Sunday, November 22, 2009

[books] Nerds on Wall Street

Nerds on Wall Street: How Robots, Computers, and Mathematics Have Wired the Markets Nerds on Wall Street: How Robots, Computers, and Mathematics Have Wired the Markets by David J. Leinweber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Nerds on Wall Street (NOWS, because nerds must obsessively abbreviate) is a fast, interesting read about the increasing use of computers on the Street. Its a good overview book: Leinweber draws on his vast experience doing stuff at the intersection of computers and finance for a long long time. Its really great if you are a nerd wondering what there is to do in the financial world or frankly how to get a piece of that trillion dollar pie that is the Street. Leinweber talks a bit (and just a bit) about pretty much everything that is computer related - from charting and visualization, data analysis and automated monitoring to algo trading.

There are two reasons for the mediocre rating:
1. Its thin on details: probably because the desire to disseminate information to a larger audience (every equation halves the number of copies that you can sell).
2. There is a lot of repetition. He draws on his experience building several software firms doing various things on or for wall street but repeats the same story several times. Maybe because the book is an agglomeration of various papers he has written (where the mention of his experience would be novel and non-repetitive). Regardless, it does not work for the book.

The good stuff:
1. Good overview. This can't be overstated. The book gets the job done.
2. For a non-fiction book, its a really easy read.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Devan-112, originally uploaded by Rooosh.

Yes, he is *that* cute.

Taking baby pics is probably the funnest thing I have done as a photographer, not to mention perhaps the most rewarding.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

[books] Good Omens

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love Terry Pratchett (though not as much Neil Gaiman, though I'm beginning to change my mind) and this has all the usual humour and fantasy that I would expect from Pratchett. Great book, fast read, just overall fun.

View all my reviews >>

[books] Infidel

Infidel Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An autobiography that you can't put down - the story of Ayaan Hirsi Magan/Ali from birth in Somalia, childhood in Somalia, Saudi, Ethiopia and Kenya, to adulthood in Holland and an eventual rise to becoming an MP in Holland, to death threats and security crises and eventual move to the US.

Extremely compelling, makes you think of life in the non-western world, especially in Africa and especially Somalia. This is in equal parts a commentary on women's issues in fundamentalist Islam as it is about her life. She does not really offer any solutions to the problem of dragging Islam out of the 5th century into the 21st but does highlight the problems.

A very good read - though not exactly your lightweight beach reading. Strongly recommended.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Has Twitter taken over?

I feel a bit guilty for not blogging in a long while. It seems that all I do is send pithy tweets about something or another and don't find the time and opportunity to write something (semi-) thoughtful.

This is rather unfortunate :(

Saturday, July 25, 2009

[geek] Splitting django views

Geekiness ahead; you have been warned.

Steve wrote a post about splitting django views. Consider this as another viewpoint / way of doing the same.

The primary problem is to split django's into multiple different modules, ostensibly to make them smaller and more modular (duh).

To begin with, I'm not entirely certain the problem exists - in MVC or MD paradigms, the view is typically very tiny and almost entirely devoid of logic. It is there only to reflect changes made to the model. Consequently, it is unclear that the needs splitting at all. I have not done enough large scale django development (my projects have been of the tiny homebrew variety), so lets assume that views become unmanageable in the long run and need to be split up.

Lets say you have a setup and have the following directory structure:

> ls*

and looks like this:

> cat

from django.http import HttpResponse

def index(request):
return HttpResponse('index')

def foo(request):
return HttpResponse('foo')

def bar(request):
return HttpResponse('bar')

Now we'd like to break apart views into a directory, so we change it to:
> ls -R
.:* views/


where each file in the views directory has its own little function:

> cat views/

from django.http import HttpResponse

def foo(request):
return HttpResponse('foo')

At this point, note that there is no at all.

The original url resolver obviously will not work because it looks like this:
urlpatterns = patterns('',
(r'^foo/', ''),
(r'^bar/', ''),
(r'^$', 'views.index'),

So we change that too:
urlpatterns = patterns('',
(r'^foo/', ''),
(r'^bar/', ''),
(r'^$', 'views.index.index'),

and the site is back up as normal.

