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Saturday, December 29, 2012

The End. (or is it?)

Despair


The September 2010 issue of the Scientific American ran with the cover page 'the end. or is it?'. The edition was full of articles that explored, in the words of Michael Moyer, 'why we are suckers for stories of our own demise'. In his article, he says,
 "The desire to treat terrible events as the harbinger of the end of civilization itself also has roots in another human trait: vanity. We all believe we live in an exceptional time, perhaps even a critical moment in the history of the species. Technology appears to have given us power over the atom, our genomes, the planet—with potentially dire consequences. This attitude may stem from nothing more than our desire to place ourselves at the center of the universe. "

Other articles discuss the various consequences that would result if the human race does end. But I was fascinated by this insight. We want to believe that we are at the core of something special. But why? Why do we have to think that? Moyer answers,
 "Our pattern-seeking brains and desire to be special help explain our fears of the apocalypse. Our fears of the apocalypse may in the end mirror the most fundamental fear of all: fear of our own mortality. "
I hear adults claim that the world was a much better place when they were kids. Its a terrible lie! Just look at how the world was ten or even twenty years ago: There were no mobile phones for instance!, the diseases that we are able to cure now outnumber those we were able to cure twenty years ago, the ease of living has improved rapidly. We have instant access to vast quantities of information because of the internet. Agricultural methods have improved to yield more and better crops.. the list goes on..

Hope


 The strange thing is, most of the above statements would have applied had this essay been written twenty years ago. They will still apply after another twenty years!! Except that 'phones and internet' will be replaced by something new - a new technology(ies).

Conclusion: Every generation has progressed from its predecessors towards a better world. Every generation has added something new and better. In fact, the more modern the generation, the happier it is.( If you doubt this, just try and think of the era when human beings were being traded as slaves. We are lucky to be born now instead of in those times. Or consider all the 'religious' customs that were practiced barely a 100 years ago.. some were just cruel and now are considered  heinous crimes.)

 Still, why do people claim and even believe that we are headed for a cliff? I don't know.
I remember reading somewhere: Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you will grow old and when you do, you'll imagine that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians noble and children listened to their elders!. Its probably some psychological reaction or a story that our brain makes up when we grow old so that we don't feel like we are missing anything when its time for us to depart. (I am no expert on human psychology or for that matter on most things :) ) I may be a hundred percent wrong but that's my best guess  currently.

 One plausible argument for the view that we are headed for a cliff is the climate change and the depletion of fossil fuels and other natural resources. These are problems that we have not encountered before and its quite possible that the changing climate may end our rule on this planet. Just like it ended the Dinosaurs' rule 65 million years ago. 

But I am not too worried about that. Again, to explore whether the fossil fuels will continue taking us where we want to go, scientists studied all the claims made by doomsday prophets and concluded  that our current reserves will last for at least another hundred years. By then I am confident that people will have found an alternative fuel. Hopefully, something that reduces the carbon footprint.

More importantly, we must remember that humans are not governed by natural selection alone! We are now talking about 'personalized medicine'. That is: a drug that is tailored to your needs, your genes. That may take another century to mature or two centuries. Time does not matter. What matters is eventually we will get there. We may even get to grow our organs to replace the ones we have if they wear out by using the stem cells present in the blood that's present in our own umbilical cords.

 The future looks bright to me. The next twenty years will be much better than the present. And two decades after that will be better still. The world is not coming to an end anytime soon. And I personally believe that if such a time does come, the human race will have mastered space travel and we will all be living comfortably on some new planet. A new home. Just forget the crazy notions you have about the end or the future... forget the past too. Live and enjoy the present!. Its the best time in the history of the earth yet!

Wish you a Happy New Year 2013!!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Python Script to Download XKCD webcomics (Code sample)

 I am a fan of XKCD webcomics. I decided to write a python script that will let you download the entire XKCD archive. You are free to use my code to download the comics for yourself. You can run this code periodically by specifying the number of the comic from which you want the download to begin. Just save this code with a .py extension and run it from a command line or a python interpreter. (Your python machine must have httplib2 to run this. Else you will have to download it from here. Enjoy!)

