Wednesday, February 07, 2018

February 7, 2018

Area Man Beats Computer in Chess For First Time

Chennai, February 3, 2018 - After more than two years of battling it out with the Chess Free app in Adept mode, area man Rajesh Jayaprakash finally clinched his first victory. "Well, technically my first victory, as I had forced the $#&% computer to sue for peace by the threefold-repetition rule sometime back", a visibly elated Rajesh said. Asked how he felt after this momentous achievement, he mentioned a feeling of relief and a surge of self-confidence. Reliving the moment immediately after 74. ... Qb2#, he added that it was actually quite anticlimactic, since victory was assured ten moves earlier when his King captured the enemy Rook on d8, as the game then became a checkmate-with-King-and-Queen ending. "Although, to be fair, you still need to finish White off",  he added with a nervous laugh, with his thoughts already turning to his next battle of wits with the computer. At the time of going to press, Rajesh was observed peering intently at his phone, replaying the entire game for the 13th time on Analyze This, his favourite chess analysis app, with a triumphant smile breaking out on his face each time his Queen checkmated the opposite King on move #74.


Jokes aside--that was my poor imitation of The Onion, in case you didn't know--, I thought I'd record my first victory for posterity.

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 Adopting Korchnoi's maxim of never refusing material.

3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Nc3 d6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. d4 g5 Goodbye to kingside castling, let's see how far we can go to defend the f4 pawn.

7. h3 Bg7 8. O-O Hmmm, he doesn't seem to mind castling without sufficient pawn cover, maybe I should as well and avoid a Queenside pawn storm.

8. ... Nge7? Hanging the g5 pawn.

9. d5 On first glance, it's surprising the g5 pawn doesn't get captured, but 9. Nxg5 Bxd4+ is good for black, especially since 10. ... Bxc3 screws up White's pawn structure.

9. ... Ne5? Aaannd we shoot ourselves in the foot, blocking Bxd4+.

10. Nxg5 N7g6 Attacking the Knight with our Queen, and also eyeing h4 for our Knight.

11. Qh5 h6 12. Nf3 Nxf3+ 13. Qxf3 Be5 Providing support for our lonely f4 pawn. Also, e5 is a solid square for our Bishop, as it's not possible for White to threaten it with a pawn.

14. Bxd7+ Qxd7 15. Bd2 O-O-O 16. Kh1 f5 The f7 pawn will become a long-term liability, might as well exchange it for a central pawn.

17. Qf2 Kb8 Sneaky move by White to take on a7 and finish the game quickly. We're too clever for this.

18. exf5 Qxf5 19. Nb5 b6 You'll not give up, will you?

20. c3 Removing the pawn from danger, also shielding the b2 pawn from the Bishop.

20. ... Rdf8 Shoring up support for the f4 pawn.

21. Rac1 h5 22. Qe2 h4 The White Queen is up to something, but h4 is an excellent square for our pawn: we now have iron control over g3.

23. Qc4 Qd7 Attempting Qxc7+ followed by Qxa7#. Duly thwarted.

24. Qc6 Qc8 Sorry, we're not ready for the exchange. Not to mention losing the b7 square to the White pawn.

25. Qc4 f3 Now we're talking. Time to up the pressure on White's kingside pawn structure. It also helps that our Queen is off the f-file where there was the danger of being exposed to the Rook.

26. Qe4 fxg2+ 27. Qxg2 Nf4 28. Bxf4 Bxf4 29. Rxf4 Rxf4 30. Rf1 Rg8 31. Rxf4 Rxg2 32. Kxg2

And the game is pretty much over. Still need to finish it though.

32. ... Qg8+ 33. Kf1 Qxd5 34. Nd4 Qh1+ 35. Ke2 Qxh3 Here's where the power of the Queen shines through, slicing through White's pieces. Ser Arthur Dayne would approve (and here were nay-sayers doubting my ability to sneak in a Game of Thrones reference).

36. Rf2 Qg4+ 37. Kd3 Kb7 Never hurts to insulate our King from pesky checks by the Rook. Also, you will notice that the King is pretty safe from the White Knight as well, as the only safe place it can  check the King from is d8, which is a long way off.

38. a3 h3 Proceeding to promote the pawn.

39. Ke3 Qg5+ 40. Kf3 Qg1 41. Nf5 h2 42. Ng3 h1Q+ 43. Nxh1 Qxh1+ Bye-bye, Knight. And farewell, Pawn; though your time as Queen was brief, you performed your duty admirably.

44. Kf4 Kc6 45. Kg3 Kd5 46. Rd2+ Kc6

Now I must admit I was in two minds here: should I go for a Queen vs Rook endgame right away, on the kingside, or should I first try to demolish White's pawns and coast to a victory? A quick visit to Wikipedia suggested complications with the first approach, so I decided to target White's pawns. But can we get the White Rook off the second rank?

