Hari's Corner

Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then

Ways to keep readers busy

Filed under: Humour and Nonsense by Hari
Posted on Wed, Feb 14, 2007 at 12:24 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 14:56 IST)

  1. Create a list like this with absolutely no idea in mind.
  2. Ask people to read it and comment on it... Don't worry, they will.
  3. Put something interesting below to keep them reading.
  4. Talk about something else after that.
  5. Make the list longer with meaningless items.
    1. For instance, start a sub-list.
    2. Fill it with more items.
    3. Make it longer.
    4. Are there any reasons for using sublists? Well it depends.
  6. Lists can be numbered.
  7. They can also be bulleted.
    • Like this sub-list for instance.
    • Stating the obvious is an excellent way to keep growing a list.
    • Lists are fun to work with.
    • Or perhaps they aren't.
    • It all depends on the individual, of course.
    • And it's amazing how lists can be kept growing with absolute nonsense.
    • And maybe a little bit of sense, in-between.
    • It's a good way to test people's patience.
    • In the hope that they'll keep reading it (if you've got this far, keep going).
    • Lists have that effect on people, you see (there's my proof!).
  8. But of course, lists should have some purpose (you still reading this?).
    1. What purpose, you ask?
    2. Well, it really depends on the list creator.
    3. All questions about a list should be directed at the list creator.
    4. It's the only logical way to get an idea.
    5. For instance, why was this list created?
  9. And lists should always end somewhere.
    • But of course the agony can be prolonged with further sub-lists.
    • Not many people have the ability to create longer lists.
    • So you should be proud if you can create one.
  10. A round number is a good idea to finish a list.
  11. Or maybe it isn't. It's cool to make lists with 11 items.
Finally just below the list place some profoundly insightful thought that will draw comments. Or maybe just end on that note while you're still ahead of the game. ;)
Comments (5)  

More on mobile spam and nuisance calls

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Tue, Feb 13, 2007 at 20:05 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 22:29 IST)

I know I've talked about the menace of SMS spam before. But it's more annoying when this problem crops up when you're in the middle of a car drive. And it just hit me that this problem has grown to the point where I'm seriously considering giving up my connection and opting for a different service provider. I'm even willing to put up with the inconvenience of informing all my friends and acquaintances about the change of number.

To me the whole concept of mobile marketing just stinks. If people get mad when they get junk mail on their free e-mail provider, it's only logical that they should be even more so when they get spam messages on a mobile phone connection they've paid for. It's hard to believe how the mobile operators and random marketing agencies think they can get away with sending ridiculous amounts of spam day in and day out and actually benefit by it.

For those who're not aware of the problem, here's a little round up of how this whole issue has developed over a period of time.
  1. Started off by getting ridiculous "spam" from my cell phone operator's own "customer service" number about downloading ring tones.
  2. The same started happening for this ridiculous concept called "caller tunes." (here's a hint to mobile phone operators: if I need caller tunes or ring tones junk, I'll ask for it! Filling my limited mobile phone memory with rubbish that I have to clean out is a pathetic marketing strategy.)
  3. Then third parties who have absolutely no business knowing my number started filling my SMS space with no-brainer "contests."
  4. Probably what I thought was the last straw - phone calls from the cell phone provider's marketing department with recorded messages. Advertising all kinds of "add-on" services.
  5. And today, on my father's mobile phone, while we were driving, we got a recorded message from a third party marketing agent who has no business knowing my number.
But above everything else, what really bugs me about this spam is that mobile phone operators want individual customers to come forward and opt-out. That's a ridiculous suggestion. Customers shouldn't *have* to do this to be rid of this disturbance in the first place. SMS spam and nuisance calls are not legitimate services provided by the operators. They add no value to the service and serve only to irritate and disturb people who might be busy with important work. It's one thing to enhance a service by offering add-on packages. It's much less annoying when they send these advertising and promotional offers along with the monthly bill. So there's no lack of opportunity there.

I don't know where this is going to end, but I forsee consumer interest litigations in the near future from people who're being hassled in this fashion. SMS spam, nuisance as it is, is nowhere nearly as annoying as these crappy recorded messages. I cannot describe the degree of annoyance when you receive a call from an unknown number only to find that it's a dumb recorded voice speaking in an artificially crafted accent. Sure, it's not happening too frequently at the moment, but every time it does, it becomes ten times more annoying than the last time.

Just take a lesson from hotmail... when the level of signal-to-noise ratio goes beyond a certain limit, the bubble bursts. And where are they now?
Comments (4)  

Alternate software MIDI synth in Linux

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Mon, Feb 12, 2007 at 16:18 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 22:29 IST)

I know I've written about MIDI in Linux before, but I thought I'd share another alternative to people who prefer using SoundFonts - fluidsynth. The advantage is that there are several high quality soundfonts available for download all over the web and you can use the qsynth GUI tool to easily to control the MIDI output.

qsynth

For users of Debian or Debian-based systems, setting up fluidsynth and qysnth is as easy as using the apt-get install command. Additionally you must download at least one SoundFont to use with it. Just search the web for some free SoundFonts (you might want to download a GM-compatible one for portability). Like all software synth, fluidsynth is also fairly resource hungry and will eat up plenty of CPU cycles. However, it's a good option for those who don't have hardware MIDI and still want to use SoundFonts.
Comments (0)  

Loan recovery by intimidation

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Mon, Feb 12, 2007 at 15:03 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:46 IST)

There was a piece of news which caught my eye recently about private banks using goondas (musclemen) to recover loans from individual defaulters - (see here and here). Of course, it is nothing new in India. Admittedly loan recovery is a sensitive issue in a environment where there are plenty of defaulters and conscienceless swinders. But such cases of using brute force come to light only when the Supreme Court suddenly decides to take note of the issue.

