Darrell Hair needs to be eased out

Filed under: Sports by Hari
Posted at 21:23 IST (last updated: Sun, May 24, 2009 @ 19:18 IST)
It won't be long before the raging fire over the Darrell Hair-Pakistan episode dies down. But it will remain yet another bitter episode in world cricket, constantly remaining under the surface, only to emerge when another controversy of this kind emerges. It's hard to be optimistic about the ICC's handling of such issues.

Everybody knows that the Pakistani cricketers are no angels and Inzamam's temper tantrums will earn him no sympathy. While the ICC is certainly right in punishing the Pakistani team for its refusal to continue the match, I think it's about time the powers-that-be seriously take a look at evaluating their own match officials and see where they're going wrong in managing unfortunate situations that arise during the progress of a match. After all, this is not the first time such a controversy has completely ruined a tour. Remember India in South Africa in 2001 and the Mike Denness issue? It's all very well declaring that the "letter of the law" has to be observed in such circumstances. Too often it's an easy excuse for making a mess of an issue by mishandling it. How about some skillful diplomacy and tact to defuse them? That would take some doing, wouldn't it? Or would that be too much to ask of semi-competent, half-baked amateurish match officials who have no training in professional management? After all, it's not a one-way street. Officials cannot always lay down the law ignoring everything else. The survival of cricket depends on mutual cooperation between players and officials. Yet the ICC continues acting in an authoritarian manner brushing aside all genuine criticism and throwing its weight around. All I can say is that it should wake up to reality before it becomes an irrelevant, orphaned entity and is ruthlessly pushed aside by all concerned.

Darrell Hair

When it comes to umpires involved regularly in controversies, two names come to mind - Steve Bucknor and Darrell Hair. Steve Bucknor's biases are pretty well known throughout the cricketing world. So much so that it's almost an institution by itself. As for Darrell Hair, he's been involved in so many controversies involving the sub-continent teams that it's hard to reject accusations of racism against him no matter how well-meaning his actions might be. Neither are particularly great as umpires. Both are supposed to be "experienced" veterans but neither seem to have benefitted from it. In fact, I would go as far as saying that Darrell Hair has always remained a mediocre umpire while Steve Bucknor has gone downhill at an alarming rate over the past few years. Yet, these umpires continue remaining on ICC's panel of umpires (elite or not) while decent umpires in the sub-continent are continuously being ignored. Fact #1: Ball-tampering is a particularly volatile issue because it's an accusation of cheating - as simple as that. Fact #2: Pakistan have a history of being involved in this issue and are probably more sensitive to it than other teams. Hair cannot pretend that he doesn't know the consequences of bringing up the issue. My only question is - forgetting everything else for the moment - when every other umpire can remain relatively controversy-free over a long career in spite of the pressures of the job, why does Hair seem to revel in it? Is it just his bad luck or is it something more than that?

Nevertheless, it's irrelevant whether Hair did the right thing or not in the incidents where he was involved. The fact is that he's a highly over-rated umpire who's been a controversy magnet over the years. Whether he chooses to attract them by his own over-officious attitude or whether he is a victim of circumstances is beside the point. World cricket simply cannot afford to tolerate prolonged mediocrity and incompetence. This should apply equally for players as well as officials. When players can get thrown out of their national teams for poor performance or due to politics, it's almost logical that officials should face the same music. It's time Darrell Hair gracefully retired or is gently eased out of the system.

Picture Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

Theme modifications (again)

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted at 19:47 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 18:00 IST)
I've tweaked my theme to make it brighter and fresher looking while keeping the existing simplicity. Almost all the changes to the previous theme were in the CSS and very little XHTML was changed.

Feel free to leave your thoughts on this theme.

