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Quickgun_KC's firin' away

...and you are at the receivin' end

The Panasonic Lumix FH20
This is just a short update:

Wanted to replace my old Sony DSC-W5 Point and Shoot Camera. Carried out some research. Found rave reviews on the Panasonic Lumix FH20. Decided to buy the same.

Was I impressed with it? The answer is an exhilarated 'YES!'. This thing can produce some really amazing snaps even if you have no knowledge of photography. I now realize how handicapped I was with the Sony piece. It is a stone age tool compared to the FH20. The outdoor snaps (and even indoor ones with adequate light) are sharp and brilliant by point and shoot standards. The Intelligent Auto mode works quite well. Of course, there a couple of downsides - photography in low-light indoor conditions may still not be up to the mark. But most point and shoots don't achieve that. If you just switch on the tube-light in the room, you are back in business. Also, don't expect magic in the HD video recording. The quality is just about ok (and sometimes below average). Go buy a good camcorder for HD video. Apart from these downsides, my opinion is that everything else is crackling good.

I won't be providing a detailed technical review or snaps - you can find these on a number of blogs. But I can vouch for this big little camera. If you want value for money, and don't want to spend time on the nuts and bolts of photography, this is definitely a good choice.

Too bad Panasonic is not aggressive enough advertising in India.

Open letter to Nandan Nilekani
Reference: Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar’s open letter to Nandan Nilekani in the Times of India, July 5, 2009 (http://epaper.timesofindia.com - Follow instructions there. Go to Bangalore edition of Sunday Times, July 5, 2009. Choose the 'All that matters' section).

Dear Nandan Nilekani,

This is one techie to another.

After reading Swaminathan’s open letter to you, I am beginning to feel sorry for the unholy mess you have bravely cast yourself into. Ofcourse, some of Swami’s concerns cannot and should not be addressed by you (an example being whether the ruling parties of West Bengal and Assam will actually use the smartcards to check illegal immigration – there is nothing you can do about that). At the same time, some of his other concerns certainly apply to your scope of work.

I have some suggestions . I know you are much more capable and experienced, and can think up all the necessary solutions. Besides, I am no expert in these matters, and some of my suggestions may be unworkable. But I believe a bit of open brainstorming can help.

1) Please run your outfit in private industry style. It should be performance driven, with NO job guarantees. At the same time, remuneration should be commensurate with private industry standards, with metrics-driven bonuses. If the GoI insists that your organization must follow Government employment rules with cushy job guarantees and Government pay scales, ask them to go take a hike, and return back to Infy.

2) Link multiple biometric data (retina, voice print, thumb print) as well as facial and full length photographs to a single smart card. This might increase the cost a bit, but it will also make it a bit more foolproof. The costs can be reduced by high-volume orders for biometric equipment, and intelligent tailoring of the data acquisition process.

3) Use two data entry operators to process entries for a single card. If one of the operators makes a mistake, the system can raise a red flag. This will increase accuracy, and reduce voter-ID style goof-ups.

4) The data base should also maintain records of the officials involved in issuing a given smart card. Post-issuance, the system should randomly choose some citizen IDs for a double check process. Vigilance officers will go out into the field do a check. If the biometric data/photographs associated with a smart card is found to be false, it will be followed up by initiation of punitive action against the issuing officials, and a bonus for the vigilance officers. I know this is beginning to sound somewhat draconian. But I am not talking about falsification of other records like address, etc, where the poor officials may sometimes get fooled by the applicant. I am talking about hard biometric data and photographs which are equipment-acquired. Also, error rates for biometric methods (FAR, FMR, EER,etc) should be taken into consideration here. Since a combination of biometric methods will be used, it will be easier to handle individual error rates.

5) Privacy: Please ensure very strict measures are adopted for protecting the privacy of the biometric data. If possible, use cancellable biometrics. This involves storing a controlled distortion of the biometric data. Even if it is leaked, it can be replaced. Refer to the following: N. K. Ratha, J. H. Connell, and R. M. Bolle, "Enhancing security and privacy in biometrics-based authentication systems," IBM systems Journal, vol. 40, pp. 614-634, 2001.

New edit: I am not suggesting storing the biometric data on the smart card. That would be far too dangerous. Rather, just some primary information like ID number, facial photograph, database linker tokens,etc should be stored on the smart card.

