Thursday, October 26, 2006

Two new browsers in one week

The world saw two new browsers this week: IE7 and Firefox 2.0.! And what changed as a consequence?

Tabbed browsing in IE7

Oh there was tabbed browsing in IE6 through an add-on from Microsoft itself. And I remembered their well-positioned close buttons, but couldn't locate them now!

Is there a new completely intuitive way to close tabs that I couldn't discover? Had I fallen below Scott Adams "incompetence line", using the browsers benchmark?

Mercifully, the close buttons appeared when I opened a second tab. But for a while I was scared!

Tabbed browsing in Firefox 2.0

The text from Bookmarks Toolbar periodically overlaps the tabs, making them unreadable! This couldn't be a bug in the new Firefox!!

Does it only affect some windows users or those with a certain display adapter? Should I upgrade the browser on the laptop and check if that too is similarly affected? Should I do a net search first?


The spellcheck in Firefox 2.0 is really cool.

I liked it instantly. It even worked in Google chat from within gmail. Naturally, of course!  So let me not think too much about the garbled text for now.


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Monday, October 23, 2006

A Sign of Maturity

Relationships move on a continuum, from acquaintance to intimacy.

Between opposite sexes, this movement is relentlessly left to right, as if on a ratchet. And loss of traction usually leads to a broken mechanism!

A sign of maturity is the acquired skill to be happy moving it slowly or not at all. Even accommodating backward slippages.


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Saturday, October 21, 2006

A procession of victims

Scott Carney often wonders about and highlights the ills of society that he witnesses around him:

"She always came to school shabbily dressed and her refusal to listen to us was affecting the discipline of the school. We even sent warning letters to her parents but the girl simply refused to tie her hair. On Thursday we cut her hair as punishment, but had no intention of humiliating the girl," said Principle Saloni Khanna in defense of her actions.

Source: Trailing Technology: Teacher Cuts of Student's Hair; School Pillaged

The parents of the child retaliated by wrecking the school.

This piece set me thinking about the succession of victims here:

  1. the school (of indiscipline among children)
  2. the child (of the teachers' wrath)
  3. the school (being wrecked, and also perhaps harassed about its actions)
  4. the parents (access being denied to their children to schooling)

There could be more victims. Before the incident, for instance, it may have been the mother, burdened with the requirements of the child's grooming and presentation, and also the housework--and perhaps a job and/or the unhelpful husband.

Perhaps, a skilled novelist, rather than an inexperienced blogger trying to make sense, might be able to ferret out all the victims for the next Booker.

I contemplate Karpman's drama triangle, that explains it all and may suggest an escape from the grips of this drama.

An excellent place to begin is the wikipedia article, and the two references given there:


Elevator logic

The fidgety man in a business suit repeatedly jabs the call button. And when he pushes both the up and down buttons, you know more about him than you care to know.

However, I contemplate not the circumstances of his childhood and life, but a much simpler question. Why don't elevator designers punish the behaviour by resetting the call status?

It should have several advantages:

  1. Pressing the button a second time could delay the arrival of the car by canceling the previous call. (It would also require pressing the button a third time, but some users apparently derive pleasure from such effort, so we won't bring it up.)
  2. You could cancel a call for the wrong direction, if it was a genuine mistake or if you changed your mind.
  3. It would save wear and tear on the elevator buttons.

Why don't we design elevators like this? Have I missed something obvious?


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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Desipundit bids farewell!

It is never any good dwelling on goodbyes. It is not the being together that it prolongs, it is the parting.

British writer, Elizabeth Bibescu

Without so much as a prior hint, Patrix announced to his incredulous readers that desipundit would quit this month end.

There have been almost a hundred pleas for him to reconsider the decision and undoubtedly the flood isn't weakening soon.

For most part, the readers have shown a very mature response. While they've hoped that the decision could be reversed, they also acknowledge that the host (and other contributors) have the right to determine how much effort they are willing to spare for desipundit.

All very nice. So Patrix has the right to shut it down because it is his blog after all? Here's my take on why it could be a case of bad judgement.

It is evident that desipundit has cultivated a loyal readership. This imposes a certain responsibility on those who have engaged the readers over a period of time.

