Tag Archives: controversies

Kicking up Storms

Much hue and cry was raised earlier this year when Sania Mirza, the #1 Indian woman tennis player, kept her feet close to the Indian flag on a table.

Michael Ballack, the captain of the German football (soccer) team, returned home from the Euro 2008 championship and does this:

What would the reaction to this in Germany be?

My take: such acts do count as disrespect towards the country flag. Anyone have other views?

(Photo credits: Times of India)

The Art of Convincing and the Importance of Freedom

A kid walks to her father. She wants a chocolate. She knows the father can’t refuse, but mom has tighter control over whether she can really have it. The kid is smart. She tells her dad “mom says I can have it if you agree”. The father says “OK”. Then she goes to mom and says “dad thinks I can have chocolate. Give me one.”

What’s smart about this is that the kid knows the opposition well. Microsoft seems to know it as well. OOXML, the format they’re proposing to be an ISO format for storing documents, needs support from the industry and countries for it to be a standard. Nothing’s wrong with that. But the problem is they don’t want to reveal all the specifications of storing files in their format. Which basically means they continue to have a monopoly and tight control over your documents.

Let’s say you’ve bought MS Word or MS Office in 1998 and are happy with it. It still works. All your documents are stored on your hard disk. Now you decide to upgrade your computer and with it, all your software. You purchase the newest version of MS Office. You open your old document. It doesn’t open. You try another one. Same result. You think something’s gone wrong with your backup. You blame the computer vendor who gave you the new machine and promised to restore your old data. The problem, however, is not caused by the vendor. It’s caused by Microsoft. Over the years, they decided to change the file formats and not support the documents which were created by older versions of their software. So now you’re left with unusable copies of your documents because there is no support available for you to import the data to the new format.

Why can this happen? Because Microsoft didn’t want to share the details on how they store your information with others. We saw why this is bad. But if they were to share the details, won’t your documents be insecure? Won’t others be able to see what you have? Well, no. As long as there are people who have the same software that you have, they’ll be able to open your documents.

Also consider this: you don’t want to purchase the expensive software from Microsoft to store your documents. You use free software available (free as in freedom, not price) to store your documents. But someone sends you a document in a proprietary format. How do you access the information present in it? Since Microsoft doesn’t share details as to how it stores information, you won’t be able to access it. You don’t want to buy a few thousands Rupees worth of software only because some other people use it.

So isn’t Microsoft’s proposal to make its file format a positive step? In a way, yes. Because it proves that opening up of that information does not in itself constitute insecurity. If you want your documents to be safe, password-protect them and take precautions to not expose them to suspicious people.

But that’s it. It’s not a positive step for the simple reason that they don’t want to publish the entire file format. What they’re proposing is a mini-skirt. Show a little, hide a lot.

India just voted against making OOXML an ISO standard. This is a very positive move. We’re not encouraging bad practices and we want interoperable standards. The rival format, ODF (Open Document Format), already has two office suites supporting it and using as the native file format (OpenOffice.Org and KOffice). Everything is open and interoperability is guaranteed. No one has to buy anything from anyone to open a file stored in this format. Just download a copy of either of the office suites and you’re ready to go.

Thanks to the efforts of everyone involved in rejecting the OOXML standard.

Paradise regained

So the Taj Mahal made it to the new seven wonders of the world. A distinguished jury deliberated over a period of several years to narrow down the list from hundreds, I believe, sites and monuments, to seven. To make the selection completely fair, a panel of judges from the alien planet of Yamakazoo were invited. They personally inspected the sites and measured objectively the worth of each object on display to arrive at a consensus. The final list was very warmly received, especially by the second most populous nation on this planet, as the monument which we’ve known to stand as the symbol of Love was one of them. Not having this monument on the “wonders” list would’ve meant a loss for the tourism industry in India and a huge loss for Bollywood, as most of the movies are shot around the Taj.

A group of people, though, didn’t like aliens to judge what they feel are their monuments, with human sentiments attached to them, which the aliens are unable to understand. They took to the streets and demanded a human jury, perhaps spanning the entire planet, making it look like the largest democratic vote the universe has ever seen. They demanded voting be done via SMS, thus also benefiting the mobile phone industry and the organisers.

Sadly, the UNESCO, the organisation that has had control and has nominated the past wonders is kept out of this protest by the Earthicans. UNESCO still maintains it doesn’t know about this new wonders of the world campaign, and has declared it unofficial. I would think it believes a private businessman who wants to start a planet-wide poll to elect the new wonders is as non-technical and as disparaging as it can get. Obviously, the nation with the most money and people would easily get their own monument elected, while the other countries would have to just rely on the monument’s qualities to make them proud.

