Friday, April 20, 2007

Dear anonymous reader

My blog will be shutting down for a few months.  Due to the insensitivities of thesis drafting and the surge in number of sleepless nights over the next two odd months, I don't think I will be able to write anything on this blog.

Maybe I will emerge a much less cynical, more saner blogger - full of thought, wisdom and grace.

Till then - Adios!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Open Source, Internet Evolution and Social Welfare

I have always been fascinated by open standards - the term used to refer to technology standards that determine how a product or service needs to be configured so that every vendor can interface with it.  For the technically savvy, J2EE is an open standard - a comprehensive set of technology rules and guidelines developed through consensus among a number of IT firms.  Many of us will be surprised to know that the Internet plumbing is almost exclusively based on open standards.  All the transfer protocols are open so that no single firm can dominate the evolution of the Internet.

To throw a few savvy words - SOAP, UDDI, WSDL, STRUTS, JSP, EJB, XML -  Internet technologies are evolving really quickly and the more open and barrier free they become the greater is the social good.  The presence of an army of open source enthusiasts facilitates the evolution of many of these core technologies.  No single firm would be solely interested in facilitating the growth of some of these core technologies.  Even if there is such a firm, it would be for its own benefit and not for the benefit of society.  That is where the open source movement can really make a contribution.  Although the goal of many of these open source volunteers is to develop competing alternatives to mainstream proprietary technology products, the by-product of their enthusiasm is their contributions towards core components that are the building blocks of platform technologies.  I have always been asked what sort of a business model would be the most successful in the open source world.  there is no simple answer to that question.  However, I do know that it is a thriving ecosystem where multiple models are being tried out and I am sure there will be a lot many which will perish, and a few that will succeed. 

As the Internet pipelines become faster and cheaper, focus is bound to shift away from making desktops more intelligent to coordinating the intelligence that is available.  Distributed computing will become more important and already there are indications that a number of firms are interested in leveraging the benefits of distributed systems.  Technology tools such as Java have an inherent advantage in such scenarios.  For a firm, the ultimate goal would be to develop such a system that can break down a programming job into millions of manageable pieces spread them across a thousand machines, parallel process the job, and piece it back together. I am sure, a single large super computer has its own advantages, however, a thousand small machines hooked together and thrown on a job can definitely outsmart a really large computer.  The site that publishes an yearly list of fast supercomputers ahas such a machine from VTech that has been pieced together from desktops running MacOS.  Interestingly, Linux dominates as an operating system on this list. 

Have you ever wondered why ? Well scalability, security, and robustness are some reasons to being with.  Try leaving a Windows machine running for a month and check its performance against a Linux machine running for a month.  You will know what I am saying. Moreover, you will also be surprised to know that Linux can be shrunk so small that it can be installed on a small wrist watch and can be scaled up so much that it can run a Super Computer.  That's the beauty of the Linux kernel.

On a much broader social perspective, open standards and open source products can play an important role in developing countries like India.  India needs infrastructure, period.  there is o question about that.  However, we need more money to be poured into roads, bridges, energy and health than into probably IT.  At the same time, we cannot ignore development in the IT infrastructure front.  Solving this conundrum lies in the adoption of open source software.  India has a huge army of developers who can make the adoptions easy.  It is time that the Indian government open its eyes to the potential of open source and its merits.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Michael Dell uses Linux on his laptop

Courtesy of my roommate, Arnav Ghosh I came to know that the CEO of Dell Inc. Mr. Michael Dell uses Linux on one his laptops.  Look at the link here.

His Precision laptop has the latest release of Ubuntu, fondly titled Fiesty Fawn as the main operating system.

Isn't it ironical that Mr. Dell would consider using it on one of laptops while his firm ships millions of PC's equipped with Windows ?:)  Credit has to be given to Mr. Dell. Dell has recently announced that it is seriously considering shipping Linux equipped PCs.  That will be the real shot in the arm for a Linux Desktop. 

By the way.also look for the software "Automatix2" on Mr. Dell's laptop.  Automatix is an open source software written by none other than my room mate Mr. Arnav Ghosh.  Automatix as its name suggests, automates the installations of the most commonly requested applications for Debian ( linux flavor) based operating systems such as the wildly popular Ubuntu.

