31 May 2011

That Medak ride

It happened in 2008 I think.  I was going to Medak with a few friends.  It was a one-day bike ride.  We had three bikes in total, and I was on Chenthil's bullet I was using then.  Ajay missed a turn and he was going fast on a wrong road.  We called him and Aditya, who was his pillion rider, but they didn't answer the phone.  Maybe they didn't notice the call.

We decided one of us would chase and and stop them.  I took the bullet and was pushing it like I never usually do... going at around 85 or 90 when a bus and a truck are very close by.  This was after the bullet's breakdown incident, so I knew riding it fast wasn't the safest thing to do, especially with a pillion rider with me.  At one point I stopped the bike and asked Jhinuk (who was on the pillion with me) to send them a text message asking them to return.  She sent a message and then called them too, so that they notice the vibration of the call.

In a few minutes we got a call from Aditya saying they were turning back.  Even now, when I think about it, I am happy that I didn't do anything stupid like pushing the bike to 100+ kmph.  Speed kills.  Especially on a lousy bike like the bullet.

29 May 2011

A thousand splendid suns

The first few chapters were really good.  Some good dialogues, the sharp contrast between Nana and Jalil, the kid Mariam's innocence, her want to learn things, etc.  It was all good, until Mariam is forced to marry.  The kid who haven't seen anything beyond her tiny village, the kid who didn't dare to come out of her room in Jalil's house to face anyone, gives a big-girl speech to her father.  She starts "I used to worship you".  If that wasn't unnatural enough, she goes on to say that Jalil was ashamed of her.  She isn't saying that he made her feel ashamed -- which is what the narration leads you to believe, but that Jalil was ashamed of her and that's what hurts her; not her own shame.  She says "Don't come to see me ever again.  Ever," and leaves.

Then the story of her marriage.  The kid who gave such a bold speech goes on to the street and guess what?  She's scared of everyone on the street.  Like, really?  What for?  First day she gets scared and runs back in.  That's okay, maybe that's normal.  But after that she never goes out.  All the women who were curious to talk to her make no further attempts to befriend her and she simply remains friendless.  Even as a kid she had about half a dozen friends in her tiny village, but as a housewife who spends all day alone at home she gets no new friends.

And the marriage.  It keeps getting worse over time.  The author does capture the way the relationship deteriorates, but making it look like there were no good moments whatsoever is just not natural.  I mean, how can a guy be always angry with his wife?  Won't he act like a good guy now and then, at least to sleep with her?!  Would he always come home in a bad mood after work?

I was irritated by all these oddities and decided to stop reading.  Long time ago, I decided that I won't decide on watching or skipping a Tamil movie based on other people's review.  Now, I think I shouldn't buy a book based on Amazon readers' reviews.

Here are some quotes from the book up to the point I read:
  • She did not know what this word harami--bastard--meant.  Nor was she old enough to appreciate the injustice, to see that it is the creators of the harami who are culpable, not the harami, whose only sin is being born.
  • Like a compass needle that points to north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman.  Always.
  • Mullah Faizullah admitted to Mariam that, at times, he did not understand the meaning of the Koran's words.  But he said he liked the enchanting sounds the Arabic words made as they rolled off his tongue.  He said they comforted him, eased his heart.  "They'll comfort you too, Mariam jo," he said.  "You can summon them in your time of need, and they won't fail you.  God's words will never betray you, my girl."
  • God, in His wisdom, has given us each weaknesses.
  • A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam.  It isn't like a mother's womb.  It won't bleed, it won't stretch to make room for you.
  • Could she fault him for being the way God had created him?
  • She laid down her prayer rug and did namaz.  When she was done, she cupped her hands before her face and asked God not to let all this fortune slip away from her.
I like this last one, Mariam's prayer, because I have been thinking about this of late.  Don't we all do just that -- the moment we have something we are afraid that we'll lose it.  That's just how scared we all are.  We don't know how to be happy with what we have; we are always busy worrying about tomorrow!

