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Sunday, January 30, 2005

New template

I've made some changes to the template.
  • The layout is now fluid, which means that it should occupy the entire screen. Try resizing your browser window to see how the layout is affected.
  • I've also changed the colours to a standard black and white to make it easier to read.
  • Link colours are back to default - blue for unvisited links and red for visited links.
  • The page structure and CSS layout has been made way simpler. If you did view source on the previous version and on this version, you would see the difference.
  • The layout is specified in percentages of the font size, so if the font size is higher, the margins etc will be more and so on. For those running high resolution displays: Try increasing the font size to make it more readable (ctrl + in Firefox). For those on super low res displays, you can reduce the font size. If my calculation is correct, the layout should still be propotional even with the changed font size. I'm planning to add in some Javascript + CSS later that will allow you to click a button to change the font size.

Blog template

I'm looking at changing the site layout. I will probably keep the colours, but I want to get rid of all the blank space on the sides. At the same time, it should be flexible so that the layout is not hardwired to a particular screen resolution. If you have any ideas, post them in the comments.

Podcasting: Digital pirate radio

Podcasting. After months of waiting and looking and waiting some more [mainly because of the firewall at work], I've finally decided to listen to podcasting.

Podcasting is the pirate radio of the digital age and are to radio what blogs are to journalism. It is actually nothing more than using RSS to deliver MP3 files to your subscribers. But it wouldn't be half as cool if that's all it did. Podcasting software like iPodder not only download the RSS feed, but dowload the enclosed MP3 files and automatically transfer them to your iPod (or any other player). So you dump your iPod to your PC at night, set iPodder to download feeds while you sleep, and when you wake the next day the latest files are sitting on your iPod, ready to be listened to during your commute to work.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The VW ad spoof

via Gapingvoid: Jeff writes about the spoofed VW ad.

You are no longer in control of your message, advertisers. You can fight it or you can embrace it.

Learn the lesson from the music industry. They fought. They lost. Big media is trying to learn that lesson now. TV is trying to learn that lesson. Your turn, advertisers.

The ad shows a suicide bomber in a VW who tries to explode himself, but nothing happens to the car, followed by the tagline "Small but tough". VW is threatening to sue for the damage caused to them.

Hugh, of gapingvoid, talks more about the changing dynamic of advertising in The Hughtrain, which in turn is based on The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Copying music onto iPods

I just came across this comment on Dilip's blog. She brings up an excellent point. There are many people who would never copy in an exam or plagiarise their academic thesis, but have no qualms about copying copyrighted music onto their iPods. Why?

This is an interesting question, and worth a much more detailed reply. The difference lies in the evolution of online culture compared to offline culture. The Internet has historically been a medium for the open distribution of information. Most Internet users have been brought up in such a community, and thus most Internet users show a distinct leftist bias (at least as far as IP is concerned) in their views.

The general view has been that once you buy a CD, it is yours to do whatever you want with it. If you want to copy it and distribute it for free, then that's your choice. In reality, you don't buy a copy of the song, only a license to use it for personal use, and under the license, copying and distributing is illegal.

There has been a lot of controversy regarding these licenses. After all, you never sign one when buying a music CD, and even licenses for software products have been mired in all sorts of controversy regarding their legality. It surprises a lot of people when they realise that they don't actually "own" the music CD or software that they bought. Software EULAs in particular add all sorts of absurd conditions in legal jargon that no one has a hope of understanding. Many are surprised to hear that common license agreements prohibit resale of the software, even if you paid for an original copy. Music CD's are even worse, with most people never even seeing the license which is printed in fine print in some corner of the CD or cover.

Intellectual property evolved in the 18th century out of a need to give creators limited monopoly over their creations in order to spur creativity. The reasoning is that if creators have no incentive to create, society as a whole would be poorer for it. The concept is to promote creativity in society, and protecting the rights of the creator is the means to do this, not the goal.

Today, IP is being used (abused?) to squash other creators, and is therefore not serving its original purpose - indeed hindering the purpose - of promoting creativity in society. This is the root cause, the reason why many people are against current IP laws. They feel that they are unfair, and no longer serve their original purpose. They are against organisations like the MPAA and RIAA that seek to use IP solely to enhance their bottom line. They feel that the laws are too restrictive and must be modified or an alternative found (Some are promoting creative commons, which is much less restrictive than all rights reserved, but still protects the creator, as the alternative).

Prominent online blogs and personalities are encouraging people to copy music and movies. They promote the view that if you bought it, then it ought to be yours and you should be allowed to do what you want with it. The unfortunate thing is that many users nowdays don't really realise all this. They just see their friends do it and think that it must be okay. Oh well.

