December 31, 2005

2006

What? It is New Year’s Eve? Who gives a damn anyway? It is just another day. The morning after, most of us drag ourselves to back to work and life goes on. What is so special about it other than hordes of drunk drivers on the road and half penny crappy joints charging you your soul and ten times over to steal an insignificant kiss with the significant other at the point where it strikes twelve? Oh, oh.

There should be more to life, should it be not? There should be more to it than having put an end to a very difficult relationship. There should be more to life than having excelled at losing a friend you should have kept with you with all your might, thanks to your own stupidity. There should be more to life than working your ass off because you are scared to see what is left of your own life. Should it be not?

But no, there is not much more to it. You just attribute farcical values to it. You just aim to be one of the so many. You just listen to what everyone says than to what you have to say to yourself. But is there anything that you have to say to yourself? No, there is not. Everything just draws a terrible blank. An unparalleled emptiness. A state of feeling nothing beyond compare. A gesture that is no gesture at all.

It should not be about unwritten farewell letters that you badly want to write. It should not be about lives you want to save that can’t be and don’t want to be saved. It should not be about behaving way beyond your age. It should not be about holding yourself back from speaking your mind again, for the umpteenth time. It should not be about causes that mean nothing to you; but it is all that said above and much more.

But as we speak, live and breathe, it will all repeat itself. It will recycle itself over. We’ll rediscover ourselves in the preset ways. We’ll bask in our own glory of having achieved what has already been achieved million times over. We will convince ourselves that there is nothing more to it. After all, we all are just so very ordinary. We have nothing better to aspire to other than another vague year with a new, unique number attached to it.

So here is wishing you all a happy 2006. Live it up, because the next year will practically be the same, albeit with a different number. Hey, at least we do know how to count. Isn’t that sexy, progressive and some awesome achievement?

Note: Post edited and cleaned up for clarity and language detoxification. Blogging under the influence is not the best of things to do.

December 28, 2005

There You Go!

What the heck, I might as well lift the rest of the veil away and reveal my own very drunk and drugged Neanderthal-looking mug to the lot of you. Well, yes, that is indeed me. In fact I look much worse in real, bless the photographer and his lighting. Look ma! He's even made me look fairish. No more Fair and Lovely for me. Yay!

December 24, 2005

Year End Err?

Five thirty in the morning is not really the ideal time to update your much-neglected blog. But a combination of factors – sucky RPM-installed server components (Apache, PHP Postgresql), the weird ways of Unicode and really thick fog – has ensured that I am finally left with a little bit of time to dust off the environment here.

These days home has become a place where I just drop by at weird hours in the night or early morning to get some much needed sleep and have a quick shower before I head out for the flyway and make my way back to the office. It has been an insane week; actually, make those two weeks. Due to the unpleasant surprise of an earlier-than-planned launch, we ended up rushing things through the door in whatever shape or form we could.

My crazy lead developer and I have done some 13 days on the trot now, with more than a handful of overnighters and late nights thrown in for good measure. Even if adrenalin were to be the food of product launches, I don’t think we would be able to play on for much longer at the same rate.

Strangely, after having blogged pretty consistently for close to five years, I don’t feel at all like blogging in my official capacity. It almost feels like being transplanted from the coziness of your tiny little home to the uncomfortable and exposing environs of a steely building. It feels impersonal and unfamiliar.

Maybe it is also a case of selling overkill. I’ve been trotting out catchphrases and thinking so incessantly about the product that when it comes to an activity like writing, which I can only do consistently when it is unforced and pleasurable, I draw a complete blank. I will readily admit though that the wider and grander audience is a great draw, but it is just not good enough a draw right now.

Moving on, it looks like another year is about to end. 2005, was it? It has been a long time since most measures of time made any significant difference to me. Most days look and feel the same. Months are measured by cycles of bill and rent payments.

Years are those irritating celebratory demarcations wherein you have to find out ways to keep yourself safe and far from depression at the same time. If you stay home, to be safe or because you don’t have anywhere to go, it sucks because the whole world is outside and you are not. If you go out, it is crazy, dangerous and
awfully cold. Die if you do, die if you don’t.

The good point is that you will only die sooner with this passage of time.

By the way, on a slightly technical note, has anyone noticed that the MSN Live Mail beta now works on Firefox too? Well, kind of works, that is. A couple of tabs have gone missing from the top and there is no reply button. But it does work more or less the same as on Internet Explorer, minus the right click context menus, with IE Tab extension.

The writing interface has also grown a very Microsoft Word-like spell check on-the-go feature now. I have to admit that it does feel pretty spiffy now, maybe even spiffier than Gmail, though I’d wait till it is deployed across the entire user base before I pass any judgment on that.

Is there anything else that I wanted to write about? Don’t think so. I can hardly haul up my eyelids and keep them open for any decent period of time now. Besides, it is half past six now. The thick fog should have lifted a bit by now and I think I really do need sleep.

December 20, 2005

Waiting To Inhale

Yes, I am very much a-live, just a bit short of breath. Normal service will resume soon.

December 17, 2005

Can Never Negate Internal Blog Noises

Okay, I have been rather cruelly outed and left to fend for myself in the biting Delhi cold. Not really. It was just a matter of time anyway before the thin veil of anonymity that I had hung over myself was lifted voluntarily or involuntarily. Anyway, quite a fair majority of my tiny audience do know about my real persona, so there is nothing quite devastating or earth shattering about it and in any case I don't score big on the fish scale for it to matter much. Maybe now I can finally dump the really dumb 'codey' persona? Guess it is also a good time to word that standard disclaimer about not representing my employer and also find a bit of space for it somewhere on the sidebar.

In such hectic times (I have some 13 tabs open in my text editor and another 13 plus open in my browser displaying various pages of the site all at once for the first time), quoting from a book should be the last thing on my mind, leave alone reading it. But when someone writes like this: "If you work in the city long enough, it begins to deal with you on a personal level. Streets reveal their moods. Sometimes the signal lights love you. Sometimes they fight you..." it takes away whatever teeny weeny inclination you might ever have to actually sit down and write something serious someday. Is there nothing that has not been written about already?

December 15, 2005

Spartan Love

Google has released a baffling extension to Firefox called Webcomments. The name they have given for it is a bit misleading since it is actually about commenting on your blog about the blog you currently have open in Firefox, than commenting directly in the blog that you currently are on. How it works is by running a search on search.blogger.com for the URL you are on and then it returns the results in an alert at the bottom right corner of your screen. You can then either click the results and see the full entries or blog about the entry (in a 'blog this' fashion) using the 'Add Comment' feature. Confused yet? Well, so am I.

Interestingly, when I open my Gmail mailbox, the alert pops up with a link to something written by Britneys Clitoris. What is happening is the daft extension is searching for 'link:http://mail.google.com/mail/' on blogsearch.google.com and returning a whole lot of spam blogs and on that same results page I get an alert that points to a blog by Jaundice James. This could turn out to be quite an interesting way to kill your spare time, which I don't have much at all, so the matter and the extension shall die a whimperish death in the next couple of minutes. Dear Google, next time, please try and not create a requirement around a new feature. You see, sane people normally approach things the other way round.

In other Google developments, the 'Move to Trash' option has disappeared from my Gmail drop down. Does this actually mean now that all the mail thus deleted would actually be deleted than being marked invisible on Google's many datacenters? Speaking of which, I am a bit curious as to whether I am the only who terribly dislikes the idea of having all the Google pages display my id on all the Google pages once I am logged into Gmail or Blogger? Can I please have an option to opt out of this and have my good old spartan Google homepage back. You see, I have pretty low self esteem and I don't like being reminded of my own pitiful existence every other minute. Will saying pretty please help?

Incidentally, the past couple of entries on this blog has been done in a very old school style using Lynx on a Linux server. Due to bandwidth constraints, the regular funky Blogger posting interface almost never opens here at work (Reliance also probably has some routing issues) and I am quite pleased to report that the text-only version of Blogger degrades very gracefully on the text-only browser. There is another workaround possible with Wbloggar, but that software has a strange bug which duplicates posts every now and then instead of updating them. So it is going to be the evil pleasures of the text-ridden black screen for me for a while now.

December 13, 2005

Divides

Which side are you on? I must ask you this question since I have never figured out which side of any divide do I belong to. Theoretically, I am an Indian who hails from the southernmost state in the country - Kerala, who was spent the last six years of his life in New Delhi. Practically speaking, I use an alien language - English - to communicate more than my mother tongue - Malayalam - or Hindi, which is the national language. My lifestyle and beliefs are asynchronous with both the western and Indian versions of the same and culturally I don't subscribe to any beliefs, nor do I celebrate any of the known festivals. Mostly by intent and a little bit by accident, I really do not belong to any side.

