To make a creation of your own, click the image!

Happy Holidays - what a load of crap!

If ever society tried to change the mindset of regular, normal people, this has to be it. 'Happy Holidays'? What's that supposed to mean anyway? If you work where I do, holidays are always happy! Including weekends! So, what's the big deal?

In trying to be politically correct, are we losing are awareness of the world around us? Can't we wish Christmas and Id and Diwali and every other festival that we've seen and participated in all our lives, however vicariously? Do we have to always think we end up offending people by wishing them well? Is that ever possible? In our effort to identify ourselves as part of some group, clan or religeon, are we forgetting we're humans?

A couple of days ago a friend of mine wished me for Christmas. I wished him back too. And the amazing thing is that neither of us are Christians! We did the same for Diwali as well. It's part of our lives, it's part of our culture and upbringing and it is indelibly, a part of us.

Yesterday, I was waiting for my bag to be scanned before I entered the office (yes, we're all terrorists here!). There's this huge, hulking guy with a uniform who does this every day. And as guards are supposed to be, he's always been gruff with a dour face. No smiles, nothing. If I'm in a cheerful mood, I try not to think of his response when I wish him Good Morning! Today, out of the blue, he breaks out into this huge smile and puts out his hand for a shake. As I watch my hand disappear and wonder if it'll ever be the same, he pats me on the back and says "Buddy, you have a Happy Christmas, okay?" I wish him too, but I wonder - Wow! Where did that come from? I mean, what's making him so happy and friendly all of a sudden? And then I see his eyes crinkling in that smile of his and I feel happy with him too! "Merry Christmas to you too" I say. And then I realise, it's the season, he's sharing his happiness which he's experienced every year since he's born and he's wishing me well! That's all that matters really. A thought, a wish, a greeting. For another.

So, eschewing the pathetic, unemotional 'Happy Holidays', let me wish everyone a merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Interview with Thomas Barnett

Worldchanging has published an interview with Prof. Thomas P.M. Barnett, Senior Strategic Researcher at the U.S. Naval War College. He's the author of a new book called "The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century". Makes for very interesting reading, and he does get a few points right!

Now, I should note that it doesn't mean that terrorism comes from one or the other, because terrorism seems to be related less to poverty than to a sense of diminished expectations. It tends to be people who know there's a better life, know they could get a better life because they have the skills and drive, but are prevented from having that better life. Terrorists tend to be middle-class, fairly educated, fairly smart people. Just because people are poor doesn't mean that they'll become terrorists.

As India and China become such big players in the global economy, the old charge that globalization equals Americanization is disappearing. In ten years people are going to see an economy that is as dominated by China, India and Brazil as it is by the EU or US. There are a variety of different rule sets competing here, and the globalization we have today will not be what we have in a decade. But the conflict isn't fought by massed armies on the battlefield, it's fought in huge bureaucratic conferences like the World Trade Organization. That's a positive process.

The complete interview is here

Friday, December 17, 2004

Photographs of Planes!

A friend of mine sent me this very, very intriguing photograph of two planes looking as if they were practically flying inches from each other!

The explanation behind it goes like this-
A Lufthansa 747-400 and a United 757-200 are on simultaneous landing approaches on the parallel runways 28L and 28R at San Francisco airport.. The distance between the runways is is 225 meters.
Due to the Jumbo being 3 times larger than the 757 and being behind it gives us this fantastic optical illusion of seeming to fly too near together.

I did some digging and came up with this picture of the San Francisco airport which shows the runways in parallel. (Click on the picture for a detaled explanation)

While browsing around I came across another great snap of a plane flight. Enjoy!

A Subway Ride

Today an amazing thing happened. I saw two people in love! When was the last time you saw something like that? I don't mean adoloscents and teenagers trying to display their affection which in essence is just that, a display. I mean two people who're really jelling together so well that you can see!

As usual I was running late for work and had fast paced to the subway station. Being peak hour at that time of the day, the coaches are never empty. Nevertheless, as soon as the doors opened, I managed to get a seat at the end of the car. The doors slid close with an automated, ever polite, voice firmly going "Stand clear of the closing doors, please". The train trundled along.