CODE:





import httplib2

import os



h = httplib2.Http('.cache')

html = "<html><head></head><body><div id=\"comic\">"
end_html = "</div></body></html>"
i = raw_input("Enter the comic number from which you want the download to begin:")
i = int(i)
if (i < 1):
i = 1

if not os.path.exists("xkcd_archive"):
os.makedirs("xkcd_archive")

if not os.path.exists("xkcd_archive/images"):
os.makedirs("xkcd_archive/images")

while True:
url = "http://www.xkcd.com/"
url = url + str(i)
response, content = h.request(url)
if response.status == 404:
  break;
index   = content.find("<div id=\"comic\"",0)
src = content.find('src=',index)
end_src = content.find('title',src)
comic = content[index : index + 1000]
start_index = comic.find('alt=')
end_index = comic.find('/>',start_index)
alt = comic[start_index + 5 : end_index - 2]
img_body =  "<h2> " + alt + "</h2>" +"<img " + "src =\"images/" + alt  + ".jpg\""

caption = comic[comic.find("title",0):comic.find('alt',0)]
image_url = content[src + 5:end_src]
content = html + img_body + caption + " />" + end_html
print "Downloading " + str(i) + "th comic --> " + alt,"\n"
content = bytes(content)
with open('xkcd_archive/' + alt + '.html','wb') as f:
    f.write(content)
print "\n"
i += 1
image_url = image_url[0:-5] + "jpg"
response, image = h.request(image_url,headers = {'type' : 'text/html'})
print response
print "\n",image_url
if response.status != 200:
image_url = image_url.replace(".jpg",".png")
print image_url,"\n"
response, image = h.request(image_url,headers = {'type' : 'text/html'})
print "png" + "\n"
print response
with open("xkcd_archive/images/" + alt + ".png", 'wb') as I:
   I.write(image)
with open("xkcd_archive/" + alt + ".html",'r+') as f:
   contents = f.read()
   contents = str(contents)
   temp = contents.find(".jpg")
   contents = contents[:temp] + ".png" + contents[temp+4:]
   print contents
   f.seek(0)
   f.write(contents)
   f.close()
else:
with open("xkcd_archive/images/" + alt + ".jpg", 'wb') as I:
   I.write(image)




   



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Princess and the Frog - (Short Story)

Once upon a time there lived a prince named Nemo. He was a very handsome and generous prince.(His facebook profile picture had over a thousand 'likes'). The people of his kingdom loved him. He was raised in a luxurious castle with his every whim fulfilled. As he grew up, he remained as generous as ever (though he would never part with his ipad). He liked to go hunting on his horse often (and not just in The Age of Empires). He was a fine young man and was looking forward to succeeding his father as king. (He still had to beat his father at Mafia wars before he could become king.)

An evil witch lived in the jungle. She was very beautiful but also very evil.(She had evaded tax and had served two terms in prison for embezzlement of funds when she had worked for the king).
She was feared by the people of the kingdom and when her antics became too twisted and dark (hacking into paypal accounts, spamming the news feeds of people), news of her reached the palace. The King sent Nemo to hunt down the witch. 

Nemo went to the jungle along with his trusted soldiers (not just the ones he had in Call of Duty. real soldiers.). The witch was soon found. She cast strange spells that made the soldiers sleepy (An FBI enquiry later revealed that it was mainly induced by their diet. The witch had no such power). Nemo evaded her spells and took out his sword.  She drew her sword and they began to duel. The duel lasted for hours. Both were equally skilled at warfare (They had played Mortal Combat online under aliases in the past). The witch was cunning. She cast a spell on Nemo that made his muscles brittle. But before his muscled stiffened, he plunged the sword into the witch's stomach. The witch let out a shriek and all her spells broke (BOFH excuse #24: Tachyon emissions caused the system overload). Before dying she cursed him, "You shall turn into an ugly frog and lose all your beauty!"

Hearing this, the prince was alarmed and begged her to undo the curse. She laughed wickedly and said, "Sure, I will undo the curse. You will become a handsome young prince if any fair princess in the world kisses you. If such a thing does happen, you both will live happily ever after as a couple.(And get featured on    AFV).  I don't think there is much chance of that. Do you?" She mocked him and breathed her last.

The soldiers who had fallen under her spell began to wake up. Once they were fully conscious, they saw the witch's dead body and concluded that Nemo must have defeated and killed her. But the prince was nowhere to be found. They searched till dusk and returned to the palace with the news that the prince had gone missing. They even searched for him  on Google and were greeted with "Your search - prince Nemo - did not match any documents.)

