Taj Black

Just the way I saw it.

The only white Taj Mahal I have ever seen was a sketch in a 3rd Standard (Class 3) history book. I envy the author who saw “..the most beautiful building in the world set in pure white marble”.

Apart from the verses written all over the Taj, you could find news about Rajesh loving Zubina, Suresh’s love for Puja and that Zakir would be dead without Karishma. Witness an educated NRI howling at the top of his voice “Hello.. My name is Arvind…” inside the Mahal. Bet that his excellency would have been delighted to hear those echoes inside his grave.

The picnic would have been incomplete without a Lay’s packet being smuggled into the building and being spread open – accidentally – on the ground. The chips were further battered into pieces by people walking on them and some even taking pleasure to play a game of “Hah, I footballed those pieces at your legs”.

Why should you, then, go there? Imagine this – there’s a 400+ year old structure, costing more than $100 billion in asset value and it would go down in the very near future. Would you miss a chance to rub your hands all over the inside of it and have a royal picnic hangout with your buddies who would help you in eve-teasing foreigners? Come on, you would surely not miss trying to scratch some marble out of it as a souvenier – or just to prove to your family that it really is Iranian marble (after all, you have a doctorate in geology and Taj Mahal is an excellent experimentation device).

Curious incident of the dog..

An excellent read. I could not have read a better book than this one in quite a while. If you like reading stuff that is out of ordinary and breaks literati-set-rules then go for this novel.

My observation was that the author was clearly into his first project (and bang on). There were problems in between (plot becomes slow), but the surprises were very neatly set in to wash all that off.

I would give this book a 8 out of 10 on all aspects and would recommend it to be read by 16+ only.

Mp3tag

Rewind to somewhere in May 2000.

I had a small pet project of converting all our Jagjit Singh audio CDs into mp3. I had access to a computer only during Summers and I had very little time (about a month and a half). So I would have to do too many things in much little time. I would rip the CDs using a primitive CD cutting software (AudioRipper may be) and then edit the mp3 tags in Winamp. There was CDDB sans Jagjit Singh. So I would manually look up track names on the back of the jewel case, type in and then use another software to submit data back to CDDB.

It became a tedious affair to tag the mp3s after they were created. Well, there was a Goto.com (the real overture) in those days that helped me find a nifty utility called mp3tagEditor(beware of look alikes – there’s just one mp3tag.de). The damn thing was so awesome that mp3 conversion became my summer hobby! I wouldn’t mind playing with blade/lame as long as this coolio was around. (dbpowerAmp came some time in 2001 I guess).

Well, what makes me write this after 8 years at 3 AM in the morning is the fact that mp3tag editor has grown up with me! I just tried it (after a really long time; I decided to do some mp3 management). The bloody thing is so so awesome that you just have to kill yourself to dream of something that it can’t do. Floran (Heidenrich) is one awesome guy. I just wish all other software matured like this super cool utility. The only glitch is that this is still a Windows utility, and though I haven’t tried it, I hope it would run on Wine.

So what did I really like about it is the fact that when you do a Tag to Filename or vice versa, you’ve got some awesome functions, regexes and extra fields that makes it much more fun. Another thing was the inclusion of getting Tag sources using a “web search”! Just give it the album name and it would pick out a list of albums from the FreeDB and match against your files. May be there’s other software doing similar things, but nothing can be better than free, tried and tested.

Those Who Don't Speak

So how do you know if something out there is going to solve your problem? You would do a search across the web with keywords that the search engines would recognize, match with content and based on popularity (at least the major algorithms run that way) you would get results. Not all the results would apply to you and out of the handful few relevant ones, there might be little chance of pure success. Happens all the time.

Consider this. You work with some really smart people. You’ve got a problem and after you have unsuccessfully tried out web searches, you go out to these people. You would either mail a list or you might even go personally finding out answers from folks. The latter recourse is not in the best interest of everybody but it certainly helps you out. You get the answer from the guy who never speaks out on lists, Internet, doesn’t have a blog and might not even join group discussions happening nearby. He only speaks when there’s a one-on-one and he definitely knows stuff. The vessel is full and doesn’t make much noise.

This is incorrect. One-on-one is good for the two people involved but then there is a void for everybody else. Unless the other guy documents what he knew from the silent alpha-omega, things would still remain the same. It doesn’t happen everyday that you get to know something really critical and you write it up on the wall. Then how do you fix the roots?

Make the alpha-omega come out with their ideas in open. Help them speak up and let them voice their opinion when they speak – even if it is irrelevant for the first few times (understand public/stage fear). That would be in the best interest of not just the other guy but you and your group too. Mutual benefits mutliply profits. Even though short term gains of taking credit for something you didn’t do/know might help you up the ladder (it doesn’t always) the longer perspectives would get broken. You know what I mean. Being mean is not in.

So help the silent know-all guys. The best things are made out of co-operation and everyone feels good when it’s out.