Some references -
  • Larry Lessig is a prominent IP professor and lawyer at Stanford Law School, and he is the creator of the Creative Commons. He has written numerous books on these topics.
  • The November 2004 copy of the prominent WIRED magazine is titled "Fight for your right to copy". A free online copy is available here.
  • The Slashdot - Your rights online section is extremely widely read.
  • The Electronic Freedom Foundation is a huge, well funded non-profit for the protection of digital rights.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Funny Mappoint bug

via Scoble: Want to know how to go from Haugesund, Norway to Trondheim, Norway? Mappoint shows you how
Dave Winer points to a post by John Robb that explains a common fallacy promoted by the press. Quoting,

I am nonplused by the language, "fierce attacks in Iraq occurred in the run-up to the elections." This implies that fierce attacks will end with the elections or that the elections are the primary cause of the violence. The trend lines belie this. Only the targets have changed and not the volume, ferocity, or sophistication of the attacks.


My blogroll is up to a hundred feeds now. I've now removed the blogroll listing from the sidebar on the right, and replaced it with a link which goes to the complete listing at bloglines.

Monday, January 24, 2005


via Scoble's linkblog:"Committees don't have vision. Committees have meetings"

That's funny, only because we all know that it's so true. The rest of the post is pretty good too.

BBC gets on the podcasting bandwagon

via Dave Winer: BBC Radio has started a podcast for its sports program Fighting Talk. This is a very pleasant surprise. Podcasting is still a very new technology, largely confined to technical users. It's great to see someone like the BBC embracing it.

The Frivolity of Evil

Theodore Dalrymple writes a fantastic article in City Journal on "The Frivolity of Evil". The article touches on the meaningless violence and exploitation that goes on in the lower strata of society. He touches on his experiences with British society, having spent 14 years in hospital and prison work in a run-down neighbourhood, trying to answer the question of why people do evil. Quoting,
The men in these situations also know perfectly well the meaning and consequences of what they are doing. The same day that I saw the patient I have just described, a man aged 25 came into our ward, in need of an operation to remove foil-wrapped packets of cocaine that he had swallowed in order to evade being caught by the police in possession of them. (Had a packet burst, he would have died immediately.) As it happened, he had just left his latest girlfriend—one week after she had given birth to their child. They weren't getting along, he said; he needed his space. Of the child, he thought not for an instant.

I asked him whether he had any other children.

"Four," he replied.

"How many mothers?"


"Do you see any of your children?"

He shook his head. It is supposedly the duty of the doctor not to pass judgment on how his patients have elected to live, but I think I may have raised my eyebrows slightly. At any rate, the patient caught a whiff of my disapproval.

"I know," he said. "I know. Don't tell me."

Can't Buy Me Love

Steve Yastrow talks about marketing. It ties in very nicely with the Seth Godin post I made yesterday

Sunday, January 23, 2005

How to Sell Anything To Anyone

Seth Godin talks about how to sell anything to anyone: Sometimes, salesmanship is overrated. What matters more is real marketing, marketing that involves making the right product, not hyping it.:)

You've got to read the whole post to see the context.

Update on online plagarism

I was re-reading my post and parts of it were not very clear (it comes across like I'm an intellectual property hating communist :) ), so I thought I'd put it in a Q&A format to clarify my position.

Please, please remember that I am NOT a lawyer, so I could be totally wrong here. The authoritative source would probably be this guy.

[Someone who commented on the previous post (anonymous) pointed out that content is All RIghts Reserved by default, and he (or she) is correct. I'm going to ignore that for the time being because if we assume All Rights Reserved on RSS feeds then you would need to get into a contract with the author before using the feed and the whole concept of RSS would collapse. Either that or I'm totally wrong. Maybe someone can explain]

This is my (limited) understanding of the legal standing.

Q. Can anybody just put my posts online
A. If you have an RSS feed, it means you want your content syndicated. I would think then its OK if people syndicate your content.

Q. But it's not attributed
A. It doesn't have to be. You are providing the RSS file. It is up to the syndicator to then do display sections of it as they like.

Q. I want it to be be distributed by also to be attributed to me
Q. I want it to be used non-commercially
Q. I want to place certain rights on its usage
A. Affix one of the Creative Commons licenses, or maybe one of your own licenses to the RSS feed. It's your feed, and you can attach whatever conditions you want to it.

