Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then
Site management by
Posted on Fri, Jul 10, 2015 at 14:04 IST (last updated: Fri, Jul 10, 2015 @ 14:37 IST)
There are a few sitewide changes that I want to highlight. First of all, the entire website is now converted to HTML 5. This overhaul also allowed me to clean the site structure and fix a few bugs in the HTML code which caused some stray invalid links.
Secondly the articles wiki powered by Pmwiki is gone. In hindsight, that section of the site has always caused me some headache. I am now using my simple home-cooked PHP CMS to display the articles section (the same CMS which I originally created for harishankar.org reviews site almost a decade ago, when my blog was still located at hari.literaryforums.org).
Thirdly I have simplified the site design by making the stylesheet common to all parts of the site. This will help me make site-wide design changes with minimal effort in the future.
I feel that overall the changes are worth it. In future, I may consolidate my website even further by designing a common platform for all sections. But that is a long way off, yet, since it will involve some amount of programming.
Here's a screenshot of the older design of this website for posterity:
Site management by
Posted on Mon, Jul 6, 2015 at 20:48 IST (last updated: Mon, Jul 6, 2015 @ 20:50 IST)
I'm planning to make a move to HTML 5 with this website. It's been a long time since I've blogged and I plan to write a bit more in the future. Lack of time, lack of motivation, lack of ideas, all the usual excuses come to my mind. Nothing really new to bloggers or writers in general.
I feel that the best way to stay creative is to keep refreshing my mind (outside of work) and one way to do it is to refresh the look of this website as well as my somewhat rusty programming skills
Anyway until then, this blog post will have to do
People and society by
Posted on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 07:53 IST (last updated: Thu, Mar 26, 2015 @ 07:56 IST)
In a landmark judgement in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India, delivered very recently, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000. This is a big boost for freedom of speech.
So what was section 66A all about? Here's the bare text of the provision:
"66-A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.-Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; or
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
Explanation.- For the purposes of this section, terms "electronic mail" and "electronic mail message" means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, image, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message."
Basically this section potentially criminalized any online message that offended or annoyed anybody reading it. As such, the section was open to wide interpretation and had even led to arrests over re-posting or sharing content on FaceBook.
I think the original purpose of this section may have been to catch online spammers and scammers by casting a wide net over their activities. See the part about misleading identities. However, I think the section's net was cast too wide. Anybody posting any content could be hauled up by the law as per this section since the authorities can easily interpret the words "annoyance" and "inconvenience" to apply to any online content. Without doubt this section was draconian and absolutely against online freedom of speech, not just in theory but in actual practice as well. There had already been arrests in respect of this Section and the fear of legal harassment cast a big cloud over the cherished values of freedom of expression.
The thing is, criminal law already has well defined parameters to deal with exceptions to free speech such as defamation, incitement to hatred and violence, sedition and so on. While free speech purists might vehemently oppose certain laws in respect of the above, at least those provisions clearly delineate the criminal from the non-criminal kind of speech. But Section 66A of the Information Technology Act clearly allowed authorities to give wide interpretations and meanings to the words in the section and criminalize even legitimate criticism couched in strong enough language. There is a world of a difference between incitement to hatred and mere annoyance. Again, defamation is clearly a separate class of speech that is defined by precedents and case law.
The Hon'ble Supreme Court has rightly struck this section off on the ground of violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. But I think the Supreme Court erred in holding that the section was not violative of Article 14 as well. Creating a class of offences specifically targetting one particular media was unreasonable and arbitrary, but the Supreme Court disagreed on the premise that the internet has the potential to reach a global audience instantaneously while the print media and other electronic media were fundamentally limited in reach. I think that though theoritically right, creating a specific class of crimes targetting one particular medium is unfair and wrong. For instance, you can be prosecuted for expressing an annoying opinion online, but not expressing the same on print or via national television reaching potentially millions of readers and viewers. In the above judgement, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has also refused to observe on procedural unfairness of the provision since they held that Section 66A was fundamentally unconstitutional in substantive law.
Overall, I think the Supreme Court has served the cause of democracy well in putting an end to this section. No civilized nation should be sanctioned by law to arrest a citizen merely on the ground of annoying or inconveniencing somebody else with their expression online. There are always remedies against the well-defined exceptions to freedom of speech as per the Constitution.
Posted on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 07:49 IST (last updated: Wed, Mar 25, 2015 @ 07:56 IST)
As we approach the business end of the Cricket World Cup 2015, I think that the best teams have made it to the knock-out stage. The quarterfinals were a disappointment though. None of the matches were really close encounters, though Pakistan did challenge Australia quite a bit with the ball. Here are my thoughts on the quarterfinal round of the World Cup.
South Africa vs Sri Lanka
Let's just say that Sri Lanka had a bad day with the bat on that particular day. South Africa's performance was clinical and impressive. It was not exactly the ideal farewell for the Sri Lankan veteran batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena, but I think South Africa simply deserved to win this one.