Earning goodwill is different from earning money. If you have my money in exchange for something, the money is yours in an absolute sense. You may do with it exactly as you wish. But when you have my goodwill, it's different. So Patrix, you may use any money that desipundit has generated, there is no obligation to give it away to charity.

But I said goodwill is different from money in your bank account. It's different because when you spend, or even waste money, you destroy nothing. The money moves on and is available to someone else. When you waste away goodwill, it doesn't reappear in somebody else's pocket.

Some readers have suggested that you could hand it over to others and get new contributors who are willing to do their bit. It is understandable that you don't want that to happen. However, it's understandable only if you acknowledge an attachment to desipundit, even though you see no obligation to continue it any longer. To give up a child for adoption is very difficult, but it's a better option than to strangulate it.

You wrote a short matter-of-fact post that reminds me of the words of Swinburne:

I remember the way we parted,
The day and the way we met;
You hoped we were both broken-hearted,
And knew we should both forget.

But the readers don't want to forget and have freely expressed their opinions. I'm sure you have found their response at least heart-warming, if not overwhelming.

You say that other contributors agree with your decision. It would be better if they came out and spoke for themselves. They have a readership too and they owe at least an honest blog post on the subject right here.Let me admit that I haven't been introduced to desipundit for very long, just a few days. So I'm not motivated by a feeling of a great personal loss. And if desipundit leaves a void behind, in the fullness of time it would be filled in by someone else. It's just that I had this urge to explore the issues involved here.

One last conversation, Patrix?



Desipundit is back!

Congratulations to Patrix for a very good, mature decision. And best wishes to Saket, who has taken over the reins, and the new teams members (see Desipundit, Redux).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Making Windows Live Writer work with Blogger Beta

You are warned that there is no going back! Does that makes you apprehensive about the new Blogger Beta?

Well I took the irreversible step yesterday and found it has been smooth sailing so far. There were some issues in making Windows Live Writer work properly, and these I've tried to explain below.

Before the Plunge

Please be aware that customizations and third party code in the template would be lost, if you switch to the new layout in place of template.

You don't want your blog to look like a diva without make-up on Sunday morning, so set aside a little time for the switchover. Getting everything back is easy, but it isn't an automatic process.

Especially, remember to setup AdSense again.

Also be sure to:

  1. Download Windows Live Writer Version 1.0 (145). Earlier versions won't work.
  2. Get a Gmail account.

After you have migrated to Blogger Beta

If you haven't already installed the latest version of Live Writer do so now. You can install over your existing version.

Take the steps as outlined below.

Start Live Writer and select Edit Weblog Settings from the menu as shown here:

Now, fill in the details about your blog. It is important to write your username as the full gmail ID.

(I didn't and the Live Writer failed to download the blog template. Therefore, "Web Layout" and "Web Preview" options didn't operate initially.)

That's all!

Everything should happen automatically hereafter and you can settle down to enjoy enhanced blogging experience or coffee (or whatever).


Oops! The Live Writer may fail to automatically detect your blog settings and take you to a configuration page.

It would ask the following questions. (Answer to the first is already filled in.)
Type of weblog you are using:
Blogger (Atom)

Remote posting url for your weblog:

You need to provide the missing feed-id, which is a number. To find this number for your blog, go to and login with your gmail id and password.

Click on Settings, which will take you to the setting page, with a url like: in the address bar.

Copy and paste the feed-id number ?????? in the appropriate place in remote posting url.

You’re now done!

Friday, October 13, 2006

What's the risk?

Language can both express and conceal.  Could it be that sometimes what's not visible in the original expresses itself in translation?

Here is the quaintly worded apprehension of a trash collector in Baghdad. It's cited in today's New York Times headlines email.

"When we are working, we are working nervously. We are carrying our souls in our hands."
SABAH AL-ATIA a trash collector in Baghdad.

The lede itself says:

"In a city where a bomb could be lurking beneath any heap of refuse, trash collectors have one of the deadliest jobs."

Notice the difference between the two?

However, "to carry life on the palm of the hand" is an everyday expression in north Indian languages and could denote much smaller risks, like recklessly riding a bike or crossing a busy road.

The quote (slightly mistranslated?)  expresses the risks more evocatively than the probably stronger statement in the lede.

I hope Sabah's own assessment of risk is lower. But I hope his everyday expression doesn't conceal any real risks in his own mind or in the minds of those who could help him.