The king sent out search parties to find Nemo.(They even used Yahoo! and Bing).The soldiers searched for him everywhere. No trace of his was ever found. Not even his digital fingerprint.(His twitter account was suspended sometime later). The king went into a severe depression and handed over the kingdom to his nephew. He spent the last of his days mourning the loss of his prince.

Meanwhile, the frog jumped from one pond to another. It thought, "The only way that a princess can kiss me is if I am near to her in the first place." The frog hopped and hopped till it reached the neighboring kingdom.
There it met an other frog which showed it the way to sneak into the palace through the firewall. Once our frog reached the palace, it needed a place to stay. It took shelter in the fountain that was in the princess' private lawn. The princess' chamber opened directly into the lawn. It waited for its chance.

One day, when the princess was walking alone a midst the plants, the frog hopped onto the rim of the fountain and spoke her name aloud. The princess was taken aback. (At first she thought it was some crazy stalker who had made his way into the lawn). Then, she leaned forward towards the frog. It said her name aloud again.

The beautiful princess was mesmerized by the talking frog. She asked it it's tale. Once the frog revealed what it really was, she was even more surprised. When it told her about the curse and that it would once again be a handsome prince if the lady kissed it, she wondered if it was trying to make out with her using false pretenses.

She asked a question to her followers on facebook if she should kiss the frog. The overwhelming majority of her friends and subscribers answered 'yes'. Others said 'no' and there were a few people who voted 'can't say' and there were a few who thought it was a joke and answered 'LOL'. She decided to go with the facebook poll on this situation and agreed to kiss the frog. But her father was a conservative and forbade her. She was a teenager. So she was determined to kiss the frog now that her parents disapproved.

One evening, when she was alone in the palace, she went to the fountain and called out, "Nemo. Come out. I want to kiss you.". Upon hearing this, Nemo leapt out of the water and dropped the food he was eating. He rinsed his mouth with the fountain's water and eagerly held out his face. The princess said, "No tongue."
Nemo reluctantly agreed. They kissed deeply.

And the curse was lifted. Nemo became a handsome young prince again. And Nemo and the princess got married after dating for a year. The prince and the princess then became king and queen and  they lived happily ever after in their little pond by the river. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Humor in Software

After coding for around 5 hours straight, the other day I clicked on the small little applet called
Wanda on my gnome desktop. Now, wanda is a  little program actually that chooses pseudo-random text from various databases. It was originally intended to diffuse project tensions when hackers used to work on unix command line. [Or at least that's what I read about it when I googled it anyway :) ].  Every time you  click on that small animated fish, it responds with something funny, a nice quotation, a proverb or something similar. It doesn't serve any purpose. It is not needed for the Linux OS and certainly doesn't relate to what I work on in any  way whatsoever. But I still think of it as one hell of a feature. In fact, when I have to program anything that's not OS specific, I almost always choose to do it on Linux. All because of the rhythmbox music player which you can "close" entirely from your view [unlike itunes on windows where you can use it in "mini-mode" but not entirely "close" it] and Wanda the Fish. iTunes is great  but i prefer rhythmbox simply because it doesn't stop playing music when i close it.

So when I clicked it the other day, it responded with this particular text :

Hack placidly amidst the noisy printers and remember what prizes there
may be in Science.  As fast as possible get a good terminal on a good system.
Enter your data clearly but always encrypt your results.  And listen to others,
even the dull and ignorant, for they may be your customers.  Avoid loud and
aggressive persons, for they are sales reps.
If you compare your outputs with those of others, you may be surprised,
for always there will be greater and lesser numbers than you have crunched.
Keep others interested in your career, and try not to fumble; it can be a real
hassle and could change your fortunes in time.
Exercise system control in your experiments, for the world is full of
bugs.  But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive
for linearity and everywhere papers are full of approximations.  Strive for
proportionality.  Especially, do not faint when it occurs.  Neither be cyclical
about results; for in the face of all data analysis it is sure to be noticed.
Take with a grain of salt the anomalous data points.  Gracefully pass
them on to the youth at the next desk.  Nurture some mutual funds to shield
you in times of sudden layoffs.  But do not distress yourself with imaginings
-- the real bugs are enough to screw you badly.  Murphy's Law runs the
Universe -- and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt <Curl>B*n dS = 0.
Therefore, grab for a piece of the pie, with whatever proposals you
can conceive of to try.  With all the crashed disks, skewed data, and broken
line printers, you can still have a beautiful secretary.  Be linear.  Strive
to stay employed.
-- Technolorata, "Analog"
The thing I was working was actually stuff I had to submit and I had put it off  till the deadline. Therefore, when the time came, I had barely finished half of the project and was pretty worried and trying to do everything as fast as possible. I was very tense as well.  After reading what Wanda said, I relaxed a bit and slowed down a little. I got it done eventually.