Update: Nandan replied to this with a thank you note!

Enjoying the commute in Bangalore!
Traffic in Bangalore can be a huge mess on most days. It is tiring to commute to office if you are doing the driving. I prefer my 2-wheeler on most days, because I can get to office much faster (not to mention the huge savings on petrol). However, due to the rains, I am being confined to my car now-a-days. In the good ol’ days when I didn’t have to carry my laptop, I wouldn’t care. It tends to rain only in the evenings in Bangalore. I would slip on a raincoat, get home a little wet, get scolded by the wifey, and that would be all.

Well, now that I am ‘confined’, I have discovered a new way to pep up the drive – Podcasts!! I download free podcasts onto my iPod Nano, hook the Nano to my car’s audio system via the aux-in, and listen to the podcasts all the way. (I pause the podcast when traffic moves fast – safety first).

My favorites are ’60 Minutes’ from CBS News, ‘The Economist’, and ‘How Stuff Works’. ’60 minutes’ is particularly good – well researched, focused, and intelligent. No wonder it is one of the most respected investigative TV news-magazines in the US.

I am also considering fitting a coffee holder for my car. It would be nice to sip on a cuppa at red-lights while listening to this stuff. Highly stimulating.

I guess I have made my peace with Bangalore’s roads :)

Some book recommendations
Here is an email I sent to one of my wife’s colleagues:


You had requested for a recommended reading list quite some time back. I am sorry I couldn’t send this earlier.

Thanks to job pressures, I am no longer the avid reader I once was. I can manage hardly a couple of good books in half a year. I am sure I have missed out on some really good titles in recent times. I guess the best places to get recommendations would be book clubs such as the Bangalore Book Club (http://bookclub.meetup.com/610/). Anyway, I’ll name a few titles which I liked. I’ll start off with a small list, and send in more when I get the time. Note: I won’t be focusing on hard-core stuff that wins Nobel prizes. I’ve attempted such books, but find that they take too much of commitment and sometimes tend to be depressing! I’ll recommend lighter (though not trivial) stuff. I admit that a lot of my reading was pulp fiction like John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, etc, just to pass my time. I won’t touch upon these. I’ll focus on more meaningful light reading instead.

I won’t be providing a review for the books, except a couple of lines. I’m sure you will find good, detailed reviews on the Internet. The same goes for other information such as Publishers, ISBN number, etc.

So here goes:

1) ‘India after Gandhi’ by Ramachandra Guha.
Category: Non-fiction, History
A magisterial work on the history of India after Independence. I found it very masterly, informative and entertaining.

2) 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' by Stephen R. Covey.
Category: Non-fiction, Self-Help
A great book which teaches you how to set your priorities right and live a good, meaningful life. (But the author admits that it is difficult to apply all the principles taught. Besides, my wife will strongly disagree if I attempt to claim that I have applied any of the principles myself :) ).

3) 'Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything' by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
Category: Non-fiction, Alternative Economics
A very intelligent and entertaining book which uses practical logic to dissect some seemingly mundane situations and reveal fascinating insights. Economics and mathematics applied in a totally freaky way. The best part was the dissection of Sumo Wrestling match results in Japan: The author analyzed the results to prove that there is a very high probability that the matches were fixed. You will gasp in amazement at the brilliant and cheeky analysis.

[The next one was not included in the email]
4) "On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors: John Z. DeLorean's Look Inside the Automotive Giant " by John Z. DeLorean and J. Patrick Wright
Category: Non-Fiction, Business
An insider account of the corruption and nepotism prevalent in General Motors in the 1970s. A very good book on how not to do business. This one has pizzazz!

5) 'The Complete Yes Minister' and 'The Complete Yes Prime Minister' by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay.
Category: Fiction, Political Satire
Very entertaining books about how a Minister has to deal with his bureaucrats. Though they are set in Great Britain, they could apply equally well to India.

6) ‘The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand
Category: Fiction, Philosophy
It advocates the philosophy of objectivism. I don’t agree with the philosophy, but it is interesting to get insights. A word of warning: This book is a bit of a heavy read. Attempt it only if you have the time and the inclination.