I wish him all the luck he needs!


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Dry Eyes--what your doctor may NOT suspect!

liquid eye
Originally uploaded by Pacito.

The annual physical is fun if they don't find any heart problems, or diabetes or any of the other serious illnesses.

Doctors must be nice to those who have the option of walking out. And they must work harder to show something for a whole morning of efforts. For instance, last time the ophthalmologist told me I had dry eyes.

He prescribed a lubricating eye drop, which I ignored. It could be the strain from looking at the computer screen for hours or, perhaps, something that happens with the age. Who cares?

However, my eyes got progressively itchy and tired, even in the mornings when they should be rested. So I bought the eye drops and, wow, they helped. But that's not the story!

Here's Mayo Clinic on likely causes of dry eyes, and there are hundreds of other web sites that give similar reasons:

For some people, the cause of dry eyes is an imbalance in the composition of their tears. Other people don't produce enough tears to keep their eyes comfortably lubricated. Eyelid problems, medications and other causes, such as environmental factors, also can lead to dry eyes.

Source: Dry eyes: Causes -

But my problem turned out to be entirely different and took me months to figure out.  While putting it on the face, I was getting a bit of the moisturizer into the eyes as well!

Can you imagine doing that? If you can’t, but have itchy eyes, do pay attention to how you apply the moisturizer, or cream or whatever.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Making Sense of Art

Do you like what you see below? There are more like these, where this one came from.

hate is just a word


Source: gapingvoid: "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards": hate is just a word

What it says is nice.  The graphic's nice too. And so's how they divide the space within the rectangle. But it's how all these elements work together that makes it so perfect and appealing for me. 

I know that's not much of an explanation. But it is always so difficult to explain appeal.

You must see this one too, that I noticed just now:

It takes another viewpoint on the same phenomenon as Conversations in the Digital World. But it's a lot more interesting.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Conversation in the digital world

People have this enormous need to express themselves, but a limited capacity to pay attention to others. So what drives conversation? Obviously attention, because that's scarce.

Conversation is a sequence of ... um, exchanges. And an exchange, for it to be completed, requires acceptance.

Exchanges feed off attention.

In conditions of attention-scarcity, exchanges must compete among themselves for their fodder. This is the classic situation where Darwin's law of natural selection operates. Only the fittest exchanges survive, as determined by their ability to grab attention.

Therefore, conversation does not progress by any intelligent design, in either the sender's or the recipients mind. It is formed automatically by stringing together of exchanges that had the best chance of survival.

That's such a disturbing thought.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A strange blogging coincidence

Some time after I published my last post, I found what another blogger, with a far bigger audience, had written minutes before.

It mentions sandwich, frappe, Cafe Coffee Day and death. Let me quickly add that  death has nothing to do with the first three. It has to do with this post.

How death must concentrate the mind. I can't imagine how I'd react if told that I had just months to live: would I do the things do with more urgency, or would I feel that doing anything was pointless now? Would I try to squeeze all possible joy into spending time with my loved ones, or would I withdraw into myself, typically morose and depressive? Would I blog? What would I write?

Source: India Uncut: Enjoy every sandwich

In 1987 I was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia and lived with this knowledge for a few days before the diagnosis was changed to generalised lymphadenopathy due to a viral infection. (If AIDS had been commonplace then, the lymphadenopathy would have led to  ELISA for HIV, but I was spared that trauma!)

Anyway, a series of biopsies and blood tests ruled out the cancer and I have lived to blog about it.

Leukemia was not certain death, even in those days. You could hope. And I hadn't been given a confirmed diagnosis. But at one stage, it was about 80% chance that I had no more than 6 months. That's what I knew and had to handle, whether it true and in line with the doctor's estimated odds or not.

My first thoughts were that my parents need not know "till absolutely unavoidable". The doctor said I'd need their support even to go through with the chemotherapy. But he agreed that it could wait until the treatment had to commence, if indeed it had to commence at all.

However, I told my friends about it. I could handle their reactions, only not those of my parents. But I think they already knew.

I remember celebrating the Diwali that year as the only patient in the cabins not allowed home for the festival. Because my home wasn't in the city where I was hospitalised. And what I called my home (in Bombay) was a lonely bachelor pad anyway.