I was born a Hindu. I did my schooling for ten years in a Hindu school and did the next five years of my education in a Christian institution, though I have to clarify that the latter did not force down their faith down my throat as the former used to do. Interestingly, I can still mouth a couple of chapters from the Bhagavad Gita in mangled Sanskrit, though I would be totally clueless about what I am reciting in the first place. I have never believed much in the concept of a God, though I do have the habit of praying to anyone who is listening out there, when it comes to matters concerning the wellbeing of the handful of people I really care about. Here too I don't have a much of an opinion. Neither am I a believer, nor am I an atheist.

Politically, I grew up in a really mixed up environment. My family was one of those staunch en masse Congress voter types who would go the extra mile to hide their latent sympathies for the Jan Sangh/BJP/RSS variations. A lot of my friends and people I knew were staunchly aligned with the Left side of the political spectrum and in the early years they definitely had my sympathy. Over time, I have grown to dislike and disown each and every political formulation. As an art from that stretches the limits of logic, politics does interest me, but beyond that it I find it to be boring, tedious and largely repetitive. Strangely, for all the disdain I have for it, I seem to track American politics more than the Indian version these days.

For as long as I could remember there has always been music in some form in my house. I grew up listening to Hindi and Malayalam music on All India Radio and the folks were great Carnatic music aficionados. Somewhere along the way my fascination with western music came alive which took a pretty circuitous route from the usual suspects of Michael Jackson, Boney M, ABBA to rock, heavy metal, grindcore, jazz, finally ending up with a lot of electronica and off beat things that sound good to my ears. With that progression my old contention of any genre, but what I like, being rubbish disappeared. I still do like Carnatic, Hindustani, house, trance, rock and lot of other things, but I can't find any favourite divide here either.

I do agree and understand that a lack of belonging need not necessarily be a bad thing and I do seem to love hanging in this state of suspended animation - switching from one island to another, not necessarily because I love it, but because I can't find that niche or that warm corner to tuck myself into. In effect, I have nothing against anyone or anything, but mostly I don't quite like too much about anyone or anything. As a direct result of this I have succeeded in isolating myself further into a corner which is not necessarily mine or of my liking, but at least I don't have to tolerate anyone other than myself in there. The reasoning and the logic behind this is a bit warped, I know, but that warpedness is another story for another day.

December 12, 2005

With Love From Durgapur, West Virginia

Interestingly, on Zend's talent page there are a lot of Indians who manage to work from both Alaska and other places in India at the same time. After seeing a couple of "Delhi, AK, Alaska, India" cases I dismissed it thinking they all must be part of some offshore web solutions company which must have been contracted to work on site in Alaska. But it did get me thinking why Alaska of all places? The mystery only deepened when I saw "Virudhunagar, TN, Tennessee India" and "Durgapur, WV, West Virginia, India".

PHP coders must be going places these days, I thought upon seeing these. Which also must explain the reason why we can't seem to hire any of them even after having hunted hard for over two months now. I mean, compared to working in freezing Alaska and Virudhnagar in Tennessee, Noida must look like the wastelands of Timbuktu. Of course, none of this has to do with horribly designed forms on US based websites which make the 'state' drop down a required choice even if you choose any another country than the US.

December 10, 2005

Neo Commander in Chief

The US Air Force has released a new mission statement which reads something like this:
The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests -- to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace. Linktrail: Jeremy > Danny

After reading that, I got vision of the portrait of the US Commander in Chief, who can now fly through cyberspace, as someone who closely resembles Neo in The Matrix.

December 08, 2005

Blue bulbs phenomenon hits Bloggers

Special Correspondent Wrathus Sourgrapes

Fused Filament, Thursday, December 08, 2005: In a dramatic development, the blogosphere (the collective orb of bloggers) was hit yesterday by an acute case of blue bulbs. Chaos erupted after it was discovered that the main bulb that lights up the blogosphere decided to blow its filament overnight and none of the bloggers (the entire A-Z list) could come to an agreement over how to get it changed in the most effective manner.

According to trustworthy sources, the collective immediately sprang into action and set up an online petition, a poll and a threaded debating forum to discuss the situation. Chronic blogger Kumar Permalinkum who was spearheading the initiative said no effort would be spared in replacing the fused bulb. “It is a travesty of incredible proportions, the bulb that shone the way for us is gone, we need to get it changed now and thus we are going to change the world. This is going to be only the first example of how we will achieve that end. For now we shall discuss this matter to till it reaches its logical conclusion – that someone should go up, unscrew the old one and replace it with a new one.”

As the issue gained traction across the blogosphere (with over 2 million links to the tag ‘bulb’ on Technorati), influential voices such as members of a prominent libertarian cartel weighed in with their opinion on the situation. “It is pathetic that a fused bulb does not have the freedom to stay on in the holder for as long as it wants to. Attempts to bring in any regulation regarding the changing of fused bulbs should be opposed tooth-and-nail. Every bulb on the planet should be allowed to pick a time for going bust of its own choosing and convenience”, said the serious cartel leader who requested to keep his identity undisclosed even in the light of the new darkness.

The fused bulb also seemed to have affected the bloggers who are part of the blamestream media (BSM). Prominent BSM blogger Yumm, in her latest post, wrote: “Bulbs are such rocking things. I still remember this bulb and its gently glowing filament, at Tizzy of course, which was the only thing between me and the ex that day. Sigh, I do miss bulbs.” Not one to be left behind, another BSM blogger Clodlost wrote: “Bulbs are such ephemeral things, they light up our subcutaneous lives and go away in an egregious manner, thus lighting up an interval that is insignificant to the sordid soul’s life, but significantly important in the karmic progression of insignificant things. In any case, bulbs are like twenty quid a pop, like everything else in life they are pointless and replaceable.”

But the worst affected of the orb was the Confederation of Bloggers Against the Tony Pailed Man. Reports said that their members were seen in cities all across India and the rest of the world seething in outrage that the Tony Pailed Man and his coveted Institution of the Double Eye had nothing to do with the incident. “How in the world can this be? Tony Pail is responsible for all that is wrong in the world. I can show you documental evidence that his great grandfather once cheated Edison out of two dollars, which was a clear move to affect the development of light bulbs. Can’t you see the obvious here?” asked a confederation leader who was willing to be identified by only by his blog URL, http://crewcutsrule.blogspot.com.

As the night wore on, more developments related to the bulb were reported from different quarters. The two disparate versions of the Delhi Orb Meet, who were involved in a vicious fight about which Orb meet was the bestest, found a common platform in the blown bulb to set apart their differences as they met by a common scented candle to mull over the developments in an environment of mutual suspicion and hostile bonhomie. Both camps, though, did clarify that once the new bulb was in, normal sparring would resume. The dimly lit environment also found another taker in a BSM stinger, who, in the guise of a candle seller, was seen taking notes discreetly in the corners under the light of a pen torch.

Least affected by the bulb outage was the ElleJay blogger community. Senior ElleJay blogger Dimbulb said: “We have been dealing with the issues of failing bulbs long before any other blogger community. In fact, we even have a thriving community, Bulbous Failures, that deals exclusively with this kind of thing. For that matter, we even married off ZeroWatt and FortyWatt only last week in a candlelit ceremony online.

The last group to join the fray was the Opensluice community. This was largely due to their professed indifference to the issue due to the use of invalid spark up by existing bulbs. “It was an accident waiting to happen. We have been advocating the open bulbs precisely for this reason. We have never had any problems with our cluster of open bulbs that are actually old lanterns now retrofitted with an embedded version of Linwicks. This just another validation of our motto, ‘Only the command line can save your operating soul systematically’, said community leader Regex Ramanujan.

As the hours wear on since the time when the bulb went bust, a distraught world is asking tough and discomforting questions like “How many bloggers does it take to fix a light bulb?” and “When will the blogosphere finally see the light in this new era of darkness?” Only time and bandwidth shall tell.

With inspiration inputs from other fine sources of authentic reporting, The Onion and the T2N2 Network.

December 06, 2005

Telly Ache

I think I can now officially say that I am exhausted to the point of near-total ineffectiveness. After a disastrous tryst with the famous dish called nehari at the Karim's joint in Noida, most of the weekend was spent in a state of being that comprised my ribcage attempting to drive its tenants, the heart and the lung, out of it. That was only enhanced by a degree of tautness all over my body, accentuated with searing pain in each and every joint. Not to be left behind, the spine also felt like it was missing out on too much fun and by Monday morning I had made the magical transformation from being a reasonably healthy 26-year-old to a slouching 80-year-old with an acute case of arthritis.

Through the best part of the suffering I had no clue that it was the hogging on Saturday that was to be blamed for all the chaos. Instead, I had a sneaky feeling that I was now in the grip of some terrible disease that threatened to throw my life off its very self centred track. I was listing all the sins I would have to forego from that time on and was even planning my classic debut semi-autobiographical work on how I dealt with the very perilous situation when I finally got to office and saw that all the others who had participated in the Saturday fest had gone through a similar fate. Thus ended prematurely my potential tryst with fame and stardom, which, I must add, was not without a sense of relief.

