Sentimental Minions

The theatricalities of the humble bookmark

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Pennywise the clown

Posted by Avadhut on 29 January 2008

Am almost done reading IT by Stephen King.

it.gif

Pencil on paper

He thrusts his fists into the post, and still insists he sees a ghost.

Posted in Folklore, Foo, Visual sick, Weeping cozened indigo | 3 Comments »

Will this do?

Posted by Avadhut on 26 November 2007

I have lunch with three women. Everyday.

They tell me a lot of stuff. So…

blackbeard_by_avadhut1.gif

P.S: Thanks R, S, and C, and a few thanks go out to P also. 🙂

Posted in Foo, Office, Sarcasm, Visual sick | 14 Comments »

Folklore—the way things ought to be

Posted by Avadhut on 31 October 2007

It helps. Coming across reads like this, for not long ago we worked on such archaic systems. Reminded me of the time when I downloaded my first version of the Linux Kernel on a dial-up connection—took me a whole of 2 days! Question marks? Yesterday, I came across folklore.org, which is a sort of journal, dating back to the 1980s, documenting the early days of the development of the first Macintosh—the Apple before Apple, days when 7-inch displays were norm, 256 × 256 bitmapped array buffers were looked upon with envy, and a monochromatic screen producing a whole series of black and white “hello”s elicited a “whoa!” from even Steve Jobs. Literally. Ironically, I came across this series of posts while reading a review on Ars Technica of Apple’s newest offering—the Leopard. And I couldn’t help but think about how far they, we, have come. From the days when a Macintosh producing a sinusoidal waveform on an oscilloscope would be enough to conclude that “the display works brilliantly” to the current norm in Apple OS’es where a reflection is added to just about everything—from the dock icons to the font. And, sometimes, even that is not enough—the poor dock icons are now subjected to both a reflection and a transperency effect. But then that’s an issue for a different post, and if you are looking for the definitive review on the Leopard, I would strongly recommend the above-mentioned Ars Technica review by John Siracusa.

I just wanted to share these excerpts from the stories at folklore (such an aptly named site). If you ever find yourself yearning for some inspiration on one of those hot October afternoons when your head seems to be a basket full of bad wiring and a coffee just won’t do it, go over to folklore.org and see how things ought to be. Seriously. You will be amazed at what a well-written journal entry about some guys with a solder gun in one hand and a pineapple pizza in the other working to get an image of Uncle Scrooge to display on a monitor with just 192 scan lines will do to you :-):

In May of 1981, Steve complained that our offices didn’t seem lively enough, and gave me permission to buy a portable stereo system for the office at Apple’s expense. Burrell and I ran out and bought a silver, cassette-based boom box right away, before he could change his mind. After that we usually played cassette tapes at night or on the weekends when there was nobody around that it would bother.
—Andey Hertzfeld (January 1981)

When I started on the project in February 1981, I was given Jef’s old desk in the office next to Bud’s. Desk by desk, Texaco Towers began to fill up, as more team members were recruited, like Collette Askeland to lay out the PC boards, or Ed Riddle to work on the keyboard hardware. When George Crow started, there wasn’t an office available for him, so he set up a table in the common foyer and began the analog board design there.
—Andey Hertzfeld (January 1981)

After a while, surviving the first few game levels was pretty easy, unless you had been up all night programming or something. The Defender machine was probably a pretty good objective measure of one’s current mental capacity. “Gee, I can’t even get through level 2! I guess it’s time to get some sleep.” Better to put in a bad performance on the defender game than mess up the current programming task, or start down the wrong path on some hardware design.
—Donn Denman (September 1983)

This one’s a bit longer than the others, but it is absolutely a must read. It’s about this arcade game called “Defender,” where…Just read on

The goal of Defender is to defend your humans from abduction by aliens. The evil green aliens drop down from the top of the screen and randomly pick up your humans, and try to bring them back up to the top of the screen. You control a ship and have to shoot the aliens, either before they grab a human, or during their rise up to the top of the screen. If an alien makes it to the top with a human, they consume him and become a vicious mutant, which attacks very aggressively. You start the game with ten humans, and if the last one dies, all the aliens become mutants, and they swarm in on your ship from all sides.

One day Burrell started doing something radical. Andy came by my cube and said “You’ve got to come see what Burrell’s doing with Defender.” “How can you innovate with a video game?” I wondered. I’d seen Burrell and Andy innovate on all kinds of things, but I couldn’t image how he could somehow step outside the box of a video game—the machine controlled the flow and dictated the goals. How could you gain some control in that environment?

