Friday, April 22, 2005

A new kind of pollution

Everyone of us, at some point in our schooling, would have written an essay on "Pollution." So we are well-educated about the evils of air, water, soil and noise pollution. And wait, even light: In major cities which are lit up brightly even in nights, there is never ever sufficient darkness, causing discomfort to all creatures, large and small.

Let me introduce to you a recent member of this gang, window pollution. How many of us surfing the web have not had useless windows popping up all over the place? Annoying. They are a scourge.

One of the worst perpetrators is... (guess who?) the prestigious Indian daily: the Times of India. Dear Editor, it is time you start showing some basic courtesy to your visitors, instead of throwing noisome pop-ups on their faces.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Thank God It's Friday!

TGIFThe American likes to celebrate the arrival of the weekend with as much glee as the Indian farmer welcomes the arrival of the monsoon.

Last Friday week, we all gathered (courtesy of the student organisation) to munch french fries with ketchup, sour cream and lemonade. A couple of weeks back we had cake, cookies and soda. Today's fare was fruits, chips and juice.

And it's all gratis: TGIF!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

20 bucks for KISS

Long long ago in Europe, when Leonardo Da Vinci's great-grandfather was not yet born and long beards were the raging fashion on the streets of London, walked young William home from his Sunday school on a misty day. Billy, if we may so call him, knew the scriptures to the letter and all numbers unto 90,000 (infinity was unknown then) were his best friends. His intellect was so sharp, listen ye, so sharp that on his approach his teachers in the seminary would whisper in each others' ears, "Oh, here comes the Razor." Which morphed over the course of time to "Ockham's Razor."

Just kidding! William of Ockham, a 14th century English friar, stated that "Of two equivalent theories or explanations, all other things being equal, the simpler one is to be preferred." Seth, a CMU philosophy student has created a site that attempts to explain this principle, called Ockham's Razor, in a friendly manner. To see if it was friendly enough, Seth entreated all brave and sporting denizens to rally forth and try out the site in exchange for a score of dollars. I was game and toiled for 90 minutes and was duly showered with riches.

Ockham's Razor can be shortly put as "The simplest explanation is the best." Or shorter still, "Keep It Simple, Stupid" (KISS). Hence the blog's title.

Got your attention, dintcha?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Virus, License and... RMS

From my rambling reading of various blogs, I always had an impression that open source software, free software, Unix, Linux (sometimes even Mac) users all make up a monolithic camp, united by their common antagonism towards Microsoft. So when I learnt this morning about a seminar on open source licensing, I went to attend just out of curiosity - to know more about the inner workings of the camp.

Before I get into the details of the seminar, let me share with you what a software license is. It is an agreement between the creator and user of the software, generally dealing with copyright. The common "Do you accept the terms?" screen that one sees when installing software is an example of a proprietary license (known as EULA - End User License Agreement). With this hotch-potch introduction, let us get on with the story...

"Infectious" Open Source Software: Spreading Incentives or Promoting Resistance, was the full title. Greg R. Vetter of the University of Houston Law School explained the differences between the Apache (BSD-style) license, the Open Source license and the GNU General Public License (GPL). The GPL is the oldest of the open/free licenses; it requires that the code be public and royalty-free and that any GPL software derivative must also be released under GPL. It is the latter provision that Vetter referred to as "infectious." If even a small part of the software I am developing is made of GPL code, my entire software (now, don't cry) should be given under GPL too -- The GPL "virus" spreads to non-GPL code. This was all new to me and I was drinking it in pretty happily, along with the caffeine-free coke that came with the free lunch (pizza!).

After all the questions were asked and answered, the audience began to disperse... when a short, bearded gentleman (with a pot-belly to boot) stood up from a corner and said, "Is there no one here who will say something in support of GPL?" [Long silence.] He continued, "My name is Richard Stallman. I wrote the GPL."

(What happened next? Read on here.)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Playing guinea pig

Various CMU departments invite students to participate in experiments to collect data for research. I volunteered to take part in an experiment at the School of Psychology for half-an-hour. And yes, I would be paid $5 to compensate for my time...

I would have to interact with another person for ten minutes, by asking each other questions from a list we were given. Before this started,, Ed Lemay, the researcher, said he would give some fictitious details about me to the other person "to gauge the importance of first impressions." I nodded smiling.

The interaction (with Mae, a psychology junior) consisted of questions like "What will you do after graduating," "what was the most frightening experience of your childhood," etc. that we would alternately ask and answer.

When I was alone after the interaction, Ed said calmly that he had told Mae I was a sensitive person who would easily take offence and feel rejected at the slightest unpleasantness! Then he gave me a questionnaire to fill up about my impressions, such as "Do you think the other person was honest with you?" and "Do you think the other person likes to start a friendship with you?" etc.

I answered the questions as truthfully as I could, with most answers neutral tending to positive. For there isn't much you can infer in a brief regulated conversation with a stranger, who was there mainly for the dough too (why else would anyone waste a wonderful evening?)...

As I handed in the form, Ed informs me nonchalantly that Mae was not another volunteer but an accomplice from the same department. No, she was not told anything "about" me in the beginning either. The aim of the experiment was to see how that kind of information would colour my feelings about the person. Pretty neat, eh?