7) ‘The Company: A Novel of the CIA’ by Robert Littell
Category: Fiction, Spy wars
A very engrossing book on, you guessed it, the CIA-KGB wars. Read it even if you feel you have had enough of those spy wars. It is epic in nature. (And no, I wouldn’t call it pulp fiction).

I have also heard a lot of good things about ‘The Google Story’ by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed. I intend to read it as soon as I get the time.

Happy reading!

Transition to the Church of emacs
One of my colleagues at Mistral is trying to convert me from the Church of vim to the Church of emacs. Am finding that my ten fingers are not enough. I need my ten toes too to use this OS...err editor.

Minor Gmail bug
Here is a Gmail UI bug I found. It is minor, but such bugs should not occur in decently written code. I have reported it to Google. For the Yahoo folks on LJ- God gives us little pleasures everyday. Here is your little pleasure for the day :-)

Summary: If a large number of conversations are present under a filter/inbox, and all are selected, then when I try to 'deselect' one conversation, all of them get deselected.

Why it is bad: Obviously, I might want to exclude some conversations from the action I wish to perform on all the others.

OS: Linux (Fedora Core 5 distribution)
Browser: Firefox v1.5.0.1
Steps to reproduce:
1) Ensure label has lots of conversations, so that not all conversations can be seen in one page.
2) Click Select 'All'
3) You will get a message that goes something like:
All 50 conversations on this page are selected. Select all 205 conversations in "blug-tech"
4) Select all conversations using the hyperlink in the above message
5) Now, try to deselect one conversation - you will find that all of them get deselected

Addendum for some folks who asked: Yes, this happens in Windows+IE too

Discovered black tea with lemon. Simply divine.

I had seen people drinking stuff like black tea, black coffee, etc. I disliked the idea of even trying. I would imagine the possible taste of the brew, and would instantly get repulsed by what I imagined. But recently, I decided to get adventurous. I tried the black tea served here in Mistral. I got hooked, and how!

I hear there is a tea guru in my company who has experimented quite a lot. Black, green, herbal, and the list goes on. I think I should go get some gyaan from him.

The five rules of Socialism
Got this one from /usr/bin/fortune:

The five rules of Socialism:
1. Don't think.
2. If you do think, don't speak.
3. If you think and speak, don't write.
4. If you think, speak and write, don't sign.
5. If you think, speak, write and sign, don't be surprised.


On funny, African sounding packages
Received 5 free CDs of Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com). Saw a smile on the security officer's face when he handed the packet to me. Reason? The words 'ubuntu', 'kubuntu' and 'edubuntu' printed prominently on the package, I guess. Hmmm....waiting for the day he himself will be working on Linux based surveillance software, so he'll understand what's going on.

Great experience with Air Deccan...
Did you believe the title?

Well, I had to attend some religious ceremonies back home in Mumbai. I booked tickets on Air Deccan. I was happy with the the cheap(er) tickets I got. And it turned out to be paisa-vasool, because I got to enjoy the following rides in Deccan-Land:

Swing ride:
May 24, Wednesday. Original departure time of flight: 9:40 pm. I get an SMS saying that it is preponed to 9:15 pm. Reach airport on time with great effort, fighting against Bangalore traffic. Flight does depart, but at err....around 9:45 pm.
(Side attraction: Opened magazine pouch in front of me – find disposed wrappers, foil, pieces of food. The flight magazine sure has a jolly good appetite).

Bungee jumpin' :
May 29, Monday.
Original departure time of flight: 7:25 pm
I get an SMS saying that it is delayed to 9:10 pm.
After sometime, I get another SMS saying that it is delayed to 10:30 pm.
Pack my clothes. Mobile phone beeps to announce that an SMS has arrived. Joke to mom that it might be another SMS from Air Deccan announcing another delay.
Open message: Wham! 11:45 pm.
Reach airport at 10 pm. Ask other Airliners if they have an asap flight to Blore. No such luck.
Proceed to check-in. There, I am informed that ....ya you got it...that the flight has again been rescheduled. New time: 00:30 am.

Did the flight leave. It did. At around 00:40 am.
Didn't open the magazine pouch to see if the mag had a good dinner.

So will I fly by Air-Dhakkan again? Answer: Depends on who is paying :-)