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.