Go Arnav! Go Ubuntu! Go Dell!

Blogger - Who are you? and What do you seek?

Blogger - Who are you? and What do you seek?

This question has bothered me for quite a while.

Some of my friends tell me that I ought to be considered an anomaly of a blogger for someone with a penchant for writing arbitrary stuff.  I started blogging only in November 2005 much after most of the online world had taken to blogging.  I guess I was too busy between taking courses in the PhD program and driving to detroit twice a month.

I always wonder why I had not started blogging early. I am what you might call an early adopted of internet technology.  I was one of those guys who would be lurking on all Internet news sites looking out for cool new tools to play with in the late nineties.  I was probably one of the earliest Google users - though it took me quite a while to get convinced that it was better than Webferret and other such desktop based search applications. On a different note, it is an irony that Google is trying to get its search tools onto the desktop directly.  I also have one of the oldest established email account among my friends and had logged countless hours of browsing the Internet before any of my peers knew what the Internet was.  You will have to remember that as undergrads in India we had little access to the Internet.

Coming back to the point, I guess I did not start blogging as I felt it was useless.  It did not seem any different to me than maintaining a personal website. I did not feel like sharing my personal thoughts with anyone on the Internet. It was not a diary for me.  I did not want strangers to know that I liked Jimi Hendrix, could read and write Sanskrit, and play chess horribly, among other inconsequential things.  Aha! There's the catch.  Was blogging all about making a monumental spectacle about the little inconsequential things in everyone's life.  (God - I sound like Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City).  Surely, hundreds of bloggers will beg to differ with me on that. Blogging is power, they say.  It is the voice of the people, a collective conscience that can make a difference in world opinion.

However, I have to confess that I do not have grandiose expectations about blogging being a powerful tool that influences opinions.  Maybe there are a few bloggers who disseminate knowledge through their blogging - knowledge developed through their experiences and their own emotions, agendas and beliefs. They will surely differ with my expectations about blogging.  However, I am free to express it here on my own blog as none of those individuals are here to read my thoughts :)  Blogging is a sheer waste of time and I am guilty of blogging as you can see from my posts :).

For me it is the blogger and not the blogging that is important.  Who are these folks? Why are they saying these things? What do they ultimately seek?  They seem to come from all walks of life.  They seem to be very opinionated.  They mostly say nonsensical stuff, although some are beginning to make more sense now.  They often seek reputation and seldom make money through their blogging.  Is that all? Do we have a picture of the quintessential blogger?

Professional journalists have taken to blogging now. Firms are beginning to loom at blogging as a marketing tool. Blogging might not remain a tool to voice one's opinion on a number of things, some of no consequence to anyone. Blogging might be taken over by firms that are interested in influencing the opinions of its potential customers through word-of-mouth.  There are more people interested in making money off blogging than those who are interested in its greater good and impact on society in general. I am guilty too - I have an adsense account :).

Guess, it is time to finish this post.  Musings on bloggers and blogging.  That is what my blog is about.  Musings!

If you left wondering what was the post about - read the title again - read my post again and you have the answer to my question.

How many more massacres?

My prayers go out to all the victims of the VTech massacre.  It could have happened at any university in the US and the diversity of the victims stands testimony to that. It is a sad event and a reminder that society can never be a better or safe place with guns.

I have always had a fondness and admiration for VTech.  I was admitted to graduate program in Mechanical engineering at VTech in 1999, but chose to pursue other carer options.  VTech, a large public university in a small rural setting - very similar to what Penn State is.  The diversity and the people are similar, and that stirs up intense emotions of camaraderie fin me. 

In a country with strict gun control, a depressed loner immigrant student without guns could have done little but harm himself.  However, 2 days ago, a person with a similar profile managed to design the worst carnage in modern US history.  The media, lead by CNN, is focused more on figuring out the troubled man's past, while conveniently missing the broader perspective, that of gun control.  To some degree, it can be argued that the victims' families need to know why this massacre happened.  However can that be achieved through media focus on Cho's unknown almost dull past? What does one get by probing the mind of a mass murderer ? A new FBI case study? Does it help in preventing other such crimes? It is almost impossible to characterize mass murderers. Every instance there is a new character with a new agenda. Sometimes none. Sometimes confused. Sometimes derelict.