We started up a new competition, and when Burrell’s turn came up, he did something that stunned me. He immediately shot all his humans! This was completely against the goal of the game! He didn’t even go after the aliens, and when he shot the last human, they all turned to mutants and attacked him from all sides. He glanced in my direction with a grin on his face and said “Make a mess, clean it up!” and proceeded to dodge the swarm of angry mutants noisily chasing after him. “Burrell’s not going to win this competition” I said to myself. “He’s not going to last long with a screen full of mutants!”

Often a single mutant is enough to kill you. They move quicker, and with a different pace and pattern than the other aliens, so the normal evasive techniques don’t work very well. Mutants move so quickly over small distances that they seem to just jump on top of you. Your ship is faster over the longer term, so you have to outrun them, establishing a gap, and only then do you have enough room to safely turn and fire at them.

When Burrell’s next turn came up I was surprised by how long his ship survived. He’d already developed a technique for dealing with a whole mass of mutants. He would circle around them again and again, and that would gather them into a densely clumped swarm. Then, while circling, he’d fire a burst pattern across the whole swarm, not needing to aim at individuals. He was doing really well, cutting through the swarm like the Grim Reaper’s scythe. Burrell was no longer attacking individual mutants, instead he was treating the whole swarm as one big target.

Burrell may have lost that game and the next few, but it wasn’t too long before he was really mastering the machine. Instead of avoiding the tough situations, he’d immediately create them, and immediately start learning how to handle the worst situation imaginable. Pretty soon he would routinely handle anything the machine could throw at him.

I was beginning to see how Burrell could be so successful with everything he does.
—Don Denman (September 1983)

You know those language translation widgets on Web sites and PC applications that we all take for granted—something we now refer to as localizations wherein we select the type of language (English US, English UK, Afrikaans, etc.) and our application’s menus, buttons, etc. reflect our language choices? Something that allows a software app developed in the US be marketed and sold with little or no technical modifications in the Netherlands? The following blurb describes how Bruce Horn started it all back in 1981 while writing a search program for the first Macintosh. Beautiful:

Alan Kay always said that any problem in Computer Science could be solved by adding another level of indirection. I thought that if we could refer to the program *data* separately and indirectly—the strings, bitmaps, window and dialog layouts, and other non-code information—we could make it possible for this information to be changed by people who would not have access to the source code. These people—translators, artists, and designers—would be able to change the text strings (to translate menu items from English to Norwegian, for example), modify the application and document icons, and replace graphical elements in the program, if the program were written such that these items were factored out of the application.

The ability to easily localize applications and the operating system would be novel, especially in the early 1980s. None of the systems that I had used, including Smalltalk, had this ability; it was just assumed that everybody using the system would be English-speaking, and that other countries would be building their own systems. If the Mac were able to be released in other countries, with menus, icons, dialogs, dates, and sorting orders translated to different languages, it would make a big improvement in our potential market share. I can’t even remember when I started to recognize that the localization ability was necessary; it was a meme (probably started by Joanna Hoffman) that infected us all in the Mac group.
—Bruce Horn (December 1981)

Posted in Apple, Folklore, Foo, Macintosh, Nostalgia, Rainbow, System design | 3 Comments »

A dream

Posted by Avadhut on 28 October 2007

For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it. There is, however, a class of fancies of exquisite delicacy which are not thoughts, and to which as yet I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt to language. These fancies arise in the soul, alas how rarely. Only at epochs of most intense tranquillity, when the bodily and mental health are in perfection. And at those weird points of time, the confines of the waking world blend with the world of dreams. And so I captured this fancy, where all that we see, or seem, is but a dream within a dream.

-A dream within a dream, Alan Parsons Project.

“You’re eating mud again!” she cried. He shook his head fiercely. But he could not open his mouth to deny the charge, because his teeth were stained brown. She lay hold of his little arm and pulled him roughly to her. There were a lot of complaints, lately, about him the small gypsy village by the river—that he stole, and that he was rude, and the women were always telling her how wicked her boy was. She would always defend him, saying that every little boy in the crescent-shaped settlement was upto similar mischief. But she had misgivings now that she saw him eating mud again.

He could scarcely help being himself, could he? Like an ancient urge, his curse of being different burned inside him. And only the dark mud, the pure brown clods, cooled that terrible fever. So he ate the sweet-smelling stuff. Greedily. As if, if given a chance, he would devour the whole planet.