Chetan's Hello

One night at a call center is finally a film called Hello. It’s an amazing feat for an author who started off only a few years back and one who writes just like you and me.

The Indian literati are pissed off with this and are calling names on Chetan’s work. I wouldn’t second them on being pissed off (jealous anyone?) but for sure, you would find loads of grammatical mistakes and not-so-correct statements in his works. I read “One night..” in one night. What I didn’t read were the utter useless side stories he filled in between (which were jerky, long and out of context).

I am not in the least surprised about his story being made into a movie. Thing is, all his works correspond to the Bollywood way of making films: a love story, some utter sexual crap (which is not in the least sensuous) and some damn bloody action. Combined with it is a number of characters with the lead being played by multiple people. That makes sure that a novice reader doesn’t have to concentrate on being with a single player – ease of switching.

I would never read his novels again for I hate watching movies with plots of the ’90s and special effects in the 2000’s. Disorientation at it’s best.

Have You Been AmWaylaid?

This has been going on for a lot of days in Bangalore (and most other parts of the country). People, part of the Quixar/Amway family, would be around you in a mall, book store, super market or any heck place. It starts like this; they’d come up to you asking about something as general as an ATM around the place or may be a comment on the book you’re looking at.

The conversation begins with a hand shake, where do you work, what do you do (information gathering on whether you have enough money and enough will to earn more) and how long you’ve been around. Different people have different approaches, but the end goal is just one. To get you to a meeting with a lot of other potential candidates who can be sold Amway kits (or products) and made members out of. Those guys would then go about direct-selling among their friends/relations and strain their good will. Amway is generally seen as an untrustworthy brand in India, and these tactics to get people to start working for them makes it more so.

Another attempt to cook me in was that I got a call from a guy who claimed to have gotten my number from an old-time colleague. That guy talked me into it saying that they were going to open up a new e-business company and needed some technical help. “What kind of e-business?” I asked. “We’re doing a start up, so come over and have a look.” Turns out the e-business was yet another Amway shop with not a bit of technicality involved. Just another duped Sunday for me.

The last shot in my arm leaves me bleeding with this post. Mrs. Pande decides that she should get a personal consulting session from a skin specialist doctor who met her at the footsteps of yet another mall. The doctor turns in at our place, sweet talks all over. Skins get looked at, charts get drawn. And what have you! “Artistry has the best cleanser and toner that you should definitely try,” goes the doctor. Now that someone is inside our house, I can’t be rude – and for all the information that the so-called-Amway-doctor has been feeding us with for the last two hours wasn’t all that bad either. I figured it out quickly that she is yet another trapped direct seller in the Amgang and posed as a doctor to get started.

Finally buying off a few products from the Amdoctor, I tell my wife about the whole thing and clear out the clouds. She realizes the truth, but takes solace in the fact that a lot of information and a few bottles of cleansers/toners ain’t bad after all.

Damn.

Update (27 Sep ’08 12:44pm): Video – Amway/Quixtar Scam / Amway/Quixtar Scam (Part 2)

Lowmus – Play songs to your audio (music) system

Screen shot: Amarok XUL Remote + Winamp Edcast Plugin
Screen shot: Amarok XUL Remote + Winamp Edcast Plugin

Objective:
I wanted to play music from my laptop to my music system. So, if I fire up Amarok (or Winamp, in case it’s my wife), and I play a song – that should start playing onto my music system.

The best way to achieve it was to connect a low end machine on the network and connect the Audio out from the sound card of that machine into the music system’s Auxiliary port. Hurdles were the software to make it work seamlessly. Follow on…

Requirements:
Apart from a low end system, you also need the perfect OS, which expands to openSUSE. Perfecto.

  • an old system (can be as old as a Pentium 100 Mhz, with some 128MB RAM to spare)
    • this old system would be connected to the Auxiliary input of your music system
  • an openSUSE 10.3 CD (KDE) – Gawd, I love the lizards..
  • a laptop running any Linux or Win*****

After I got 10.3 SUSE running on the host, I connected lowmus (that’s the name I gave to my Pentium 2 166 Mhz with 256 MB RAM) to my old Panasonic audio system (a really old model) and did this:

  • sudo zypper in fluxbox icecast amarok

The next thing to do was login locally to the box (lowmus) and select fluxbox as my default window manager. I configured fluxbox to run amarok and icecast at startup. Essentially, this:

  • mkdir -p ~/.icecast/log/
  • cp /usr/share/icecast/doc/icecast_minimal.xml.dist ~/.icecast/icecast_minimal.xml
  • # changed password on line 24 onwards in ~/.icecast/icecast_minimal.xml
  • # changed logdir to ~/.icecast/log on line 134 onwards in ~/.icecast/icecast_minimal.xml
  • # changed user and group on line 183 onwards in ~/.icecast/icecast_minimal.xml
  • # edited ~/.fluxbox/startup to add these lines:
    • /usr/bin/icecast -c /home/$USERNAME/.icecast/icecast_minimal.xml &
      /opt/kde3/bin/amarok &
  • Used icecast plugin for Winamp on the laptop to stream video to lowmus
  • Configure icecast plugin to stream as Ogg and give the host IP of lowmus along with the passwords you had set above
  • Make sure to configure Amarok on the remote host (lowmus) to play a local stream
    • Fire up amarok on lowmus
    • Click on Playlist > Add Stream > enter [http://localhost:8000/stream.ogg
    • The stream.ogg is the mount point you configured in your Winamp plugin (edcast) or Amarok plugin
    • Hear the sound of music already? (if your player on laptop is playing music)
  • If you play Amarok on your lappy, there are loads of plugins available for icecasting music to lowmus
  • The only other thing you need on your laptop is the Amarok XUL remote
    • Make sure to do a sudo zypper python-qt on your remote host (lowmus)
    • Amarok XUL remote should be installed by doing Amarok > Tools > Script Manager > Install Script > (select the xul-remote-tgz file) and click ok! (do that on lowmus)
    • Configure the script to have the localhost’s IP and a port (preferable 8888) – click Run!
    • Fire up firefox on your laptop and connect to the IP above, like 192.168.1.4:8888
    • It would automatically install Amarok Remote plugin for firefox
    • Go to Tools > Amarok remote on Firefox (laptop) and click on Configure
    • Give your host (lowmus) IP a username (given in a step above) and password – port=8888
    • After you connect, you see Amarok’s playlist on your laptop from the remote host
    • You can increase/decrease volume using amarok remote and change to a different song on the playlist on the remote host (if you have enlisted those)

Play along!

Essentials

My favorite task as a teenager: cut CDs that had all the essential software I would ever need. Titling them as Essentials, I’d be ready lest somebody needed a piece. Exactly 10 years ago. The hobby soon curled up as a small business where we would burn SparcCDs containing all essential freeware programs and sell them. End: some 4 years back.

Today, the only essential software I need is a command prompt with wget. Of course, then I would get the following:

  • openSUSE 11.0
  • Firefox 3.0
    • TabMixPlus  / Live HTTP Headers / Vimperator
    • FoxyProxy / User Agent Switcher / del.icou.us bookmarker
  • Thunderbird 2.0
    • Lightning / Threadkey / SwitchProxy
    • QuoteCollapse / Mailbox Alert / XNote
  • PIdgin
    • Conversation Colors / Guifications / History / Log Reader
    • Psychic Mode / Nicksaid / Mystatusbox
      • zypper
        • konsole
          • screen
        • kbluetooth
      • klipper
        • xrandr
      • amarok

Very soon, they’ll be in your essentials list.

Congress Is Out

Update (Feb 12, 2009): This turned out to be false. Congress came in for another 5 year tenure, and in the best interest of the country. I eat my words here. Owwm jaum naum.

Congratulations Mr. Singh! You’re in for another 8 or so months, only. Thanks for pushing the nuclear deal through though. It’s some good combination of great co-incidences that things are wholesomely moving in the favour of Indian masses.

The deal done, so will be the Government. There are a hundred other things to worry about and the BJP will take advantage of these. The Left is out of way and hence there will be some major decisions taken in the next few months. There would be a great deal of movement in the upper crust of legislature – both in terms of humans and work. None of that can still save the Government in the next general elections. Nothing can save the Congress now.

Winners of today were to lose the final game. Whoever drives the car before coming to the dead end is a bad driver. Never mind who drove it all the way. The next best thing to happen for India is that we replace Congress (C) with BJP (B) into power and install an AC circuit in the Lok Sabha to keep on going from C to B to C to B until we get something apart from the evil L (Left). The advantages are obvious, C strives until B comes up and B strives until C comes up. You get delivery and they get 5 (sic) years of money.

Thank you Mr. Bush – you’ve been doing the wrong things at the wrong times for the wrong people. Just that all of it has turned out right at the far end.

Shaho Ka Shah Tu

Am referring to the brilliant song by Mr. Rahman. He does it always, so no surprises there. As much as Jodha and Akbar were nuked at the box office, this song cleared all the smoke there.

Khwaja Mere Khwaja (read this excellent review) has got some really wonderful music and taking into consideration that A. R. Rahman used only his voice in the song, there’s something about it. Do listen to the song once (if you can understand Urdu/Hindi).

I say “listen”, because the choreography has ruined the song. That is exactly the reason why Akbar was defeated for the first time after his death. I don’t know sh** about dancing, but whatever the cinematographer or choreographer wanted to convey was not put through. People were laughing (especially at how Akbar – Hrithik starts to dance in the end). It’s a good ham watch I dare say.

Jodha could not visit Rajasthan, as the idea did not go down well with the people there. History has always been a controversy here, so Rajasthan was no show.