It is actually a rare pleasure to have the time to sit down a blog a bit these days. A television news channel operation is more or less like a tiny planet in its entirety and even though, thankfully, I am not in the thick of the action, there are so many things to track and take care of. The start up situation is an exemplary rendition of Brownian motion and it is amazing how the million tiny pieces, including technology and personnel, fall into place to form the images you get to see on the screen. But what stands out the most is the power of the visual, which can transform the most inane and pointless of scripts into a work of absolute wonder.

December 03, 2005

CMS Features

Since I have managed to end up on Planet PHP thanks to Henri Bergius, I think it is a good time to make another post on some of the features that are required by robust CMS frameworks. So, here we go:

NewsML Integration: Any wire service worth their name sends data these days using NewsML. The articles from the services should be accessible in the framework for review/edit/publishing within the CMS interface. This is one place where most proprietary/paid solutions score over the free implementations. Of course, they do have the luxury of getting paid for parsing archaic and unpredictable formats, but it is a big plus point for them.

Speed & Reliability: Nobody really cares whether the interface for your CMS is a browser-based one or a custom built client application as long as it works fast and works well 100 out of 100 times. Most of the new fangled frameworks have interfaces that are as slow as a limping pregnant walrus. If you can't push the news out fast enough, you are out of the business. If your application breaks 20 times out of 100 because it can work only on 'X' or 'Y' browser, you lose again. It is 100 out of 100 or nothing. Simple.

Collaboration & Versioning: Article elements and objects should have the capability to exist in the system as multiple instances when they are being worked on by different users. The changes should be rolled into user-specific versions, which can be flushed at fixed periods, while the actual published elements should have their own version tree. The framework should also have the capability to display diffs between versions or highlight/track the changes through versions.

Authentication: LDAP authentication for existing user base is a must for serious CMS frameworks, but it should not be the only available option. Leave it to the individual deployments to figure out whether they want to use, but having the ability to seamlessly integrate your existing user directory with roles and permissions score very highly with the corporates.

Editions: A lot of media websites are primarily newspaper companies or magazines. While the workaround of keeping the articles in a separate section is always available to solve this problem, it is not a robust solution. Most of the frameworks only allow for the 'browse by date' or 'browse by section' feature while editions are a mix of both. This is basically a presentation layer issue, which can be easily sorted by giving different and flexible options for controlling the presentation.

Templating: Don't give users PHP/Python/pick your favourite scripting language to deploy templates. Don't give them advanced Smarty style funky templating either. Give them either a set of tags that already exist and are extensible (through the conditional route) or give them some sort of simplistic metalanguage with which they can define things from the ground up. Most CMS solutions assume that they know the end-user's requirements, which differ vastly from organisation to organisation.

Object manager: Everything, other than actual articles, should be made into objects (it can be pictures, video, audio, HTML or anything else). Objects should be extensible and reusable. For example, the base object of a score card for a sports page can be extended to make a one off card that would require additional fields. Objects should have metadata (article and internal and general) attached to them, which can be called into any page.

Content Clusters: Content clusters can be root aggregation points like actual sections (sports, news, etc) or derived (virtual) aggregation points like subsections/subcategories of existing sections/categories. Articles on the item level should exist as lone rangers that are associated with a single section/category, with the option for multiple parenting. Granular control should be available to multiple parent items on the basis of 'AND' 'OR' logic.

Internal Metadata: This is to enable extensive cross-linking of articles. For objects that are used across the system, the metadata should be extracted/inserted using existing conventions like ID tags. All metadata should be stored in such a way that endpoints are provided to query and access the objects and articles. This would ensure the reusability for existing content and components.

User Tracking: Track every click and track every finger that the user wiggles when he/she is on the framework. Corporates are sold only on one thing - metrics. Show them the user trail, show them where people are jumping off their website, show them how a 5% slowdown on a particular component is causing a loss of 25% of your top spending visitors. For the editorial, metrics can be used to fine tune content and cross-linking to better retain users and deliver more targeted advertising. I do not think any CMS has this feature yet.

SMS/Mobile Modules: Very few frameworks today take into account the fact that news is served to an ever-growing number of mobile users. The data for this, at the base level, is truncated at 160 characters and in the higher end deals we have strict WML and strict XHTML compliance. They also ignore the fact that the content needs for the mobile audience is of a different nature. There are no default endpoints for carriers to source the WAP pages nor is there any value add through metadata for mobile content.

KISS It: Don't give users cryptic messages and interfaces that make sense only to a geek. The primary use of CMS in a news publication is to get the news out there first. Which means it should give the shortest turnaround time from a rough draft to display on site progression. Don't give them screen after screen of buttons and options to select. Show dependencies everywhere. Parent objects should never be allowed deletion if child objects exist in the database.

Granular Caching: Caching needs vary from site to site. Don't dump a monolithic solution on anybody’s head. Make it as granular as possible. Business sites abhor having market data being cached anywhere, while news sites want high performance caching for their homepages. Do not assume your end-user's needs. Give them caching heaven, earth and everything in-between and let them choose their own existence.

Snap-on Components: Keep the backend separate from the front end. Any decent framework should have the following separate modules: frontend site, backend CMS, site management module. All three should be independently scaleable and ALWAYS sperate the frontend from the CMS. Under no circumstances should a backend CMS be unavailable due to heavy load on the frontend. This is a cardinal sin. All components (polls, utility boxes, message boards, blogs) should be 'snap-on' enabled.

December 02, 2005

Backtrack

It has been a while, has it not? Other than a couple of instances the urge to write has all but dried up. I find my thoughts still wandering, sometimes obsessing, over the things that happened in the recent past, about how I got it all so terribly wrong and why my reactions have become so very insensitive. A part of me is banging at the door, screaming to be let out, so that it can once again go out of its way, back into a make believe world, and end up in the same old familiar situations. The other part, meanwhile, is just forging ahead with the only intention of moving relentlessly till I tire myself out and drop dead one day, disregarding what anyone else feels.

I guess one of the greatest misconceptions about me is that I am a nice person. But the fault is also mine since I used to have this bad habit of trying to appear that way. So I would end up doing the twenty seven things that are required to project that image. In quite a few cases it ended up being quite effective and, quite predictably, disaster followed. The latest faux pas should effectively signal the end of all that. I have jettisoned those twenty seven things and I have also decided to to adorn my real skin. It is no longer a requirement that anybody should like me. After all, for all practical purposes, I have managed fine during the crunch periods all by myself.

Meanwhile work chugs along at a steady pace with its own problems and pleasures. There is so much going on that it is easier to lose track and sight of what is happening around you and what you are supposed to do in the first place. The obvious results are, as you can guess, longer hours spent in office and thanks the to awful traffic on the ring road I hardly ever have any incentive to start for home before it is well past eight in the night. To complicate things further, winter is finally here in full force. Thankfully, the fog has stayed away, but even that should be in place soon enough. Guess it is about time I got some fog lamps fixed on the car. The DND won't be much fun without them.

November 29, 2005

Mine

I know this road only too well. Well enough for me to take the turn at an insane speed and still hit the pothole at the right level of impact that will turn the steering wheel a bit counterclockwise first and then clockwise, twisting my arm in the process, all in the matter of a very jerky split second. When you have been traveling for this long, there are no surprises on the road. There is only the predictability of your own travails and the predictability of the myriad variations it manages to play itself out in.

If there is anything worth mentioning, it is only a lack of dreams in this arid landscape. Dreams are for the indulgent, dreams are for those who have the luxury of knowledge of things either better or richer. For the poor, the only dream is to stay alive to live another day, where the only richness is a string of pearls, called life, strung together by days and days of un-splendorous survival. This is the only jewel which will adorn you on your lonely deathbed. There won’t be any mourners and there won’t be any memories, as usual.

When the darkness recedes and the pale light waltzes in at the fork, the shadow, once again, catches up with the soul and starts its merry dance. It darts left and it darts right, never once leaving the soul, boxing it in its own self-created ring. No bets are entertained here, for the outcome is already known, we are watching a fight that is always lost and never won. Legions of lesions mark the face of the embattled and the ring is covered in blood. This is not a fight for those with a heart. You simply cannot win what you already have lost.

Ultimately, there is not a lot you can drive around. Every journey eventually ends in a homecoming of sorts when the old foes return to roost. Even the most experienced of eyes of look out one last time, in vain hope, for that savior to pick up the reins and fight your fight as the starting bell echoes faintly in the distance. Cold comfort follows sheer terror as the punches start to rain. Even regular combat has its own familiarity, be it the unforgivable taste of your own blood in your mouth.