I, though, have some ideas here. If a universe-wide poll makes sense, we could make our poor cricketers’ lives easier: instead of actually playing a match, we should have polls which would decide which team wins. Our idols would have real jobs then, and ads would be so much better. Why just restrict it to our cricket? In the current trend, we do vote and vote a lot for reality shows than our politicians (also remember, voting for reality shows costs money, whereas voting for politicians is free. Yeah, we don’t do cheap stuff). One day, if this becomes successful, we should return the favour to the Yamakazooans and help them elect their head-of-planet. If it has one, that is.

News article

Copy-and-paste

What’s with people who want to write blogs, want to put up happenings in their lives, want to share the thrill they had… but end up copying stuff from others’ blogs? Are they too lazy to do that? Or can’t find words to express their feelings? Or did they experience the exact same things the other person did? Or what?

Why this post? I just stumbled across this post which, in its current form, has text lifted straight from my experiences at Coorg.

I’m not worried about someone doing that. There’s a copyright at the footer of each page; though I don’t wish to go legal over such things. But people should at least acknowledge that they’re using some of my stuff…

This particular blogger in question, has done so indirectly, though. He’s not replaced the part where I mention I had made a promise to post a blog on the Coorg trip, with “promise” being a link to one of my earlier blog posts. Did he not bother to check with the URL, did he not bother to change it, I’m not sure. But he would sure look like a fool once his readers notice it’s a different person who made the promise :-) (I just hope people don’t mistake me for that guy!)

Linux myths, lies and truth and why I like Debian

Before this blog starts to seem like a travel blog, let me post something I found immensely interesting and not related to travels and treks and such.

Greg Kroah-Hartman‘s keynote speech at this year’s OLS was about debunking myths, setting straight some truths and quashing lies about Linux, the OS.

It’s a must-read. He explains things including, but not limited to:
- Why the kernel development model works and is better than other software models
- Why we don’t support binary modules (or closed-source modules)
- How to start Linux kernel development. Newbies to kernels will find this helpful (as if there were no resources earlier)
- Plug-and-play does work on Linux.
- Maximum number of architectures and devices supported
- Many more

On a slightly different note, I’ve always liked the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, and have been using only Debian for the past 4 years. I’ve recently switched to Kubuntu, but only because it’s based on Debian. I do intend to have a Debian setup as well, but have not gotten around freeing enough disk space on my h/d or buying a new one. I now have a good setup where I believe I can start doing something worthwhile in my spare time, and I don’t want to break it. And of course, I can continue my Debian (and other open source) contributions while being on Kubuntu.

The reason I raise Debian here is that it’s the only distribution that supports the maximum number of architectures as its first-class citizens. This means if you’re on an x86 box or a sparc box or a Mac or some ARM board, you’ll get a consistent view of the system. You’re guaranteed all the commands you’re used to on your desktop will also be available and work and more importantly, supported, on some obscure board that you’re working on that has an ARM / PPC CPU. This is a very, very big advantage.

Also, the community around Debian makes sure it stays free and secure and stable. They might have long release cycles; but there’s a guarantee that it’s going to be stable. And we’ll continue to get security updates. I’ve recently switched to Kubuntu (frankly, because my Debian installation was just too old to do an apt-get dist-upgrade with the kind of bandwidth I had and I got Kubuntu CDs from shipit) and I’m getting all the benefits of using a Debian-based box. If I’m not happy with what Kubuntu gives me, I can, at any point of time, update my /etc/apt/sources.list to point to debian mirrors and I would have a debian install. No hassles. If the slow release cycles bother anyone, they can try out Ubuntu/Kubuntu. If they want stability and not very bleeding-edge software, but great support and peace of mind as far as administering the system is concerned, they’ll get Debian.

A testimony to how good Debian is: in my previous company, I started out as the only Debian user. There was one user earlier, but he didn’t continue using it because he couldn’t keep it up-to-date with the kind of bandwidth we had then. At least, that’s what I got to hear. Anyway, I installed Debian, showed the power to everyone else, and in the company of 25 people, I had at least 13 people using Debian in around 6 months. I also set up an apt proxy, so that already downloaded packages could be used by others. It worked really well and everyone was happy. Just the power of apt drew everyone to Debian. And we all ran the ‘unstable’ branch. I made sure no one asked for a package that was < 3 days old in the Sid repository. If it was, there was a high chance of something breaking (sometimes unstable really being unstable), and I didn't want to administer their systems for free. This model really worked well. So much so, people even installed Debian on their laptops.