“Don’t you know it’ll upset your stomach? You could die eating mud,” she trilled, pulling him half angrily, though always lovingly, on to her lap.

She then inveigled a slender finger into his mouthm and then another, to try to to get him to open it. But he clamped his teeth down gently on her fingertips. Soon, with both of them giggling, the whole thing turned into a game, and she tried to use her other hand to unlock him at the cheeks. With a squeal, he cried, “So you must see it, mother? Then look!”

Posted in Foo, Rainbow, Weeping cozened indigo | 12 Comments »

Foo

Posted by Avadhut on 21 September 2007

-My dinner last night: Masala Maggi with atleast 75 grams of butter on top, 5 cubes of cheese, and Maggi Hot and Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce It’s Different®—I call it special effects :).

-Three years ago I was taking calls in a BPO at 4 am. Two years ago I was listening to calls. A year ago I was unemployed. Yesterday, my CEO offered me copious amounts of money to keep me from quitting to join a US-based startup.[1]

[1] Read somewhere that when you pursue things that truly excite you, they would reward in more important ways, like happiness. So true.

Posted in Foo, Office | 15 Comments »

Switchfoot-II or Nonconformance pays

Posted by Avadhut on 14 September 2007

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he loves to do…

Bob Dylan

I think I might be getting there. Soon. 🙂

Posted in Foo, Rainbow | 7 Comments »

Quotes about design

Posted by Avadhut on 11 September 2007

A few days ago, I came across a collection of design-related quotes over at sysprog.net. Below, a couple of my favorites:

In the beginning we must simplify the subject, thus unavoidably falsifying it, and later we must sophisticate away the falsely simple beginning.

-Maimonides

Walking on water and developing software from a specification are easy if both are frozen.

-Edward V Berard

You can only put as much intelligence in a system as was in the design engineer to begin with.

-Peter Orme

When one has no character, one has to apply a method.

-Albert Camus

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

-Ayn Rand

Man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic.

-Fyodor Dostoevsky

If you cannot grok the overall structure of a program while taking a shower, you are not ready to code it.

-Richard Pattis

Designers must do two seemingly contradictory things at the same time: They must design for perfection, and they must design as though errors are inevitable. And they must do the second without compromising the first.

-Bob Colwell

The two main design principles of the NeXT machine appear to be revenge and spite.

-Don Lancaster

Very often, people confuse simple with simplistic. The nuance is lost on most.

-Clement Mok

It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.

-Alfred North Whitehead

Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.

-Leonardo da Vinci

Much of the Web is like an anthill built by ants on LSD.

-Jakob Nielsen

Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.

-Frank Lloyd Wright

Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree.

-Robert Pirsig

Crash programs fail because they are based on the theory that with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby a month.

-Wernher von Braun

Out of intense complexities, emerge intense simplicities.

-Winston Churchill

Posted in Office, Sarcasm, System design | 5 Comments »

My comeuppance

Posted by Avadhut on 24 August 2007

First, a question: How’s this for a pick-up line?

O Watery-eyed woman, please tell me your good name.

Moving on to more important matters now: Past few days of inactivity on the blog have actually been due to work. More precisely, Drupal. No no. Don’t get me wrong. Not the bad kind of work. The good kind of work. The kind that has you scrambling to your desk every morning to finish what you left incomplete the night before, but with a smile on your face. 🙂

Now, I am not going to delve into the inherent goodness of open source and how it is a great big boon to mankind and will one day save us from extinction. But it is, and it will!

You see, everything I have ever wanted to ask about Drupal, everything I ever wanted to make it do—I could and I could. Communities hold a plethora of knowledge, and not just about Drupal but also MySQL and PHP and Apache and Ubuntu.

But it wasn’t always this sweet.

Let me start a few years back. How back? When free open-source OSes were a rarity and Windows won the people’s choice award for facilitating easy downloading of backdoor trojans and spontaneous formatting of hard drives.

One of those evenings, I suddenly got into a fit of career pangs, as one is wont to at that age and time of day. All my usual a-wondering had disappeared. It suddenly occurred to me that I was not exactly what you would call prime recruitment material. The horror of horrors!

This was the time when software had just reversed the poor trends and IT companies were beginning to flock college campuses again. Anyone with serious job hopes was rushing to their “computer classes” after school/college and locking themselves away with the usual “computer” job preparation materials: SimCity, Basic, etc.