The sooner everyone understands that such crimes could have been prevented by tougher gun control laws the better.  As a society we have to give up some things to gain some things.  We have to give up our right to own guns to keep our kids and families safe.  there are more instances when people with guns have ended up killing innocent people than there are instances of self-defense, the logical purpose of owning guns by civilians.

How many more school massacres are required? How many more innocent kids have to die, before we realize that we have failed as a society?  How many more?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thinkfree, OpenOffice, Google Spreadsheets, Sparc and Dekoh

I have been an active user of OpenOffice for quite some time now.  I use it often not because I am in love with its functionality but because of principle :).  MSOffice is just too expensive and when there is an alternative that offers me almost all the functionality of Office, why shouldn't I switch?  Well, the problem is that I am so used to MS Office that I somehow manage with the old version of Office XP for many of my needs.  Moreover, OpenOffice is too heavy on computing requirements and its GUI is not very intuitive. So I am always looking out for more alternatives.

Apart from OpenOffice I have also been an active user of Google's word-processor.  I had fallen in love with its collaborative features and online capabilities.  I feel online collaboration is the future going forward for such applications.  Multiple users can work on the same document and in the academic setting that I exist, that makes a lot of sense.  However, it has limitations on the size of documents and does not include many of the advanced features available on OpenOffice and MC Office.

Yesterday, I got exposed to ThinkFree through the webtop application Sparc.  ThinkFree UI was more closer to MS Office and it seemed to place a lesser burden on my war-lorn laptop than OpenOffice.  Sparc is a self-contained webtop that offers a number of features, and in that sense you can think of it as a desktop emulator. Being one of the early-bird subscribers, I also got subscription to a 50 GB virtual hard drive for a year.  Although the interface works as a stand alone app and takes up system resources, I found the apps very cool and well thought out. 

Pramati's Dekoh (although not in the same category) uses the browser for the UI, thereby reducing the burden on resource requirements. However, the breadth of apps featured on Dekoh are limited compared to what Sparc offers. Although they do not compete on similar features - they are looking for the same customers is my opinion.
The Dekoh UI is very minimalistic in its approach and that is definitely a rarity in Web 2.0 products. Sparc seems kind of fun to use, but its UI seems too cluttery. The calendar app in dekoh did not let me sync with google calendar and kept throwing an error saying my login details were incorrect and/or my internet connection was broken. Dekoh's UI allowed em to go the forums directly and post a query.  They are yet to get back to me.  Sparc provided me a contact from its chat applications that allowed me to send customer support requests to their team directly.  They were pretty quick in getting back with answers.

Well, each has its goods and bads.  I wish Dekoh survives in the long haul.

More as I get used to the products

Monday, April 16, 2007

Network as Computer

Microsoft's rise to world dominance lies in the monumental failure of the "network as a computer" concept. Simply, instead of moving much of the intelligence on to the client (for e.g., desktops that run on a Windows OS), the alternative of keeping much of the intelligence on servers and using less intelligent clients could have been one model. The network model could not really take off as the Internet did not have the necessary heavy plumbing to transfer all that data across the network. However, the bust left us with millions of miles of dark cable that is being leased by firms willing to provide services. Thus, the resurgence of the web based OS.

For whatever it is worth we have desktops that are more intelligent than the computer that managed man's landing on the moon. We love them, live with them and it will be tough to convince us all to move back to an alternative model where the real intelligence is in the network.

Is the network as a computer model better or worse? Well, there seems to be a resurgence in web based OSs at the Web 2.0 conference and I checked out Sparc - a "webtop". I found the interface cool and very engaging. My alma mater Pramati also has a variant that it calls "Dekoh". Other competing OSs include YouOs, Xcerion, Zcubes, and I have an account at Sparc - will write more about it here.