47. Rf2 Kc5 48. Re2 d5 49. Re7 Kc6 50. Re6+ Kb7 51. Re3 a5 52. Re7

As a famous man once said, "Yes, we can!"

52. ... Qd1 Putting paid to any hopes of the rook returning for defence duties.

53. Re5 Qc2 54. Rxd5 Qxb2 55. Rd3 Qxa3 Ser Arthur Dayne in action again.

56. Kf3 Qb2 57. c4 a4 58. c5 a3 59. c6+ Kc8 60. Re3 Got be careful here, danger of an Oberyn moment by 61. Re8#.

60. ... Qf6+ 61. Ke2 a2 62. Rg3 a1Q 63. Rg8+ Qd8 64. Rxd8+ Kxd8 65. Kd3 Qa4 66. Kc3 Qe4 67. Kb2 Qd3 68. Ka2 Ke7 69. Kb2 Kd6 70. Ka1 Kc5 71. Kb2 Kb4 72. Kc1 Qe2 73. Kb1 Kc3 74. Ka1 Qb2#

Cue the credits.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

How to Read a Chess Book

I had gotten hold of Jeremy Silman's excellent How to Reassses Your Chess a while back, but couldn't make much progress, the main reason being that the reading/learning process was not very satisfactory: you need to read the book--holding a 658-page volume in one hand is no joke--while simultaneously playing the moves (and all their variations) either mentally, with a physical chessboard, or with a software program/app. While smartphone apps address the last bit (I use Analyze This for this), setting up the position for each diagram or situation in the book and making your way through the maze of variations (there is a fundamental representational impedance between a two-dimensional tree of variations and their linear representation on a page) is very off-putting.

Which led me to wonder how much simpler my life would be if I could point my phone's camera at a diagram in the book, click a picture, and end up with a ready-to-analyse FEN.

Enter Chessify. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

I have now managed to zip through more than a third of the book (while understanding and internalising its contents, of course). Here's my method (your mileage may vary, depending on your level and the type of book, so put away any litigious thoughts that may arise in your mind should things not work out the way you expected):
  1. Have a specific target number of pages to cover in a day. Don't try to overdo things by cramming in too many pages; my magic number is three pages, for example. Having said that, don't skip days, either; have the mental discipline to do three pages, no matter what. Here's where having a low target number helps.
  2. Avoid variations in the first read. While they are important, they can be skipped when you are trying to grasp the main objective of the material, especially when you are dealing with a book like How to Reassess Your Chess and not Fifteen Variations of the King's Indian Defence that No One Told You About (No. 13 will shock you!)
  3. If a section starts out with the initial moves of a game, lays out the position in a diagram, and then goes on to the analysis, skip the initial moves (your job is to get the crux of the section, i.e., the analysis, and not the opening). Scan the diagram using Chessify, and share the FEN to Analyze This. If there are no initial moves, but just a diagram, point your phone's camera right away.
  4. Complete the set up of the above position in Analyze This (which side to move, castling options, and so on), and then play out the moves (taking time to, uh, analyse things), while skipping the variations as mentioned above.
  5. Remember to send a share of your prize money when you win your first tournament after following this method. I am fine with anything above 10%.
On a related note, my game has already improved so much that I recorded my first victory over the computer (the Chess Free app, to be more precise) in Adept mode. More on this later.

February 3, 2018

From Slashdot:
An anonymous reader writes: The social network is getting aggressive with people who don't log in often, working to keep up its engagement numbers, Bloomberg reports. Sample this for instance: It's been about a year since Rishi Gorantala deleted the Facebook app from his phone, and the company has only gotten more aggressive in its emails to win him back. The social network started out by alerting him every few days about friends that had posted photos or made comments -- each time inviting him to click a link and view the activity on Facebook. He rarely did. Then, about once a week in September, he started to get prompts from a Facebook security customer-service address. "It looks like you're having trouble logging into Facebook," the emails would say. "Just click the button below and we'll log you in. If you weren't trying to log in, let us know." He wasn't trying. But he doesn't think anybody else was, either. "The content of mail they send is essentially trying to trick you," said Gorantala, 35, who lives in Chile. "Like someone tried to access my account so I should go and log in."
Yup, can confirm this: the same thing happened to me, including the "someone tried to access my account" bit, prompting me to log in after something like ten years.

Coincidentally, I was just about to set up our sensei's page in Facebook, so the reminder turned out to be useful.

I am now officially back in Facebook, liking folks' posts and updates with not-so-gay abandon. Let's see how this goes.

P.S. If you liked this post, please click on the Facebook 'share' button below. Just kidding.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

January 4, 2017

From The Hindu (on the Ola/Uber drivers strike):
The Ola and Uber taxi drivers unions in their 10-point petition urged the State government to step in and fix minimum fares for different capacity of vehicles, reduction of commission to 7%, additional 25% fare for night rides, removal of star ratings, cancellation of various penalties on drivers, and withdrawal of the car pooling option.
While they're at it, why not ask for, I don't know, free foot massages? "Reduction of commission to 7%" is akin to demanding businesses to operate on a cost-plus model, which, last time I checked, was used only for special cases. Removal of star ratings? Are you kidding me?

