Hari's Corner

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

My home page is now up

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Thu, Aug 18, 2005 at 11:42 IST (last updated: Thu, Sep 27, 2007 @ 15:47 IST)

I've finally put up my personal home page. I'll try to collect as much useful Debian/Linux information there as possible. I'm figuratively out of breath (meaning, my usual eloquence has run dry) after all that work of writing content. Therefore without any further ado, I present it to you: www.harishankar.org.

Do post your thoughts and comments on the design and content.
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Indian Cricket needs to move on

Filed under: Sports by Hari
Posted on Wed, Aug 10, 2005 at 10:34 IST (last updated: Sun, May 24, 2009 @ 19:23 IST)

Yes, this is my first Cricket post. It had to happen at some time. (Meta comment: whether I create a new Cricket category to accomodate a new Cricket section, however, remains to be seen.).

India lost to Sri Lanka in the Indian Oil Cup triangular tournament final yesterday (whether we need such meaningless triangular tournaments at all is another question altogether). I expected this after their struggle to victory against a rookie West Indian team. There was a depressing finality about the whole thing which makes for a sobering analysis of this current Indian team. Rather than sugarcoat the loss, I will be quite blunt about it: quite simply, the current Indian team played like a bunch of losers throughout the tournament.

Why such a harsh assessment? In the first place, I think that the whole team management has their priorities screwed up. Ganguly didn't deserve a place in the team in spite of his half century earlier (scored painfully slowly and with the sole intention of cementing his place in the team). Suresh Raina, a brilliant fielder was left out. Zaheer Khan has been woefully inadequate and ineffective at best throughout the tournament and yet Laxmipathy Balaji who showed promise in the one match he played, was left out of this match. We played both Kumble and Harbhajan Singh against a team that is renowned for playing the spinners well. We had a slow, immobile fielding side with people like Ganguly and Nehra patrolling the square boundaries. We had an "all-rounder" in the squad in JP Yadav and yet the team didn't consider him good enough to play him even against a weakened West Indian team. The whole credibility of the Indian selection panel is now open to question.

This raises a lot of questions. Granted, the selection of the playing eleven was screwed up right through all the games. But I ask a very simply question: would this Indian side have won this tournament with any other playing eleven? I don't think so.

You see, the problem with the selection policy for a long time now is that it has always been extremely conservative. India haven't really tried out any youngsters consistently. We have never been looking forward to the future. We've always preferred to go with tried and tested players who've failed to deliver at a consistent level at the International level. This situation reminds me a lot of England in the late 80s and the early 90s. Look at them now and look at the reasons for their current success. The key lies in the difference in selection policies then and now.

I seriously think that for India to be successful in the long term, we've got to go with youth over experience. The so-called "experience" has not really justified selection. Ganguly, Kumble and Laxman don't inspire confidence any more. Their playing days are over and I don't think they deserve a place any more after all their wasted opportunities. Moreover all three are quite immobile on the field and are a weak link in the fielding side. Ganguly may have scored 10000 runs. Fine. Great opportunity to tell him "Thanks for all you've done, mate. Congrats on scoring 10000 runs in ODI cricket. But sorry, it's time we moved on." Ditto with Kumble. I do think that Dravid needs to be an independent captain with a totally new side and for this Ganguly needs to bow out or be shown out of the Indian team. We need more youngsters playing regularly in the team. If nothing else, look at what it does to the team spirit. A look at the current West Indian team gives us some great answers. The old definitely needs to make way for the new.

The answer is quite simple: throw out the "experienced" non-performers and go with the freshness and spirit of youth. Indian Cricket needs to come out of its conservative shell. Failure should be dealt with mercilessly. There should be no leeway for the so-called "senior" members. Nobody is indispensable.

My appeal to the selectors now is to allow Indian cricket to move on leaving behind the baggage of the past. The current "senior" players should realize the writing on the wall.
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XML and mainstream web development

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Sat, Aug 6, 2005 at 20:54 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 20:58 IST)

I have been poking around XHTML quite recently and this has led me to become more and more interested in XML as a real viable alternative to the standard HTML as a web markup language. A lot of people do seem to be genuinely interesting in XML and tend to believe that the future of web design may well lie with XML rather than traditional HTML. And from what I've seen of XML so far, it does looks to be very sophisticated, structured, powerful and complex. Not at all trivial. Of course, the concept of XML is easy at first sight. It is a meta-markup language that allows you to develop custom structured documents and data within documents. It is really simple to understand XML at the theoritical level, but rather more difficult to implement as a practical solution for day to day needs.