I think this approach - explicit directions in is much cleaner and much more inkeeping with django's spirit of avoiding magic. Note that the other approach which basically imported all functions the minute was touched would maintain the mappings, thus saving a bit of work. However, I think it would confuse the heck out of people, not to mention result in wierd name collisions if any of the individual view files happen to export the same function.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Sotomayor Hearings

There was a point when watching the GOP self-destruct brought a bit of joy. The GOP felt like such an alien party - anti-intellectual, anti-everything except God - a party from another planet. Then came the 2008 elections, the Dems won and things were great.

Given their resounding defeat, one would have thought that they would have regrouped and introspected a bit and tried to figure out what went wrong, how they alienated their base and led the most colossal eff-up in the history of the U.S.

But one would be wrong.

Instead they decided to continue on this path of bigotry, racial hatred, and just common thick-headedness. What better proof than the way Jeff Sessions, Ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, manhandled Judge Sotomayor. Quoting the transcript:

"So first, I'd like to know, do you think there's any circumstance in which a judge should allow their prejudices to impact their decision-making?"

"But the statement was, "I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage, but continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate." That's exactly opposite of what you're saying, is it not?"

"...but isn't it true this statement suggests that you accept that there may be sympathies, prejudices and opinions that legitimately can influence a judge's decision?..."

"...I just am very concerned that what you're saying today is quite inconsistent with your statement that you willingly accept that your sympathies, opinions and prejudices may influence your decision-making."

Is Sessions possibly trying to make a point that a person can be completely unbiased? That his or her background cannot affect a judgement? Is it humanly possible? The answer, of course, is no - it is not possible to be unbiased and even if we think we are unbiased, we are not. This is not a statement that I make loosely - the race iat and other literature in psychology would be able to show this easily.

Sotomayor's point was so rational.
"I think the system is strengthened when judges don't assume they're impartial, but when judges test themselves to identify when their emotions are driving a result, or their experience are driving a result and the law is not."


What is really sad about all this is that the GOP comes out as really bigoted and prejudiced and trying to browbeat a Judge into submission. Not to mention hysterical when a bunch of white guys accuse a latina of being rascist.

This self-destruction of the GOP is very bad for several reasons. For one, I actually agree with a bunch of their ideals - fiscal conservatism, smaller government (never mind that they oversaw some of the biggest increases in government and spending in the past century). But the other, more important reason is that in order for a democracy to function, and to be strong and vibrant, it needs a strong opposition. Having the Dems in absolute power is very, very bad, just as bad is it was when the Repubs were in absolute power: balance is irrevocably lost.

So Dear GOP: Please get a grip on yourselves. Obama checkmated you with Sotomayor - you cannot possibly block her nomination and every minute you pull stupid stunts like the one Sen. Sessions did, you hemorrhage latino votes. Its not a battle you want to fight. And when you do fight, please fight with dignity. Healthy debate is what we want, not mindless Limbaugh-esque repetition of false facts, hearsay and opinion.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

[books] Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Picture this:

The Bennet girls are at a ball. They are upset because Mr. Darcy made some disparaging remark about one of them or their mum. Blah blah blah.

Suddenly, the windows are shattered and the person nearest the window falls victim to the unmentionables, who quickly devour their brains. Because, as everyone knows, there is nothing a zombie likes more than brains.

This book has it all - Jane Austen with her proper romances, haughty bachelors and haughtier spinsters all looking to find the right husband or wife - and Grahame-Smith with his unmentionables (zombies), chinese kung-fu, japanese katanas, ninjas (yes, that's right, ninjas) and other formidable weaponry.

The book is so absurd that it makes you laugh at loud - the section at the end where the author puts in a list of things for classrooms of students to explore is some of the funniest writing I have read.

I want to give this book a higher rating - simply because I admire the author for the courage to write something so patently absurd and the publisher for going along with this. However, at the end of the day, the work is still Jane Austen and no army of ninjas is going to help save the utterly boring romances that Ms. Austen wrote.

This is definitely a library pick.

View all my reviews.

Friday, May 1, 2009

[books] Forever Peace

Forever Peace Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Not as good as Forever War, but not bad at all. A vision of utopia where there are means to connect everyone to a global hivemind that basically causes them to lose the will to kill each other. Interesting, some new concepts and some exploration of this idea. A bit heavy on wierd sexual stuff, a bit unnecessarily so, and a bit light on exploring the other side of what pacification of an entire species would do.

View all my reviews.

Photos from the India trip.

