Blue Screen Of Duds

Where the alter ego of codelust plays

Archive for January 2008

First Impressions: Netvibes Ginger

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I was able to barge into the new (beta) release of Netvibes, called Ginger, thanks to Techcrunch’s invite codes. While I have to say that it is a pretty nifty piece of work, I don’t quite see the point to it. That said, I will readily admit that I am not your average user of online dashboards and desktops, so the basic premise of this post itself maybe flawed.

The loading time for the basic framework is quite fast, but actions that require data to be updated is sluggish. As it is to be expected with the beta label that Netvibes goes to great lengths to point out to you, it is a bit buggy and some of the links like featured widgets and top blogs did not load.

The Features:

Universe: The Universe is the public profile where the widgets the user has chosen to share turns up. I am a bit perplexed by what purpose the universe serves, other than to gun to be the preferred profile page for the user at a later stage.

Now, the “send to universe” feature kind of got me confused with the “share” feature, which happens at the item level of a widget. I still have not figured out where the share turns up. i assume it will show up a la Google Reader in your friend lists.

Themes: This is pretty much in the juvenile vein that iGoogle has managed to do it. But, unlike iGoogle, this does not get in the way of readability as much as the Google offering.

Activity Map: This is the online dashboard interpretation of the social graph (paging Scoble!) showing off what you shared last and what did your friends share last. And like any self-respecting web 2.0 website that makes social engineering by phishers a cakewalk, Netvibes too allows you to raid Gmail accounts to see which other friend of yours is a member of the website.

And that was just about all I could find on the website. At the end of it, the question that remained on my mind was this: What was the fuss all about anyway?


Written by shyam

January 22, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Take-two

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Smoked Out!

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It has been close to 6 months now since I quit smoking and I can’t tell you how good it feels. I sleep much better, the energy levels are consistently higher and better; and best of all, I have more money now to allocate to books, music and movies, which used to be wasted on giving my lungs a very hard time.

That said, there are side-effects that still linger on. Phlegm being the major culprit here. While things are considerably better on this front, it is far from being over and done with and after all, what has taken years to accumulate won’t disappear overnight.

There is no real huge struggle or heroic story associated with my giving up the smokes. Thankfully, I’ve not been addicted to it in all the years that I’ve smoked and given up (twice before this), it has been more of a habit to keep my mind off other things. Or, even worse, it has been a weird sort of act of rebellion that I’d do just to make a point, because nobody could control that part of my life.

What eventually did it for me was one of my usual trysts with a bad bout of bronchitis. I keep getting it every couple of months and over time it was costing me a good couple of days that I could have otherwise spent getting more work done. As far as wake up calls go, I did not really need one beyond that.

The difference it has made still leaves me reeling a bit. My lifestyle right now is not by any means the best I’ve ever had. In fact, it is lousy like hell. I don’t sleep right, eat right or exercise right, but the fact that I don’t smoke now keeps me more active and productive than ever.

Really, if you are a smoker, quit now and get richer!

Written by shyam

January 21, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Posted in /etc, life

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Nine steps to becoming a Google Reader Ninja

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  • Do this only when you a bit of good time to spare, don’t rush through it.
  • Mark all individual feeds that have more than 100 unread times as “all read.” You are likely to spend a lot of time working through this and getting very little real value out of it.
  • Reduce top level clutter: Keep as few folders on your top level as you can. My total boils down to nine, ordered in terms of reading frequency (daily, india-blogs, links, misc, music, news, private, technology, testing).
  • If you need to organize your feeds in a more granular manner, use sub-folders. Do this only if you are an organisation freak. What has worked best for me is the following method.


|-Top Level Category (By frequency first and by usage type later)

|-Sub Category (By theme/topic: Technology, Business, Blogs)

  • Always read using the “River of News” view (Folder Level view) on Top Level folders
  • Find your comfort level in terms of number of items you can read in a fixed period of time and switch to List View if the items are above a fixed number (I keep it at 100).
  • Star lengthy items that need more reading time, catch up on them later.
  • Frequently prune your subscription lists: Check your reading trends regularly. Unsubscribe from feeds that are below a certain read percentage in subscription trends. Follow that up with with the same treatment done on the reading trends.
  • My average reading percentage is 30% for my Top 40. If you have the same numbers, it is a good idea then to let go of the feeds that have less 30% reading percentage. Chances are you won’t miss them because you don’t read them much anyway.

Happy Reading!

Written by shyam

January 21, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Did outsourcing just save American jobs?