India vs Bangladesh
Everybody thought that Bangladesh would give India a run for their money in this game. I must admit that for the first 30 overs of the Indian innings, I felt that Bangladesh would restrict India to around 260-270 which would have made it a really tight contest. But I think Bangladesh players took the Rohit Sharma decision to heart and stopped focussing on the game from there onwards. Their sense of hurt is understandable, but I simply think India were too strong in any event and that the Rohit Sharma decision did not have as big an impact on the game as the Bangladeshis liked to believe. Simply outplayed in the end by a team that was consistent and professional to the finish.
Australia vs Pakistan
The best of the quarterfinals. I think Pakistan really messed it up with the bat and needed 30-40 runs more. Then their bowlers could have really made life difficult for Michael Clarke and co. As it was, Shane Watson was hopping around for a major part of his innings against Wahab Riaz. It's too bad that the Pakistani fielders could not live up to the standards expected of a top quality international side. In the end, I think Pakistan fought well, but they were simply too inconsistent with the bat and too sloppy on the field to make it to the semi-finals.
New Zealand vs West Indies
The West Indies were probably the side that least deserved to make it to the knock-out stage. Ireland showed better team spirit than the Windies in this tournament. New Zealand simply crushed the West Indian bowlers and used their expertise on home conditions to their best advantage. West Indies did show some fight with the bat at one stage, but it was too late by then to make a difference. Chris Gayle's short cameo could not mount any kind of challenge to the massive target of 393. Frustrating to see one day cricket of this kind, to be honest.
So that's it. I think South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand have been hands-down the best teams in this World Cup and they have rightfully made it to the semi-final stage. As of writing this, New Zealand have gone on to make it to the Finals, breaking their World Cup semi-final losing jinx in the process. Sadly South Africa might just continue to hang on to their tag as "chokers" in spite of an impressive overall performance in this Cup.
It's all set for a fantastic finish. Hope we have a couple of more close games.
Software and Technology by
Posted on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 20:10 IST (last updated: Mon, Mar 23, 2015 @ 20:23 IST)
After a long, long time, I've switched to a non-Debian based distribution. OpenSUSE 13.2 is now my primary OS. It's RPM-based and has a GUI for almost every system configuration possible. YaST is nothing like anything seen on any other distribution. It's a lot different from Debian and quite a bit different from even Ubuntu and co. Though I've tried RPM based distros before, I've always gravitated towards Debian and Debian-based based distributions in the past. Of course, I've tried a host of other distros as well such as Redhat (when it was still free), Fedora, Gentoo, Arch and Slackware. And I did review SUSE Linux 10 before. That was almost 10 years ago, way back in 2005. Since then SUSE and its successors have kind of slipped under my radar. The surprising bit is that I find myself nodding my head in agreement with that old review. A lot of that seems true of OpenSUSE 13.2 as well: YaST is still a superb and well-integrated system management utility. It's still a user-friendly and easy to install distribution. And yes, it is polished and solid.
All in all, I'm enjoying the experience of a new distribution with a completely different system of package management and configuration.
Why did I switch? Boredom. A desire to try something different. An itch to scratch. Just because I can...
Anyway, here's the mandatory screenshot. My desktop (the wallpaper is a photograph I took during a holiday):
Internet and Blogging by
Posted on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 21:24 IST (last updated: Tue, Mar 10, 2015 @ 21:40 IST)
I seriously miss the heydays of blogging. When you had thoughtful and intelligent people actually regularly blogging about issues and making well constructed pieces. It's now become rare to see anybody expressing articulate and independent opinions on any subject. With social media's status updates and wide sharing of memes and political posters, people simply repost thoughts or opinions that they agree with.
But I wish the people who used to actively blog and express their thoughts in more than 140 characters would return to serious blogging. I've posted about this before and I think in 2015 there are even fewer independent bloggers around. What do I think are the reasons for this? I don't know actually, but I think bloggers used to enjoy the feedback and the community that formed around them and when people moved in droves to social networking sites, individual blog networks suddenly went quiet. Suddenly your comments area was more inviting to spammers than to legitimate readers providing feedback. And so bloggers introduced anti-spam measures, some of which had a negative impact on reader-engagement. People who blog love an audience and when your audience dwindles the motivation to engage and connect with them decrease as well. I think what happened is a vicious cycle of dwindling readership and dwindling blog updates.
I also think bloggers are also to blame to some extent for the decline. Here is my list of what I felt really killed the community of blogging other than the social networking impact:
- Uncontrolled spam - comment spam forced bloggers to moderate comments and introduce tough anti-spam measures, some of which made it tedious to comment on blogs, but what was worse were blogs where spam was left unattended, giving the distinct impression that the blog owner didn't care.
- Third party commenting systems / login requirements - forcing users to log in to a third party commenting service or a blog seriously discouraged reader engagement.
- Lack of response - lack of response to readers' comments had a negative impact, especially on regular commenters. It's a two-way street and I think many bloggers started taking their readership for granted.
- Non-reciprocation - not reciprocating by leaving comments on readers' blogs is another reason why the network of blogging crumbled. I think, early on, bloggers had a larger audience of fellow bloggers than casual readers. I certainly believe that an informal, unspoken, unwritten agreement about reciprocation was what made social blogging so successful a decade back. Link exchanges used to be common too, but I think more than links, what bloggers appreciated was the reciprocal nature of fellow bloggers.
The decline of blogging could be the subject of an interesting study for social science students and researchers and it would be interesting to read the conclusions of such a study.