While struggling under the yoke of the algorithm is no laughing matter, this is not the way to go about fixing the issue. A better alternative would be to form a cooperative--funded by the drivers--which takes care of the dispatching and trip allocation responsibilities which the likes of Uber and Ola extract their pounds of flesh for. Open source options like Open Street Maps can't hurt either. Add in a blockchain-based solution to ensure fairness of trip allocation and driver/passenger rating, and voila, you have your Next Big Thing (tm).

P.S. The print version of the above article has some additional content about how much these drivers make (about Rs 60,000 gross per month), for some reason this didn't make it to the online version. I think this points to the crux of the problem. Even after deducting for expenses, what's still left is no laughing matter, and is comparable to the starting salary of an average white-collar worker. This was simply not sustainable in the long run from the aggregator's perspective, who has now started turning on the screws (while the Indian context is quite different, check out Hubert Horan's take on this). My guess is that the more severely affected folks are those who opted for buying higher-priced sedans (with the concomitant higher EMIs and fuel costs) as compared to the budget vehicles.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 31, 2017

Black Mirror S4 is out. I'm two episodes in, and it's been a mixed bag so far. USS Callister was a knock-out, while Arkangel sucked big time. Hopefully the other episodes will not disappoint.

I have also restarted on The Walking Dead. Still the same sucky dialogue and contrived plot lines, but either my bar is lower now or it's a case of wanting to finish what I started.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

November 29, 2017

Coffee-through-nose time:
Funny to see the devolution of communication, 1st there were social media sites like facebook, then twitter came along that limited you to 140 char, then snapchat where conceited twits just swap selfies with maybe a word or two caption. I can't wait to see what the next devolution is, maybe we will start posting grunting sounds?

Monday, November 27, 2017

November 27, 2017

I am seriously contemplating something that would have been unthinkable even a year ago: stopping my subscription to The Hindu. Reading The Hindu with a tumbler of filter coffee has been a tradition for oh-so-long, but I think it's time to be more pragmatic.

I do have a number of complaints about the paper (due to which the paper these days goes to the recycling bin either untouched or after a brief glance at the front page followed by a disgusted shake of the head):

  1. Two sets of full-page ads that you have to navigate through before you can even get to the front page
  2. And once you get to the front page, what do you get but the most boring and irrelevant news items that you can think of. Case in point: today's edition (no full-page ad before the front page, thank the lord for small mercies) has a piece about some perceived-to-be-socially-relevant theatre performance or something similar, taking about 10-15% of the prime real estate. I usually do not have nice things to say about the competition (ToI and Deccan Chronicle), but they at least get it right about what should go on the front page.
  3. Editorial content written by Grandmaester Pycelle. In general, there is a propensity to reserve their hard-hitting journalism for the national, out-of-state players, and go easy on the local elite.  Again, kudos to ToI and Chronicle on this.
But the primary reason is that the online content--both mobile and web versions--seems miles ahead, and, considering that most of my other reading has already transitioned to the smartphone, it seems like the logical next step. Most of the shortcomings with the dead-tree version are either absent or are mitigable in the app.

Another reason has to do with the medium itself; there is something inherently clumsy about struggling with such a large sheaf of papers, the need to balance said filter coffee in one hand and mutter expletives as you get rid of the full page ad for the latest and greatest smartphone in the market or about how you can live like a pampered prince in the seat of luxury for Rs 15 crores, and you reach a point where you just say 'screw it'.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 17, 2017

I chanced upon Suburra via James Delingpole's column, and boy, am I glad I did.

Gripping plot, haunting music and visuals, very relatable characters, you name it, Suburra has it and more.

The format of starting each episode with a preview of the episode climax, with an Il giorno prima ("The day before") is neat. It leaves you wondering how on earth would the situation glimpsed in the preview come about, and doesn't fail to disappoint you even once. Well, almost; I was not so enamoured with the season finale, but the rest of the episodes are top notch.

The depiction of the Anacletis and their gypsy culture with all the ostentatious display of wealth, communal living, and so on was refreshing when compared to the sober and classy milieu of, say, the Vatican. Loved the Spadino character as well, his vulnerability coupled with all his theatrical hand flourishes and twirls.

Make sure to watch the show in the original Italian with English subtitles. I didn't try Suburra-dubbed-in-English, but I can very well imagine how it would have been, based on my brief experience of El Chapo dubbed in English (side note: give El Chapo a try as well; almost as good as Narcos -- on a par with S3 and the Cali cartel, but pales somewhat in comparison to Pablo Escobar in S1 and S2).