Let me know if you cannot follow the links to Kristin's picasa album.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Flaky internet test

Trying to see if blogger deals with a flaky internet. The internet at home (in Mumbai) where I am right now is rather flaky - pings to range from 300ms to 2s depending on unknown factors. I think its because of the interesting wiring that the "electrician" and the "phone wallah" conspired to put in and convinced my dad that it was fine (because, you know, if you split a phone cable in 2, both lines are just fine, no extra noise from crappy connectors or anything). It also randomly goes OFF. Annoying as hell.

stech and I have a common blog on wordpress (because she likes that more than blogger) at and we have lost two posts already because the stupid wordpress background save *does* *not* *work*. So, so, annoying.

So far, blogger seems to be better - its saving just fine and we'll see with the publish if thats better as well.

Edit: Success! Score +1 for blogger.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

[books] Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America

Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace by William Lobdell

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
An excellent book by a journalist about his journey embracing Christ, investigating the Catholic Church and eventual parting of ways with religion in general.

It really is a book in 3 distinct Acts:

Act 1 - From arreligious to an evangelical to (almost) a Catholic:

Its unclear whether Lobdell was an atheist to begin with (I think not), but he clearly was not a practicing Christian. A rough patch in his life led him to turn to God and seek support and solace in the Church. He has nothing but good words for the church that he joined and the people he met. All of them come across as very rational, yet very devout. They support him and help him get on the road to becoming a devout Christian.

Act 2 - Investigating the Catholic Church:

Lobdell was the religion reporter for the LA Times when the Catholic child molestation scandal broke. He investigated various such allegations and returned disgusted as what he saw as a fundamental breach of trust - the priests were supposed to be spiritual shepherds for their congregation and they abused this trust to permanently mess up the very children that they were trying to teach. What made him even angrier was systemic failures in the Catholic Church to expose known child molesters; instead the Church treated it as an internal matter, merely dismissing priests or even worse, moving them to other parishes where the pattern of abuse continued. The Church used its might, money and lawyers to squelch any complaints or protests whatsoever from the children that had been thus abused.

Act 3 - Embracing Atheism:

Investigating the church really seemed to cast a shadow upon Lobdell's faith. This led him to dig deeper and investigate the underbelly of the Christian faith - televangelists, preachers who claim to faith heal, the Trinity Broadcasting Network (largest Christian TV station in the world) and look at the economics of what was going on. Again, what seemed to make him really angry was not the millions that the preachers (or their churches) were making but the straightforward duping of the congregations and complete abuse of their trust. He notes stories of quadriplegics and terminal cancer patients given false hopes that they would walk out of church, healed (they weren't). What's even more heartbreaking is that people would put their faith in God and the faith healers and stop taking drugs thereby making things worse (and in some cases dying).

Lobdell talks about how it was hard for him to let go. He had a difficult time dealing with death - what happens after and if he was going to hell for abandoning God. He talked to friends and preachers about his loss of faith and certain qustions about God that had been bothering him - and didn't get any answers that he considered good enough. Its unclear if this was so because he had already made up his mind and was talking to these preachers almost as "due diligence" or out of a genuine need to resolve things.

On a personal note, the third act of the book really resonated with me. I went through something similar when I left the Jain fold around 2000. Its hard to deal with the fact that there is this life and then that's that - ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But if you come to terms with that, it makes life really nice. The worst that can happen to you is death. Every moment past is never coming back, so enjoy it to the fullest. Doing something you don't like to do is a monumental waste of time. Its also "simple". I don't have internal conflicts about being an engineer doing science by day and talking in an unknown language to beings whose existence is unprovable at night. I don't have to come to terms with reconciling faith and evolution or having to deal with things that I cannot measure (or view someone's measurement of the same).

All in all, a great book. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Flip sold for $500M+

See this post on allthingsd.

I'm happy for the flip guys - I have bought one and the gf has been gifted two (including the one I bought). I think the camera was very innovative and they did a good job making and marketing them.

I also think that Cisco bought the wrong thing at the wrong time. My prediction is that the Flip brand (or whatever Cisco rebrands this as) gets wiped out over the next 3 years. The reasoning here is the following:
Flip at one point was the disruptor in the market - they marketed a device that did not do stills at all, or poorly and was not a competitor to entrenched still camera models like those made by canon or kodak.
Flip was not a very good camcorder either because it did not come with optical zoom, lots and lots of buttons that nobody but the real pros can figure out, and generally looked like it had poorer construction.
It had two things going for it: it did HD and it was cheap.