22 May 2011

There are certain things you learn over time.  You start accepting things you once couldn't.  I have been hoping for a while that I will be able to not get upset when I see people making fun of ignorance.  Or religious beliefs.  A man had a heart attack because of his religious beliefs and people have to LOL at him publicly.  One part of me says that people are different and I should learn to accept them as they are.  But I just can't not react when I read those news.  Even when I was an atheist, I hated most atheists I knew.  Now I hate them even more.

18 May 2011

Loving and being loved

Not having anyone to love is probably worse than not being loved by anyone.

17 May 2011

Honeycomb: first impressions

Have you used the G1?  That was the first ever phone to run Android.  No one liked it.  It sure did a number of things well, but it didn't quite meet the needs of most people.  A year later there was Nexus One, with Eclair on it.  That's when many people had a real choice: they could choose between an iPhone or an Android phone running Eclair.

Honeycomb is a version of Android that's designed specifically for running on tablets.  Though the name of the OS is the same and it can run all pre-Honeycomb apps, it's a very different beast.  It's so different that it frustrates people that expect the UI to resemble what they're used to.  So what if it's different?  It means most of the stuff is newly built.  Expect the quality of G1 from current Honeycomb tablets.  They are unfinished, and the Tab I am using now crashes every day.  Every single day.

I liked the G1.  It was much better than the phones I had before.  It was better than the iPhone for my use because I don't live in Apple's walled gardens.  I have been wanting a tablet since the day I saw Steve Jobs announcing the I pad in January 2010.  Now I am happy with my Tab.  If you are not the kind that can forgive buggy software, or if you are not dying to get your hands on an Android tablet, I'd advise that you wait until tablet versions of Android stabilises.  Won't be very long.

16 May 2011

Why state the obvious?

What do you think of these two projectors, especially the "Yellow" and "Red" words on them?  Lame?  That's what I thought first as well.

But this is a good design because people with difficulty in seeing colours can also use these devices.  Can you spot such good design in any of the software you use everyday?

14 May 2011

If it's too hard you're doing it wrong

Let's say you're a Linux user with an iPod that has a partially corrupt hard drive.  How would you take your music out of it and move them to a different player?  This post is how I handled the same situation.

First, I moved the entire iPod_Control directory from the iPod to a different, healthy hard disk to minimise data loss due to hardware failure.  Easiest thing to do is use gtkpod to export all the songs out of the iPod.  I added the copied iPod_Control directory as a new iPod to gtkpod and tried exporting the whole library.

For a number of reasons my iPod's music library was a little corrupted: (i) the library had been mutated by several different programs over years, and (ii) because the disk was damaged, some files were truncated.  gtkpod wasn't able to handle files that had issues.  It simply crashed when it encountered those files.

If you have ever looked at an iPod's iPod_Control directory, you will know that the file organisation is cryptic.  Unless you read the iTunes library file -- which is in a proprietary format -- you cannot make out what those files are.  gtkpod was reading the contents of my playlists from the iTunes library and copied the associated MP3s to the location I specified.  In the process it also renamed the MP3s so that it's easy for me to see which songs are where.

gtkpod was able to parse the library alright; it showed all my playlists and the songs in them.  So one solution could be, I figured, that I shouldn't let gtkpod do the renaming.  I exported my playlists as m3u files.  Now for each playlist I have a simple file with just a list of file paths.  I copied all the files into a directory using a shell for loop:

for f in $(grep -v '^#' /tmp/playlist.m3u); do
  # /path/to/ipod/iPod_Control/Music/Fxx/xyxy.mp3 -> Fxx-xyxy.mp3
  target=$(echo $f | sed 's#^\(.*\)/\([^/]*\)/\([^/]*\)$#\2-\3#')

  if [[ -f $target ]]; then
    echo >&2 "\nNot overwriting $f"
    cp $f ./$target
    echo >&2 -n '.'

