Hari's Corner

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

LiteraryForums.org looking for a regular columnist

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Sun, Sep 17, 2006 at 08:53 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 17:51 IST)

I usually don't post major announcements on the forum here, but I thought I should mention this as it might be of interest to some bloggers.

Please read the announcement and contact me on the forum if you're interested: Details here
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The "which distro" syndrome

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Sun, Sep 10, 2006 at 17:41 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:01 IST)

As an experienced Linux user, I've always been slightly irritated by the omni-present "which distro" thread that frequently comes up on Linux forums and in particular LQ.org. Many of us feel that newbies don't do enough research or homework or that they are lazy and want to be spoon-fed. A curt "search before you post" or "use what works for you" seems to be the obvious response to such repeated questions.

But I have to ask: is it really such a great answer?

The reason I say this is quite simple. I've pondered over the reason as to why people sometimes post obvious questions on online forums even when the answer is just a simple search away. And I discovered that it's sometimes not just what you know - it's also about a little moral support and justification behind your decision. "Which distro" certainly is such a question. Answers to this question certainly requires a bit of moral support. What better way to get this support than to pose this question in an online forum and get some live feedback from real, live people? It's one thing plodding through the archives of an ancient mailing list and it's totally another getting a response tailored to your particular issue on a forum where you can brainstorm with your peers about the pros and cons of a particular decision.

I believe a majority of new Linux users seek reassurance and approval from the Linux community as to the choices they make. In many cases, they might have chosen a distro, say Debian, and then feel - "what would these guys say about it? Is it really wise for a new user like me to plunge into this distribution? What would these guys think of my ability, based on my inputs?" In a nutshell, they want to be told - "You've made the right choice and here's why..." Nothing more or less. But since this kind of direct approval seeking appears to be a form of a crutch, many people would rather pose the innocent question - "which distro." In many of these questions, you also find the answers. And so when you answer them with - "Choose what suits you best," they are a little miffed and come away dissatisfied. They also feel slighted because the community gives the impression that it doesn't care about what Linux distro they choose. It might be the truth, but rationality and logic cannot be applied when it comes to people seeking to be a part of a larger community and gain social acceptance.

So I think a majority of people who start "which distro" threads are actually doing it so that they can seek confirmation and reassurance from the community that it does care about their choices. They also want some kind of technical justification to choose a distribution and in the rare occasion they want to know what the distro is about - how easy it is and what kind of audience it's targetted at. But most of all, they want moral support for their entry into the Linux community and to be an accepted member of it.

I think the "which distro" syndrome is more about the social phenomenon of gaining assurance and the tag of recognition from the community than a technical question that seeks a technically correct answer. I do think that a majority of "which distro" questions have their answers within the question itself. And while that does not necessarily make it a bad question it just means that as experienced Linux users, we need to tailor our responses accordingly by gauging the intent behind it. A little encouragement goes a long way...
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Talk shows - an analysis

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Fri, Sep 8, 2006 at 13:57 IST (last updated: Thu, Oct 30, 2008 @ 08:18 IST)

Talk shows. The nadir of television programming. Here's just a sample:
Host: So, Mr. X, you were saying that such-and-such is bad for health and the environment.
Mr. X: Yes, as I was saying, what really is the problem is...
Host: Excuse me, Mr. X. But Mr. Y wants to make a point. Mr. Y, what were you saying?
Mr. Y: I was saying that Mr. X bases his opinions not on facts but on wrong perceptions and...
Host: Just a moment, Mr. Y. A member of the audience wants to have a word. But surely Mr. Y, what you're basically saying is that they're just misguided opinions and not based on facts. Why do you think that those are perceptions? After all, you cannot alter facts. Perceptions vary, but not facts. Excuse me... Yes, sir. What's your question?
Audience member: I was just going to ask Mr. Y about...
Mr. X: (interrupts) Allow me to finish, please... as I was saying, the problem is...
Host: Just a moment, Mr. X. You'll have your say in a moment. This gentleman here hasn't asked the question. Sir, can you please repeat the question.
Audience member: (under his breath) didn't even ask it, you idiot. (smiling) Yes, Mr. Y, why do you think it's not facts but perception?
Host: (without waiting for Mr. Y) That's a really intelligent question, sir. Mr. Y. There you have it. The ultimate question. Why do you think it's a perception? It could be a fact, could it not? We've heard a lot of strong, valid arguments from Mr. X on this subject...
Mr. Y: (gritting his teeth) Because, I think...
Host: Excuse me, Mr. Y. We'll have to continue this later. It's now time for a commercial break. Stay tuned folks. When we come back, Mr. Y will explain his stance on this issue.