November 28, 2005

Pivot

It is that time once again when you question all the good that you have ever associated yourself with in your life. If those were ever true, inkeeping with your desire to never knowingly cause harm to anyone, you should not be doing what you are doing. There are no justifications, it just simply should not have happened. But it did, so what do you do now?

November 26, 2005

NDTV Not Com

Part two of the NDTV RSS feeds saga sees me, the poor information junkie, still waiting for the kind gentlemen and gentlewomen there to send me the the confirmation e-mail for accessing the feeds. Two days have gone and still no mail. Information junkie, being a proud member of the early adopters club, is now growing desperate. To get an immediate fix the city's best peddler, Google, is called up and asked a few pertinent questions and viola, more details trickle in.

The peddler points to a prominent pusher, Bloglines, who asked for the fix of the NDTV variety and finally produces one. The curious thing is the link on the Bloglines page that says "subscribe" that links to the URL of the actual feed. Interestingly, NDTV passes the username and password of the user in the query string of the feed URL, which is a patently stupid thing to do since users do put up the link on sites like Bloglines to use the feeds from different computers.

Now, this is an issue that has two sides. The first being that NDTV is sending out user login details in plain text, while the second is that asking a user for his e-mail id as a login id is one of the worst ideas anyone could have ever thought up since most users, to avoid maintaining multiple passwords, tend to use the same password as the email account for the login too. One of the subscriptions listed with the pusher has an email id and password that works on the email service provider. Not good at all.

In all fairness, NDTV does specify that the feed should not be used outside the personal sphere (which they go on to contradict that if it is used it has to be credited to NDTV with image and so on), but like I said before it does defeat the purpose of providing the feeds if they cannot be shared. In the spirit of fair disclosure, the account listed at Bloglines has been notified and a friendly reminder has already been transmitted to the brethren who run the NDTV site.

Update: More Bloglines gripes, this time from Phil, spiced up with some excellent XSS troubles for taste.

You

Have you ever felt that you are waiting forever to have that conversation which will transform your life in a single verbal swoop? I am sitting here in a cloud of indifference, listening to some dark, trippy music, on the shores of listlessness, impatiently waiting for the world to get up and go so that I can walk away from it in the opposite direction. I need low lights and walls that faintly glow yellow in them, swirls of cigarette smoke, a dazed look and freewheeling conversations with unexpected turns that leave you in a haze the following day.

I could now turn an approver to life's mediocre purpose, or hang, in disagreement, like a captive don. Instead, I will just sit and listen to your charges. I won't put up a defence. I will just watch the way you talk, the way your mouth shape the words you speak, the way your eyes list the unspoken charges from behind the weave of your silky black hair, the way your hands move to accentuate the gravity of my crime. I shall serve my sentence in the cold loneliness and wonder if I will ever remember what you said or what you looked like.

November 25, 2005

Feeding on NDTV

NDTV joins the RSS syndication bandwagon finally with feeds on National, International, Sports and Business news. They claim to be using RSS 2.0 as their preferred spec, but right now there is no way of knowing anything more since you need to register to get the feed URLs. I registered for the same some 6 hours back and I still have not received the e-mail as they had promised.

In any case, having to register to access the RSS feeds is distinctly uncool and even if it is for the sake of metrics and tracking usage patterns, it would really defeat the purpose and decrease adoption rates if they are going to offer unique, per user URLs. And if that is not the case and we are being forced to register just for a standard URL, I can only assume that it is a really dumb idea which could only have been thought up by some marketing department numbskull.

November 24, 2005

Mashuphead

Does not matter even if you have not heard about, Me And This Army, the new Radiohead remixes yet, you can jump straight into the party and download the torrent (and read more info) from here. The collection is more a mash up fest than anything remotely resembling a remix, but it is deliciously trippy and feels like standing next to a pile up of cars playing Radiohead, Tricky and Gorillaz at the same time, while some of the meanest MCs try playing traffic cops in the background. My personal favourites are How Ya Want It and No Surprises. I had already lost my heart to Paul Van Dyk's remix of Idioteque, so no go on that mash up at least for now. Link via BoingBoing.

Guilt

Growing up the way I did during my childhood was not an easy task. From as far as I could remember, the singular theme in my life and everything to do with it always boiled down to guilt. The guilt that I was never good enough for my parents, for them to ever like me enough to grant a kind word out of turn or to simply show, without any particular reason, even by some insignificant means, that I was worthy of being loved. While most kids grew up wanting to be loved, I grew up not wanting any of it, for none was on offer and to look for it was asking for unnecessary trouble and disappointment. A weird form of self-discipline took over. I thrived on constant struggle and loneliness. Gradually, I reached a subliminal existence where I needed and desired very little from life since I was just not good enough. It was my truth.

That struggle more or less ended in 1999 when I finally had had my fill and left home and everything I had known and valued till that point behind for a new life in Delhi. Later, I do not know if it was out a lack of choice, I made my peace with the folks. I was tired of fighting, hiding my happiness with my newfound life and friends because I was paranoid that they would take all of it away. I almost felt guilty that I was happy. They did not have much of a choice either, old age wears down the best of the lot, it wore them down too. In any case, I wanted to reduce the amount of conflicts that surrounded me. The change of bases did take most of the problems away, but the guilt never went away. It stayed on, like a well hidden infection, in my system, affecting everything I saw, did and understood. I should have seen the symptoms, but I did not.

In the years that followed, many relationships -- romantic, friendly or purely sexual -- happened. I gave almost all of myself away in them. It came naturally to me to give and not ask for anything in return. For the outside world it was nothing short of downright perversion. For me it was an effortless continuation, a familiar walk into unknown territories, manifesting in an imagined purpose to a life that deserved nothing. Then there were those who thought differently, that I deserved to get something in return than to just keep giving endlessly. But that was a process that was alien to my system. Not that I did not feel the need for it, every time I did feel it I could not understand it, since I did not consider myself deserving enough to be liked or loved. Every time it came my way, I flinched, I ran and I hid.

It is the fag end of 2005. Till recently I knew I had problems, though I did not know what precisely the problem was. I knew I liked to give and not take, but I never understood why it was so. I just knew I had to 'teach' myself to want for more and in stumbling through that weird education I came across the simple truth, that I never thought of myself as someone who deserved anything at all. For me, my own purpose in life was to always stay behind the scenes, to walk on to the stage when all had left and to strip myself of the gleeful make up in the silent echo of my unwanted thoughts. In this undesirable setting came something in which I had to give little and be in a situation where I was just not used being in. In spite of my best efforts, my system rebelled, threw me off track and locked everyone out. A new trip had already started.

That situation was avoidable and I am guilty of getting it wrong from every point imaginable and I am paying for it in my own weird way. But it is my own personal penance. One that is to be served out far away from any prying eyes. Meanwhile, the trip continues unabated. I am now on a journey of discovery towards the destination of seeing how much of selfishness is possible within my own system. I want to see how it is possible to live a life only taking things and not giving much. In a way I am trying to rid the association that I have of taking, with something undeserving and vile. I am trying to prove myself that the world will comfortably survive even if I don't give it much or take a lot. That I can be liked and loved for even when I am being a totally selfish prick. Maybe that would grant me a semblance of normalcy, make me one with the rest of the pack.

Like I actually believe all that.

November 22, 2005

Home Alone

I am genuinely happy to be home alone tonight. It has been such a lousy and miserable day that I could have bitten off every single face I had come across today at work and the mood was not expected to get any better once I got home. Thankfully, things did change. On my way home, I stopped by the local fish market, picked up some pomfret and spent a little bit of time cooking it for dinner and then polished off every morsel that was cooked.

Now there is Notting Hill playing on television, while I am in the other room listening to it and reading up one last time before I cuddle up with a book or call it a night. Incidentally, do any of you have the same bad habit of listening to television than actually watching it? Normally, reruns of old television serials and movies that you have already watched make for best television hearing, but an active imagination should see you through in doing the same with any kind of programming.

Which brings me to the question that has been bothering me for quite a bit in the day, how do you conjure up good sex in a work of fiction if you have not had any yourself? And you can please stop snickering, such things do bother me, now back to the question. It is funny because you can imagine what it must feel like when it comes to emotions and situations. Hell, you can even imagine or fantasize about what it must feel like to be a hijacker. But sex? How do you ever imagine good sex?

Or is it that I am the only one who finds it weird that so many people write some fantastic bits on people making love? It can’t be possible that all of them have made love in the manner the have described. At least I hope not, for I can’t imagine the plight of humanity and publishers if things were to come to a stage where the public discovers that the key to having good sex is to become a writer. Still, I find it awfully funny these days when I read passages that go like “he put his hands on her thigh and she flinched in pleasure”. Don’t you agree?