As it happens when you commute, you get into the habit of getting into a daze for the required period of time before your stop arrives! Maybe you stare at some ads, maybe you just watch the clock or maybe you just watch the people around you. Either way, your brain goes on self-drive especially if there's the rhythmic swaying of the train.

The train was filled with the usual mix of people for that time of the morning. Mostly people in office clothes. And since this train goes to Wall Street, there was the usual Wall Street crowd. You can spot them anywhere - mostly men, mostly white, in dark suits, like a uniform. Standard ties. Actually, the cost of the ties go up as the age goes up! In winter they also wear dark overcoats. Usually they'll have a 'Wall Street Journal' or a 'New York Times' peeping out of their bags or from under their arms.

At the next stop the doors opened and people piled in again. This couple got in and got a seat directly in front of me. The thing that struck me was that even sitting down, they were holding hands. Well, actually what was strange about seeing those held hands was the age of the couple. They were both in their late forties or so, if not older. And yet they were holding hands! Rarely as one finds this happening, if you watch people usually, they don't hold hands sitting down, even if they had been doing so standing up!

They were both black. The man looked more like a homeless guy. His clothes were dirty as was his jacket. The cap on his head was not too clean either and his grey hair sneaking out of it was practically in dreadlocks. The woman look marginally better. She was fat, but her clothes looked as if she had a job. A little more presentable. Neither seemed like they were from great backgrounds, and seeing their held hands I also noticed that the man's fingernails were grown and dirty.

They were talking. Well, they were smiling and talking to each other. Looking at them chatting, they looked so happy! The contrast with their clothes, appearance and the way they were feeling was very, very vast. I got a bit of their conversation - the woman asked "Where did you sleep last night?"

As they sat and held hands and smiled and chatted, I watched. I couldn't take my eyes away. Their happiness was so complete, so pure, and so... so... wonderful that it was mesmerising. They were in their own bubble, totally complete and content. Amazingly, as I watched them, I started feeling happy too! Not because of any thought that came into my head. Not because it reminded me of something from my own life. I just felt happy watching them! And I realised that I was smiling as well! I looked away thinking it would be very embarassing if they saw me staring and smiling!

The train moved along. My stop was still a couple of stations away. I thought that when I get up to leave, I'd just tell them that they had made my day. But you know how it is. Your social conditioning stops you from speaking to strangers. I was debating within myself. The train stopped. The next station was mine. And then I see these two getting up! I didn't know what to do! They were standing, waiting for the doors to open. My mind was churning out ridiculous consequences. The doors slid open. The couple were waiting for the office crowd to rush out. They were just a foot away. As the gap in front of them cleared and they were going to take a step out into the station I reached up, tapped the man's arm. He looked surprised and turned. "You two are very much in love, aren't you?", I said. "Great", I added. Before they could react, the announcement came through about the doors closing. They stepped out, but before they did, they both smiled at me.

The train started again. I looked around to see if there were others in the train who were like these two. But nope, for everyone else, the train ride was just a means to an end. A chore. Not an event by itself.

I settled back. Nothing had changed. Yet everything looked different.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Making a computer out of LEGO?

Well, not really!

But "The Goldfish Online" has created a number of logic gates (AND, OR, NOR etc. etc) with LEGO bricks. I know that this doesn't sound very exciting to everyone(!), but I think something like this would be of tremendous use as teaching aids for basic electronics!

I'm sure rudimentary mechanical computing systems can be created. More for the fun of it actually!

Going through the website, I see that a Rubik's cube and a piano have already been created out of of LEGO, and even Charles Babbage's Difference Engine is on the cards! Cool!

PS. As I was going through the Slashdot article, I came across this very interesting software, called TKGate ( which can be used to model electronic circuits! And not just model but also simulate! Definitely beats all the soldering!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Microsoft's "India Giving" Campaign

Microsoft has been doing some phenomenal charity work in India. Their program is called the "India Giving" campaign. This started in 2000 and by this year, 95 percent of Microsoft India employees are involved in donating monies to non-profit organisations. The idea is that each employee gives a certain amount of their monthly salary towards a charity and Microsoft India matches that contribution!

