ramblings of an aimless mind

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Archive for February 2008

The web at home.

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My first broadband was delivered via cable and was one of those where we could connect only one device to the cable modem. Subsequent ISPs however went down the wireless modem route, allowing me to connect multiple device to the net using ethernet as well as WiFi and the presence of a home network allowed me to do some interesting things which I decided to talk about.

I currently have a home network consisting of a laptop running windows XP professional, a desktop running Ubuntu 7.10 and a Sony Ericsson P990i smartphone running…well…symbian. The phone hasn’t really caught up with the others yet, but the two computers are dancing away like professional ballerinas. Things between them are so smooth and precise that it would not be outrageous to say they have literally become one computer, with desktops shared between the two, drives accessible and audio and video streaming all over the network. The fact that I could do all this so easily and with such a minimal cost made me think of the plethora of opportunities this brings up for the average home user.

As my computers are setup to share desktops remotely, I routinely work on my laptop in front of my TV running programs and accessing files on my desktop sitting in a completely different room. Gone are the days of having to decide between watching that great movie or doing those urgent computer repairs, now I can just do both. This also makes me think that maybe I don’t need a second monitor and input devices for the desktop once the OS is installed. I can just use my laptop and remotely control the desktop.

Sharing the drives of one computer on another means that there is no need to maintain two copies of everything because “someday” I may need to work on these files from the other pc. This not only save storage space (though that is not really in short supply nowadays) but I also don’t have to worry about synchronising the changes I made to one file with the copy on the other computer.

So what are the ramifications of this software and networking ability? To understand this, let us sit back and imagine a home of the future.

This futuristic abode will have a “home server”, which would quite simply be a desktop computer with lots of storage, a fast network connection(such as a wired connection straight to the router) and good(need not be phenomenal) processing power. This server will be the central storage and will store the family’s movie collection in digital format, the entire music and photo collection and all the important files that the family needs. It will also have a legitimate copy of Microsoft windows and office to avoid rude surprises when the nosey anti-piracy brigade come over. The server is also connected to the family’s TV set using the provided VGA connector and to the music system with the standard audio output cable.

The members of the family will have a multitude of mobile devices which will be Wifi enabled(duhhhh!!!) and be able to access the central storage on the server without breaking a sweat. The mobile devices do not have to be the bleeding edge of technology and even older laptops and desktops with not-so-great specs will work wonderfully. A second advantage is that all these devices can run open source software to keep the family on the right side of the law and some money in their wallets. Music can then be played on the music system directly or on any one of the mobile devices by streaming it. If there are enough mobile devices then each member of the family can watch a separate movie sitting in the same room at the same time, though the person with the TV will have a much better movie experience. Alternatively, one person can get some work done while the others simultaneously watch movies or listen to music, the enabling potential of the network is simply phenomenal!!!

Since the central computer does the job of so many devices rolled into one, plenty of room in the house can be freed for better uses. Why do we need a stack of DVDs/CDs if all the movies and music are stored digitally on a hard drive? While we are at it, we can chuck out the DVD player too. Who knows, with a large enough DVD collection, all this space could mean an extra room in the house 😛

All that I have mentioned above can be done today and it won’t cost a bomb. Computing power and storage are dirt cheap and mobile devices are becoming so pervasive that it is hard to imagine life without them. The only major hurdle is the legal one, which may prevent copying of DVDs to hard disk and ripping of music etc etc. But they will come down and I already see signs of that happening in Apples iTunes store and some companies offering movie downloads as well as DVD rentals.

“The network is the computer” was the truly pioneering statement by the founding fathers of Sun Microsystems, made long before broadband came around. From the world as I know it today, I can only revere the foresight behind this statement and look forward to the exciting times ahead as more and more devices become network enabled and we start to approach the “everything connects to everything” world.

But for now, let me get the phone dancing with the others…

Written by clueso

February 26, 2008 at 1:25 pm

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The story of stuff Part II

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As promised before, here’s my take on the story of stuff video in the last post…

First off, I agree with the video creator(author?) that we are currently suffering from having too much of stuff around. There is so much around, that we have to be coerced into buying things even when we are not in need of it. Thanks to current advertising and attitudes, we are exposed to subtle messages saying that if we do not own an XYZ watch of a blah blah car, we ought to commit hara-kiri from shame and we land up buying new things and getting rid of the old just because thats the way things are done. To recount some personal experiences, one of my father’s colleagues once told me that he bought a new car every three years, without exceptions, and in fact it seemed as if he had a problem with people who did not do so. There was no talk about whether a car still ran fine, or developed some problem that would make it uneconomical to maintain or anything. It was like a deadline, and the job of changing had to be done.