Classic innovator's dilemma here - a cheap disruptor that is unappealing to any but the lowest segment of the market. Moreover, this is a section of the market that the incumbents are more than happy to get rid of - they most likely are making tons of money selling medium to high end HD cameras and there really isn't a developed market for the Flip.

This is all good stuff for the Flip people. They survived, they did a good job and completely changed the landscape.

However, now we get to a point where the sustaining innovators are catching up - the still cameras which used to take mediocre (at best) video are now starting to do HD. And they're getting cheaper. The Flip may be the cheapest HD camera around, but not by much. This means that its market share will dwindle unless they can continue to disrupt the market - and its hard to see where. Moreover, Nikon and Canon and Kodak are the experts when it comes to making lenses and other things that people start to care about when the price point is the same. The Flip cannot compete with this and Cisco does not employ optics people.

The Flip guys did the right thing by flipping the company over. My prediction is that Cisco writes this off their books in 3 years.

** Of course, I have no data to back up any of the assertions I'm making, but you knew this already :)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

[books] Empire

Empire Empire by Niall Ferguson

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
A history of the British Empire from an unabashed imperialist. A very different perspective on things from what I learned as child from my Indian history books - a complete reversal of good guys and bad guys for one.

Fergusons explores the economic basis of the empire - its start in the Carribean and the West Indies and the rise to power of the Royal Navy. He makes an important note that the Empire did not start out through political means - it was not wars of annexation by a power hungry monarch that drove the British Empire; rather it was the hunger for trade that drove the merchants to various parts of the world. The merchants needed two things -

1. Security of their selves, their markets and their trade routes.

2. Creation of new markets, by force if necessary (and usually).

And thus the creation of the strongest naval force in the world - the Royal Navy had 44 captital ships and the rest of the world combined had 42!

Also tied into this mix is Christian Evangelical zeal, but for the most part, according to Ferguson, this did not form a basis for expansion as much as trade did.

He makes no attempt to euphamise the bloodiness of the formation and maintainence of the Empire - from the Carribean to Africa, to India and the East Asia, the Empire was marked by periods of bloody, violent struggle with the better equiped British typically mowing down scores of ill-equiped natives.

His most interesting theories concern the fall of the empire. He believes it was not so much that the empire crumbled from within, as other big empires (German, Russian, Japanese and later American) came in to conflict with the British and forced it to disintegrate. In the aftermath of the two Great Wars, Britain was completely bankrupt and dependent upon its colonies and the Americans forced them to disintegrate as part of bailing them out. He does make an interesting point that while the rise of Empire spanned many centuries, the fall was surprisingly short - less than Churchill's lifespan. Churchill was a reporter at the Boer War (still an Empire in rising) and presided over the loss of India and much of Africa.

A prescient quote for the Americans (who may not find this book as interesting as those living in the Commonwealth) - "Once Britain had been the world's banker. Now she owed foreign creditors more than $40 billion. The foundations of the Empire had been economic, and those foundations had simply been eaten up by the costs of war."

Highly recommended for peoples (or who's grand peoples) were the subjects of the crown.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

[books] A Study In Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This remains one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes novelistas - its very obvious why Sir ACD's work became so popular - edge of the seat who-dun-it and the greater story is really the backstory behind the story. Really good stuff; if you have never read any Sherlock Holmes, this is the book to start with (and its free!!!!)

View all my reviews.

[books] The Gods Of Mars

The Gods of Mars (Barsoom, Book 2) The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pulp fiction at its best - beautiful princesses that need to be rescued from monsters or monstrous people, ridiculous amounts of gore, great acts of bravery and a hero (the only earthman on mars) who is far superior to the rest of the martians - this book has it all. Good to read for pure, mind numbing entertainment but don't expect to derive any long enduring benefits or deep thoughts from this one.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

iMovie '09 / Full Switzerland Video

I finally got my hands on iMovie '09, thanks to Andy and the Lattners. I used it to produce the following video.

o I like the cheesy project wide transitions and themes you can apply.
o It seems less buggy than iMovie '08
o The slow motion is pretty cool - once you find it.

