Category: Uncategorized

Google Government Requests

Have you looked at this yet? www.google.com/governmentrequests/

First, I’m really happy to see Google at least trying to become more transparent. Second, I was very intrigued to see that India is in the top 3! Just in the last 6 months of 2009 India made over 1000 data requests to Google and upwards of 140 removal requests. Here’s the current breakdown:

  • 1061 data requests
  • 142 removal requests
    • 77.5% of removal requests fully or partially complied with.
    • 2 Blogger
    • 1 Book Search (court order)
    • 2 Geo (except Street View)
    • 119 orkut
    • 1 SMS Channels
    • 2 Web Search
    • 15 YouTube

Thankfully, bulk of the removal requests (119 out of 142) are for Orkut and given the spammy state of Orkut, I’m not really surprised. I’m more interested in the data requests, but right now that (possibly inaccurate) number is all Google can tell us.

Here’s another weird thing, Brazil made 291 removal requests of which 119 were for Orkut. India also made 119. Co-incidence? Perhaps. Or may be it was a common set of bad URLs that both countries ended up getting rid of. Of course, more than 75% of Orkut users are either from Brazil or from India, so there’s definitely some connection here.

All in all, another interesting data source.

Groovy Gurus

From the introductory post:

Groovy Gurus is a bunch of gastronomically inclined city dwellers (and then some) who’ve chosen to spend a couple of Thursdays each month – the 2nd and 4th to be precise – dining at a yet-undiscovered venue (at least for the purposes of the Thursday dinners), picked by a rotating designatory in the group. San Francisco has such a wide range of cuisines served up by restaurants that often reflect the unique character of their neighborhoods that it would be an opportunity lost to not give the lot of them a try.

Tonight is the third GG meetup. Follow our journey on Groovy Gurus.

Meanwhile, here are some of the other names we thought of before settling on Groovy Gurus:

  • Tangy Tuesday
  • Water, no ice
  • Masala Chai
  • Tuesday Tarkari
  • Mangal Munch
  • The Fortnight Bite
  • स्वाद की बहार, महीने में दो बार

Happy Republic Day

India became a republic on January 26th, 1950. As a reminder to myself (I often tend to feel helpless about my lack of awareness/engagement with issues back home), here is Wikipedia on Republic:

republic is a form of government in which the head of state is not a monarch and the people (or at least a part of its people) have an impact on its government. The word ‘republic’ is derived from the Latin phrase res publica, which can be translated as “a public affair”

Me and my friends grew up with (very fond memories of) a particular video created by Doordarshan called “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara”:

Apparently there is a new version out now:

I for one find the old one still more charming. The new ones are a bit too long and they have way too many actors/actresses with voiceover by playback singers — I’d much rather see the playback singers themselves, as it is the Bollywood stars get way too much attention.

Happy Republic Day!

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Emacs vs. Vim

This is a follow up on my previous post.

This comparison is necessarily biased as a consequence of my evaluation methodology, which was as follows. For the features/functions that I most commonly use in Vim, I tried to identify the equivalent operations in Emacs. I’m certain that an Emacs user doing a similar exercise with Vim would exhibit a similar bias towards Emacs.

Websites

(http://www.vim.org, http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs)

  • the Emacs website looks more crisp. However, it also looks more like a website for GNU, rather than for Emacs. EmacsWiki is a great resource, but there is still no central repository for color styles, plugins, modes etc.
  • the Vim website is admittedly very retro. But it is largely the de facto location for obtaining color schemes and plugins. Better yet, there is a reasonable rating mechanism in place, so it is easy to identify the popular stuff, things that have been recently added and/or updated.

Winner: Vim

Distribution size

Here is the output of “dpigs -n 1000 | egrep ‘emacs|vim’”:

62364 emacs23-common
24672 vim-runtime
13288 emacs23
2280 vim-gnome
828 vim-tiny
532 emacs23-bin-common
376 vim-common

So the Emacs distribution is roughly three times the size of the Vim distribution.

Winner: Vim

Modal editing

I’m a firm believer in the power of modal editing. Vim wins here by definition. The Viper-mode in Emacs is not terrible, but falls far short of Vim.