A friend of mine brought me a wonderful, home-cooked dinner on the festival evening and stayed behind till it was bedtime. I was also visited by a rocket that strayed into the wards and died there without exploding.

In later days, I enjoyed reading the books that my friends brought me and their chatter when they visited. We were brave! Only they didn't share all their thoughts with me, as I later learnt. 

The nurses was very nice and I enjoyed little chats with them too. And some of the doctors I now count among friends.

I was not a typical patient. I was "ambulatory" as was noted in the papers; friendly, which they omitted to mention; and if the diagnosis did not turn out to be true, just a guest that stayed a fortnight.

I was never filled with dark, depressive thoughts. Perhaps, because the news didn't sink in fully before I was let off the hook. Maybe, therefore, I'm not qualified to answer Amit's queries. But anybody can speculate and blog, isn't it?

Amit asks, would he blog if he was given six months time?

I would if have an audience that I relate to and converse with. They would be immensely helpful through such times. Just like my friends in flesh and blood were in those days when blogs hadn't been invented.

Yes, priorities would change because there won't be enough time for some things that are otherwise important. I'd resign my job and play more piano. But if I have time, I can hope to play even more piano by keeping the job and, perhaps, also own that baby grand I've been eyeing.

But I won't have anything unimportant to give up. Because if it's not important, I'd cut if out anyway.

When still at the hospital, I escaped and went to Maratha mandir to enjoy an ice cream, for which the poor nurse on duty received a reprimand. I apologised to her but would do it again, because "every sandwich must be enjoyed".

Yes, even those that come with an unforgivable corn mean and rice offering.

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Doesn't make business sense!

Minutes ago I had a Coffee Frappe and a Super Sandwich Chicken Tikka at Cafe Coffee Day. Good coffee, spoilt by awful business strategy!

I asked for a chicken sandwich from their menu. The service person informed me that the price of the sandwich had changed.

But, of course! This is my third visit in the week and I knew that already. Though I hadn't ordered a sandwich recently, the hand corrected menu has been familiar for months now.

Oh the price had gone up again he told me. From Rs 40 to 60. But I don't complain about that anymore.  Not since Professor Harford explained all about coffee prices in The Undercover Economist. The money doesn't go to the Cafe chain.

Perhaps, the sandwich was venti now, and I was hungry, and you know it's all about self-targeting anyway. (You've read this book, haven't you? Makes paying for coffee much easier.)

In short, I was comfortable paying the small sum of Rs 60 that was asked for.

But what I received was a sandwich and a Chatpatta Sticks packet. Something I won't pick up on my own for Rs 2 at a railway station. Someone else may, but I won't.

Now I've had coffee on four different continents. Where in the world do they include anything like Chatpatta Sticks with either sandwich or coffee? And does that make their coffee more or less affordable?

I wish they wouldn't cheat us.

And the price for the 22 gms of unforgivable corn meal and rice offering in the packet? Rs 10, inclusive of all taxes. That makes me wonder: If the packet becomes part of the sandwich, do I pay tax on tax?

Post Script:

Hey, I am a confirmed blogger now. I write about coffee and sandwich, and finish the post on a laptop while riding back in the car!

But it is not a bloggers ready world: I wish the Cafe coffee Day's wifi service was still available to customers and my camera cell phone had easy Bluetooth connectivity for transferring pictures. I'd have shown you pictures of the restaurant with the chatpatta sticks in the foreground and the server (waiter) in background. And also included the IP address of their server (proxy) in the post.

Cool, and I might yet recover the money that I lost if a coffee ad is served up alongside and you decide to check it out. But please, don't do it unless you really are interested in the ad. If it's construed that I encouraged you to do so, I might lose the Google adSense publisher status and any hopes of recovering the loss incurred on that sandwich--through legitimate blogging about the experience.

Thanks. Now don't, unless it is your decision.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Control Systems Explanation for Yoga

is often designed to reduce the difference between the actual and desired output (error) by using the error signal itself to  modify the input.

This is the principle of closed-loop  control.  Engineers use it to design systems that control everything from the flight path of a cruise missile to the temperature of your living room.

Please read the two paragraphs above again, if you are unfamiliar with this stuff. They present the essential ideas in a few sentences, even if the description could be faulted.

(And if you are really good at this, please, help describe the ideas in simpler terms in the comments. Thank you.)