In 2003, Microsoft India gave Rs 3,274,307 to 22 charity and voluntary organisations across the country.

Microsoft India Giving

Complete story available at Rediff

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Some other great Photoblogs!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Piracy & Stealing (when it comes to Online Music!)

I've always found the actions of the RIAA in trying to sue their own customers to stop file sharing as ridiculous.

Today I came across this exit exam essay written by Steve Geluso, a 16 year old 'A' student. He decided to choose to write on the distinction between piracy and stealing, when it comes to online music.
(Note the "Continue to Page 2" link at the bottom of the page.)

I don't think anyone ever has put forth the case so eloquently.

A few quotes -
  • Thieves steal music that is provided in the mainstream and never intend to help the artists out. On the other hand pirates obtain a wide variety of music that is not always provided in ways that are easy to get to

  • Another radical difference between thieves and pirates is how they get their music. Thieves walk into record stores and take physical copies off the shelves. When a thief takes it from the shelf they are taking something that cost money to produce and stripping the store of its ability to sell it for a profit. Pirates don't take advantage of the already established distribution system. Instead pirates have their own.

  • If the (music industry) took advantage of the benefits of piracy instead of wasting thousands on frivolous lawsuits they could see themselves launched into a new era of prosperity

What is surprising is that a 16 year old can understand the difference so well compared to an organisation!

Thanks to BoingBoing

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

US Department of Justice giving Cultural Awareness lessons!

The US Department of Justice has issued a couple of posters to help authorities in identifying Muslims and Sikhs!! SuperJagjit also created a guideline along the same lines for the South Asian rural community to be able to identify rednecks!!

(Click on the images below to get to the respective PDF files!)

Thanks to BoingBoing!

New York Walking Rules!

New York Walking Rules

I. Walking Slow
Ever heard of a New York minute? Yes, there is such a thing; it's roughly 45 seconds.

II. Walking on your left
Walking is kind of like driving, you stay to your right. Believe it or not there are lanes; where ever you are, you're supposed to stay to your right.
Don't ever stop to ask for directions because no one will give them to you.

III. Stopping
When you stop in the middle of the street you affect everyone around you. People get distracted and you could even cause an accident!
And don't bother waiting for the walk sign; if there aren't any cars coming, go! Jaywalking's not really illegal… they just say that.

IV. Walking in Groups
However, don't try it past 59th street. There will be a lot of angry people trying to get past your little barricade.

V. Walking and chewing gum at the same time (i.e. Multi-tasking)
Use extreme caution when eating and walking.
Cell phones can be distracting too, ..... If your walking in NYC and your not a native, don't attempt it.

VI. Extras
Extra things like bags, kids, (dogs?) and strollers can be dangerous. .... so keep them close to you - especially if you want to keep them.

via College of Mount Saint Vincent students

From the original "New York Times" article Think You Own the Sidewalk? (paid version)

which can be read at The-W

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The shape of things to come (on your cellphone)!

"Rok Sako To Rok Lo" is one of the new movies coming out in India. What makes it a First in the World is that the whole movie is going to be transmitted onto your cellphones (a low resolution version)!

via Gizmodo

Monday, December 06, 2004

This is not funny!

One of the strange aftermaths of 9-11 is that legally it's becoming difficult to laugh at US airports! Whether it's in the US passports, and now even while you're waiting in line for the security check!!

Is the American sense of humour also a victim of terrorism?

I took this snap while in line at Chicago Midway airport. The text reads,
Making any jokes or statements regarding bombs, and/or threats during the screening process may be grounds for both criminal and civil penalties.
All such matters will be taken seriously. We thank you for your restraint in this matter.

Wow! The Balloonman!

I'm sure everyone has had this fantasy as a child! Clutching onto the bunch of balloons which the seller has strapped onto his bicycle so that it would take you away into the blue yonder!!

Well, someone has gone ahead and done just that! He's got an entire website devoted to this!!

Here he is, floating above the clouds!!