Storm in a teacup

Filed under: Humour and Nonsense by Hari
Posted at 08:39 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 18:01 IST)
Here's how you can have your very own storm in a teacup.
  1. Prepare a cup of tea. Wikipedia lists some of the common methods of preparing tea all over the world. Make any kind of tea you prefer.
  2. Pour the tea out into a cup. Keep the cup preferably 3/4ths full.
  3. Now start stirring the tea very, very fast in one direction. Use a stirrer or a spoon.
  4. After acheiving a mini-whirlpool, start stirring the tea in the opposite direction very fast.
  5. Now get some spit into your mouth and hold your head above the teacup. Start spraying into the teacup by using as much force as possible. Alternatively you can use some other sprinkling device.
  6. Repeat the above steps for as long as you want the storm to continue.
  7. Finally pour the tea out or drink it. The choice is yours.

There you have it! Your very own storm in a teacup! :P

CMS hunting

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted at 17:09 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:15 IST)
I'm currently hunting for a good enough CMS which can be used for hosting my media reviews website. As of now, I only have my book reviews at harishankar.org but I plan to make it an all-purpose personal website to host my all my reviews (not just book reviews) when I get the time and motivation to do a complete revamp.

I could do it with WordPress, but of course, I'm looking for more than a blog. So far I've looked at a few but I couldn't really make up my mind. In the meantime, if any of you have suggestions for good content management systems, I'd be really obliged.

Some of my requirements are:
  • Should be fairly lightweight.
  • Needs to support articles, reviews and point rating of reviewed items.
  • Should have a fairly advanced categories system and support comments.
  • A simple and easy to modify templating system would be nice, but not absolutely required if the above requirements are fulfilled.
That's about it.

How to use Word Processors

Filed under: Tutorials and HOWTOs by Hari
Posted at 09:25 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 22:01 IST)
It's been a pet peeve of mine that a majority of people who use (WYSIWYG) word processors hardly understand the difference between visual formatting and document structure. When a document is created using a word processor, there are a few "don'ts" that I'd like to prescribe for those who want to create reusable and maintainable documents.

Don't create headings by just changing the font and font size

Ugh. There's nothing more ugly than using the "default paragraph" style as a heading by merely changing its font/font size. It prevents MS-Word (or whatever word processor you're using) from detecting the presence of a document structure and you can never create a Table of Contents.

Don't go from paragraph to paragraph, modifying paragraph properties

This is another issue I have with people. Have you ever modified a document by going from one paragraph to another by selecting huge chunks of text to modify its properties? This is a waste of time and makes your document a nightmare to maintain. Instead use the style manager of your word processor to define a particular paragraph style and apply it to all the text in your document. Makes it much easier.

Don't leave a trail of whitespaces to create blank lines/gaps

This kind of thing really isn't required. The best way to create spacing is to adjust page properties or use the "page break" feature to start text from a new page. For horizontal gaps try using tables or columns in your pages rather than manually leaving the space using spaces or tabs.

Again, many people have the habit of leaving a blank line between paragraphs. This is really not required. Gaps between paragraphs should be defined as a part of the paragraph properties and not by using whitespace characters.

Structure before visual formatting

Don't worry about the visual formatting of the document. Just use custom styles to enhance the visual appearance once your structure is in place. A visually appealing document without a structure can be a nightmare to maintain. A structured document can easily be made visually appealing with a minimum of effort later on. Always keep structure in mind while creating large documents.

Learn to use the style manager

This point is related to the earlier point. Using the style manager can be a great help in creating document elements which can easily be incorporated into your document. Do you need to use program listings in your code? Define a style which formats text in a fixed width font, within a boxed paragraph environment. Define this once and apply this style to whichever portions of text you need to format as code in your document. This makes it much easier to define and use a variety of document elements without doing the visua formatting work over and over again.

Finally, select the right tools for the right jobs

Finally I would suggest that people who want to create technical documentation or documentation that requires long-term maintenance either use a structured, feature-rich high-level typesetting system like LaTeX or a meta markup language like XML/SGML which enforces structuring rules rather than maintain these documents as DOC files.