(I have been told that things are easier nowadays. Last year someone from NITT told me that some of the top IT names don’t even interview anymore. All you needed to do was just clear the written test. Sigh.)

Till then I had assured myself that software was not my cup of tea and I would save myself (one is cocky at that age and with that level of blood sugar on a daily basis) for one of Mumbai’s glitzier hotels—as a master chef. Hey, I could cut onions faster than Sanjeev Kapoor could say “khana khazana.”

And then one weekend morning I lay in bed and decided to quickly overview my career plans for a few minutes. But not for too long as the bread pakoda ran out after 8:30 or so.

Now, I knew, back then, that I couldn’t program to save my life. The meta syllabus included a moderately difficult course on Basic and Windows 98. I’d passed through with flying colors scoring one mark more than the required threshold. The highlight of the period used to be watching the bugger—a Mr. Camelius, the high strung nervous sort—struggle with an early morning class on BASIC, break into a sweat, and then finally faint into the arms of a vigilant fellow in the front row.

Later, in college, I often wondered why someone would want a C program that printed out a pyramid of prime numbers. What essential human endeavor struggles for the want of good pyramid prime programs?

“Houston we have a problem!”
“We know. Perhaps a particular problem pertaining to the pyramid prime processor?”
“We like the alliteration Houston!”
“Merely making the mundane mirthful mister!”
“Ok! cut it…”

I hated most forms of programming. And particularly, the fancy shmancy prime number, sorting, pyramid type programs.

But then what certainty was there that I could make it into one of those hotels? They seldom came to Modern Colleges, let alone the Ganeshkhind one. Was I being foolhardy I wondered, as I lay in bed with an eye on the clock.

Then later that evening I decided that I must hedge my risk. I had to ensure that I knew the bare minimum to make it into a software firm just in case my core hotelier dreams fell flat.

So I asked myself—what I could do on a war footing. The threat loomed large that I would have to give GRE and then do an MS and PhD because I couldn’t get a job.

“Unix man. Unix is the way to go. That and Networking. Just focus on those two.”

I shared my thoughts with myself during one of the many walks to the gate for chai.

For one whole month I sat hunched over a UNIX manual and a huge textbook on Networking.

Who was that networking by? Ah yes. Tennenbaum. Andrew Tennenbaum I think.

After a month I thought I was ready to try out some of my newly learnt computing skills on my computer—Octagon, that’s what I called it back then (don’t ask me why).

Two hours later I was back in my room pulling out an old Barron’s guide to the GRE from under the bed and already mouthing words like apothecary and apothegm, fighting back the tears.

It was the worst thulping by an open source operating system I have ever received in my life.

Why were there backslashes everywhere? Why was vi editor such a cold-hearted bitch? Why do I have to press seven keys simultaneously to scroll down one page? Why? Why? Why weren’t things like the way its said in the manual:

finger–display information about local and remote users

When in reality it was more like this:

finger–put in eye in one smooth motion to get in the mood for vi editor

It was a futile struggle. Around me Unix maestros were clearly enjoying themselves enormously:

“Hey there is a problem with my port. Can someone just finger me right now!” .

was the sort of thing one Unix maestro would say to the other excitedly

For close to a year I never crossed my path with Unix ever again.

Till one night, after much recommendation from a friend I decided to give this RedHat thing a shot. I followed the manual by the letter. I slipped in the CD, booted from the disc, played around with my partitions a little bit, set up a root user and finally waited with bated breath while the installation happened.

Everything except the sound card and the PPPOE connection for the internet at home seemed to be working fine.

I could try to get them to work too. I checked the user forums and there was a wealth of information such as this response from a RedHat expert:

This is bug 2825 (http://https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?i d=2825) . The work around is to ~# ln -f /etc/pppd/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf

To which, someone with a sense of humor replied:

I can confirm this bug. I am using a tap0 bridge to emulate PPPoE on a Globespan chipset-based USB aDSL bridge and the latests stable eciadsl-usermode drivers (which, btw are not in Universe). It would be nice to have an updated pppd perhaps backported from Dapper.
I know that Debian’s choice of using kernel-mode PPPoE makes rp-pppoe unnecessary, but I wonder if it would be possible to update rp-pppoe to 3.7 for those that still in using it.

I laughed heartily back then and decided that, for at least the time being, I was ok without the sound.