Yes, GNU/Linux does work on all sorts of hardware. It’s just some vendors who don’t agree to make drivers open. As Greg mentions in his slides about the article Arjan wrote on a hypothetical scenario where binary modules would be accepted in the Linux kernel, the day wouldn’t be far when all our systems would become unusable and Linux would no longer be the OS that we could run seemlessly on varied hardware.

Why block entire blog sites?

Well, the Indian government has decided to block blogging sites in national interest. There apparently were many blogs criticizing the government after the Mumbai blasts. So the government decides to block off not just those blogs, but millions of other blogs which happen to exist on the same domain. Like anything on blogspot.com.

So this post probably won’t be read by many Indians for a few days (hopefully just a few days).

Remember, you can always use services like anonymizer.net to browse the net. Example, my blog.

I am against reservations

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime” – Anonymous

This Sunday, (21st of May 2006), Vikram, Bahubali and I were on M. G. Road in Bangalore, out there for some shopping, when we saw a group of people lined up with papers stuck to their chests claiming ‘I am against reservations’. I have a very strong view on the reservations, and so do Vikram and Bahubali. We decided to join. We stood there for about an hour till it got a bit dark. Around 7:15, we were given candles and then we stood with candles in our hands, showing our stand.

I would say it was a success, in the sense that quite a few people noticed us and it truly was a silent rally. No screaming, no lathi-charge. Even the police people deployed there were helpful and they got into talks with some of us, and even they supported our cause!

We rounded off with walking to the Mahatma Gandhi statue. The organizers told us of the plight of students at AIIMS — they’d been rusticated from their colleges and hostels. They had no place to stay or go — just because they voiced their opinions.

Sad, indeed. But the thoughts crossing my mind while I was standing there in the rally was democracy is working in India — this is how the people tell the leaders they elected about what they feel should be done. It’s a different issue that leaders will choose for the people what they think is best for them.

With coalition governments now the norm, agendas of the parties involved are decided before we go to the polls, and we know which party is going to do what in the next five years. This bit about increasing reservations, however, was not on the agenda of the Congress as far as I can remember.

However, I support reservations, but they should only be based on economic considerations. Also, some reservations can be made for rural population.

There are many cases where well-to-do people belong to the OBC or SC/ST or any other class, and inspite of having a good environment to study and get into good colleges, youth from this class are found to exploit exactly these reservations.

In fact, leaders get voted in certain areas, I hear, based on promises made by them that they’ll declare a specific family an OBC family if that family votes for them. (Joint families in India aren’t uncommon and they do have a large vote share.)

My take:
- Support reservations at the primary schooling level. Till the 12th standard. Build more schools.
- Support some reservation for EBCs (Economically backward class) and people from rural area.
- Do not spoon-feed people who’ve already made it past the 12th. They should fend for themselves. If they weren’t good at this level, they won’t be much better off later.
- Reservations (not based on merit) at the post-graduate level (IITs, IIMs, AIIMS) is ridiculous — no way this should be implemented.
- For EBCs, provide monetary support at any level. (Making sure merit is not compromised)
- Remove the concept of castes. In a learned society, no one is inferior or superior. We have to get rid of this. No one should ask for the castes. Unless it’s for things like statistics that identify how a tribe has been evolving, moving around, etc.

Eggs: Vegetarian or Non-Vegetarian?

In a conversation a while back, Bahubali mentioned that chicken eggs are two kinds, fertile and infertile. Most of the eggs that are consumed are infertile. I didn’t know how that would be possible, but I have learnt to listen. However, this was a very interesting topic. And since it was a topic that dealt with animals and knowing more about them, I decided I would get to the root of the matter (most of you will know I’m a great fan of the cat family — and that I harbour dreams of having a pet tiger some day).

So today I sat down reading up on some websites that had information about eggs. While I got a lot of information in multiple sites, I found a site that has very good information about eggs and maintaining your own pet chickens. This site not only talks about fertile and infertile eggs, it also tells you how much space would you need and how many chicken to have a daily supply of eggs. Very nice indeed.

So what did I find out? I found out that once hens reach maturity, they start laying eggs. Irrespective of wheter there’s a cockerel in among the brood of hens. These eggs are infertile. Meaning they will not hatch and no chicken will come out of it. Fertile eggs are those in which a cockerel has had a part to play. After a cockerel has played its part, the eggs the hens lay will be fertile for about a week.

Also, there’s no difference in the nutritional value between fertile and infertile eggs.

I’m a vegetarian myself (who eats eggs once in a while). This indeed is very good news for me — I have the satisfaction of knowing that I still haven’t killed anything to fill my stomach. There’s always an ongoing debate about what’s considered vegetarian and what’s not — I don’t want to get into that again. I’ve had many of those. However, I’m just happy for what I’ve just now discovered.