Another thing I’ve grown to develop a great deal of distaste for is people saying “I can understand how you feel”. I hate it with all my life and I really do want to bite my tongue off every time I come close to saying it. How in the world can I ever understand how another person feels? For that matter, how in the world can another person understand how I feel? Even the stupidest of us are unique in our own ways and even then there is no way one can make up another’s emotions and context by virtue of imagination.

That Effing feeling

Yes, posting has been pretty much non-existent over the weekend. The system is still clogged up, though it is much better than what it was earlier and the mind is a monstrous muddle right now. I am just wholesomely tired of switching and adjusting to changing circumstances, it is like moving to a new house every third day. Right now I am pretty much in a 'fuck off' state of mind. So, don't be surprised if I did not smile at you in the morning, because I just don't feel like it, okay?

A couple of questions before I sign off. Don't ask me for the reasons why I am asking them, you will get to know soon enough. But here we go.

1) If I were to deem you a good blogger on a certain topic and ask you to blog for a particular amount of money (let us say some 'x' amount for 'n' posts in a month), would you be interested in it?

2) How huge an issue would editorial intervention be for you, provided you say "yes" to the above proposition, would it be too much for you to have someone clean up your copy and possibly enforce a bit of discipline, only when it is needed?

3) How much of an issue would anonymity be for you to blog for someone else?

4) Would you have any issues blogging on a different (possibly major media-supported) platform, or would you only blog on your own site/blog?

The slow as hell Blogger interface is not opening for me here, so I am using Writely of all things to post this. Weird.

Update: Don't use that effing thing to post at all. Crappy, half-done, dysfunctional software should be banned from ever being released.

November 19, 2005

Velocity

The sane part of my mind tells me that I should slow down, steady the ship a bit, stop all the crazy behaviour and be one of those children that the parents would be proud of. Instead, the insane half seems to have taken complete control, like a mad clown driving a noisy, about-to-self-destruct steam engine, driving me faster and faster to an unknown point where nothing can remain unscathed. Maybe, like a good friend tells me, I just want to believe it that way to escape the responsibilities for my actions, but the momentum is maddening and there seems to be no slowing it down.

As the months pass away one by one, a common thread I have noticed is that I am willfully destroying all that is valuable and sacred to me, in a quest for an unknown abyss. The mind seems to be trying to make the point that since most of what I have valued has already been destroyed when I did try really hard to keep them safe, it would be a nice challenge to destroy the little that is left, by myself and not give circumstances or fate that option. I know it is something like the old 'nam concept of destroying the village to save it, but I am certainly doing just that.

The thing is, I don't quite know what would I achieve at the end of all of this. In all probability, I would only end up crying even more once I achieve that end and it is scary to know that you are in fact scripting your own self-destruction. In a way, I think it is also reflective of the desire to escape my own self and become someone I have always despised and see if any part of me would be left standing after that. Why anyone would want to do something crazy as that is anybody's guess. I think I want to kill the desire to be normal once and for all, throw it out of the window and move on in life.

November 18, 2005

Gymming It

The decision to stay GYM-free (that is Google, Yahoo! Microsoft) approach by the A-list bloggers could not have come at a worse point in time for Robert Cringley has decided to come up with yet another of his awesome columns, this time on why Google is buying dark fiber all over the place. It would be pointless for me to paraphrase it here since you have to read the entire thing and swallow it in full to understand it. Read on.

Lost Opportunity?

I wonder if it is the best idea to work for a big company and do innovative stuff at this time. Other than the obvious incentive of cash, provided that you do manage to sell your product off to a biggie, the internal processes and bottlenecks that you have to go through are less complicated and mostly restricted to infrastructure when you are on your own. Credibility also is another issue. Some food for thought.

November 16, 2005

Aesthetics & Sensibilities

People with journalistic backgrounds are not bothered by what their blogs look like, says Vulturo, elaborating on his contention that mainstream media (MSM) bloggers don’t care about aesthetics. I believe the point that he is making is a bit of extreme conjecture, unless he has interviewed a major percentage of the MSM bloggers and asked them if they care enough about it or if they would like to change the way their blog looks, provided they have the time and effort to spare for it.

There is a famous geek saying that there are only 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don’t. Inherent in the saying is the fact that people who understand technology generally look down on the rest who do not understand it, and the comment on aesthetics is yet another one in the same vein. In a world where the geeks still have not figured out which is the better markup to be used, I think a reading of HOWTO Spot a Wannabe Web Standards Advocate is in order here.

Adding links to a template, forget changing a blogger layout, in itself is a hard ask for most people whose only interaction with technology is to start up their computer, browse a bit and check their email. A majority of the users on the internet belong to this group, which is one of the reasons why blogging is big now. If everyone was capable of doing hand-coded HTML pages and using FTP later to publish them, we would not have needed Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad etc.

Expecting that lot to change the way their blog looks, beyond the content they provide, is asking for too much. Blogger’s template tags are the easiest to master compared to Wordpress (which is done using PHP code), MovableType and Serendipity (Smarty templates). Even then, it is hard for an average user to understand what a conditional tag is and asking him/her to modify it with markup that validates is even more absurd. Yes, we all would love to have a perfect world to live in, but it is not something that will ever happen.

Moving on to Vulturo’s next point that he would be “happy if Mainstream Media portals as well moved to an OpenSource solution such as Drupal or Mambo” I can only assume that he has not ever dealt with a real world situation of trying to come up with a solution by using a (well, somewhat) boxed solution to suit the varied needs of different media set ups. Yes, it is very hard “to adopt and customise a content management system” be it free, open source or proprietary.

In any case, the open source and free point is more or less bunk. The Indian Express Group websites run on Linux, Apache, PHP, Postgresql and a bit of MySql. The same is the case with The Business Standard. Rediff, from what I remember, for most parts, run Apache, Linux and Resin for their CMS and some form of HTdig or Lucene for their indexing needs (this I am guessing, feel free to correct me if you know better). As you can see, it is not like free and open source solutions are not used at all.

And that takes us to the next point, why the wheel is reinvented in the first place. Most of the times, it is reinvented because the original wheel was just not good enough to meet the requirements. Mambo is a fine CMS, but the interface is really slow and speed is of the essence in a breaking news environment. Drupal too is pretty fine too, which is why sites like The Onion use it, but it is a pain to customize and run. Besides, it is very community oriented, which is not what most media houses ask for.

If I remember right, way back in the dotcom boom era, someone had tried convincing Zdnet India to shift to Zope/Plone, since it was meant to be absolutely rocking from a geek point of view. That experiment did not go down well with the end users and it ended pretty much there. Being sexy from a geek’s point of view is very different from what it looks like from the end-user’s point of view. Case in point: there are a lot more of users on Blogger than Freeflux, though the latter is better for a geek any given day.

In the past four months, I have been pretty much doing the reinventing business at the new jig. I had evaluated most of the free/open source options and found none of them, other than the exception of Midgard, to be good enough to fit our needs. Most were either too complex or were too simple and I would rather have my team work with a set of known problems than have them dig around nested directories of endless libraries which might or might not break every time I want to customize the site or add a new feature, which would require hacking the existing code.

Even with Midgard, there is a problem of not knowing how it will scale up when it has to survive traffic close to at least a million page views in a day. It is a comprehensive application framework, which means that the potential bottlenecks are strewn all over the place. I do not want to wake up one fine day to discover a new bottleneck which might be at its core. When I am reinventing the wheel, I know that I can either reverse proxy the front end pages (throw in more Squid servers to the cluster to scale it up) with a load balancer in front or use a MySql/Postgresql cluster (write to master, read from replicated slaves) in case of a dynamic data intensive website.

Then there is the issue of the actual requirements. The Indian Express has two kinds of editions, one for the print edition and the other for the breaking news site. Right now, there is nothing out there that addresses the two differing requirements using the same solution. And the Indiatimes group of websites uses a monster of an (somewhat) internally developed IIS-based framework that handles everything from the front end page serving, connection pooling and caching to the backend for managing the content. In either case, the spokes would really have to be bent to fit the wheel.

Eventually, when you take your product proposal to the management and tell them the best avenue for technical support for your solution is an IRC channel, don’t be surprised if they totally freak out on you, which is why a lot of media organizations sign up for outrageously priced Microsoft-based solutions. They don’t want to understand the technology and there is no reason why they should. All they want is a single point of interaction at which they can throw both feature requests and problems. How it is done is not their problem in life.

Fever

The body is an amusing creation. It started yesterday morning with a touch of fever that was ably aided by an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion in the evening. Managed to somehow drive home and crashed into the sack with the latest self-diagnosis being that of a nasty sinus infection. This is one of those times when living alone really, really sucks.

Come morning, I was feeling feverish once again, with both the larynx and pharynx feeling distinctly molten and unskinned. Driving all the way down to Noida and surviving the commotion there was not an option. Called in sick and stayed on in bed. I am feeling better now, but I do feel very insulated, my senses encapsulated in thick membrane like fluids.