Somebody who cannot let go of the microphone. The size of the host's ego would make Adolf Hitler at his prime seem like a meek schoolboy. They usually come in all sizes and shapes, but they have a common agenda - to use every inch of on-air time to massage their egos. Their main role is to interrupt other people when they're speaking and score cheap points. They *must* always have the last word on every issue (and usually do, because they hold the mike).

Experts panelists

Think they're God's gifts to this world. Cannot shut their traps even when enough hints are given. When two experts of opposing ideologies meet, they usually have a shouting match making pro-wrestling promos seem mild and civilized. They usually love the sound of the own voices and can go on speaking into eternity if given the chance.

The public

The dumb, long-suffering, silent creatures. When one representative is given a chance to speak or ask a question, he/she is usually so petrified by the previous assault on the eardrums and intellect by the host and the panelists that he/she splutters out utter nonsense. The questions asked by public members are so stupid that even the host cannot but smile at them. But even then they usually aren't allowed to make too much of themselves because the host has to pull away the microphone at the crucial moment.

The days of the good old quality Quiz programmes are gone...
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How to write an excellent article

Filed under: Humour and Nonsense by Hari
Posted on Wed, Sep 6, 2006 at 14:08 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 17:54 IST)

To my mind there's only one way to write an excellent article. This tutorial will teach you how to get the desired result as seen below.
An excellent article
In particular, note that the letter "A" is upper case while all the others are in lower case. We can mix and change cases as needed but this article will not go into those details.

We will confine our discussion to assume that we're using a computer with a keyboard to write or type. There are other ways to get the same result as we'll see later on.

To achieve the above effect, you need to do the following. Instructions assume you use a "qwerty" layout keyboard. If you're using a different format, please check your keyboard manual for instructions on locating the keys.
  1. First open any text editor. Say Notepad. Make sure the editor window has the focus (Move the mouse pointer into the window region and click on it once using the left mouse button to be sure). Otherwise it will not accept input and you won't see the result of your keystrokes.
  2. First hold down the "Shift" key in your keyboard. It is the key with the letters "Shift" printed on it. It can be found on the left and right end of your "qwerty" keyboard. If you are using a different keyboard layout, consult your keyboard manual or the manufacturer.
  3. Now, while holding the "Shift" key, press the key marked with the letter "A" once. "A" is the first letter of the english alphabet. It is the first letter on the left side in the second row of alphabets (qwerty layout).
  4. Now leave the "Shift" key.
  5. Now press the key marked with the letter "N". No need to hold down the "Shift" key this time.
  6. Now to leave a spacebar, press the long bar at the bottom of the keyboard once. This will leave a space between two words. Mind you, you haven't really typed the second word yet. We'll now move on to that.
  7. Similar to how you typed the first word, locate the following keys on your keyboard and type them in this sequence. "E", "X", "C", "E", "L", "L" (again), "E", "N", "T". This forms the word (in lower case): excellent. If you get EXCELLENT instead of excellent, please check the status of your "Caps Lock" key. If the LED labelled "Caps Lock" is glowing in your keyboard, it means that all the letters you type will end up in capital letters. Press the "Caps Lock" key (located on the left end of your keyboard) once to disable this function and try again.
  8. Now leave another space. Use the spacebar key to achieve this effect (as seen earlier).
  9. Similar to how you formed the word "excellent" you can now form the word "article". To achieve this effect, locate and press the following keys once, "A", "R", "T", "I", "C", "L", "E". You should now have the word "article" in front of you.

