u Notes from the Underground: February 2006

What happens when you put Jesus and Mohammed together?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

You get a rollicking comic strip. The latest one is among the best until now.

Here's the archive. Lot of in-your-face atheism there, so if you are among the mushy types better not visit it.
Here's the pithiest philosophical dialogue on religion ever. This one's great too.

The middle complementing the tail..

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

..Or the post which is just an excuse for patching together links.

Technorati has got out its state of the blogosphere report (hat tip: SophistPundit), with the usual long tail graphs. There's a lot of information there, in case you care about these things. The thing that struck me the most was what the writer calls The Magic Middle.
I want to go a level or two deeper than just thinking about the blogosphere as an A-List and The Long Tail -- for that's far too simplistic, and leaves out some of the most interesting blogs and bloggers out there.

This realm of publishing, which I call "The Magic Middle" of the attention curve, highlights some of the most interesting and influential bloggers and publishers that are often writing about topics that are topical or niche like [mentions a lot of topical blogs]
Well, there's nothing startling about this, except for that most people arent (I think) actively searching for that topical blog which they will love. If you have time, you can try out the technorati blog search sorted by "authority".

I regularly read a couple of topical blogs that are witty, informative and not too restrictive about their domain: Language Log and Marginal Revolution. Language Log's run by a group of linguistics professors from some top universities in the US, and you're sure to enjoy it if you've ever thought WordSpeak in the Hindu was decent. Here are a few representative samples. (Rajat, dont scream. I am just being lazy.) Marginal Revolution, ofcourse, I have linked to previously in a couple of previous posts. Its not quite correct to classify MR as an econ blog, there's all kinds of weird stuff that's posted there. There is a lot of stuff that goes over my head in that blog, but it still makes for great reading.

You might also want to check out TechCrunch, a beautiful looking blog that reviews new webapps (sometimes fancily called "Web 2.0" products). (Wanna know what makes something a Web 2.0 product? Check here) Kerabu is another great blog that looks at the web from an enterpreneur's eyes and is generally full of little wisdoms about what makes products click, UI, open source, the long tail, enterpreneuralism etc etc.

What? Ofcourse I have a job. You thought I was jobless?

Apparently, you can search code

Saturday, February 18, 2006

I didnt know this before, but there exist search engines for finding code that you can reuse. They didnt seem intelligent enough to me, and my being a first time user probably didnt help matters. (I am becoming a bit of a UI buff these days; I noticed that there ought to be checkboxes, rather than radio buttons or drop-down boxes for selecting languages within which to search.) I was trying to find some decent javascript code for doing generic form validations, and it took me a few tries before I could find one to my satisfaction. The problem seems to be that the only things there to be searched are the comments and the code themselves, and there are many ways of writing the same thing. E.g., isInteger(), checkInt(), validateInt(), intCheck() etc etc all do the same thing, and the search engine doesnt know well enough to return them all for the search 'validate form'. Still, I guess you can extract some value out of this by understanding how this usually works.

I got to know about this from a Wired article, that talks about Krugle, a new code searcher thats about to be launched. (Thanks to the SophistPundit)
The new service joins other source-code search engines like Koders and Codefetch, but Krugle intends to differentiate itself by allowing developers to annotate code and documentation, create bookmarks and save collections of search results in a tabbed workspace. Saved workspaces have unique URLs, so developers can send an entire collection of annotated code to a co-worker just by e-mailing a link.

Krugle also contains intelligence to help it parse code and to differentiate programming languages, so a PHP developer could search for a website-registration system written in PHP simply by typing "PHP registration system."

Duh. Intelligence to recognise the language? Even my paleolithic VI can do that.

A PJ for today

Friday, February 17, 2006

Q: James Bond gave only Rs.1.5 to the autowalla despite the meter showing Rs. 4 (It was long ago, when auto fares were in the single digits.) What reason did he give the autowalla?

Heh. To know the answer, select between the quotes with your mouse: "Dhai another day"

It's a bit dated..