This situation reminded me of  an article David Pogue wrote for Scientific American  once. It talks about how humor used to be embedded in software and delighted users in the most unexpected ways. Nowadays, all you see are "serious industrial strength applications". The name itself sounds so mundane. Google does it still with their doodles. but it is an exception.  In reality most "industrial strength applications" have little or no room for humor or innovation for that matter. Paul Graham once said that "If you are suffering from Insomnia try reading the literature on relational databases. I have no doubt that the top gaming companies in the world are engaged in more intellectually stimulating research than bottom ten universities."

I like products that are lively. I presume others like it too.  A great way to make software livelier is by adding a sense of humor to your software. In fact, it may be all that's needed for users to switch to your software rather than a rival's.  (I am not saying this is strictly true, but it may just raise the odds in your favour when all other features are similar. ) After all, everyone in today's busy world could use a laugh once in a while and it will be doubly entertaining when a machine makes a joke.



Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Gambler (Short story- fiction)

When Sir Charles inherited the estate from his grandfather, he was twenty three years old. He had just completed his education and was regarded by all as a fine young man. The fact that he was still unmarried didn't hurt either. Many a woman had tried to entice him and had failed.

When the Sepoy mutiny threatened England's rule, he enlisted in the army and was sent off to India.
He fought valiantly and rose through the ranks eventually becoming a colonel. He returned to London after two years with many medals adorning his uniform and became popular as a war hero. He looked forward to a quiet life and settled comfortably into his ancestral home. He lead the typical life of  a peer. His estate bestowed on him an enormous income and he prospered. When he turned twenty-eight, he married Victoria, the daughter of Lord William. Lord William was a famous gambler. He had made more from the casinos than his ancestors had made at the seas generations before him. Since his ancestors had shared the wealth with the Queen, they had become Lords.

Victoria was a lovely maiden who was three years younger than Charles. She was as graceful as a queen and looked magnificent in a white robe on the day of her wedding. She was educated and intelligent. And all those who were present at the wedding exclaimed how perfect Charles and Victoria were for each other.After their month-long honeymoon, the happy couple returned to Charles's estate and lived peacefully. They had everything they wanted and it looked as though nothing but many years of happiness lay ahead of them.

 A year later, Lord William expressed a desire to visit Sir Charles. Lord William had been away for a year to attend to some of his affairs abroad and he had just returned to England. He wished to see his daughter and son-in-law. Accommodations were made for his stay and three days later, Lord William was at the entrance of the Stony Mansion.The visit went pleasantly. His daughter was happy and his son-in-law was a devoted husband. On the third day,  Sir Charles and Lord William were sitting in the courtyard drinking a bottle of port, talking about this and that. Suddenly Charles asked,

 "how come you win at the casinos all the time? I have heard you never lose. Is there a trick?" 

Lord William gave him a gentle smile and his eyes were twinkling. 
"There is no trick my boy. I just play like anybody else. Luck has been kind to me. I have lost many times but people do not notice your losses if your profits are high enough and that is what has happened to me."
Charles did not pursue the matter and they spent the rest of the evening talking about wines.

That night, Charles lay awake in bed thinking  of schemes that could give one an unfair advantage over other gamblers. All the schemes that occurred to him were transparent and he could not think of any satisfactory scheme that could fool people all the time. He did not believe his father-in-law. he was certain that no man could be that lucky. He knew that one evening, Lord William had made around four million pounds in one of the richest and largest casinos in England. A casino that was so exclusive that you had to be invited there to play.

He resolved to find out the old man's secret and use it. The best way to learn the trick would be to observe Lord Williams. He would observe and learn. He could not directly gamble against his father-in-law so he conceived an elaborate plan. he would disguise himself as an oil merchant and visit the casinos Lord William frequented. He would always observe and learn from the master gambler. He was confident that if he observed enough, he could learn what the old man had up his sleeve.