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Just a quick note before the day starts in full flow choc-a-bloc with meetings. For all those really loud people who have dismissed outsourcing and given it so much grief, go and take a look at IBM’s Q4 2007 earnings call. A lot of IBMers in the US are getting to keep their jobs because of their company’s strong performance have to thank outsourcing for it. Services, which is mostly driven by outsourcing has been their rock star performer:

Looking at our results by segment, Services continued the momentum we’ve seen over the year. Global Technology Services revenue was up 16%, profit up 26%. Global Business Services revenue was up 17%, profit up 9%. And we signed $15.4 billion of new business, and importantly short term signings were up 8%.

They have also benefited from having a truly global operation, which enables them to focus on emerging markets, that drew in a 3rd of their revenue for the quarter. You can expect a similar set of results from Google (growth, but at a much slower rate) and from other geographically diverse companies who can limit their exposure to the carnage that we will see this year in the US market. Google itself crossed the crucial landmark a while ago, when, in Q1 2007, their international revenues pretty much hit 50% of their total revenue.

Once again, companies that will take a huge hit are ones like Apple, who depend extensively on retail spending in the US markets, which is why they have been gradually moving into other segments (iPhone) for which you can look at recurring revenues per customer than a one time engagement. 2008 will be critical for Apple and if they have to escape the carnage, they have no choice but to forge ahead with the launch of the iPhone in other markets.

Then again, the iPhone is vastly overpriced for a market like India, even if you were to assume something like INR 16,000 as the price point. If they need a winner, they’ll need something in the sub-INR 10,000 price range to set the market alight and I don’t see something like that coming from Apple.

On an unrelated parting note, I think I’ve linked to David Manners’ blog on the semiconductor trade, but it is an absolutely lovely blog to read even if you are not a semiconductor wonk. Highly suggested.

Update: HP too, apparently, is in on the same game.

Written by shyam

January 18, 2008 at 9:24 am

Sun takes a leaf out of Apple’s book

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Okay, boo hoo, Sun and MySQL got married with Jonathan wearing the oddest of wedding dresses and doing the oddest of post-wedding kisses. This has not drawn the warmest of bear hugs from the PostgreSQL fans (okay, I am one, shoot me!), newly uncertain in the fear of the loss of PostgreSQL’s status as Sun’s preferred OSS RDBMS mistress, now that MySQL has become the preferred OSS RDBMS partner.

The story, I am afraid, is not as simple as that. This move by Sun is not something that can be seen in isolation — it is a just piece of larger pie that Sun is chasing after, which is to recreate the Apple experience on open source software that scales seamlessly from one end of the market (the proof of concept) to the other extreme (enterprise-grade technology).

What Sun wants you to do is to get you started on OpenSolaris when you are a one-man start up, backed by a well integrated stack (they already have helped out the RoR community regarding their scaling woes) and watch you grow till the day you need the beefy servers and storage that is required by any reasonably large online business.

In the picture they are trying to patch together, the code and the components involved will work through this upgrade path without much change, resulting in near-zero disruption or refactoring on the code base. Essentially, what they are aiming for is to reproduce the Apple mantra “It just works” in a segment where such a feature would bring in considerable savings.

But why MySQL? Well, for one it is a proper company. Big companies and their boards love to buy things (especially when they are shelling out a billion dollars) which are a bit prim and propah. Moreover, it also makes it easier for them to integrate both operations. But, more than anything else, Sun needed a widely-used database to finish the stack — something it could own — and you can’t talk about ‘owning’ PostgreSQL without having a good laugh even while you are speaking about it.

Moving on, this is a play that is not meant for the current year. This is something that will only play out some two years down the line and these are the reasons why:

  1. There is nothing that stops the average start up from using the average $300 a pop dedicated server to flag off their operations and move into the monster servers and server farms at a later stage. But anyone who has done it will tell you that it is a painful experience for which there really is no manual you can look up and replicate.
  2. Software, by itself, is hard to tune. It is easy to write your first PHP script and run your website, but PHP itself can be tuned in different ways. There is a fair bit of learning that is repeated here with almost every start up and that is time and effort (translating into additional costs) that can be saved when cash is pretty sparse. The same is the case with HTTP servers, databases and application servers.
  3. A lot of software tuning is highly dependent on hardware. And at high performance levels, even marginal differences on every instance you run can result in significant savings. Moving from a 32 bit architecture to 64 bit architecture can result in significant heartache (let us not start into the ‘lib’ mess that Linux distros can get you into when moving from 32 bit to 64 bit), which is okay when you run about a dozen servers, but as you get closer to the three digit figure this can be a traumatic experience you’d not want to wish on even the worst of your enemies.

Now, imagine a vendor who can accomplish the same for you (also known as a very controlled environment), where things just work. If Sun can guarantee a pain-free seamless upgrade path from an OpenSolaris platform to Solaris proper that will run on Sun’s more expensive rigs, they would have a winner on their hands. And that is the sweet spot Sun is aiming to be in two years.