A couple of things that didn't sit well:

  1. The Samurai character. Somebody who claims to rule Rome goes around in a scooter like an accountant, with no retinue of bodyguards? Doesn't sound right. I get it that everybody knows how powerful he is, but he'd still be an attractive target for a rival gang.
  2. Maybe I'm ignorant of how things are in Rome, but the ease with which heavily-armed gangs are able to move about the city and engage in drive-by shootings strained one's credulity a bit. Except for the scenes involving Gabriele's father, the police don't put in much of an appearance at all.

I am not a big fan of hip hop, but the end credits song is really great too.

Can't wait for Season 2. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

September 29, 2017

I have put together the next pLisp tutorial. This is more of a language-oriented tutorial, and less about pLisp features.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

August 23, 2017

(Warning: Game of Thrones spoilers ahead)

Season 7 of Game of Thrones is the worst season so far, even compared to Season 6 (notwithstanding the fact that it was redeemed by Battle of the Bastards and Winds of Winter).

While finally seeing dragons in battle against the Lannisters and the undead was well worth the wait, the number of WTF things was too many (in no particular order):

  1. Cersei suddenly developing some serious strategic chops (Tycho Nestoris' fawning compliments about how she compares to her father rubbing salt in our wounds) 
  2. Euron Greyjoy's magic teleporting armada (I know he's quickly become a fan favourite this season, but the guy's a real joker) 
  3. I really hope Arya is playing the long con, otherwise her character has basically gone to shit this season
  4. Jaime plunging to the bottom of the Blackwater Rush with the armour weighing him down, only to blithely climb out of the river out of sight of any Dothraki that are sure to be looking for Lannisters to finish off
  5. Assembling an improbable all-star crew to go on a wight hunt beyond the wall so that they can convince Cersei about the nature of the threat facing mankind. Yeah, I can almost picture her disdain as she sips her wine when she hears the news. 
  6. Dany's rescue of the Magnificent Seven (r/gameofthrones/ has some really nice time/distance computations involving the speeds of carrier pigeons and dragons that attempt to rationalize the physics of it. Some people have way too much time on their hands) 
  7. "Thought you might still be rowing". Cute, but too cute.
  8. Tyrion has basically become a piece of luggage (for the last two seasons, actually)
  9. Evidence for R+L = L being found serendipitously in The Citadel
  10. Who knew greyscale could be cured so easily by the generous application of Unguents #143 and #765? Let me take a guess, one of them is aloe vera?
I'll still be waiting eagerly for each new episode, of course, but now it's more of a combination of a) an attachment to the characters' (and the story's) earlier, better days and b) a desire to see how this train wreck plays out.

Monday, August 14, 2017

August 15, 2017

Something fishy with the purportedly fake message sent out by Unocoin:

If the email about the ICO was not sent by the Unocoin team, what gives with the security details reported by Gmail?

Friday, August 11, 2017

August 11, 2017

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this:
"This week the L.A. Times described a 17-year-old from Virginia who'd spent several hours a day perfecting his technique in Microsoft Excel, "one of 150 students from 50 countries competing in the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship" at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. "At stake: cash, prizes and the clout that comes with being the best in the world at Excel, PowerPoint or Word. 'I'm going to do my best to bring it home for the United States,' John said as he prepared for the competition." Microsoft's VP of Worldwide Education said the event helps students "to become more employable to companies that build their businesses around the Microsoft suite." For example, the article points out, "Past winners have gone on to attend Ivy League colleges and even work at, yes, Microsoft... Delaware resident Anirudh Narayanan, 17, prepared all summer to compete in the Excel 2013 category, 'looking up obscure facts just in case I might need to know it during the test.' He's hoping the skills he honed will help him at Carnegie Mellon University, where he will begin studying economics in the fall. 'I make sure I do a minimum of five hours a week in Excel,' Anirudh said. 'Then for a while I'll be on YouTube watching videos about Excel.'" John eventually won the first-place prize in the Excel category -- which was $7,000 and an Xbox.
In related news that will definitely make you smile rub your hands with anticipation, the next pLisp tutorial is ready -- I walk through the development of a basic unit testing framework using pLisp.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

July 11, 2017

Nice publicity stunt (how else would the world get to know of the existence of companies like Culture Machine and Gozoop?):
Culture Machine in Mumbai recently launched a video wherein they surprised their female employees with the good news. The video that seemed like an impromptu gift began with them asking what it's like to have periods. 
You can totally see floods of joy gushing on their faces when they are told that they can take a paid day off. The video states a classic example of bliss, and I am sure is driving loads of applauses from women around the country. 
Another company in the same league is Gozoop, a digital marketing organisation. All the female employees working for this organisation will also get a paid leave on the first day of their period. 
Wonder what the reaction would be if it was also announced that this would be accompanied by a commensurate reduction in their pay cheques since, well, equal-pay-for-equal-work and all that nonsense.

In news from the never-underestimate-the-basesness-of-humans section, umbrella-sharing startup loses nearly all of its 300,000 umbrellas in a matter of weeks.

Reason #12376 a majority of Chennai auto drivers are scum:  Globetrotting couple lose dog in Chennai.