Sir Charles was rich. But the rich have a need to possess more. To become richer. They are afraid that they might end up with nothing one day. So they try to insure against any such possibility by acquiring more. Charles was irritated that Lord William had not shared his secret. After all, Victoria was his only daughter and would it not benefit her if her husband made money gambling?

 Three months passed before Sir Charles was ready to hit the casinos. He familiarized himself with all  the rules, the etiquette, the system and learnt to play all the games which Lord William played.
When he entered the casino the next evening, Lord William was already playing poker. Charles was delighted and he observed him closely. Lord William lost two games and two hundred and fifty thousand. Charles was disappointed.

When Lord William moved on to play blackjack, Charles was able to secure a seat at the table and was watching him, fully alert. Never in his life had he been so alert. not even when he had gone to hunt tigers in the Indian jungles. With every nerve in his body observing Lord William, he began to play against the master. When Lord William left the casino that evening. He had made roughly half-a-million pounds. half of which was Charles' money. Charles did not mind losing. He considered his losses as nothing more than a fee that must be paid to learn from the very best.

But after two months, he still didn't have a clue what was happening. He sensed a pattern though. Whenever Lord William gambled, he would lose money as well as win. But somehow when he finished, he would have made up for his losses and he would have a small profit.

When gambling became an obsession with Sir Charles, Victoria sensed that something was wrong. her husband was not his usual cheery self and had changed in his manner. he always was in deep thought and was irritated whenever he was disturbed. He had started spending a lot of time alone in his study, brooding over something. When she asked him about the matter, he simply said, "Darling I am perfectly fine. Don't worry about me. There is no problem at all anywhere and no reason for concern. I just have a few business plans that need careful consideration. I assure you that once I settle this minor affair, there will be nothing to worry about. I love you deeply Victoria and I have always. I just need a little time  for myself."

Victoria had never been nosy. A rare trait in women. So she let the matter rest. But things were not rosy. When Lord William was not playing, Charles would still play. He had lost millions of pounds and had even borrowed to finance his new vice. He regretted it and tried to stop. But he always ended up  in his usual spot in the casino. When  he mortgaged his estate, he resolved to have one final crack at the puzzle.

He waited and watched Lord William play for two hours and then he finally made his move. he sat opposite and began to play. It was a bad move. He lost his estate. Charles walked home in despair that night and couldn't face anybody for three days. His wife grew very concerned. His health started deteriorating. And he vowed never to gamble again. He begged God for a second chance.

A month later, Lord William died of a heart attack. He named his son-in-law the sole heir to his enormous fortune. Also enclosed was a letter that only Charles was authorized to open. Sir Charles grieved the death of Lord William but thanked God for giving him his second chance. His health improved. He would never waste money again. After the funeral, he paid off the debts and mortgages. Throughout this time, nobody had known anything at all about his vice. His wife was clueless and  he was enormously relieved. he would be ashamed if Victoria ever learnt that he had borrowed money to gamble.
He opened the letter his father-in-law had left him and began to read:
Dear Charles,
    I have left everything to you. Consider it returns on your investment. Yes, I knew you were playing against me. Did you think I wouldn't recognize my own daughter's husband? Anyway, all's well that end's well. I really have no trick or secret. I was merely lucky. and if there is one thing I can tell you about gambling. It's this: Don't do it. It will rob you of your wealth. If it didn't, then there would be no casinos in existence today. Also, I have a tip for you: if you don't see a sucker at the poker table, leave quickly. You're the sucker.
With best wishes
Lord William

An enormous feeling of delight, satisfaction and relief surged through Charles. He felt overjoyed. Nothing had been lost. His father in law had saved the day, his family's name and honour and above all, Victoria's happiness. When he woke up next morning, Victoria was standing over him with a breakfast tray.
"I have something to tell you. I thought you might want to have breakfast in bed. It's been a long time since you have done that."
"Darling, I am so happy for us. You are the most wonderful woman I have ever met."
"I'm pregnant."
Charles nearly dropped his tray as he tried to set it down on the nightstand. He gave a joyous shriek and took Victoria in his arms. He hugged her tightly. She smiled and kissed him gently.

It looked as though nothing but many years of happiness lay ahead of them.
















Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Mistress (Short-story- fiction)

It was just after five o clock. Arthur finally relaxed. It had been a long and grueling day. He loosened his tie and sighed before collapsing on his plush chair. Despite his weariness, he felt elated. The takeover had been a success. His bank now would be the largest in the city if not in the state, and he would make millions. His shares would fetch him a fortune when the rest of the city learnt about the takeover. With these thoughts in mind, he gazed out of his window savoring the moment.  His phone rang. It was Carla. "Hello Honey!", he said in a joyous voice.
 "Hello Darling, are you gonna stop by later?"
  "I promised I'd take Michele to dinner sweetheart. I'm afraid I cannot. I'll take you away this weekend.     I promise"
  Carla sighed. Arthur felt uncomfortable. To hell with it! he thought.
  " I will stop by on my way. I'm coming.", He said.
  "I will be waiting", Carla purred like a satisfied cat.
New plans for the evening. He thought. He got up, left the office, hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take him to 21st and third.
Arthur was a successful banker. He had also been a devoted husband and had never laid his eyes upon another woman after marrying Michele. That was until six months ago. Six months ago, he had met Carla at a party thrown by one of his banker friends. Though he had come to the party with his wife, his eyes kept searching for Carla. That night, he had felt really uncomfortable and was full of guile. He loved his wife. She had borne him two children. She was everything he had always  wanted. But lately, his marriage was not going that well. He had started spending more time at the bank and had paid little attention to her. His wife failed to show any enthusiasm as his successes grew. It irritated him. When they slept together at night, they just slept.  She still waited for him to come home every night before she had dinner, but the dinners usually were silent and neither of them spoke as much as they used to.
Also, his wife was nearly forty and had lost her looks. Arthur himself was forty-two. But he had remained in shape by exercising regularly and he looked no older than thirty-five. Carla was twenty-seven. She was a beauty. Her long brunette hair was shiny and soft. Her rainbow eye-brows, perfectly shaped nose and thin lips would always turn heads. Her body was slim and perfectly proportioned. In short, she was the ideal mistress for any successful guy going through a bad marriage.

Arthur paid the fare and got out of the taxi. He climbed the stairs and rang Carla's doorbell.
She answered it at once. He walked into her apartment and told her about his day at the bank over a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Carla was wearing a black negligee and looked gorgeous. He devoured her with his eyes. She didn't miss it. After spending an hour with her doing things steamier than the hot chocolate, he got ready to leave. "We'll go away for the weekend darling. I promise. But I must get back now. Also, I have a surprise for you!"
"Oh Arthur! I love you!", She said and kissed him on the lips.
When he finally reached home, his wife was waiting impatiently and he apologized nervously. "Those damned lawyers would not let me go! They kept going over every single line and I really couldn't leave. I'll make it up to you!"

He showered and dressed quickly. Around eight, they went to the Brundage's and the maitre de' showed them to their table. The evening passed amiably. His wife didn't seem to mind his delay and Arthur was just glad that she didn't ask him too many questions. After talking about the bank and the takeover, he had nothing left to say. Michele talked about getting some new furniture, re-modeling the drawing room and other trivia. He pretended to listen. When they were leaving, he took her to a jewelry store and bought her a magnificent string of pearls. Michele was genuinely surprised but very pleased and kissed him on the cheek and hugged him.

When the weekend came, Michele told him that she would go and visit her mother in Florida. He was delighted but said faking utmost sincerity, "I was hoping you'd join me for a trip to Vermont. I have a lot of meetings to attend there but I thought we could have a little time for ourselves."
"I'm sorry Arthur. I already told mother I'd come and she'll be expecting me."
"We'll go on a long vacation next month my darling. I have it all planned out. I'm taking you to Lausanne and We'll spend a month there."
She smiled and kissed him. "Take care."
"You too".
Once she had left, he dressed and asked Carla to meet him at the airport. In precisely one hour, they were on a plane to Vermont. After they had checked into the hotel under false names, they spent the rest of the day in bed but neither of them slept. The next morning, Arthur went to his bank's branch and got some paperwork out of the way. He returned to their suite around mid-day and they spent the rest of the weekend dining out, partying, skiing and taking long walks. Arthur felt like a teenager when he was with Carla.