My issue with these private banks is,
  1. They bombard their customers with loan offers day in and day out through nuisance telephone calls/telemarketing and hand out loans without any discrimination or common sense. In such an environment, how can they ensure that every loan will be 100% recoverable? If they cite competition as the reason for being so aggressive in pushing people into debt, they will have to accept the risk of not being able to recover some of those loans, surely.
  2. They use their muscle power only against those people who cannot retaliate in kind. Would this private bank have sent its goondas to the house of a politician or even a rich businessman with high-level political connections? I don't think so. Only those who cannot strike back (the salaried middle class) are targetted regularly for such tactics.
Using illegal methods to extort money from people has a different connotation in society. Only repulsive school bullies indulge in such criminal methods. The problem is that the public has such a short memory that the bank in question will continue doing business as a "respectable" institution.
Comments (2)  

Complete recategorization on the way

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Sun, Feb 11, 2007 at 18:04 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:09 IST)

I'm planning to completely recategorize all the posts in this blog with a new scheme of categorization. Over a period of time I began feeling that the current method of categorization does leave a little bit to be desired as I don't think I'm able to cover all the areas I blog about. Instead of fitting articles rigidly into specific categories, I'm now looking for a more natural categorization scheme which will reflect the nature of the content better with the categories acting more like "tags" or "labels".

I'm open to any ideas you might have as well.

Update: I've redone the categories now.
Comments (11)  

Some thoughts on Apple and DRM

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Sat, Feb 10, 2007 at 15:26 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 22:31 IST)

After reading this article "Thoughts on Music" by Steve Jobs which has become quite popular online, I'm quite surprised when so many people assume that Apple are on the side of the customer in the DRM issue. A careful reading of this article made me more than sure that the real reason Steve Jobs wrote this article was to: To be sure, it's a thoughtfully worded article - a masterpiece in propaganda if there was ever one. Here's an extract from the article - an instance of what I'm talking about:
Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company. Or, if they buy a specific player, they are locked into buying music only from that company’s music store. Is this true? Let’s look at the data for iPods and the iTunes store – they are the industry’s most popular products and we have accurate data for them. Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.

Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. It’s hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.
What's the big deal with throwing around these numbers? It's stating the obvious! Everybody knows Apple doesn't make the big bucks selling music. If they were, then they would obviously be a lot more pro-DRM. They can afford to take the popular anti-DRM stance. It's not a big sacrifice on their part at all. They make money on the hardware.

In particular, read the highlighted line carefully. They're trying hard to dispel the image that they're trying to lock in customers to their hardware - that is their real focus. Apple want to dispel that image badly. They have tacitly admitted that DRM music cannot be a success with their hardware. At the same time, if the Music companies had their way, DRM would be a success and nobody would be able to be able to listen to music without DRM. Apple want to immediately disclaim responsibility on that point. Sheer genius...
So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.
Perfect, again. The highlighted point is the crux of the issue: the technical overheads required to create, operate and update a DRM system. Nowhere do I see any moral objection to the concept of DRM itself - as a means of limiting a paying customer from exercising his/her rights to fair use. It's an argument which essentially highlights an economic and technical reason to abandon DRM. While this might sound like music (no pun intended) to many customers' ears, the barrier might possibly be overcome at any point of time when DRM does become feasible. In that case, would Apple back the Music companies on the DRM issue? Nowhere does Apple commit itself to this issue and it's obvious why. If DRM does force more people to choose Apple hardware, why should they oppose it? Such a situation can be easily created through a deal between the Music companies and Apple if the right conditions arise. The question is whether those conditions will ever be created at all.

In other words, they're not interested in the other aspects of DRM - legal, social and ethical. And why should they be? They're a shrewd business entity... and their motive is profit and market-share. When they have both, why should they really worry about what are essentially peripheral issues to them?

More than anything, this line tells me that people who are against DRM cannot rely on Apple to take a firm stand against the technology. For Apple have clearly embraced DRM whether they say so or not. They want to have it both ways, for sure, but when it come to the crunch, they will not say "no" to DRM and risk the wrath of the music industry. Steve says so very clearly:
Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries. Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.
Those unhappy with the situation? Clearly Apple aren't unhappy. In fact, they're laughing all the way to the bank after selling their iPods.

This article was clearly intended as an exercise in PR. And in reality, that's exactly what it is. Apple aren't against DRM. They will clearly embrace DRM if they see that it is to their benefit. The only reason I see for them to oppose DRM is for business reasons. And business reasons dictate that since the majority of iPod users are people who're playing copied music without DRM support they don't embrace it wholeheartedly. (a.k.a. continue playing ball with both sides)

So whose side are they really on? The simple answer - neither side. They're on their own side vigilantly guarding their interests.

Point out the music industry to the customer and the customer to the music industry and then wait and watch from a distance. Reminds me of the story where two dogs were fighting over a piece of biscuit and the monkey came between them to arbitrate. In the end, the monkey ended up with the biscuit... Oh yes, Apple are shrewd, all right.
Comments (9)