November 14, 2005

Meaningless

A fair bit of content on this blog has been dedicated to the thought that I hardly believe in anything anymore. In my short lifetime, I have been branded everything from cynical to jaded, to a rank pessimist in describing my approach to life and my thinking. And having spent a lot of my life turning away from things, important and unimportant, it is hardly surprising that at times I have a great deal of trouble trying to stay in touch with my sanity.

What is sanity actually? Beyond the poetic definitions of it being the reality, in effect, it is a set of constructs and belief systems that basically act as safety net for you every time your mental system lacks orientation and direction. It is a relative measure that qualifies your uniqueness, purpose (both routine and long term) and a sense of your own self that enables you to interact with the rest of the universe in a predictable manner.

It manifests in the real world in terms of relations, the values that they hand down to us and the subconscious mental connections that we make with them. In effect, we define the world through the values that are handed down to us and the connections that we assume as innate to ourselves. That way, the world is an amazing place, for we have built it entirely based on these loosely defined concepts and still we manage to function effectively.

But what if you don’t have these values and associations? That is when the fun starts and the world becomes a theater of abstract interpretation and logic. Since there is no absolute fixed point, the relative points you define afterwards are also in a state of constant flux. What might be absolutely necessary for you at point becomes absolutely unnecessary at another. It is madness and sanity smiling from the same face at the same time.

It also leaves you with a considerable amount of scope when it comes to imagination and innovation. At any given point in time, you can step into another’s shoes and see the world from their point of view with a moderately acceptable degree of accuracy. It is logic, but abstract too, since it is a form of role-play. It is role-play, yet it is real, since you are not really tied down by any major amount of innate beliefs or values to skew your observations by a disruptive degree.

Thus, depending on how you want to view it, the world can either be a beautiful place or a totally crappy place to live in then. Which is why even in my so-called pessimism, it takes a lot of optimism to face up to the world each day, every day. It is not a great deal of fun when you have to apply concepts which are close to mathematical models than emotional certainties to survive and sustain the self on a daily basis.

Till a while back, I used to harbor this great dream of being rescued, of being fished out of this conundrum. That someone would appear one day and make sense of all of this and lift my own heaviness from my shoulders. But somewhere I reached a point where I could no longer keep looking back at my lack of real meanings to define my present and my future. Somehow, I let go of that and I gave away all my virtual meanings.

It is a high risk strategy that leaves me with a make or break situation. If I happen to break there is nothing that can put me back together. In letting go of the past, I also threw away the key and the clues that can unlock the door to my mind. Somewhere I got really tired of keeping it all catalogued and well marked for someone to look over and figure it all out. Eventually, every story has the same ending and that is an ending which holds no significance for me.

Root It Out!

Deciding to eradicate Sony's root kit is probably one of the most decent things I remember Microsoft doing in a long time. I do not know what kind of effect it will have on their relationship with Sony, but it is a very clear and proactive stand on the issue which will set the tone for setting the limits on what can be termed as acceptable behaviour in dealing with piracy.

For those who are late in joining the party, the story goes something like this. The story broke after Mark Russinovich of Sysinternals posted on his blog that Sony was installing a root kit as a part of their copy protection mechanism. Sony responded by issuing a patch that Mark said was capable of crashing the systems which installed it. Finally, Microsoft steps in and decides to zap the root kit. Detailed FAQ by CNet here.

Update: I am taking Google Analytics for a spin here, so other than the Sitemeter tracker I now have one more way to keep an eye on you all.

November 12, 2005

Blog More

I know I had promised not to write about the mainstream media versus blogs controversy anymore, but since today is an unexpected holiday that has brought forth a very welcome break from the madness in office, I have the time to sit and collect my thoughts and present them in a sensible way than to fight meaningless street fights in the confines of the comment window. But be warned, this is going to be a very long read.

First up, I’ll present you a little bit of a primer about where I come from. The need to know has always been a huge thing for me. I have, from the time I could remember, been an information junkie, watching all the news bulletins on the only television channel then – Dooordarshan and reading newspapers and magazines, both English and Malayalam ones, from the first page to last. It did help that I was no good with studies and then Delhi happened under the pretext of “studying journalism”.

I started working here in 2000, fresh out of the journalism course, all ready and willing to change the world. Strangely, I had not grown up wanting to be a journalist; it was one of those things that happen mostly due to your having no idea of what you really want to do. My choice of the first job was a bit dicey, since I turned down a better paid and respectable desk job with these guys and decided to go with the famous dotcom industry, which was already showing signs that it was about to go bust.

In the five years that followed, I worked with a variety of news publications – some of which were just online extensions of traditional print houses, while the others have been pure-play internet firms or television channels – and it has been a wonderful learning experience. In all these years, I have somehow managed to stay clear of belonging to just one camp or the other and being completely dismissive of any of them, which, as you will see, is the basis for my belief that we need all the pieces of the puzzle than just one or two, to complete the picture.

What all this is essentially about is information and how it is communicated between people. The equation for which is written in terms of the need to inform and the need to be informed. Till recently, this used to be a very well defined dichotomy that kept the informant and informed in two distinct camps. As you can guess, the general public used to be the ones who would be informed by the media, the informant, in its various forms through the years.

At its core, the mainstream media is nothing but a huge filter, which transforms the enormous amount of information it receives into tiny chunks that would make sense to you. You have to work in a news environment to understand the scale I am talking about here. Left unattended, the emails from the department that coordinates what finally goes on air can overwhelm my inbox at the rate of at least a 100 per hour. What you see on the screen for a couple of minutes is something that often takes more than a couple of hours of hard work to put together. It is similar to mining an entire mountain to finally discover a stone that can fit into your hand.

This is something that bloggers probably don’t understand. They can’t see the process that finally culminates in the finished product and by its nature most blogs are specific to a single topic or a couple of them, which results in complaints of the nature where the mainstream media is accused of ‘ignoring’ big blog events or controversies. And then there is scale and perspective. Blogging is big for the bloggers, but the uncomfortable, yet true, fact is that more people would be interested in reading or knowing about what is happening in a famous actor’s love life than the news that an educational institution has threatened to sue a prominent blogger for what he wrote, simply because blogging is still a very niche activity. For that matter, even being on the internet is a niche activity in India.

Ironically, this is exactly where blogs fit in perfectly into the picture. It is awesome in its form as a collective and a filter of these niches. By tracking a properly done blog on technology, sex or politics, I can track a multitude of sources without having to go through these sources everyday. But for the main news I would still stick to the mainstream media since the degree of bias there is lesser. After having worked with and helped build at least one of them, I can assure you that bloggers don’t do half as much fact or tone checking as news desks do.

The problem is that too many people these days believe that they can either replace the mainstream media or do a better job than them, which is a classic case of believing grass being greener on my side of the fence. Only once when a blog becomes very popular and reaches the same scale like, let us say, a newspaper website, can you assume a level playing field. Doing one good blog entry a day is one thing, but being actually out on the field and doing 70 of them is a different thing – on the basis of quantity, quality and logistics. Once you reach that stage, you will end up looking more like the mainstream than as a blog.

Personally, I would rather not have to choose between the three forms – print, internet and broadcast – as mutually exclusive choices for my sources of information. All three are tremendously valuable and important for me. Print with its in-between states of having too much space and too little space gives me perspective, internet with its ease to publish and ease of access gives me an unrivalled breadth of opinion and information, while television gives me immediacy. Why should I have to pick between the three, when I can’t replace one with the other?

And I do believe that it is possible for everyone to co-exist. The mainstream cannot afford to ignore the voices on the internet under any circumstances, especially under the pretext of it being too nerdy or geeky. They need to track the internet and blogs to see what is relevant to the general public, even if the number of those influencers is a tiny one now. Having been an active blogger – as a writer, reader and commenter – for close to some five years now I would only love to see it growing larger and better.

Blogs, if they can get their tone right, should be tremendously effective in adding to the mainstream agenda. A year back, I was pushing for the implementation of such a product, which did not go anywhere due to various reasons. This time round, with a little bit of luck and patience, it should be possible. Even if it does not, I am sure Google has some secret product up its sleeve which will hit us and mow us down one day!

P.S: Is Blogger now sending automated trackbacks?

November 09, 2005

We the bloggers

Just read Ashok Malik's views on blogs. It is a tad optimistic and he does gloss over a bit in his views. Contrary to what he says, blogs did not play a huge part in the US elections. Initially, the blogs were meant to turn the tide and carry Kerry forward into the Whitehouse. Moreover, unlike what he claims, the community does not police itself too well. Most of the bloggers in fact don't give a damn about correcting themselves. When they are caught in a corner they either dismiss it as propoganda or as some 'ism' or the other.