o Still VERY buggy. I had to retranscode my video several times before iMovie didn't insert periods of black frames or get stuck for several minutes. My theory is that iMovie does not deal well with b-frames in a clip that point to i-frames outside the clip. When this happens, iMovie freaks out and inserts a long period of black or just freezes on the last i-frame. Either way, it blows. My workaround was to "convert" each clip where this was happening - and that seemed to solve the problem.
o Their "large" is too small to qualify for youtube HD - which means that this video is only available in HQ. Annoying when your source material is definitely HD. I think I can get around this; more experimentation to follow.
o No good audio editing. Lots of people on the interwebs have posted about this and they're mostly right.
o Did I mention that it was very buggy?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Interesting, translated, swedish fiction. The subject matter is rather dark and I don't regularly read detective novels anymore, so in some sense this was a welcome change, but it also reminded me of why I gave up on this genre. The writing (or the translation) is interesting - its very to the point, matter-of-fact sort of narration. It gives the book a very wierd feel - almost like you are reading a scientific paper or something but with a murder mystery and lots of sex. Very strange. Its got a bit of computer hackery thrown in - quite funny if you know what he's talking about and what can be actually done and which parts are written with a rather liberal literary license. All in all, a "Borrow" at best, good for quick reading on a plane or something but not worth your valuable dollars (or francs, as the case may be).

View all my reviews.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Flumserberg, Switzerland

[edit] Go to the video at YouTube and hit the play in HD if you want the primo quality stuff.

Going up the lift at Flums. The morning was really nice above the cloud cover; then the clouds came up and spoiled it all :(

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Gang Leader For a Day

[update: s/Gag/Gang/]

Gang Leader for a Day Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you were ever a fan of The Wire (and who isn't) - this is a book for you. I picked up this book by accident - Indian dude on the cover, catchy title and I have read Freakonomics and really enjoyed the analysis of how gangs worked; quite enough for me to pick up the book and start reading in the bookstore.

I didn't really buy the book the first time around - just put it on my list of "should read later" books. I was delighted to find it in the library and picked it up on my way to board a long flight. This turned out to be a *great* idea: the book is really hard to put down, the tales of life in the Chicago projects is so gripping - its this unreal world that is only miles away from the really rich parts - and did I mention that it is absolutely unreal?

Venkatesh is (or was at the time of writing) a grad student at the U. of C. and as one of his early projects had to go survey people in the chicago projects. The crazy thing is that he actually did it - he went into the projects to these scary looking black guys and asked them "How does it feel to be poor: a)Very angry b)Somewhat angry c)Neutral d)Not Bad" (The question is mine - I made it up, but the original survey was not that far off). After the scary black dudes with guns stop laughing, they think that Venkatesh is a member of a rival latino gang and want to kill him until the boss steps in and lets Venkatesh in (sort of). What starts here blossoms into this 4+ year friendship between Venkatesh and J.T. that gives him unrivalled access to members of the Black Kings (various names are changed for anonymity, I'm just using the same names used in the book) including several years worth of detailed accounting data about all the gangs activities. This later formed the basis of Venkatesh's collaboration with Stephen Levitt (of Freakonomics fame).

The book is at once a portrayal of life in the american ghetto and an account of Venkatesh's personal story as he comes to grips with what he's doing and what his project has evolved into. The decisions that he has to make - is he a neutral, like a journalist? Should he help the man who just got shot? Should he buy food for the kids who don't have money to eat because the mom spent it on crack? He brings to the surface the real underbelly of America's capitalist machine - the people that society forgot and would rather not be reminded of.

All in all, an excellent book. Fast, easy read (the prose is easy, not the subject matter). Buy / borrow it today.

View all my reviews.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Gears Of War 2

About a month ago, I had a dilemma: two sequels to two games that I had loved were about to be released at the same time: Fable 2 and Gears of War 2. In a nod to the general state of the world economy and being a reasonably cheap Gujju, I decided to limit myself to one, not both of these promising games. The dilemma, at this point, is obvious: which one gets bought?

After going back and forth a few times, I settled on Fable 2: I convinced myself that I really had liked Fable more than GoW the first time around, so I was setting myself up for good times.

Big, big mistake. Fable 2 sucked. It was way, way, too easy. There was no penalty for death (other than ugly scars), the money system blew - there were ways to get unlimited wealth right away, the characters got really fat (I am not making this up) unless you ate nothing - in which case you would no recover health in mid battle. The battles were useless - my mage was easily using melee and shooting guns and killing things, all without casting spells. The final thing that killed it off was that it had recurring disc issues which is apparently a well documented phenomenon and reported on various game boards. Great.