Related: Give Me a M: The MySQL/Sun Q&A

Written by shyam

January 17, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Mysql, Opensource, Postgresql, Sun

Tagged with , ,

Clustered river of news

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RSS readers have over time become pretty fully-featured software on their own. Most now provide the standard set of features: OPML import/export, categories, river of news and search irrespective of their avatar — online or offline — and I have pretty much grown used to depending on my reader of choice Google Reader to satisfy the need to read my feeds.

That said, there is one feature I’d really love to have in my RSS reader – to have clustering on feeds as an additional way to categorise data, other than the current methods of categories and tags. Think of it as a cross between your RSS reader and Google News/Techmeme. Would it not be nice to have your little personal Google News or Techmeme from the sources that you have picked than be led by what Gabe or the kind folks at Google News may have seeded their websites with?

There are, though, a couple of problems that could make this impossible:

Processing: Any algorithm that finds similarities in text is computationally intensive even in cases where the data set is limited. Scaling is often possible in such circumstances when the size of the data set is reasonably fixed and with the variance that comes in the size of different RSS subscription lists, it would be a royal pain to find a right algorithm that will scale effectively and efficiently.

Entropy: Traditional similarity match approaches work best when they cover a similar domain so that an apple would mean apple the fruit rather than Apple the company. The entropy that is found in the data set needs to be reasonable for the algorithm to function reasonably well and learning systems also need to be taught with training data, which may not be possible in this case.

Link Match: What we are then left with is to hit the problem purely by tracking outgoing links. This would thankfully involve a far less computationally intensive approach than going via the pure text analysis approach. The degree of accuracy and the utility this approach may have may not be stunning, but it would certainly be good enough for the immediate purpose – a reasonable way of classifying what my subscription list is talking about.

Related articles:

RSS Clustering: A Unique Approach for Managing Your RSS Feeds
A Novel Clustering-based RSS Aggregator
Nearest Neighbors and Similarity Search by Yury Lifshits

Written by shyam

January 15, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Four Music Picks

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Sunday was one of those weekends again when I went over to the music shop and book store to replenish my music and book collections. To my surprise, quite a few of my recent finds have been my old friend – straight out rock – than what has fascinated me in the past couple of years: trance, electronica and house.

The following are my favourite picks from the lot:

Foo Fighters: Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace was the first of the rock lot that I had picked up in a long time. I will happily admit that the reason why I did pick it up was due the music video for “The Pretender,” which is one hell of an explosive track. What I did not expect, though, was for the album to turn out to be as good as it eventually turned out to be, with some 6 tracks are worth listening to over and over again.

Most of the songs in the album start rather softly before exploding right in your face when you least expect it. The production quality is quite clean and polished, with the riffs flowing out fast and clean in what is an outstanding commercial hard rock album. Then again the problem with Foo Fighters is what Nikhil said about them recently: Foo Fighters have songs, they don’t have albums. When you see Dave Grohl, you don’t see an enigmatic rock star who has a larger-than-life presence: you see something that the cat dragged in.

Thankfully, his looks and his presence has no bearing on the quality of the music and that is what makes it an awesome album.

Arctic Monkeys: Favourite Worst Nightmare is more like listening to someone who has a change of personality 90 seconds into every song. Most of the songs take unpredictable twists and turns out of the blue like they got hit by the realization that they needed to put ‘X’ into a song that was going down ‘Y’ and two minutes later it has to go down ‘Z’.

Thus we have riffs and and progressions that take off in the middle of nowhere, speed up, speed down, go quiet on you without any prior notice; all of which is laced with a very quirky sense of humour and a thumping fat bass line which makes the tracks all the more bouncy and thump-some.

: If the Arctic Monkeys have trouble sticking to a single personality through their songs, Wolfmother’s self-titled album is a picture of singular purpose and poise in belonging to the dirty unclean rock-your-balls-off riffs of the 1970s. There is little pretense here. You will find no venue to blame the band for over-engineering the sound and it is an absolute delight to get to listen to something that sounds like a rusty tractor running wild than the usual purring perfection of albums these days.

That said, I still think parts of “Woman” sound a lot like Deep Purple’s Black Night.

Neil Young: Chrome Dreams 2 is a classic. It takes balls to make an album like this in this time and age. It is an album that meanders through all the varieties of the lovely music Neil has gifted us with through his long career and it fittingly starts with the softish “Beautiful Bluebird”.

While “Boxcar” and “Ordinary People” take a different, rockier, turn, things get considerably riffier and harder with “Dirty Old Man.”

Everyone must have a copy of this album as there is a fairly good likelihood that you’ll dust it off someday and appreciate it the way it should be.

Written by shyam

January 15, 2008 at 6:27 pm