Second example, me in Hyderabad, where I worked for quite a while. A combination of living close to my office, then travelling a lot out of town without knowing if I will coming back to the same apartment or not and a powerful desire not to drive in Hyderabadi traffic had made me put off buying any kind of vehicle. Once when I was chatting with a friend of mine, I was asked why I allowed this “self imposed loserhood” to overcome me. Does the lack of a car or a bike really mean someone is a loser?If a person owns a not so flashy mobile phone, does it mean that they are not successful enough or are they just pragmatic and have their heads screwed on better than the rest of us? Though I like to think otherwise, sometimes I find myself judging other people from their material possessions, which I find somewhat scary because then I wont do too well with other people. 🙂

However much I dislike the way this functions, I cannot deny that they are pretty much the reason that the world is functioning smoothly in todays age. If this vast consumer appetite hadn’t been created it’s hard to imagine what the people who currently work in the factories that feed it would do. Countries like India and China, alone home to about one third of the worlds population, are currently at a stage where their economies are heavily reliant on their manufacturing prowess. If the millions of people who derive their livelihoods from these factories were left unemployed, there would for sure, be big trouble. Unfortunately, human “needs” are simply not enough to employ the current world population of 6 odd billion people and so till things change, I guess this lifestyle is necessary and till then I will be a reluctant supporter of it.

The only “change” that I can see that will be able to reverse this trend is a lowering in population levels, something which is happening already in most of the developed world and should hopefully start to happen soon elsewhere. But the problem is that we should be able to draw a line saying “This level of prosperity is enough”. Every country that has a declining population is moaning about labour shortages which are perilous to economic growth. Until there clear limit to how much the economy should grow, I guess we will need more people, there will be an increase in the population growth drives some countries are launching and the current consumption cycle will probably just continue.

To end on a lighter note, I should confess that I have a vested interest in this lifestyle holding sway over people. Thanks to the “use and throw” culture, I have been able to land up amazing deals on second hand , but almost new, computer components, furniture, books, DVDs and a whole lot of other stuff I would not have spent my money on otherwise. So far there has been absolutely no setbacks from my second hand shopping so I am looking forward to a bright future trawling the second hand market 🙂

Written by clueso

February 21, 2008 at 1:59 pm

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The story of stuff part I

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Thanks to Cubaholicus for a pretty interesting and informative video at


I obviously have views on the matter, but will blog about them later, allowing everyone to watch the video and form their own opinions first 🙂

Written by clueso

February 19, 2008 at 1:23 pm

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The courtesy drive…

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Courtesy makes a large difference in life. It is a fact that I knew before, but now has been hammered into me after spending more than a year working and studying in Europe. I don’t mean to say that European behaviour cannot be faulted, nor do I mean that all Indians are louts, what I do mean is that one is far more likely to encounter a “hello”, a “thank you” or a smile in Europe than in India.

Now for the surprising bit. All Indians I have met in Europe are as courteous as their European counterparts, yet when they get back to the motherland a huge number lapse into the old ways, where they look out for themselves and themselves alone. I find it mighty surprising that despite the temporary change in behaviour, the famed ability of humans to think simply does not grasp that the same values can be applied anywhere in the world and will make life equally pleasurable.

My generation of Indians are an extremely fortunate bunch. In the last 10 years, we have probably earned more than what our parents did in 30. We have probably travelled farther and wider than the last 3 generations put together. It is a time to not go through life like a zombie, but to reflect on what is good about other places and try and assimilate them in our own behaviour. It is the essence of having a “globalised” world.  A lot of people will associate with what I am about to write and therefore I think I will have a good audience.

My proposal is to have a courtesy drive. Which means, we try in our daily lives, to do the following…

1. When buying tickets/getting served at a shop, end the transaction with a “Thank you”. Sometimes the person over the counter will hear you, sometimes they wont, but when they do, I think it will be worth it.

2. SMILE!!!!! so many people seem to go around with a “my life is screwed up” look on their face, that no one feels good finally. Let the world get a glimpse of those pearlies 🙂

3. If someone is close behind when we walk out of a door, hold the door open for them instead of allowing it to swing back into their face.

4. People who have the door held open for them, at least take the door and thank the other person. There are few things more irritating to the other person than them holding the door open and you walking out like a king/queen.

5. Not to act like a smartass who has to beat the lines and get things done out of queue. More importantly not to humour those who do it and then turn up with a smug look thinking they are gifts of God.

6. Keep trash to ourselves or a dustbin. This may not be an obvious form of courtesy, but I think most people would like to see plastic trash free streets. Small bits of trash can easily be carried to the nearest dustbins.