To end with some uplifting news in an otherwise depressing news day, here is a tutorial I put together on how to develop a Bitcoin client in pLisp. You're welcome.

Monday, June 12, 2017

June 12, 2017

else if(item == "SanitaryPad")
taxRate = 0.12;
                      - Poor unsung tax software dev

Yeah I know, they will be using item category codes, which will most probably be numeric, but my point still stands: why is the GST code dealing at this level of detail? As new items enter the market, spare a thought for the above developer who needs to maintain this code (his employer will be laughing all the way to the bank, though -- "New version! Incorporates latest tax changes! Upgrade for a one-time discount of...").

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 31, 2017

(Disclosure: IITM is my alma mater)

The beef fest at IITM and the ensuing tensions leave one shaking one's head. The IITs have already lost their sheen, what with the indiscriminate opening of campuses in every -- what, district? -- and unjustified affirmative action, do they really need to turn into another JNU? Why not try focussing on world-class research? What about, say, pushing the frontier on quantum computing? Nah, we'll focus on cattle slaughter and transportation, that's more fun.

More crocodile tears for the customers. Quick question: if the burden is on the customers, why don't we see them protesting on the streets, just like they did during the whole jallikattu thing?

Monday, April 17, 2017

April 17, 2017

[Warning: Game of Thrones spoiler ahead]

Remember S4E08 of GoT? The Mountain and the Viper? It would be fair to say no other scene on TV or the big screen had as much of an impact on me as the one where Oberyn lets himself be brought down after doing everything perfectly (well, almost everything, if you ignore the way he loses his first spear). I couldn't bring myself to rewatch the scene for quite some time. Might even have been a bit of PTSD there.

The reason I bring this up is because of this:

That's me playing White against the computer, having just moved my rook suicidally to b2, with the Black knight's upcoming fork to c4 the equivalent of Gregor Clegane tripping Oberyn.

It may look like just another blunder in a chess game, but to me it was the closest I had come to winning (unaided by the use of a chess engine) against the computer in Adept mode (that's the highest level at which I have discovered that I can stay in the ring and give as good as I get). I had managed to build an impressive material advantage, and a careful exchange of pieces would have left me with a hopefully easy-to-win end game.

I guess I could have continued the game with the still-present (albeit diminished) material advantage, but knowing the bastard that is the computer, it would have worn me down into committing another blunder shortly. That's the problem with playing against an emotionless automaton.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 29, 2017

I wrote up pLisp into a paper and submitted it to ELS17, but the paper didn't make it. However, I got a lot of valuable feedback, chief among them being "Why the f&*k are you rolling out your own GC, with no benefits in terms of latency, efficiency, etc.?"

Well, the autodidact that I am, I didn't realize at the time of working on the GC bits that things like the Boehm Garbage Collector exist (I was stupidly happy, waxing eloquent about the wonders of posix_memalign() then -- God, how naive were we), and that migrating to the Boehm GC just entails replacing all malloc() and realloc() calls with GC_MALLOC() and GC_REALLOC(), and removing the free() statements. It was just a matter of a half a day's work, and now the code is free of all the inefficient mucking around with hashtables and Red-Black trees.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February 21, 2017

pLisp has been ported to OS X. This was surprisingly straightforward, for a couple of reasons: a) OS X, once the necessary bits are set up (mainly HomeBrew and jhbuild), is sufficiently close to Linux--at least for me--to make the porting a breeze and b) all the earlier hard work of migrating pLisp to autotools finally paid for itself.

The main gotcha for me was adding missing function declarations (this is probably an artifact of using a higher version of gcc in the Mac system, and not because of some inherently OS X thing). After spending a significant part of the porting effort for this, the key takeaway for me is to not ignore compiler warnings. This will save you  a buttload of trouble, trying to wade your way through seemingly unrelated runtime errors (while it's easy to preach, I'm still guilty of this sin, as a compile of the pLisp code base will readily demonstrate).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January 10, 2017

While the "Elderly Catholic woman has mistakenly been praying every day to Elrond from 'Lord of the Rings"' story manages to sound more hilarious each time I come across it in my news feed, there is a deeper truth behind this, from a magic/occult perspective.

Though I have been interested in mysticism and all things occult for a long time (it all probably stated with The Tao of Physics), it took my discovering John Michael Greer's writings--in particular, his Well of Galabes blog--to acknowledge to myself that there is something over and beyond what can be explained by science and sensed by us through our, well, senses.

I can't really point to any single extraordinary incident that tipped me over to the other side, so to speak, it's more of a retrospective 'audit' of the things that happened over the last week, month, year, and so on, an audit that reveals interesting patterns, a balancing or settling of accounts if you will. Karma and cause and effect and all that.

Anyway, at the risk of sounding woo and cryptic, let me just say that the phrase 'Change in consciousness according to will' seems to be a good place to start.

Oh, and I have my own banishing ritual now, based on the pantheon of our deities.