Q. I've attached a license, but he still copied my stuff
Q. I've got only excerpts on my RSS feed but he's showing the entire post
Q. I've not got an RSS feed. He's copying from the website!
A. I guess you can go after him now :)

However, and this is the central point I'm trying to make, even leaving aside the legality of the whole thing, it doesn't really make sense to go after him so hard. Lets assume that what he is doing is completely illegal. He isn't slandering you, he isn't stealing your profit, he isn't cutting into your viewership, he's just running his blog on his corner of the Internet (with your posts :) ). It was just a random search that led to his blog. Now, if he were to steal all your viewership, or had some other malicious intent, then the case would certainly be much stronger.

It's like the grumpy old uncle evicting the kids who are sitting on his lawn. Sure, the uncle owns the lawn and is totally within his right to evict the kids, but it still leaves a bad taste in everybody's mouth. Maybe it just disturbs me, because I am used to the openness of the Internet. Why be a bully to someone who isn't even harming you?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Alan Williamson writes about an evening with Googles Marissa Mayer. Lots of interesting trivia there. A couple
  • The prime reason the Google home page is so bare is due to the fact that the founders didn't know HTML and just wanted a quick interface.

  • Due to the sparseness of the homepage, in early user tests they noted people just sitting looking at the screen. After a minute of nothingness, the tester intervened and asked 'Whats up?' to which they replied "We are waiting for the rest of it". To solve that particular problem the Google Copyright message was inserted to act as a crude end of page marker.

Lots more at Alan's blog, check out the whole list.

Friday, January 21, 2005

How to build a better web browser

In How to build a better web browser, Scott Berkun (who worked on IE 1.0 to 5.0) writes about how people really use a web browser, and how they can be made better. Some interesting ideas -
  • Patterns of web usage
  • Intelligent bookmarks
  • Bookmark management

This is an interesting article for all those building web browsers. Innovations in browser development have vitually stopped in recent times, and almost all browsers behave similarly. This is a good article to get one to think about how the browser can really be made better.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Amit Verma

I have mentioned Amit Verma's blogs a couple of times in the past. In addition to the 23 yards column on Cricinfo, he also has two blogs - India Uncut and The Middle Stage. He writes very well and has an extremely sharp mind. All of his blogs are well worth reading (and they are all in my bloglines subscription).

The current series in his India Uncut blog follows his journeys through Tamil Nadu as he visits the areas hit by the tsunami. I had put a post from this blog a few days ago. I strongly recommend visiting his blog and reading the whole thing. Here are a couple of quotes from various posts
Why does it take the context of a natural disaster to evoke compassion?
Many of the relief organisations that drive down don’t bother to actually spend time in a village and assess its needs – they simply thrust things into the hands that reach out into their truck, and then they drive off.

The consequence of this is that the strongest people end up getting all the goodies, and this happens time and again, as truck after relief truck passes by. The regular winners of booty may even start hoarding the supplies they get their hands on.
I had written earlier about the government apathy at Nagapattinam, and about the diversion of government resources to look after VIPs, but the government is not so useless everywhere.
I hear at the AID India office that a number of people who support the organisation have protested their tie-up with the Democratic Youth Forum of India (DYFI) at a grassroots level. Yet others are complaining about the relief work that the RSS is doing in the villages. They are all afraid that these organisations – DYFI has a communist affiliation, and RSS, of course, propagates Hindutva – will make political capital out of their social work here.

Such criticism is unjustified. I am against both communists and religious fundamentalists, but not in this context. On the political and economic arena, I think the ideas of the extreme right and well as the extreme left are misguided and bad for the country. But on a social level, the work they do is exemplary, and at a level of commitment that few others can match.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Pench photos uploaded

I had recently been to the Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. I took a bunch of photos which I've now uploaded to flickr. Click here to view them.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

India Uncut

Amit Verma blogging from Pandasalai -
Madhu Kumar, the gentleman I meet in Pandasalai, has one huge complaint, something which infuriates him so much that his eyes widen as he tells me this, and I can sense his fists clenching.

"Why do you think the government machinery is not working," he asks. "Because it is busy with VIPs, that's why. VIPs keep coming all the time, making routine visits to show their importance, and they have an entourage of cars and traffic detail and security, and the local authorities are busy looking after that. They even waste time lining the streets with bleaching powder [a disinfectant] instead of where people died, where they are really needed. It is a waste of manpower, and it costs life. If VIPs really want to help, they should come quietly, without so much bandobast.

"After all, there are no terrorists here."

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year

Its a new year! Happy new year everyone. I guess I can go and get some sleep now.