Sunday, November 25, 2007

CS GSA Website

Started using PHP for developing the CS GSA website. It was quite a bit of fun actually. I also managed to make a template in blogger that would be consistent with the rest of the site. Hopefully, it will all be worth the effort.
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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cut-Outs, Caste And Cine Stars

The book by Vaasanthi, takes a look at the "Dravidian" politics in Tamil Nadu starting from the beginning, right from EVR, until the DMK sweep in 2004.

Although the politics in Tamil Nadu, by itself, makes for an interesting discussion, the subject really is a bit complex to bring out in paper. I think the book succeeds in bringing out the "psyche" of the "tamil" people which may be completely baffling for a stranger, considering the fact that the politics in Tamil Nadu is riddled with paradoxes and controversies (sample this: how can you explain millions of people accepting a Karnataka born brahmin woman, or, for that matter a Sri-Lankan born Malayalee as the head of a party whose ideologies stand for "anti-brahminism" and "Tamil-ness"?)

The author tries to keep things simple by maintaining a non-conversational tone throughout the book. She tries to present facts rather than take a stand which works to the favor of the book.

However, I do have a few reservations about the book. I would have preferred a more chronological approach rather than the back-again, forward-again, time traveling that happens a lot which is confusing in several places. Also, even though the book tries hard to remain neutral, a slight pro-Karunanidhi, or rather, an anti-Jayalathitha vibe comes out at the end, thanks mainly to the several personal quotes of Karunanidhi that are reproduced, through which he tries to justify himself.

The author is an ex-editor of the tamil edition of "India today" and that not only adds her a lot of credibility but also seems to have helped her in getting most of inside information that she dishes out. Her several personal encounters, experiences and anecdotes act as the spices in this delicious curry of tamil politics that the author has served, and although the final dish may not have you licking your fingers, it certainly fills the stomach.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has watched and liked "Iruvar". The book is almost a paper version of the movie, with a prequel (about EVR, Annadurai, and the rise of DK) and a sequel (with Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha). In fact, the book even references the movie once while talking about Karunanidhi protesting against "Hindi" on railway tracks !!
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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Piled Higher & Deeper

PS: Attended a talk on "Procrastination" by "Dr." Jorge Cham of PhD comics ( The talk was just as I expected - funny and interesting.
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Monday, November 12, 2007

Pulp Fiction - Not a dream

The alarm is ringing again. It is the cell phone alarm. As I turn it off, I notice that I have 1 voice mail and 17 missed calls. "All from him". I listen to the voice mail, it is very brief. It says, "Come quick, it is time". I look at the last time of the call, it was 25 minutes back. "Why does he have to leave the phone in silent mode? So what if he works at a library".
I am jogging on the road, listening to a song when he rushes past me. He is wearing a suit, and is sweating like a pig. He goes a few steps ahead of me and turns back and looks at me for a second. His face is vaguely familiar to me but I am not able to recall him. He is still sprinting when it strikes me where I must have seen him.
I know I have to clean the mess before anyone finds out. But I also have to copy the CD before he comes back. I increase my pace, all the while thinking why I chose not to live any closer to the college. I subconsciously start checking to see if I have the three important things with me. My wallet... it is there, my house key... it is there, the cell phone... the cell phone... the cell phone is not there. I start panicking as I know where I dropped it.
I knock on the door, this time a little harder. "What is going on? Why is it taking so long?". I decide to check the back entrance. I try to go around the house, but there is a fence blocking my way. I check to see if no one is looking and jump the fence. I land on something slippery, cannot hold my feet and fall hard on the floor. "THUD". I pick myself up, my clothes are ruined - Shit- and I have scratched my right elbow pretty bad. I try walking towards the bench and it feels like my left knee is on fire. I try to sit down on the ground, and just as I bend down, something whizzes past my head.
The damn CD is stuck. "Why wouldn't it come out?". I look at my wallpaper - a picture of Garfield smiling with Murphy's law written in the bottom. I restart my computer and this time it takes a longer time to boot up. My hands are shaking while I type and I have to enter the password twice before I am able to login. "Now, if only the CD would read. Or eject". The computer hangs again and this time, I have lost it. I press the "Eject" button on the CD drive pretty hard. I can see the drive trying to read the CD while I press the button again. That is when I hear that sound again, this time, a bit louder.
"Today is going to be one of those days, yet again", "Why did the coffee have to spill all over the carpet? Especially when I spent half the day yesterday to clean it", "Now this would take another hour or so to clean". I go to the bathroom and wash my hands. "I must not sit at home all day playing the stupid game", I mutter to myself. "Remember what he said?", "Forget Second Life and start playing the real game". I hear the beep. It must have finished downloading the songs. I wonder where my socks are.
What did he drop on the ground? I pick it up and I know what it is. "What was he thinking?" Now I look around to see if anyone else is watching. "Nope". Just as I put it in my jacket, I realize that I must have left my keys in the house. "I hope he went home", I think to myself.
"What am I going to do?, It wasn't my idea in the first place. But what will I tell him? I hope he doesn't realize it". Then, I cry out loud, "If only this damn thing will load faster".
And then, I wake up.

(See comments for the conclusion)
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Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Random Jail

This problem is pretty interesting.