Luckily, I managed to sell the game off for $40 or so and got GoW2 instead.

What. An. Awesome. Game.

I cannot believe how much fun this game has been. I just finished playing the normal campaign and it was absolutely great.
  • Stunning graphics: The worlds look spectacular. The charachters look great too. They have kept the Gears 1 type of overly muscular, chest-bigger-than-a-gorillas sort of look and it just looks great. The monster art is pretty spectacular and the cut scenes make it look like a movie.
  • Great gameplay: I played single player, split-screen co-op and xbox live co-op. All of them were great. The combat is fun and its not difficult for a newbie to pick up (thinking of certain housemates here). I really enjoy the cover-and-shoot style of play that the Gears series pushes, rather than the run-around-and-dodge style that the Halo series espouses.
  • Multiplayer Co-op: I got stuck trying to knock out the boss - the AI was being silly (look in lowlights), so I jumped online and found an old friend from Seattle who happened to be playing the game too. Created a multiplayer coop, was is combat with my friend in seconds and a minute later: no more boss. He was cool with playing some more and we essentially finished the game together.
  • AI: The AI that controls the friendlies is really bad. It was bad in GoW1 and hasn't seen much improvement in GoW2. Case in point: revival. When you die in combat, you basically get really hurt and start crawling around. At this point, your buddy has a limited time to come revive, or heal you and you can fight again. You would think that this is one thing that the AI would be able to do well: see a fallen buddy: revive. But no. You will be crawling around right next to the friendly bot, and no revival. Seriously: WTF?
  • Story: The story in both the games has been pretty weak. Marcus (the hero, the protagonist, YOU) runs around above-ground, below-ground, all over the place, without a seeming purpose. Saving something, destroying something else, now destroying the thing you saved and saving the thing that you half destroyed - sometimes it just stops making sense. There is a lot of alluding to some sort of back story concerning Marcus's father but we never really get to what it is. And just when you think its going to all come together, it all falls apart even more.
If you have not played this game yet, I would strongly encourage you to get it. Parents: beware. Very foul language (F-word all over the place) and tons of gore (chainsawing through the locust) make this game not at all kid friendly. My best game of 2008 - I wish I had bought this much sooner.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sea of Poppies Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
One of the best books I have ever read. I cannot wait for the next episode in this saga.

Many people read a previous Amitav Ghosh book such as The Hungry Tide(which I loved) or The Glass Palace(which I could not get through) and were generally put off by his writing style. He likes to take his time, likes to describe everything, setup the scene. He does not hurry through the story; thus making Sea Of Poppies anything but your everyday adventure story.

There is so much about this book I liked: the characters are exceptional, all rather strong, explored in detail, and all *interesting*. There is a lot of imagery - anyone who has read any of Ghosh's previous work will immediately understand what I am talking about. What is very interesting here is that the book is set in a bygone era of indian history when India was ruled by the British East India Company and *not* the British Government. There is so much stuff written about India prior to the British and so much about their rule and a bit about post-independence India. However, this is the first book, fiction or not, that I have read that is set in East India Company times. Most of all, however, is the story line. At the end of the day, Sea of Poppies is an adventure book full of pirates and slave ships, action and adventure. Thoroughly enjoyable read and some of the best English writing I have known.

View all my reviews.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ski/Snowboard equipment buying guide

I originally wrote this as a response to a friend who wanted to know if she could/should buy gear online. She got a much bigger response than she expected (ha!) but I think its a reasonable ski or boarding checklist or at least reasonable to post here.

What are you buying? Skis? Boots? Bindings? Poles? Clothes?

In general, the stuff that I'm okay buying online is clothing / apparel and bindings. Everything else, you probably want to see and have a professional fit you out with good things rather than go online.

Skis: Go to REI / Play It Again Sports / Sports Basement and they'll help you out with the size and style of skis that you need depending upon their level. If you have an iphone around, you can cross check the price against Evo and see if its comparable. I've bought a TON of stuff from
Play-It-Again, both in Bellevue and in Seattle and their service has been excellent (replaced broken boots for me no problem) and their staff has been pretty informative and helpful. REI is the same, though they tend to be busier; however the Redmond staff was great.

Bindings: Most skis now come with regular support and thus bindings are interchangeable. However, most ski systems you buy will come with bindings as a package, so most likely you won't have to deal with this.

