Thursday, January 08, 2009

Kubuntu, Ubuntu and speeding up my laptop

For the last one month I had been struggling with my laptop. Specifically with its ability to connect to my broadband net connection. Webpages were loading incredibly slowly and initially I figured there must be malware on my laptop, although I doubted that as I am extremely careful with the sites I browse and because I use strong anti-virus detection software. Just to be sure, I scanned my laptop and as per my assumption found nothing. I tried various other things I knew, looking for updates to my wireless card, check for hardware issues using PC Doctor, among other things. No issues.

Finally, I gave up and started using Linux more. I have both Kubuntu and ubuntu loaded through Wubi on my laptop and my hardware works beautifully with both. The wireless card is upto its peak speed and the internet is back again! What more can I say?

Chiru's new policy idea

Andhra has no hope, or so does it seem. I guess I was wrong in hoping that a popular movie star like Chiranjeevi will make a difference in politics. I was always skeptical of movie stars entering politics. However, I had hoped that with Chiranjeevi's entry there would be new competition to the dynastic tendencies of both Congress and TDP. The only fear I had was that Chiranjeevi might surround himself with too many actors - novices in public policy, and cause more harm than good.

Recent news is indicating that this is what is exactly happening. Chiranjeevi announced that if his party came into power, he would launch a new scheme - vandake vantinti saruku. Based on the popular 2 kg rice scheme of TDP, this stupid idea is surely going to lead to Andhra's bankruptcy if not anything. Additionally, it also shows that Chiranjeevi has been no different in terms of adopting a sound approach to managing his campaign.

His entry into politics has only lead to more movie stars taking sides and no real policy stance changes from anyone. All the news media is obsessed with movie stars and how they are campaigning, but no one is focusing on the real problems faced by the state. A new website is showing some promise in this regard. Some of the opinions written on this website are very straightforward and surprisingly the analysis is quite good.

Additionally, I even stopped having any pity for the electorate. They deserve bad governance because they chose to elect useless leaders. Chiranjeevi still has hope. He needs to get his act straight by appointing people with sound credentials to his team and not his brother-in-law and his brother. The biggest problems facing the state cannot be solved by talking about the downtrodden and giving lectures based on movie roles. Those are good to cheer up a crowd to get votes. If these speeches are backed by a sound approach to policy decisions and new ideas about cleaning out corruption and all the real estate mafia that currently exists in the state, there will be some hope for Andhra. Otherwise, Andhra will be another Bihar - except that we will have movie stars instead of Lallu at the helm.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

R: A not so silent revolution

Many people don't know what R is. However, things are changing fast for a simple open source software that has long been known to graduate students in technical programs and PhD students at many universities. R is an open source statistical software program originally developed by academic researchers. It is robust, flexible and more importantly it allows anyone interested in statistical analysis to have access to the latest in computing solutions through a simple user interface. The beauty of R is that it comes packaged with the community's knowledge. Apart from the meticulously maintained email archives, forums and FAQs a user can download and use thousands of "packages" or routines that have been written by the community.

There is a package for every possible statistical scenario that even a sophisticated user might need. If the problem is too specific then one can either program the solution from scratch or use one of the existing packages as the starting point to build a new solution. The beauty of open source allows for these modifications. Additionally, majority of the packages come with detailed user manuals as well. This article on NYT reports on the ubiquitous presence of R in organizations such as Google. A majority of technically savvy engineers and programmers have been trained on R. Graduate course work in many universities uses R as a programming tool for every conceivable task. This has helped spawn a new generation of programmers who are beginning to use R as a tool at firm like Google which needs to sift through trillions of bits of data. Sophisticated models can then be used to analyze such data for generating BI.

Increasingly, firms will face an overload of information and merely collecting and storing data cannot bestow competitive advantages. Large firms are at an advantage because they will have the resources to buy and use proprietary software tools that will allow them to analyze massive amounts of information and hopefully generate BI. However, there will be millions of small and medium sized firms that will not have such a luxury. Tools such as R will allow them to do so.