To take the original thought that kicked off this post to its conclusion: the elderly catholic woman, in all probability, reaped the same benefits that she would have reaped had she been praying to a statue of the actually-intended saint. And no, I don't mean this in a facetious sense.

P.S. Reddit has an occult sub. Don't forget to check out the Illustrated Beginners Guide to Chaos Magic.

Friday, December 30, 2016

December 30, 2016

In the brave new post-demonetization world of cashless transactions and the RBI's clueless/tone-deaf exhortation to citizens to use digital payments to "enhance the experience of living in the digital world", it was ironic that plastic money worked mid-air during travel to/from Andaman, but not on the ground at any of the islands' hotels and restaurants. Guess they are yet to get the memo. Things were so (for want of a better word) cash-and-carryish at one of the places that there is no record (financial or otherwise) that we had even set foot in the premises; everything is settled on the spot that there is nothing to do at checkout time except to wave goodbye to the folks at the hotel reception.

Staying on the subject of Andaman and Nicobar: an excellent holiday destination, a big contrast from the eyesore that is Chennai (apart from the cleanliness, what strikes you is the near-total absence of any political symbols; no party flags, no posters, no mugshots of the local goons adorning cheap flex banners everywhere you turn).

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

November 9, 2016

I am not one to toot my own horn, but what the hell. I predicted exactly this a year ago:

I'll be over there in my corner, smoking my pipe in my armchair. Those with offerings and other goodies, please queue up and be orderly, everybody will get their turn.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The BS Economy

Yesterday I got my aging tablet's screen protector changed. What should have been a simple and quick visit to a mobile phone outlet turned out to be not so simple after all; I had to visit four such places before I could get this done. At each of the first three outlets, the response was that such services were not done there.

All of these outlets are located in a mall, one of the so-called trendier and happening ones in the city. You know how things are with malls: a lot of people strolling about, crowds at places like food courts and theatres, and most of the empty shops filled with bored salespeople with nothing to do but entertain themselves with fantasies of how they would like to push the strolling folks over the walkway rails.

The key word here is 'salespeople'; people who are trained to sell the stuff (I'm being quite generous with the word 'training' here), and nothing else.

There is a lot of talk about value-creation, moving up the value chain and so on, but this doesn't seem to translate very well into practice. We still have college graduates being churned out in their thousands every year, with degrees that are worth less than the paper they're printed on, with no real skills (and no, 'I have excellent communication skills and am a team player' is not a skill, even allowing for the invariable resume embellishment). The three or four years--don't get me started on engineering degrees--spent on getting a degree would have been much better spent in acquiring real skills like learning how to fix a car, cook a mean baingan bharta, or build a cabinet for a home entertainment system.

Or change the screen protector for a tablet.

Friday, September 09, 2016

September 9, 2016

Yeah, that about describes him perfectly:
If there was a fortune to be made at the bottom of a sack of shit, Blair would dive in head first (having been given a helpful push by his wife).
I have written about this before, but it's time to remind folks that there is another side to the story, in light of all the clueless people at the letters to the editor section at The Hindu who insist on rhapsodising about her sainthood:
What the hell, might as well throw this and this in as well.
Here's a pro-tip for the web developers working on the payment gateway module of our venerated public sector utilities (BSNL, if I'm not mistaken): when your message to the payment gateway is acknowledged to have been processed successfully, your response should be a matter-of-fact 'Yup, got it'. You should not display a 'Congratulations! Your payment has been processed successfully!' message to the user, conveying the impression that everyone at the backend were keeping their fingers crossed, and let out a collective sigh of relief that things worked out well after all. Doesn't inspire much confidence, folks.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 31, 2016

Quick pLisp update: pLisp is now much more liberal with respect to symbol names: almost any character is acceptable, except for ten or so 'special' ones like backquote, comma, double quotes, and so on. This has resulted in the added benefit of doing away with things like LET1 and CALL-CC and going with the more standard LET* and CALL/CC.  Also, built-in functions like + and CAR can now be used wherever user-defined functions can be used, e. g., as arguments to APPLY and FUNCALL. This was achieved by creating user-defined wrapper functions for the built-ins; profiling indicates that there isn't much of a performance hit because of this additional indirection.

Monday, July 18, 2016

July 18, 2016

Well, the Turkey coup has fizzled out. I was initially rooting for it to succeed, but the ramifications would have been worse if it had, at least globally, and Erdogan's recent peace overtures to Russia would have been undone. But spare a thought for the poor soldiers: you are ordered to take your tanks to the streets, probably being told it's just a drill, you encounter protesters on the streets who, well, protest, and you hold your fire in spite of the provocations; realizing the true situation, you surrender to the civilians, and end up suffering indignities such as getting beaten up, or, even worse, lynched. And, if you haven't been lynched, probably facing a death sentence anyway.