The reasonable voices are far and few between and it is mostly about finding people who read and think similarly, though I would not go as far as to call it an echo chamber. At the most they are information aggregators than opinon shapers. And compared to the west, the Indian scenario is a bit different. There is an actual lack of compelling content and there is a vast pool of wannabes (yes, I'll readily admit to being one too) who are looking for the next great wave of controversy to ride on.

But mostly it is a case of a lot of smoke and no fire at all. The quality of a blog can be determined by a simple factor, whether the content is driving the act of blogging or if the act is driving the content? In any case, the latest controversy (edit: the earlier link was pointing to an unlelated post; my sincere apologies to Shivam), of the Delhi Times story (apparently toned down), on the blogger meet, has taken off and we already have reactions like "I will slice off your penis and feed it to you". And we wonder why legal notices get issued regarding what we write. Please do get serious guys, at least when you write about others.

To conclude, I'd revert to Malik, who makes a pertinent point.

"Are these flickering exceptions or do they hold a beacon to a new treasure room that journalism is at the edge of? Honestly, I don't know. Someday the MBAs who pay people like me our salaries – and who in turn are paid their salaries by people like Mr N. Ram – will finally pronounce judgment on a possible revenue model for blogs. Who knows, they may even seek to tamper with the format"

Eventually, nothing of a large scale exists by itself. It always leans on a larger framework to reach the masses. Do not underestimate traditional forms of distribution and institutions. They have been around for ages because they adapt and mutate and now they are in the process of mutating again. If you do not understand what I am talking about, you have obviously missed old man Murdoch's vision of the future. To win them, the best way is to join them. The thing is nobody realieses that they have already done that.

Update: Part of the above-mentioned post has been struck out removed, but we do have the phone number listed in the comments. That the number might be fake is a different story, but seriously, I don't like the tone, direction etc of this. It is just making all parties involved look very silly.

Update 2: Note to self: Stay clear of the bloggers vs. mainstream media battles from now on. It is a worthless endavour.

Disrupt!

Now we know why Scoble has been using 'disruption' these days almost as if it was some form of punctuation. The lord and the master of all screens blue, Bill Gates, has deemed that disruption is the way ahead in his now leaked memo, which was prompted by Ray Ozzie's missive on why and where Microsoft should be moving to in the future. Ozzie's memo is a sublime mix of technology and marketingspeak rehashed in yet another creative way. In any case, I desperately dislike anyone who thinks AJAX will save the world.

November 08, 2005

Letter

Quite accidentally, I happened to run into an old e-mail I had sent in 2003 to a good friend. Interestingly, the thought process is very familiar. Only difference being that the optimism and the beliefs were probably much better. Below is an excerpt that has been cleaned up a bit for clarity and language. Read on.

Somehow the concept of the person whom I would like to spend the rest of my life seems to be more and more improbable the more people I seem to meet. I really do appear to have utopian ideas or pipe dreamish concepts and the funniest bit is that I am not dying for something like that to happen. I have a very low threshold for making allowances in anything that takes a fair amount of my time. Even if it does happen, in the long term, the best I can offer is live and let live. Nothing glamorous. So in most cases I am glad nothing is happening.

I am not your typical recipe for "lived together happily forever" and then there is the issue of being close to too many people. Most long term stuff is based on exclusivity and most people cannot even imagine the fact that I might be as close or closer to another person as I am to them. So, all things considered, I am much better off this way. If it happens, great; Otherwise i do not want to call my life a failure just because at 32 I do not have a wife who will wash my undies and do my kid's nappies. I will have plenty of other things to do and live happily too as long as I do not let my dick do too much of the thinking, for that matter acting too.

The funny bit was that after writing this, I went headlong into a roller coaster of a relationship that ran through almost a year before we called it off. The short version of the story, if you can see the bigger picture, is that you should never take me for my word if you can help it. I have come to terms with the fact that I am a bastard of the premium variety.

Okay, normal service resumes from this point on.

November 06, 2005

Oddcasting

I don’t listen to podcasts. I could never understand them anyway. Not having the required bandwidth to keep track of them makes it much easier for me to ignore them. But anything that does not allow me to skip and hop along a narrative is just not good enough. At least seven out of ten times it only ends up wasting my time. Worse still, any momentary distraction, which is always a given for a multitasker like me, always results in the money quote being missed.

Apparently the opportunity in podcasting is for small and independent content creators to push their wares across without a great deal of capital expenditure or reliance on traditional distribution networks. This is nothing new. After all, at the base level, a podcast is nothing but an XML file which has enclosures pointing to an audio file. C’mon we can now transfer files over HTTP, this is going to change the world dude! But there is something new, the TiVo like interface to manage, sync and organize them. Even there the primary driver is the content and not the feature. Capiche?

Before you tar me a cynical bastard once again, I would like to present exhibit #221, a weekly online radio show, A State of Trance, by Armin Van Buuren. The show kicks off around 1 AM in India and from that point on there are some thousands of people from across the world tuned into the show and talking about it on different IRC channels and forums across the world. The next opportunity is to provide all this on the same platform rather than peddle in badly recorded audio the daily doings of some couple half way across the planet.

As you might have noticed, this is a post that should have been made to the experiment, which I can officially label a failure once again. For the umpteenth time, Wordpress has failed to impress me and for some reason I can’t seem to get the latest version of Serendipity running elsewhere. In any case, I am past the stage where the geeky challenge in getting it up and running would have been a big enough kick to get it done. All I want is to write a bit when I can, than to run around fixing problems. So, no, thank you.

Talking about content, one of my favourite new bloggers is Scott Adams. Yes, that Scott who does the Dilbert strips. Other than some interesting insights into the creation of some of the strips, the blog offers some of the most interesting quirky thoughts I have read in a long time. And on that quirky note I will move along through to the rest of my Sunday. There is a car waiting to be picked up at the service station, two books that need to be finished a little bit of sleep to be caught up on somewhere in between.

November 05, 2005

Monologue

Well, no. You are not the only who wonders why this monologue of a weblog exists in the first place. Even if you do take into account the comments, which pass off as a semblance of interaction, there is not much by means of a conversation that happens here. It is mostly just me and my thoughts, wandering, meandering, falling over itself and then picking itself up again, without any set rule, pattern or much external compulsion. But the unsavory truth, as truths often are, is that I have long run out of people to talk to.

Actually, it is pretty interesting. I have always thrived on conversations of all types – crazy, serious, mundane, emotional – and it was inconceivable that this could happen to me. It was not this way all the time. I grew up pretty much listening to my own voices. It was a one man show. I was the actor and I was the audience. When I finally got around to talking and listening the way I wanted to – to others – it opened up a whole new world for me. But the doors have been closing gradually once again. They are not bolted shut, but they are not open either.

No, I am not digressing. I had started this entry writing about the long winding monologue and why it is there. I do not know for sure the exact reason, but one of the things that it grants me is to speak, be it mired in abstractions, my mind, without fear, without having to think much about anything at all. Funnily, this is the only place where, in the recent past, I have more or less opened up all that I have wanted to and more and still not felt bad, about how it made anyone else feel or if it made any sense at all. To think about the absurdity of the situation, I have meaningful one-sided conversations with absolute strangers.

But it is one of those very absurd times. It is three in the morning. I am sitting blanketed in front of the screen in a room bathed in a dim orange light. I am not drunk. I have not touched alcohol the whole of today for that matter. I am not terribly depressed as I have been in the past couple of days. For most purposes, I am doing pretty well. Still, why am I up here, in front of a flickering old monitor, when I should be elsewhere, awaiting the arrival of yet another boring day in my sleep? Wait, I think I know why.

It is because, a couple of minutes back, a thought, which has been swirling around in my mind for a while, reared its mysterious head again. The thought that I abhor saying the same words that I have said before which frame sentences like: “You are special”, “I adore you”, “You do not know how I feel” and a million other combinations. Somehow, I don’t want to be understood, figured out and so on. And surprisingly, I am quite okay with it. To just clarify things a bit, I hold no grudge against anyone; but why so?

Why? Because it is a lot like making love to someone long past when the novelty of the act has left you behind, like the memory of a season that once came out of turn. It is like the gentle, yet violent, glow of the tip of yet another cigarette being lit. There is nothing pure, there is nothing new. The onus is on the parties involved – the smoker and the cigarette, the two naked bodies and their lust – to discover the newness every time, where there is no actual newness to discover. It is this newness that has walked away from me.

To further complicate things we have the presence of the wanting to feel – the wanting to feel wanted, the wanting to feel loved, and the wanting to feel the warmth of that want – in our lives. We want to assign values and meanings that may not essentially be there. It is this want that has tripped me. For the first time, every single grain of earth underneath my feet has deserted me. I have lost my conscience, my voice and my will to fight. I sincerely wish I could give up, I wish that I could love and allowed myself to be loved. But it is not to be and for now, since it is late anyway, I must sleep, awaiting that boring day again.