I was going through an XML manual today and it struck me that while XML offers so much power, it becomes very difficult to put that power to use in a simple context like displaying content on a web page. For example, with plain HTML it is so easy to display data because HTML is geared to display and formatting web pages. Simply put HTML allows unstructured document creation. With XML you're on your own. How you store the data is up to you, but when it comes to displaying it, you need to learn how to design a XSL style sheet that effectively converts and displays your XML data on a browser. For example, you might have a phone directory stored in XML format, but how you display it in a web page is more work than actually storing the data. It also requires much more thinking that merely using tags to display bold, italic or underlined text or just displaying a heading in a HTML page. The average web designer is not a programmer. XML development requires a designer to think like a programmer - think in terms of objects, metatags and abstraction: separation of formatting from the document source. As it is, most web designers have problems with CSS. Imagine how much more trouble they would have understanding the XML concept. Though I am a programmer, I myself find it quite abstract and hard to understand without placing its usage into a context. XML is a non-contextual markup language and that's what makes it hard in day-to-day use. You have to plan your document data organization all on your own. You have to understand how to structure your XML document and learn how to place seemingly non-structured content within that structure. Sounds a lot like database designing? More or less. And good database design is a topic that deserves entire books all on its own. What makes the use of XML so much more tricky in web design is that web pages generally tend to be unstructured at least in appearance. And it takes a lot of planning to structure and categorize content in a web page.

While I can see a lot of potential for XML in so many other contexts where data tends to have more inherent structure, I really don't see XML coming close to mainstream use in standard web development in the near future. XML is definitely for the hardcore developers - not for your average, fancy HTML web designer who uses Frontpage most of the time and has trouble understanding simple cascading style sheets properly. And going by the huge number of websites with poor design and the use of sloppy, malformed HTML, I really cannot see XML in mainstream use in website design and development.
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Intermission: Longhorn humour

Filed under: Bits and Bytes by Hari
Posted on Wed, Aug 3, 2005 at 11:39 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:48 IST)

Well, most of my articles have been quite serious. I guess it's time for an intermission of sorts. I just remembered an old thread from LinuxQuestions.org when I recently read a news item about Longhorn being renamed to Windows Vista. It's a bit long, but if you have the time I highly recommend that you read it fully. It keeps getting funnier and funnier... You'll be in splits for two full days once you are through with it. Great way to lighten up your day. :D

Here it is: Windows Longhorn Beta Test Results

Is this guy for real? Or was it all an elaborate joke? I leave it to you to decide for yourself!
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Let's get back on track!

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Tue, Aug 2, 2005 at 13:01 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:51 IST)

I am not going to be all sugary and sweet in this issue of the Community Newsletter. Rather it's time for some honest straight-talk. Why not admit it? There is definitely a tinge of disappointment that LiteraryForums.org has not really taken off the way it should have.

About the time of the previous issue of the newsletter, I had high hopes that the LiteraryForums.org community would be more and more active following the increase in membership and the burst of activity we saw in June. But my hope keeps waning with each passing day and we seem to have come back all the way to square one.

I have put in a lot of effort to keep the community active, but at the present moment, participation has dwindled to insignificant proportions... and that's a pity because we have been blessed with some excellent content thanks to our regular members. I have no idea why activity has dwindled to such abysmal proportions. It's very disheartening both to me and our faithful regulars after having put in so much of hard work to keep the community going and accelerate its growth...

Consider the facts. In the last few weeks, we haven't had more than 10 posts or so in the forums and with each passing day I see no new members and virtually no activity. And this isn't anything new. Right from the beginning, we've never really seen any kind of steady increase in community participation. Yet the site traffic has been increasing by leaps and bounds.

I had already commented on this phenomenon earlier, but it continues to baffle me! And I'm sure it continues to baffle all our regular members as well.

I have been extraordinarily patient in this. But I shall soon be driven to the policy where the site content will be accessible only to registered members. Guests shall not be able to view any content. Why should people take advantage of the site without actually participating actively in the community, which is what LiteraryForums.org is all about? I think too many people just lurk on the forums, read stuff and then leave... this has got to be stopped.

Please do think about it. I request feedback from all of you before I decide on such a drastic move.

Finally this seems to be an ideal time to express my heartfelt thanks to those who *have* contributed regularly to the community: floppywhopper, our moderator and azrael26, one of the senior members of LiteraryForums.org. Floppy has been a very level-headed person, providing me with guidance and assistance in managing the forum while Azrael has contributed a lot of useful reviews to the community. Both of them have been extraordinarily supportive of LiteraryForums.org over a period of time and I just felt that it would not be right to take their efforts for granted. Thanks, guys!

Yours Sincerely,

Hari (Forum Host)
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Customizing your Linux firewall

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Mon, Aug 1, 2005 at 19:59 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:07 IST)

Not too excited about diving into those intricate little scripts just to configure a basic firewall for your Linux box? Well, I recently discovered guarddog, a very useful GUI firewall configuration tool for Linux, written in KDE.

Till recently I was satisfied with Firestarter, but Firestarter offered very few configuration options beyond a few basics so I felt the need for a more powerful firewall tool in Linux. Enter guarddog.

Guarddog isn't really a stand-alone firewall application. It's a front-end configuration for the basic Linux firewall built right into the kernel. And what's more, with guarddog, you get a whole range of options: you can enable and disable individual network protocols (and you get a whole range of existing protocols already built into it) from different network zones, create new zones, create custom protocols and so on. You may find all those options a bit overwhelming at first, but it's fairly easy to get to know what you're doing once you understand a few simple concepts. In short, it's powerful, yet reasonably intuitive. But don't take my word for it: you can see it for yourself in the screenshots here.

If you find yourself needing a more customized firewall than the one offered by the rather basic firestarter but not too keen on doing it by editing configuration files manually, you might like to try guarddog.
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