Pop quiz: how do you put together, in a span of 24 hours, a list of 2700 or so judges who were involved in the coup attempt? Answer: You don't, you simply pull out the list of dissidents you had put together in the preceding weeks and months and use the Allah-given opportunity to get rid of them.

The Hindu chimes is as usual with its hemming and hawing. My late father--and others of his generation--had a colourful Tamil phrase, vazha vazha kozha koza (wishy washy), to describe The Hindu. The paper is still living up to this deserved reputation.

Speaking of The Hindu's opinions, I've always been at a loss as to how best to characterize this, notwithstanding the above apt phrase. Then it hit me: Grand Maester Pycelle in The Game of Thrones. Picture Pycelle speaking the words from The Hindu's editorials in his querulous and quavering voice, with liberal usage of "On the one hand..." and "On the other hand...", and you'll see what I mean.

It was bound to happen, and it did. The lemmings are at it again, this time it's Pokemon Go. The craze in the west is understandable, sort of: kids who grew up with Pokemon in the 90s are now young adults with disposable incomes, and Pokemon Go is a way for them to reconnect with the past. What's the lemmings' excuse?

Friday, July 01, 2016

July 1, 2016

Must-watch interview of Mark Blyth. You know we as a species are fscked when a video like this has only 12,534 views while Gangnam Style exposes overflow problems in the hits counter variable. The money shot (even better to hear it from the man himself, with his charming--Scottish?--accent):
...It's not going to sustain itself. So, you know the Germans have this thing that we don't want it to become a transfer union. What do you think you're in? Right? At the end of the day, you're transferring labour, skills, responsibilities, it goes with the gig. And you did an undervalued exchange rate by having your super-efficient economy buried in all these less-efficient economies so that you can sell more BMWs to the Chinese.
And this has relevance to what I mentioned yesterday about allowing malls to be open 24 hours a day (as in, this is the argument you should be using, and not the dishonest and cynical stuff):
Here's the problem: What do you mean by reforms? Some abstract notion that you should get into the pharmacy monopoly. Let's fuck pharmacists. I can now buy my meds over the counter in a supermarket which got deregulated hours so it's cheaper so we can all buy drugs at ten o'clock at night. Please tell me how that invigorates an economy that has lost 30% of its GDP. This is a fantasy.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

June 30, 2016

(Warning: Game of Thrones Season 6 spoilers)

Well, Season 6 of Game of Thrones is over. This is easily the best season so far for me, notwithstanding the WTFs involving Arya's Braavos escapades and Dany's crappy plot line. To be fair, I watched seasons 1 to 4 in more or less binge mode (bless you and RIP, Show Box), so I may be wrong. The post-premiere discussion megathreads at reddit are the place to be after watching the episode, where you get to experience the depth of emotions people exhibit for having R+L = J confirmed for them after waiting for 20 years and also some hilarious comments ("Lancel should have crawled zig zag" and "Tommen took the name 'Kings Landing' too literally").

Episodes like "Battle of the Bastards" and "Winds of Winter" are always better appreciated on the second viewing; half of the first time is spent in nervousness/dread, wondering what unexpectedly crappy thing is going to happen next. The second time you're more relaxed, knowing what's coming next, and are also on the lookout for the minor but important details you missed the first time (pointed out helpfully in the relevant reddit thread).

On a related note, I started watching The Walking Dead, and after two episodes I can't for the life of me figure out why it's held in such high regard; bad acting, bad editing, cliches all over the place, you name it. Maybe GoT has spoiled me, but things better start looking up in the next episode or two.

"Family life" my ass:
CAIT national president B.C.Bhartia and Praveen Khandelwal maintained that allowing shops and establishments freedom to operate on a 24/7 basis would have a detrimental impact on the traders. Their case is that it would have repercussions on law & order, environment, health, social and family issues.
Why not be upfront about the real reason, i.e., "Our business and profits will be at risk if this act is passed"?


pLisp has been ported to 64 bit. I thought I had already taken care of potential 64 bit issues, but boy was I wrong. The things that bite you in the ass are not the obvious gotchas like unsigned ints that were used to hold pointer values, but stupid effing stuff like missing function prototypes which screw you over in oh so unexpected ways. Nah, I'm not bitter at all, why do you ask?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

May 10, 2016

In case you wanted any more proof of the way the markets are decoupled from fundamentals and are dependent (*ahem* coupled) on happenings elsewhere:
Sentiment was supported by lower-than-expected U.S. April non-farm payroll numbers, as it meant the Fed would take longer time [sic] to raise interest rates.
That's right, there's bad news on the economic front in the US, so their central bank is going to defer the rate hike, so it's good news for the Indian stock market because it's good news for the American stock market because of the continued maintenance of higher liquidity conditions there. Or, is it that the rate hike deferral means that emerging markets continue to be attractive to overseas investors? I don't know man, by now I don't know whether I'm coming or going.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

April 30, 2016

After a lot of false starts, I managed to port pLisp to Windows. Long story short, it took the MinGW GTK+ and GTKSourceview packages and the MinGW compiler--in Cygwin--to get things to work. The Windows version is shipped pre-compiled (for 32 bit right now); you just need to unzip the files to a directory of your choice (in addition to installing the aforementioned MinGW bundles).