7. Get rid of the “I have to run all the time” attitude. Most of the things we do in our daily lives have enough for everybody, so pushing and shoving up a railway overbridge really does not accomplish anything.

I am sure there are many more that can be added to that list, but the general criteria (as I like to think of it) should be

1. The actions should be highly individual and possible without anyones help.

So something like “chuck out the Thackerays” will not work because you will need the whole host of current followers to cooperate for that.

2. They need to be realistic.

“Cover a puddle of water with your jacket to allow people to walk over” is individual, easily practicable but not realistic (unless you have a hell of a lot of unwanted jackets).

Most of what I have mentioned is easily practicable in India and I say this because I have practiced them, in India, whenever I was there.Also, the reason I am writing this is not to act “holier-than-thou” but because I have concrete examples of people who flout these common courtesies despite being made aware of them, sometimes in a very direct fashion.

A lot of people already do this stuff, which is great. But if you agree with me and know of people who don’t, then spread the word on. Someone may change.

Like any blogger, I would love to hear comments on this post. However, if someone plans to post a “Oh man this is India and here like this only happens” or equally whiney comment, then please dont waste our time. The “chalta hai” attitude is irritating in the least and generally infuriating and I would prefer not to hear comments on those lines. I welcome criticism, so if there is any one who feels this is a bad idea or I am putting it in a blunt manner, train your sights on me and fire away! 🙂

I have firmly come to believe of late that the best mechanism for change is for each individual to look out for their own behaviour and to try and get a good deal for themselves while keeping an eye out for everyone else. Just as in the movie “A beautiful mind” John Nash is said to modify the theory of “The best for the group occurs when every member of the group does what is best for himself” to “The best for the group occurs when every member does whats best for himself and the group” 🙂

Written by clueso

February 17, 2008 at 2:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

How weird is that?

with 3 comments

I have just spent half the morning listening to tamil songs while I did some cooking and waited for a kernel compilation to finish. I pretty much understood nothing, but still enjoyed it…

Thats it, I just felt like telling lots of people and I was already logged into wordpress 🙂

Written by clueso

February 10, 2008 at 1:21 pm

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Since a month ago, i have my first and only PC solely dedicated to linux. It is my playground, a miniature lab where i can blow up things if i want and no one can do shit about it. Its pretty much a culmination of all my linux experiences so far, which have consisted of installing loads of different distributions and then moving the mouse around, too afraid to do anything else as I may be destroying someone else’s important data.

This system currently runs ubuntu 7.10 and so far i have been pretty successful in creating the replacement system for MS windows. This is part of my “legalisation” of the computer systems in my family and i hope to recreate this system on my parents computer as well, thus doing my bit to keep them from catching the latest which is roaming the net(they seem very good at this).

Ubuntu installed without a hitch as most linux distros do nowadays. There was an initial hiccup with my wireless card not working but that was soon sorted out by using ndiswrapper. Todays gnome is also much slicker and prettier than the one we had in the yesteryears and I do not miss the windows GUI at all while I am working with it, which was not the case in a lot of the older linux distros I had test driven. I know that this focus on the UI probably drops me from the “power users” list, but then , I do like a good look and feel 🙂

The best part of the whole system however is the advanced packaging tool (APT) which is used to install/update/remove software. This tool was first introduced by Debian to ease dependency resolution and it was adopted by all distros based on Debian(read Ubuntu). APT works by drawing software from Ubuntu repositories on the web so it is well and truly kissing goodbye to the installation disks, library dependency problems etc which can form part of a usual install. APT can search for the software in the repositories, check what libraries/programs are needed to run it, download the whole stuff, install it and hand over the system with the software perfectly installed and no hitches anywhere. The whole process is pretty much opaque to the user and I simply have no words to describe its ease, though probably “sublime” would be a good one 🙂 Dependency resolution was a pain in Red Hat and Mandrake when I last tried them out (which was a long time ago) and I have heard that these are also moving to an APT-kind of packaging tool, but kudos to the guys at Debian who first came up with the idea AND the implementation.

At the moment, I pretty much have a system that can replace a windows system for the average user. By “average”, I mean a system that can surf the web, send/receive email, RSS feeds, do all the kind of work that gets done in Microsoft office, listen to music and watch movies. Other important domains are photograph management/editing, for which I have ideas of what can be used, though I haven’t tried it out yet. I guess thats quite a capable system for most people, so in case anyone wants to “legalise” their system by adopting linux instead of buying windows software, I would highly recommend Ubuntu 🙂

I am now charting my plans for where I will go next and what i will use my new testbench machine for. Any interesting advances could make for a new post…

Written by clueso

February 10, 2008 at 1:16 pm

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