When he returned home on Monday, he went straight to the bank. The takeover had made him a multimillionaire and though he had always been well-to-do, he began to think of himself as "rich" for the first time. The day passed as usual and he answered all the congratulatory letters he had received over the weekend feeling happy and buoyant. He even bought flowers to his wife while going home. When he arrived at the gate, Michele was waiting for him. He handed her the flowers and she took them brusquely. She didn't smile or in fact make any gesture of acknowledgement. He started rambling about how good the day had been and of the important position his bank was now in. She lead him directly to the living room and sat down on the sofa. She looked at him like a cop looking at a suspect.
"Arthur, sit down. I have something I must ask you."
He felt dread when he heard those words. He slowly sat down and was unable to meet her eyes. Thoughts were racing through his mind. had she found out about his mistress? what would he do now? Or was it something else she wanted to ask him?. He felt like a young school boy caught in 
wrong-doing and waiting outside the Principal's office. All his exuberance had vanished.
"How long have you and Carla been sleeping together?"
He felt as if someone had punched him in the face. He tried to breathe and relax, but his heart was pounding and he began to  sweat. For several moments, he could not speak. He took out his handkerchief with a shaking hand and wiped the sweat off his brow. She knew. How did she know? he had been careful. He had missed something. It was all over. He decided that the best thing to do would be to tell her everything and beg her to forgive him.
"Six months", He whispered and covered his face in his hands.
He told her the whole story. And when he had finished he begged her to forgive him.Michele did not speak at first. She considered him for a moment and then said acidly,
" I am afraid this marriage is over Arthur" and left without a word.
A month and a half later, Arthur and Michele were divorced. Arthur's guilty conscience had gnawed at his soul and he had given away millions of dollars to her as compensation and alimony. It still did not bring him peace. Michele moved to Florida and settled there permanently.

On a lovely sunday afternoon, Carla showed up at Michele's new summer home. She was taken directly to Michele by the butler. The butler left quickly. Michele took out her checkbook and wrote out a sum of ten million dollars to Carla and silently handed it to her. Carla accepted it without a word and carefully placed it inside her purse. Michele then poured Carla a drink.
Michele said," I could never have done it without you. Cheers."
"Cheers."








Friday, July 20, 2012

Rowling and Roald

Three days back, I walked into the bookstore to buy Puzo's Fools die. As I was searching for his novel, a book with a suggestive cover caught my eye. Naturally, I took it and looked at the title. it was Roald Dahl's My Uncle Oswald. I read the reviews and quickly realized that the book was about Henry Oswald- The expert on Chinese porcelain, astonishingly wealthy and the greatest womanizer of all time.  My friend had mentioned something about this book once and I had always wanted to read it.(I had already read Oswald's story Switch Bitch.)

                                   I started reading it in the store and after twenty minutes, a guy came up to me and told me that reading novels inside the store was not allowed. I had read just over fifteen pages and was hooked. I closed the book and put it back on the shelf and finally found Puzo's novel and headed towards billing. When I had almost reached the end of the queue, I turned back. I put the Puzo's book back on the shelf, headed over to the short stories section and took Uncle Oswald off the shelf, paid for it and went home to read.

                                 I have never laughed so much while reading! The book was absolutely hilarious!! I managed to finish it off in four hours and at the end, I could not believe the twist in the tale. This was not my first encounter with Dahl's work and I always try to anticipate the twist in the story while reading his stuff because I had read several stories of his and most of them ended with a surprising twist in the tale. Like all my previous attempts, I failed this time as well. But I was laughing so hard that my ribs hurt. 

                                 I love Roald Dahl's short stories. In my opinion, writing a short story is harder than writing a novel because you must say all you have to say in three or four pages and that's quite a task. I used to read his stories for children when I was younger (often when pretending to read my textbooks :)  I found out relatively recently that he also wrote for adults.) Wikipedia has an article outlining the general plot of My Uncle Oswald. Check it out.  I think it would be a good idea to put those "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content" labels on these books. That way, more people  will buy them. Forbidden fruit is always the tastiest.

                              Now that the Harry Potter series has finally ended, Rowling has unveiled her plans to write for adults. I am as enthusiastic and eager to devour her novel when it hits the stores as anybody. If Rowling's new "adult" book is half-as-good as Dahl's books, I'll get my money's worth. (I am convinced it definitely will be at least as good as Dahl's. But that's my private opinion.) Well, we will just have to wait and find out!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why Google earns more from its ads

                     Google earns most of its revenue from online advertising. Despite the rise of Facebook, Linkedin, Quora, and a plethora of other websites and social networks, it's place in online advertising has remained unchallenged. Claims of Facebook being "the next Google" have been around for a while. But I seriously doubt whether those claims will come true in near future.