There are two important elements in a control system:

Sensors to measure the appropriate variables

Without sensors, it's like flying an aircraft without knowing your altitude, location, speed, the orientation of the craft, etc.

A model of what is being controlled

Without an appropriate model, it's like handing over the aircraft to your refrigerator thermostat, which doesn't understand (has no model appropriate for) aircrafts in flight. But more about it in a later post.

Now, much the same thing happens within our body, which has an enormously complex control system.

Do you slouch? Or know someone who does? How easy it is to be unaware of the slouch. Or the fact that we habitually lean to one side, or slide forward in the chair, or keep the shoulders pushed up while typing. And most importantly, we are seldom aware any of these postural defects.

We think that we are sitting straight in a comfortable, neutral pose and discount the information about the slouch that our senses send in. Over time, the sensory information gets degraded by repeatedly being modified (discounted) and we lose the calibration. We no longer have reliable information for efficient and effective control.

Yoga makes you aware of your body: How well is your weight distributed? How straight is your spinal column? That sort of thing. And this give the body an opportunity to recalibrate the sensors periodically.

You already know from the aircraft analogy, just how important accurate information is. I leave you think how its lack affects your body.

An ancient system of exercise called Yoga

Lisa Peake has some interesting observations about her experiences with yoga.  An excerpt from her earlier post is given below and she has written about it again here.

"One of my current working theories is that people in this day and age have become extraordinarily disconnected from our bodies. [...] It seems to me that people are identifying more and more with our minds and emotions, and quite a lot less with our physical, bodily experiences."

Source: Lisa Peake: Waking up the body

I too have tried to understand how this ancient system of conditioning and exercising the mind and body works.

From an engineer's perspective, I think achieves the following:

  1. Calibration of sensors
  2. Improvement in the brain's model of the body
  3. Isometric exercise to strengthen the muscles
  4. Stretching to improve the strength and flexibility of tendons and ligaments

Makes no sense?  

Okay, let me explain these points one at a time. (They shall become clickable links in this post, as I progress.)

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Non-verbal component in text-based communication

In her post Everlasting Communication, Liz Strauss wonders about the non-verbal part in communicating through screen or paper.

Studies say that well over 50% of our communication is nonverbal – how the message is presented, body language. When communicating over the telephone, one researcher found that 84% of communication is vocal and 16% is verbal.
It makes me wonder how that all changes when we put our thoughts directly on screen or on paper.

Source: Letting me be . . . random wondering and philosophy

Non-verbal component remains an important part, although I'm not sure how researchers compute their percentages.

Let's examine two types of online text based communication, distinguished by the number of interactions per instance.

Chat or Instant Messaging

Frequency and use of smiley's

  1. An unexpected smiley makes one look for what isn't manifestly stated in words.
  2. A long period of smiley-less interaction is also subliminally noticed. (Not the usual self?)

Frequency of typos

  1. Unusually high rate may indicate tiredness, distraction, or a sudden rush of thoughts.
  2. Extended typo-free conversation could indicate unusual carefulness in choosing the words

Frequency and speed of response

  1. Slow, but rich and unexpected, responses. High degree of engagement in the conversation?
  2. Quick, but weak responses. Flagging of interest?
  3. Slow and weak responses. High level of distraction!

Other cues

  1. Typing for a long time, but small or no response. Hesitation? Change of mind? Too many disparate stimuli in the same conversation?
  2. Too long to respond. Cornered? Uncertain?

Email or Blogs

  1. Spelling and grammar errors may indicate same things as sloppy dress. (What's the excuse when a spell check takes just seconds?)
  2. Choice of fonts, pictures and colour. (Email stationery, anyone?)
  3. Lengthy or meandering text. Lack of skill or lack of consideration for the audience?
  4. Choice of username, domain name or service provider.
  5. Speed of response. (How many posts per week, depending upon blog content? How quick or slow to respond to an email, depending upon the person and accounting for any mitigating circumstances?
  6. Use of priority or other flags, polling buttons, cc addresses.

Of course, here I'm talking about information that passes without being deliberately conveyed .

Therefore, use of all caps to indicate shouting is excluded. Yes, a smiley is a shorthand for what could also be stated in words. But its frequency, placement and lack of appearance can convey additional information.

There could be cues that I missed. Or maybe other interpretations?

Do let me know! :-)