Then I used EasyTag to do the file renaming.  (EasyTag was good at handling corrupt MP3 files.)  After doing this all, only when I write this post, I realise there's an easier way: I can simply ask gtkpod to not rename files!  (In the file name format box, I would enter %o to prevent file renaming.)  Ah well, that's okay... writing that zsh script was fun!

8 May 2011

Why I am not moving away from Linux any time soon

  • KDE is freakin' awesome.  In addition to making all sorts of customization possible, it gives me tons of tools to make my life easier.  I cannot possibly list everything I like about KDE, so here's a tiny list:
    • Klipper remembers n recent clipboard contents, so I don't accidentally lose some text I copied.
    • KDE's Run Program dialogue lets me do things like doing simple math, doing a Google search, switching to a different app, etc.  This is the kind of convenience that doesn't sound like a big deal first, but you miss it when you don't have it.
  • Extremely powerful, customisable command line shells.  I am a keyboard junkie.  I do most of my work on the command line.  I play my music and movies, browse through my files, etc. from the command line.  And I can automate any random chore by writing shell scripts.
  • It has awesome media players.  Mplayer is my favourite.  It plays any random codec you throw at it, out of the box.  Oh, and it has configurable keyboard controls for everything.
  • Ease of migration.  A few days back I wiped my hard disk and upgraded to 64-bit version of Kubuntu.  I was able to export the list of programs I had installed before wiping and reinstall all those apps with 2 simple commands.  All programs keep their configuration under home directory, so I didn't have to reconfigure any program.  I cannot imagine such an easy migration on Windows or OS X.
  • Most, if not all, browsers natively support playing Windows media format.  I just found this online Tamil radio and it Just Works on Chrome, out of the box.  (I don't think it would work on OS X.)
  • Efficient use of resources.  My netbook really would suck when running Windows 7 merely because the hardware is cheap.  But it easily handles Kubuntu.  The OS and apps are not memory hogs.
  • The Unix culture has a good taste in user interface.
    • Apps don't show you useless notifications.  I had booted into Windows 7 for a while last week.  My machine's audio driver showed me a popup notification every time I plugged in or removed headphones!  I can't imagine a Unix program daring to do anything dumb like that.
    • No frequent reboots required like Windows.  (I admit that it's been a long time since I have used Windows; they might have reduced the frequency of reboots now.)
  • Vastly secure than Windows and OS X.  No viruses.  No OS design flaws that make the system terribly insecure.

7 May 2011

Firefox missing icons

I recently upgraded to 64-bit version of Kubuntu and since then Firefox lost most of its icons.  From the screenshot you can see that some of the menu icons are gone, Firefox window doesn't have an icon, tabs have no icon for close button, new tab button doesn't have its icon.  Obviously, it wasn't a great experience using the browser in this state.

Turned out it was because I was running an incompatible version of Firefox on my machine.  I always download Firefox from Mozilla's site as a tarball and run it from the command line.  (I do that because Ubuntu historically has been very slow in updating the officially supported Firefox version.)  The Firefox tarball I had was a 32-bit version.

The solution?  Upgrading to 64-bit Firefox, obviously.  But Mozilla, for some reason, doesn't distribute 64-bit version of its browser.  I have started using the Ubuntu-supplied Firefox now and everything is back to normal.

6 May 2011


Someone criticized on Twitter a Linux distribution's site showing a "please donate" page occasionally.  Being the emotional kid I am, I got pissed and furious.  Framed two or three responses in my head to tell him that as a real Linux user I am okay with those pages, and he can keep adoring his Apple devices.

I almost started typing a reply, but I asked myself "so what if he thinks that way?  It's not going to change anything."  Counter argument was "But how can he belittle Linux on a public forum?"  Then I answered myself, "I can simply not follow him if I don't like his opinions.  It's my choice that I am reading what he tweets."

I should remember this when John Gruber writes something not-so-positive about Android or Google again.  I choose to read what they write.

PS: No, @gruber didn't tweet anything about the donations page.