                   The investors' reaction to the highly anticipated Facebook IPO illustrates that many investors still feel that Facebook is a risky bet. They wonder if the company really matches the hype it generated. The closing stock price was $38.23, up just 0.61 from its starting price.
                   
                   So why does Google earn more compared to its rivals? Well, because, in the online world, the relevance of the ads matters. People use Facebook to connect with friends and family. They use Linkedin for developing professional contacts, but users do not visit any of the social networking sites to obtain information.

                   When you are looking for something, you still go to Google. And that's when you pay attention to advertisements that appear along with the search results. In contrast, you rarely notice the ads Facebook places on its site. This is partly due to the fact that engineers and graphic designers try to be discreet when displaying ads. But Facebook has become a bit too discreet in that regard. Also, in a social setting, where there are people to talk to and you are reading the updates of your friends, chances are remote of you following an ad.

                   The new move by Google to integrate all the data from its services to build a profile of its users is a master stroke. It leads to personalized ads. While this move has been a troubling one and Google has faced a lot of flak over this new policy, especially from privacy advocates, when it's seen through a financial lens, the move makes perfect sense. Online advertising is a great source of revenue only if people see and follow your ads. Otherwise, it's a loss.
 
                   Does this mean that Facebook cannot beat Google? It's hard to say. Especially because both companies are constantly innovating and finding new ways to retain users longer. Google's browser Chrome now is second only to IE and I expect it will become first soon. The Chrome web browser also leads users to the Google's site- Yet another example of how Google ensures that users visit its site.
 
   So, while Facebook has a huge potential with its treasure trove of data, Google still retains it's edge when it comes to ads. There is still a substantial way to go before Facebook can become "The next Google".


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pragmatic Programming can beat Vendor Lock in.


Programming is a tough job. Part of what makes it tough is the fact that programmers make other programmers depend on them. It's all  part of survival. Disruptive technologies emerge more often in software than in any other kind of industry. Back in 1996 and 1997, the first website people would visit when they opened their browsers was Yahoo!. Later Google came into prominence and captured the top spot. It remained there for many years. Now, that position is becoming precarious and facebook has emerged as a serious competitor to Google. Today, several websites are vying for the top spot. Youtube, twitter, Linkedin, MySpace, flickr, and so many more.

 We have only been looking at how the web has changed so far. But the story continues beyond that. Adobe's pdf documents are fast becoming commonplace. Google chrome is eating into the market owned by IE, Object relational and Object oriented databases are a looming threat to companies that sell databases that still follow the relational model.

So how does a company ensure that it will stay afloat even though it's rivals make better products? The answer lies in economics: Vendor Lockin. It is a terrible thing. The software vendors create specialised sections of code or incorporate unresolvable compatibility issues into their software so that it will be extremely hard to switch from one service provider to another. The switching costs for software systems will be so high for some systems, that even if the company wants to switch, it will not be ready to pay that huge a sum. Also, there is an increased risk while switching: the new software may require additional training and processes, special skills and so on.. All these factors prevent companies from becoming better.

Now, from the point of view of the programmer, what's vendor lockin? Simple: you use any special feature provided by your environment and your system will become dependent on that environment. Microsoft does it. Google does it and Apple has been doing it and a lot of other companies want to get in on it. They want to lock people in. They want to make their platform dominant. They do not want to lose out to a rival simply because the rival's product is better.
 Standardization is one remedy to the problem. But then, everyone adds their own extensions to the standards and they will be so different that vendor lockin inevitably results leading to a dependence on the provider's platform and ensuring that the provider continues to make money even if his product is lousy. Pragmatic programming is the way to go against this prison. Using open-source libraries and creating scalable and re-usable code that depends as little as possible on the host's system (if at all), and following the principle of separating the logic clearly from the implementation details can considerably reduce the penalties while switching. Programmers need to use all their skills to make the system as cross compatible, upward compatible and "switchable" to ensure they don't get trapped by the vendors.
Serious programmers always think in terms of re-use. They are the laziest people on the planet and want to put in as little effort as possible. Being lazy this way makes them efficient. So the next time you import that library, make sure it's not proprietary and if it is, look for a similar open-source alternative. In the worst case, at least make sure that it is available everywhere. After all, you don't want someone else to control your work.