There are "n" people locked up in a room and they have to find a person that links them together. No, I didn't think of this after watching SAW2, but from a friend's post.
(See here: )

Given the theory of 6 degrees of separation, the solution probably exists. Let us assume that it does and that there is one person "X" who links them all. What would be the best strategy for the "prisoners" ?

This is what I came up with:

Edit: To follow the remainder of the post, you need to know that "6 degrees of separation" is the hypothesis that any two people in the world are connected by just 6 other people (i.e., anyone in the world is my friend's friend's friend's friend's friend's friend's friend). See Wikipedia for a bit more info.

Now, "X" is at most 3 hops from everyone, or he is closer to some of them while farther away from the others. So, the worst case is probably either of the 2 scenarios:
1. "X" is 3 hops from each of the "n" prisoners
2. "X" is 1 hop from some "A" but 5 hops away from the remaining "n-1" prisoners

The obvious way to solve the problem would be going 1 hop at a time. At each round, everyone makes a list of places they have been associated with (like school, college, work place, vacations, etc) and then looks at everyone else's list to see if they can make a "connection" with one of places in the other's list. If they can make a "connection", then they write a list of possible people associated with that connection and again compare the lists for a match.

An important thing to be noted here is the way we define a "connection". Since we are assuming that the prisoners are capable of solving the problem, it means that they KNOW the intermediate hops - at least sub-consciously. Hence, when they establish a connection between two places, their mind might automatically skip a few hops in the chain.

The fact that there are 'n' prisoners, I think, simplifies the problem in a way. Because:
1. There are probably multiple paths between the prisoners and hence more than one way to reach the solution.
2. The "n" prisoners can work in a distributed manner (in groups) and perform inter-group comparisons if there is a match within their group, and constantly reshuffle the groups.

There is also the case of false positives to be discussed. There may be matches (apart from"X") among pairs of prisoners or even "n-1" out of "n" but not all of them. This could certainly complicate things. However, testing false +ves is probably simpler than expected. Let "Y" be the person common to the prisoners "A" and "B". Now, everyone else tries to establish a connection to "Y", which would be easier than establishing connections to either "A" or "B", since all the information about "Y" is limited to that obtained from "A" and "B" (which is expected to get lesser and lesser as the number of hops between "Y" and "A" or "B" increases), and this limited information about "Y" must be sufficient to form that chain for the remaining "n-2" people if "Y" is "X". (This is true because we are given that everyone in "n" will be able to make a connection to "X".) If none of the "n-2" people are able to make a connection to "Y" using the limited information about "Y" obtained from "A" and "B", clearly, "Y" != "X". A minor point to be noted is that if there is a match between "A" and "B", every person in that path must be tested for "X" - not just "Y".

Of course, if "X" is just one hop away (as in SAW2 or as in the post), the problem must be solvable in minutes. (Heck, they do it even without any strategy in SAW2 within few hours!!).

Unless of course, the connection between the prisoners is not a person but is actually a "thing". I bet it would be a lot harder for them to discover that they all secretly like "KANK", in which case, I would rather they go the SAW2 way than get out of the room ever :) .
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Manorama Six Feet Under

Recently saw the Hindi movie "Manorama Six Feet Under" and was just blown away. No, I am not saying that the movie is a classic. The movie is just about good does not even come close to being great. The pacing is slow, there are a couple of unwanted sequences and the climax is a bit rushed with quite a few believable liberties thrown in the script. In fact, although the director does have a few aces up his sleeve in the end, some of the major twists in the plot are pretty obvious for Agatha Christie fans.

Nevertheless, it is the excitement of finally watching a well made film noir in Hindi that prompted this post. I haven't seen Polanski's "Chinatown" to comment on the similarities ("Manorama" is supposedly based on it). However, "Manorama" reminded me a lot of the anti-Bush "Silver City", which was also a slow paced film noir set in a small town. The plots have a lot in common - the political angle, the characterization of the leads and the thugs, the double-crosses and even the murders (I even remember a scene in "Silver City" with some kind of chase and fight sequence on the streets where a procession / celebration is going on). But, while "Silver City" showed potential without any results and remained just an attempt at being true its genre, "Manorama" succeeds big time.

This film was very well acted and the dialogues were very real and funny (although I missed a couple of lines the first time), but, it is the cinematography and editing that impressed me the most. Not that I know a lot about any of these departments, but, I did notice that the scenes had consistently long takes (but not too long to be noticeable) and had a good mix of wide, low angle and reflection shots that maintained the noir feel.

All in all, a very nice movie that is part of the new and changing Bollywood. With "Johnny Gaddar" and now "Manorama" giving a new life to thrillers in Hindi, I wonder what "The Fraud" and "The Mugger" have to say !!
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Friday, November 09, 2007

Gloomy days ahead

Looks like the break might just break my plans.

Hope Not !!
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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Randy Pausch

Happened to watch Pausch's "last" lecture ("Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams") and I should say I was deeply moved. It is not so difficult to recognize a good teacher when you see one, and you could tell with your eyes closed that he definitely is good (if not great).

Apart from his academic contributions to Computer Science and the "Alice" project which he claims is his "legacy", what really made me like him was how brave he was to do what he did.

I really hope he gets to have "fun" everyday.

I am not sure about others, but, good teachers live forever.

PS: You can watch his "last public lecture" here:
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