November 03, 2005

Stream

Needless to say, but it has been a tough time of late. Work has not exactly been rocking, and the same goes for the personal life too. All this calls for another lock out period. Need to hunker down revisit the basics since I have no ground beneath my feet now. And right on cue, the other voice in my head, which often gives me the very rude and very unbiased perspective on things has vanished. I do not know where it has gone, but it is not there anymore, turning an already unpleasant situation into an even worse one. It should not be this way, but it is. Have no other choice than to deal with it.
 
I always used to think that a lot of the problems I have acquired over time, of being too independent and having trust issues, would go away once I settle down to a nice rhythm in life. Right now, I am discovering that it is not the case. Standing behind the line of trusting anyone, I am capable of feats that defy a lot of logic, but I can't seem to cross the damned line even when I want to. It works against my system and I am sick of having both halves fight it out within myself. Inside I feel like one of those civil war-torn countries you get to see only on television, burnt, broken and beaten totally out of shape.
 
You know most times you wish you could say with pride that "I've grown up", "I know what I want to do" etc in your life. I thought I had finally reached that plateau, but in the past month or so I have proven it to myself that it is otherwise. I am torn between being able to believe that it is possible to live in a way that you want to live, which might be quite different from the way others do, and conceding defeat and lining up my set of compromises. I know it might not look like a compromise to others and that I might be sounding more than a tad demeaning. But that is the way I feel and while I am not labelling it thus, I am not apologetic about it either.
 
There has to be more to life. It can't just end at settling down with wife, kids, two dogs and two cars. If that is the case a huge number of people on earth must be blissfully happy, while most of them are not. Okay, I would even admit that it is just the beginning and not the end. But there must be more. You know little, tiny things, like feeling special, happy and comfortably hyper sensitive, while watching the thin veil of mist saunter across the horizon in the distance and feeling happy to be alive. Contrary to my perceptions, I can't multitask well. It is either this or that. Being on my own, it seems is the only thing I can handle well.
 
Meanwhile, I am giving bifurcating what I write into the personal and the public stuff another try. Even though it is quite a lot less of pain to use just one place to blog, mixing the audiences does not work quite well. This time, hopefully, I should have a better idea of what I am trying to do and I am assuming that I'll have to start blogging in an official capacity in a while. So it would also serve as a sort of a training ground too. Head over and take a look, but only if you want to do away with the abstraction, whining and heart aches and replace it with straight talk on media, music and technology.

November 01, 2005

Months

July unraveled the actual depth of the scalding, August could not have been unkinder with its tryst with the barrel's bottom, September was sedate with signs of sanity, which October shred to bits in no time. I should be staring happily at perfection, I should be gloating in the promise of the fulfillment of a vision. I should be feeling better, I should be feeling happier, but, sadly, I am not.

October 29, 2005

Big Kahuna

The much hyped Hotmail beta looks way too much like the default Zope/Plone interface. Other than on the odd weblog or two, I just cannot stand layouts comprising vast expanses of white, broken up by grey text and pastel colour borders. Even for someone like me, who has pretty okay eyesight, the interface is very confusing to use for the lack of clear demarcations.

Moreover, there is nothing great the beta has added to the product and if the Microsoftians think this is going to grab the e-mail market by its balls and give Gmail a run for its money, they don't understand the first thing about the balls they are dealing with. Psst.. it does not work on Firefox either. At least not yet.

October 28, 2005

Bloogle

Honestly, the Blogger posting interface sucks. It takes forever to load even on a fast connection and even with their clunky interfaces, I lean more towards using the API clients like Wbloggar and Qumana for my posting needs. But using these clients gives portability a huge hit. Basically, I am stuck to the same machine if I have to keep working on my post over a day/ number of days.

An alternative to this is to use the drafts feature in Gmail, now even more funkified with its auto-save feature, and use the mail-to-blog option in Blogger to post straight to the blog. The only issue is that you cannot edit posts via email on Blogger. Maybe Google should dump the blogger interface, integrate it into Gmail and make even more money by showing text links in the compose window.

With time, Gmail has actually become more of an information organiser than an email client for me. I use extensive filtering and labelling to manage my different email accounts, to-do notes and almost always a compose tab is open with random notes, numbers etc that I can use through the day. Looks like I can now check mail, keep notes, post to my blog, from a single interface. Not bad, huh?

October 27, 2005

Signaling Noise

You cannot ever underestimate the value of nicely padded noise canceling headphones if you sit right next to the travel desk in office. Note to Motheater & Mangs: If I am not married to the black contraption, at this rate, I would pretty soon end up being the de facto authority on airline bookings in India. The levels of euphoria have come down a little bit from the giddying heights it had hit in the morning following the exciting development of the day. There is talk of merry making somewhere south-side in the evening, but after yet another late night out in the city, I am not too sure if my system can take the abuse via the use of even more alcohol. These are exciting times indeed.

October 26, 2005

Google Blaze

Why, but why would information on Ta-da Lists be worth millions unless you can't marry the problem (which is a requirement in this case) to the solution (which is a solutions service provider)? It would be nice, from a voyeuristic point of view, to know what Noname1 or Noname2 wants to do first thing come tomorrow morning, but other than for a behavioural sciences geek the data by itself would be of little value. In any case, even if you preside over the wedding, are you allowed to expose personal data in such a manner in the first place?

Nightmare scenario:

On Joe Husband's Tadalist:

Urgent: Remember to figure out what to buy for Sexy Secretary at work on her birthday.

Note: DO NOT tell the missus about it.

On Mary Wife's Google Base:

Excellent at helping men pick gifts for women. Only 2% of gift value charged as consulting fees.

Alert on Joe Husband's Tadalist: Low rates from new gift picker in the market, click to find out.

Two hours later, Joe Husband is happy with his purchase, Mary Wife's happy with her spare cash and Sexy Secretary is beaming about her perfect birthday gift. All is beautiful on planet convergence located in the Web 2.0 galaxy till Mary Wife takes a closer look at the transaction details in her Google Base account. Something looks very familiar, something looks very fishy.

Uh oh.

October 24, 2005

Run

Considering that I have managed to seriously fuck up my stomach over the weekend, it would come as no surprise that I am having an indifferent start to the week. To add to my woes, in one quick swipe, a lot of the clarity that I gleaned over the past couple of months seems to have been replaced by a feeling of walking round and round in concentric circles. Somehow I had expected a pristine and complication-less version of my life to manifest itself, once I had decided to dump a lot of my earlier baggage and moved on. Instead, I ran into some of my age old issues, of being able to walk the fine line between being too free and too dependent, the realisation of which dawned rather unceremoniously late on me. I am sick of fighting these battles over and over again. Seriously, there should be some way out of this conundrum.

How do you really 'settle down' in life? Is there a single point or an event, like a bomb going off or your eardrums getting blocked, which signifies that fork in the road? I have thought about this countless times and I just cannot seem to find any answer for it. For me, life would be wonderful if I can live it the way I want to live it and if I could sneak someone else into that life, without any major changes. Of course, I do know that I am sounding like yet another inflexible moronic alpha male, but I don't need anyone permanent in my life to buy my groceries, wash my clothes or cook my food everyday. If I were to consider long term, what matters for more for me is the mind and I can't run around forever keeping myself lowest in my list of priorities. The only problem is that other than these odd moments, clarity is an elusive state for my ridiculously fucked up mind.

Looking at things from that point of view, I do have a problem. In fact, I have many problems, but this one is particularly bad. Emotionally, I tend to spread myself over a handful of people to meet my needs. At this point, it is irrelevant whether that is morally right or wrong, but one thing that is clear is that it is quite detrimental towards being in something stable/steady. I mean, hello, it is so clearly counterproductive. But to get to know different people is so intrinsic to my being that without it life would become even more dull and drab. It is all so very confusing, yet so very real too. So I need to be looking out for something where I'd have the freedom to do all of this and yet not have to try hard to be in it. Which begs the question, then why do you need something stable and steady at all in the first place? Welcome my dear friend to my crazy, mad world.

Strangely enough, what triggered off this long boring post was Rachel Kramer Bussel's latest column on her having stayed off sex for close to three months and the surprising revelations that it has led to. The interesting part is not that she has not had sex for a long time, but why she has not had it. There is neither a lack of (sexually) interesting people nor a lack of opportunities that has led to her dry run, but the longing for sex which is better than just good sex. In normal parlance this is called emotional involvement, where the entire act has dimensions beyond the physical and there lingers the promise of an interesting involvement, which might trickle on, effortlessly, in the bed and outside it, into the long-term. In an age where even married couples are some of the most lonely people on earth, is it wrong to stick it out for your concept of the (probably unrealistic) ideal?

Update: Haloscan seems to have conked off for some reason. My heartfelt apologies if your comment has disappeared. Thanks, Syl & WillO for the heads up.Update 2: With the work around noted here, it seems to be working now.