Its been more than six years since that day. I breathe open source now. All my development happens on a LAMP setup, and dabbling in Drupal is second nature to me. Forum posts are no longer cryptic, and even I have probably turned into one of those “humorous” responders on the several bug forums that are so ubiquitous today. Reverse engineering was never easier and manuals are a waste of time. Microsoft who? Ahhh … life is sweet indeed.

Posted in Drupal, Foo, Social media | 23 Comments »

Turbulent confabulations

Posted by Avadhut on 9 July 2007

My second site in Drupal.

index.png

Front page: Modules used: Panels, views, & a custom banner generation module. Although, Drupal does have a contrib Banner module for 5.1, I wasn’t too happy with the functionality. So coded my own module to handle things like Banner rotation, displaying of a recruitment banner when a new posting is uploaded, etc. Minimum work for the end user, in this case—HR. (Note: The banners in this image are simply an example—placeholders till the Web team comes up with new banners). Also, the search box and newsletter subscription form has been shifted to the top of the page and can be toggled (a tab-ing script in JS).

editage.png

Team page: Modules used: Custom Banner module, views, panels. Notice how the side-bar has appeared on this page now. This was not done through Panels (that would require too many CSS workarounds), instead a template-level workaround/hack was implemented.

cnbc_news1.png

News page: Modules used: Views, Panels. Notice how the date has been displayed—this, again, was a template level hack implemented in node.tpl.php. The blockquotes have been styled to attract attention fast to the important bits, like in newspapers. Makes for easier skimming through.

faqs.png

FAQs page: Modules used: Views, CCK, ConTemplate. Instead of using the contrib FAQs module, I used CCK to create a custom FAQ type. Further, the displaying of the content on the FAQs page—questions on top with named anchor links below—was automatically generated by using a template defined in ConTemplate. Easier for HR to upload questions without meddling with any coded bits.

cutlture.png

Work culture: A static page, but it was made AJAX-y by using the accordion functionality of MooFX.

employee-speak.png

Employee speak: Modules used: Views. Employee Speak was implemented as a custom data type and this listing page was generated using Views. All icons were handcrafted to go with the theme of the site.

colin_speak.png

Employee speak (Individual pages): Modules used: Views, Panels, ConTemplate. Notice how author names and Taxonomy are not linked and the submission line is styled quite differently as compared to the default Drupal style. This is again a template-level hack implemented in node.tpl.php.

careers.png

Careers page: Modules used: Views, ConTemplate. An open/close Javascript wrapper was used to minimize the scrolling and dynamically display content without having to reload pages.

teams.png

Teams: Static content page.

contactus.png photos.png

Facility tour page: Again a static content page. However, the Lightbox Ver 2 Javascript plugin was used to display a slideshow of photos without having to reload pages—the main Web page grays out and a photo is overlayed on top of it with “next” and “prev” controls.

facility.png

Contact us: Simple static content page.

Like I said, it will be a while before this one goes live, but at least the port to Drupal has been performed. The level of CSS detailing Drupal allows you to define is mind boggling. All you need to do is understand the styling system (Drupal has several different style sheets to deal with—system.css, default.css, style.css, and any other style sheets that are bundled with the contrib modules).

I found the Firebug plugin for Firefox an excellent companion in styling Drupal sites as well as to ensure that your site is standards compliant—it helps unlock the complex levels and hierarchies realized by Drupal style sheets.

In the end, it would be the safest to say that no matter what your design looks like—custom tables for each page, differently styled lists on different pages, differently styled blocks on different pages, etc.—nothing is impossible in Drupal.

Posted in Drupal, Office, Visual sick | 7 Comments »

Samantha

Posted by Avadhut on 13 June 2007

-Ever had a sense of constance that made you feel like the feelings, emotions, beliefs you held about certain things haven’t really changed in a long time, like, say, since you were in the eigth standard?

Lately, I have begun to feel it sometimes. Have I not grown up or was I never immature?

Either is scary!

-Is it ok to quit your workplace when you realize that the implementation of your creative endevors is directly proportional to the understanding prowess possessed by someone else?[1]

-Is talking gibberish considered a desirable quality for grooms in any culture?[2]

-You really didn’t expect the title of the post to make any sense, did you?

[1] Sometimes, it’s easier to talk in math.

[2] An example—How about telling the story of Die Hard 1 using only sounds and never-before-heard words like “grig.”

Posted in Foo, Office, Weeping cozened indigo | 4 Comments »