Boots: This is the one thing that i would *not* buy online. The fit is extremely important and most places will give you a fit guarantee - they'll custom mold your boots if they don't fit perfectly. You really want this because boots change their fit after the first couple of
weeks of wear - for ski boots, the inner layer will mold to your foot, but the outer plastic won't. Almost all ski boot people will tell you to get a shoe that is a bit tight, wear it for a couple of weeks and see if it "opens up". In some cases, they will have to modify the
plastic itself, which they can do as well. So again, strongly recommend bricks-and-mortar (evo has one too) store over online.

Clothes: Definitely stuff to buy online and cheap. I'm sure you guys have gone skiing before, so you have most of the stuff, but just in case, here's the clothes checklist, especially if it is going to be extra cold:
  1. long underwear: silk, performance stuff, REI brand is great, underarmor makes awesome stuff as well. Usually $50 / upper and $50 / lower. Worth every penny.
  2. Ski pants: waterproof outer ski pants, any brand will do, just make sure they're water proof, *esp* if you are learning.
  3. Fleece pants: optional, if you're the kind that gets really cold, really fast. Get a pair of these, they're cheap (~20-30), and last forever.
  4. inner fleece (upper body): you're living in seattle, so you have to have multiple of these lying around.
  5. outer shell: again, water proof is the most important part.
  6. ninja mask: I own one of these and its *awesome* when its cold and windy. Worth the $20 bucks.
  7. inner gloves: thin, inner gloves - only if you're the kind that gets very cold.
  8. outer gloves: most likely you already have this, waterproof is the most important part. I've used the REI brand for years and they're great.
  9. wrist guards: *only* if you're snowboarding.
  10. goggles: don't make the mistake of going skiing with sunglasses; it only works in california, if you're lucky.
  11. hat: common mistake people make is to not get a waterproof or water resistant hat and it gets snow on it and wet very fast. Try and see if you can get a waterproof one. Also make sure it has ear protection.
Also remember that both REI and Play-It-Again will rent stuff out.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


This is my first post written using an all Dvorak keyboard layout. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, Dvorak is a newer/better keyboard layout compared to good ol' qwerty. I started the switch to Dvorak sometime in late November partly because I had some rsi-type issues because of long hours spent on my laptop keyboard, but mostly because I wanted to learn something new that was not an esoteric programming language.

I cannot elaborate on the reasons to switch to dvorak as well as these guys do If you are remotely interested in switching to dvorak, this is a great (and relatively short) read.

If you do decide to go ahead and take the plunge, this tutorial is awesome. I will strongly recommend doing most, if not all of it to get your fingers used to things.

Finally, one thing I really wanted to do all along is measure how well (or not) I was doing over a period of time. So I used Google Spreadsheets and measured my wpm and error rates using the same measurement tools to track my progress. I used this site (typing the Gettysburg address over and over again) to measure these - its not a good sample for work stuff because its rather thin on the ;s and certainly doesn't include <> and [] or /=. The C language and the Gettysburg address don't have much in common it turns out.

Item Numero Uno:

My great hope, when I started this exercise, was that I would be able to prove that learning dvorak does not imply that I couldn't do qwerty. Something along the same lines as learning French isn't going to make you forget English. Bzzzt. The data isn't very good at this point and I'm pretty close to DISproving my hypothesis - assuming you can count my experiences as "proof".

Item Deux:

The dvorak error rate has been under 10 for quite a while now and what is most interesting is that it got to under 10 within 2 weeks of starting to learn dvorak. I don't know if this is the strength of the dvorak layout or the power of the human brain to learn something completely different so quickly (it certainly isn't me - I am typically not a fast learner with anything involving motor coordination), regardless, I think the low low error rate is astounding. I am interested to see if the error rate stays down as the WPM goes up (I suspect it will).

One more thing for the (extremely) nerdy: I didn't switch any of my emacs keybindings at all and its not been too bad. Definitely had periods "discovering" some key combinations that I "knew" but it doesn't take too long to adjust.

All in all, I can't wholly recommend or disrecommend dvorak at this point. I have definitely had my share of frustrating moments - typing at 20 WPM is slooooooooow - but then again my rsi hasn't kicked in and I've been hitting the laptop pretty hard. I think I'm on the positive side and am definitely past the point of no return in my conversion, so its unlikely that I'm going back, but I feel that the journey has not been easy and you'll want to be sure about it before diving in.