Congratulations. You've now typed/written the words "An excellent article" in your computer. Alternatively if you so wish, you can get a piece of paper and write it out in your own handwriting as well, but that is outside the scope of this tutorial. Choose whichever method you prefer.
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Observations on wikipedia

Filed under: Internet and Blogging by Hari
Posted on Mon, Sep 4, 2006 at 20:17 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:13 IST)

One of the things about using Wikipedia on a regular basis for background information on a variety of subjects is that one comes to the conclusion that it's rather difficult judging the quality of content on a generalized basis. There are plenty of people who question the quality or authority of wikipedia content. However, if I am asked to point out the single biggest drawback of a huge community project like wikipedia, it would be summed up in a single word: "inconsistency."

The reason I say that it's an inconsistent source of information is because the quality of articles depend heavily on the subject matter of focus. For instance, one finds articles related to computers and techy stuff to be of a very high quality because, naturally enough, a majority of the content suppliers are from the tech-savvy group. Again, wikipedia is great in covering well established sciences and most of the historical topics - traditionally considered as "encyclopaedic" subjects. The focus, naturally enough is on areas which really form core knowledge areas. But when you start exploring more unconventional subjects, you start seeing a wide gap in the quality of articles.

Let me take just one example to explain this. If you search for information on the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) you get a huge amount of content - in fact, individual biographical articles for nearly all the major stars - which is regularly, frequently updated with the latest events and news happening in that field and the articles are almost always of high accuracy and quality. Mind you, I'm not saying that WWE is not worthy of wikipedia coverage. But if one judges that contemporary culture and television is given a high priority going purely by this topic, one will find that the information provided on, say, contemporary Indian television programmes or series does not even come close to the level of attention provided to Western media. Particularly when you search for information on regional Indian language movies in Wikipedia, you will find the information sparse and of pathetic quality. Similarly, if you look for the history of UNIX or Linux, Wikipedia is a great, comprehensive source of information with tons of full-fledged articles digging into subtle details, but if you (for instance) want to learn more about Indian food in specific regions, you'll have to look elsewhere because the information you find simply won't be authoritative or comprehensive enough.

I think I wouldn't be far off the mark when I say that wikipedia is currently heavily biased in favour of the Western hemisphere. Naturally enough, because the majority of wikipedia users are tech-savvy users from the US, UK and probably a few other regions in Europe. Maybe there are some contributors from other parts of the world, but for the level and quality of content required, the expertise is spread out too thin.

This is not meant to be a criticism of wikipedia. As a community project, its success is one of a kind in Internet history. But whether it becomes a truly global encyclopaedia will depend heavily on how much contribution will pour in from specific regions in the world as internet penetration grows in third world countries. Maybe in a few years from now, we will be in a better position to find out.
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New reviews site with my own CMS

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Fri, Sep 1, 2006 at 20:14 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:14 IST)

I've converted harishankar.org into a general reviews website using my own simple content management system written in PHP. Actually it's nothing more than an articles manager. A very basic tool, but the advantage is that it's extremely lightweight, doesn't use MySQL and is very easy to update without any need for an admin control panel.

The reason I dumped WordPress for my reviews blog is that I wasn't really updating it that often and of course, the blog format is not ideal for a content-rich site. Nevertheless, I've probably saved a lot of disk space and an extra MySQL database and I have the pride of having creating my own solution for my needs. :P

I don't plan on extending this CMS into anything bigger as there are other tools that already do a great job of providing sophisticated systems. Mine is meant to be a simple articles manager and nothing more.

Hope you like it. Feel free to leave your comments on it here. And of course, if you need the source code, I'd be glad to share it with any of you. Just ask!
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