Word processors are best left to PAs and office secretaries who create disposable documents like letters. Technical documentation which requires long-term maintenance and updation should almost never be written using a WYSIWYG editor.

Don't kill the goose (part two)

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted at 23:37 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 22:33 IST)
I had written an article some time back about how Linux faces a potential threat in the form of fence-sitting freeloaders who constantly crib and complain about Linux without anything positive to contribute. It's also quite true that veteran Linux users generally tend to cut these critics down to size and generally restore harmony in the world.

There is another side of the issue here which is probably a bigger threat to the Linux community in the long run than the one I mentioned before. It's not Microsoft or Intel, IBM or Sun Microsystems. It's about the internal conflict within the community itself. I'm talking about the eternal ideological conflicts and subconflicts that keep rupturing and fragmenting the community into smaller and smaller pieces. Don't know what I'm talking about? You should probably read about the history of the GNU movement. It all began when Open Source was born and acquired a distinct and separate identity from Free Software. Still confused? It's quite possible, because today people continue using the terms Free Software and Open Source interchangeably, although Open Source is arguably the more popular term. While I don't want to get into the history of this ideological rift, I am sure that most of today's problems in the FOSS world can be traced to those events.

The increasing commercial interest in Linux poses new challenges which the community has to deal with. Corporates are seriously looking at Linux as a business opportunity. Let's have no illusions about that. While this is essentially a good thing, it can also be a bad thing because corporations are more interested in their own growth rather than about the future of Linux. They will continue supporting Linux only as long as it makes business sense to do so. So they really cannot be relied on as a powerful ally of the community at large. Add to this the constant and confusing battles over which is better - the GPL-type license or the BSD-style license? Developers continue to fight over what is the best way to cover their backs while at the same time keeping the freedom envisioned by GNU alive. In some cases, it's also become fashionable to bash the FSF and GNU and instead adopt more restrictive licenses while still using the term "Open Source" leading to more confusion. Add to this the heartburn over software patents, Java, DRM, the GPL v3, Trusted Computing and the increasing worry about how to make FOSS commercially feasible. The last one is probably the most important issue because it is extremely sensitive because fundamental values and systems differ from individual to individual and this has probably the potential for maximum disagreement within the community. There is always talk about how to make money with FOSS, but rarely do we see any concrete examples of this put into action. A majority of the major FOSS projects today survive today purely out of voluntary community support. How long will these developers have the time and energy to maintain these software while getting no monetary reward out of them? Is corporate funding really a solution or will this lead to restrictions of software freedom and more importantly restrictions on creativity of future development? Difficult questions that need answers in the near future.

All these issues separately are minor ones, but they all point to a deeper rift - essentially a value conflict among those who belong to the community in general. This is dangerous because cooperation was what built Linux and conflict can just as easily ruin that work. Especially if that conflict becomes a conflagration.

These doomsday scenarios might sound far-fetched, but my observation over the last few years is that the Linux community is just drifting along - which is a dangerous thing - and we need to wake up while we're still ahead of the game. I'm not sure about the ideological drive behind the community any more. If it exists, it has weakened considerably. The new generation of Linux users no longer seem to care about the fundamental values driving FOSS. They want Free Beer and don't care about the Free Speech part of Linux. They know Linux exists and know its benefits, but seem to have the attitude that there's probably more where that came from and somehow, somebody with a majic wand will keep producing Free Software forever.

Sure, you'll probably say that a majority of us aren't programmers and couldn't do much with the source code so why should we care, but that's not the point. It's *understanding* what that freedom stands for that's more important because we'll know why we need to defend those freedoms. Never underestimate the power of ideology.

So if you haven't already do yourself a favour. Read the history of Linux, the GNU movement and Open Source. Wikipedia is a great source to start with. Find out and think about why these differences exist in the community. Take a stance, analyze it and last, but not the least, understand the full picture. Every serious Linux user and fan in today's environment needs to be informed and empowered if we're to make a difference.