..but you might still like this essay by Clay Shirky about how categorization breaks down in the Web. These ideas have been going around since quite some time, but given my current obsession with the long tail , I thought I might just put it up. An excerpt to egg you on:
It comes down ultimately to a question of philosophy. Does the world make sense or do we make sense of the world? If you believe the world makes sense, then anyone who tries to make sense of the world differently than you is presenting you with a situation that needs to be reconciled formally, because if you get it wrong, you're getting it wrong about the real world.

If, on the other hand, you believe that we make sense of the world, if we are, from a bunch of different points of view, applying some kind of sense to the world, then you don't privilege one top level of sense-making over the other. What you do instead is you try to find ways that the individual sense-making can roll up to something which is of value in aggregate, but you do it without an ontological goal. You do it without a goal of explicitly getting to or even closely matching some theoretically perfect view of the world.

These commercialised times.. sigh

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kalpana Sharma writes in the Hindu's leader page article:
.. even as the Sena and the NCP speak of morality and the corrupting influences of Valentine's Day or dance bars, they seem to have no problem with the real corruption of consumerism that has gone out of all control. If proof were needed, one only had to read the newspapers on the day after Republic Day. There were reports of a mini-riot in one part of the city. This was not between Hindus and Muslims, or between Shiv Sainiks and others, or between Dalits and the police. The scuffles were between security guards and thousands of people trying to force their way into a shopping mall that had announced huge discounts to celebrate Republic Day. Who would have imagined that 56 years after becoming a republic, the day would be reduced to a maha-sale.

The other aspect that stares you in the face is the ostensible desire of all these political groups to protect "Indian culture." Each party seems to want to outdo itself to protect some imagined "real" Indian culture when all around us we are being reduced to a culture of uniformity and sameness — a culture of malls, fast food and mass entertainment. Ironically, none of these parties opposes a pattern of modernisation that actively eliminates all other "cultures" that have survived and that differentiate one city from another and within cities, one locality from another.

It is amazing how Kalpana Sharma, while pillorying the Shiv Sena for their moral policing, in the same breath indulges in moralising about how the times are all commercialised. Nothing demonstrates better than this how the Left and the Right, for all their antagonism, share the same pessimism about the world, and for entirely bogus reasons. It is unclear exactly what is wrong with having a maha-sale on the occasion of Republic Day. It is unclear how exactly we are being forced into this culture of "malls, fast food and mass entertainment". When she talks about cultural destruction (which is a true enough phenomenon*), she completely neglects the far bigger raise in cultural production that is occuring with greater globalisation. As people get richer, they can afford to spend more time producing and consuming culture. The rise of the Internet and computer penetration (meagre as it may be) has lead to many more different cultures being born, and many more cultural artifacts (such as blogs, articles, podcasts, movies etc) being produced and consumed. I have a great choice and diversity among TV channels to watch, it is easier than ever for me to find the books I want, there are more avenues for me to know more about Telugu literature, there are quality outlets for listening to classical Indian music all the time, there are more kinds of clothes to wear, greater variety of foods to eat etc etc. And yet, none of this is visible to Kalpana Sharma. All she sees in this is a "uniform culture". What she really sees is a super-culture - ever-hungry to spread whereever it can, fueled by freer markets - that gives people greater choice than ever before as to how they want to lead their lives (that is, assuming the Shiv Sena thugs and the Kalpana Sharmas of the world let them to).

Update: How could I forget to mention The Long Tail, which documents the expanding niche markets in various areas, facilitated by technology and the Internet, the foremost drivers of globalisation? (Also take a look at the Wikipedia article on the long tail)

*Let me quote Tyler Cowen yet again:
As the world becomes more integrated, we lose a lot of dysentery and diarrhea and malaria and women dying in childbirth who don’t have to. There’s a whole list of benefits that we’re all familiar with, and those to me are most important. But in terms of culture, there is a loss. For instance, it’s absolutely true that a lot of languages are dying. There’s a gain because you bring people into a broader language network where they can write for others and they can read things by others. I don’t have a problem with that trade-off, but I don’t want to deny that something is lost. These vanishing languages are rich, and they’re interesting. There’s a net gain, but you can’t just paint a picture of an advance along all fronts. It’s not the reality.