Since we have all the bases covered (POSIX and Windows), pLisp has now been formally introduced to the rest of the world. Some very useful feedback and bug reports from the r/lisp community, thanks folks.

Monday, April 04, 2016

April 4, 2016

Excerpt from the Indian angle to the Panama Papers:
MF records list Indira as a shareholder in Stanbridge Company Ltd, which was incorporated in 1999 in the BVI. Records show that shares of the older couple were transferred to their daughters in 2011 and eventually, in October, 2011 Malika Srinivasan relinquished her shares “for personal reasons” to one Ved Prakash Ahuja. They also show that shares of another BVI entity, Auto Engineering Development and Research Limited, were transferred to Stanbridge. MF records show the company was struck off the records in September 2015.
Response: Mallika Srinivasan stated: “I wish to clarify that I did not set up any offshore company and have no connection with Stanbridge Company Limited. It belongs to Mr V P Ahuja, an NRI…”
- See more at:
MF records list Indira as a shareholder in Stanbridge Company Ltd, which was incorporated in 1999 in the BVI. Records show that shares of the older couple were transferred to their daughters in 2011 and eventually, in October, 2011 Malika Srinivasan relinquished her shares “for personal reasons” to one Ved Prakash Ahuja. They also show that shares of another BVI entity, Auto Engineering Development and Research Limited, were transferred to Stanbridge. MF records show the company was struck off the records in September 2015.

Response: Mallika Srinivasan stated: “I wish to clarify that I did not set up any offshore company and have no connection with Stanbridge Company Limited. It belongs to Mr V P Ahuja, an NRI…”
MF records list Indira as a shareholder in Stanbridge Company Ltd, which was incorporated in 1999 in the BVI. Records show that shares of the older couple were transferred to their daughters in 2011 and eventually, in October, 2011 Malika Srinivasan relinquished her shares “for personal reasons” to one Ved Prakash Ahuja. They also show that shares of another BVI entity, Auto Engineering Development and Research Limited, were transferred to Stanbridge. MF records show the company was struck off the records in September 2015.
Response: Mallika Srinivasan stated: “I wish to clarify that I did not set up any offshore company and have no connection with Stanbridge Company Limited. It belongs to Mr V P Ahuja, an NRI…”
- See more at:
You really have to hand it to the 1%, the response is a masterclass in staying on the right side of truth while projecting an air of innocence (assuming they're not brazening it out on the assumption that nothing will come of the whole thing). "...I did not set up any offshore company" (doesn't preclude a registered agent setting it up for her), "...have no connection with Stanbridge Company" (again doesn't preclude having had a connection) and "It belongs to Mr V P Ahuja" (conveniently doesn't say whom it had belonged to).

Related must-read article. Also this, from 2014.

Staying on the subject of leaks, this is sure to bury the Unaoil leak. By the way, did you know that L&T was a beneficiary of a rigged tender process, courtesy of a Unaoil insider?
MF records list Indira as a shareholder in Stanbridge Company Ltd, which was incorporated in 1999 in the BVI. Records show that shares of the older couple were transferred to their daughters in 2011 and eventually, in October, 2011 Malika Srinivasan relinquished her shares “for personal reasons” to one Ved Prakash Ahuja. They also show that shares of another BVI entity, Auto Engineering Development and Research Limited, were transferred to Stanbridge. MF records show the company was struck off the records in September 2015.
Response: Mallika Srinivasan stated: “I wish to clarify that I did not set up any offshore company and have no connection with Stanbridge Company Limited. It belongs to Mr V P Ahuja, an NRI…”
- See more at:
MF records list Indira as a shareholder in Stanbridge Company Ltd, which was incorporated in 1999 in the BVI. Records show that shares of the older couple were transferred to their daughters in 2011 and eventually, in October, 2011 Malika Srinivasan relinquished her shares “for personal reasons” to one Ved Prakash Ahuja. They also show that shares of another BVI entity, Auto Engineering Development and Research Limited, were transferred to Stanbridge. MF records show the company was struck off the records in September 2015.
Response: Mallika Srinivasan stated: “I wish to clarify that I did not set up any offshore company and have no connection with Stanbridge Company Limited. It belongs to Mr V P Ahuja, an NRI…”
- See more at:

Thursday, March 31, 2016

pLisp File Browser

pLisp now has a File Browser too, for those who are not so enamoured with image-based development:

It's pretty much bare-bones functional; you can open, edit and save files (it's multi-tabbed, so simultaneous handling of multiple files is supported). The programming-specific features are the bells and whistles that are carried over from the Workspace: evaluating expressions, syntax highlighting, autocomplete, parens-matching, and context-sensitive help both via the F1 key and displaying function signatures in the status bar.