Tool integration

Both Vim and Emacs are pretty fast (I did an unscientific test using some books from Project Gutenberg). However, Emacs uses ispell and the integration is superb. Likewise, the GDB integration of Emacs is far superior than that of Vim.

Winner: Emacs

Non-editing tasks

If you want to stay within your editing environment as much as possible, Emacs outshines Vim by a long margin. Be it browsing, emails, reading news, chatting, using the shell, playing games and pretty much anything else — you can probably do it from within Emacs.

Winner: Emacs

User Interface

One of the biggest reasons I use Vim is that the UI is consistent whether I’m in the GUI mode or the console mode. Everything, and I do mean everything — from split windows, to tabs, to pop-up completion — works in pretty much the exact same way. I can work in GUI mode at work, save my session, come back home and reconnect my session in console mode and I hardly notice the difference.  Vim has also always used standard UI toolkits and libraries (such as GTK and Xft). Until as recently as Emacs 22, Emacs only partially used native GTK and Xft for font renderings. So one of the first things I would notice whenever I tried Emacs was how ugly it looked. This does not seem to be an issue anymore though — Emacs23 looks and feels very much like a native GTK app. The console mode also seems very functional, although I must admit I haven’t tested it as thoroughly as I’ve tested Vim’s console mode.

One thing does stand out though — Emacs still does not have a  native implementation of tabbed editing.

I have also gotten several first-hand accounts from people who switched from Emacs to Vim and reported significantly reduced wrist problems. This is not a fundamental issue though — you can always use custom keybindings on Emacs. But out of the box, Vim seems to be more finger/wrist friendly.

Winner: Vim

Conclusion

I had really hoped that Emacs would be a slam dunk — I was ready for some change. But I’ve reluctantly concluded that as things stand, I probably still prefer Vim. The overhead of mastering Emacs enough to be as productive as I’m in Vim right now seems to far outweigh the benefits Emacs might provide over Vim (if any). Nonetheless, I’m not happy with where Vim is headed, as I’ve said before.

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easyJet blues

EasyJet
Image via Wikipedia

Over the past few years, the domestic airlines industry in the US has seen a steady decline. Faced with the recession, they have been devising ever new ways of squeezing money out of unsuspecting customers. There are a few exceptions (such as Southwest), but by far, flying is usually not a very pleasant experience for me.

Little did I know that European “budget” airlines are, in fact, even worse than their American counterparts. I recently had the misfortune of traveling on one such airline — easyJet. There was nothing easy about the experience, and if it is up to me, I will never ever travel on easyJet again.

First, let me provide some context. We were planning to do a break journey in Europe on our way to India. In the past, we have always carried two checked bags and one hand bag per person for India trips, for obvious reasons (such a long journey, may be once in a year — you just end up carrying a lot of stuff. Even more importantly, you end up bringing back a lot of things!). Unfortunately, just a few days before we were scheduled to fly, American Airlines decided to start charging a $50 fee for the second checked bag on flights to Europe/India. This actually was not that big of a problem, since we had one flight on easyJet and they already had similar restrictions in place.

Actually, I find easyJet’s baggage policy extremely strange. Here are some salient features (emphasis mine):

  • Every item of standard checked (‘hold’) baggage will incur a fee.
  • Payment of the fee provides you with an aggregate allowance of 20kg across all pieces of hold baggage which may only be increased by payment of excess weight charges.
  • Where checked-in hold baggage exceeds 20kgs in weight (subject to the above rule), each passenger will pay an excess baggage charge per kg.

Finally the fateful day arrived for our easyJet flight. At the check in counter, the gate agent weighed our “hold” bags (1 per person). Since we had been deliberately careful about packing, they were both less than 20kg each so did not pose a problem.

Next came the hand luggage. Now, in prior communication with easyJet, I had been told that easyJet did not impose any weight restrictions on the hand bags, as long as they fit in the overhead bins. To quote the website (emphasis mine):

Save where the limits set locally are more restrictive, passengers are permitted one standard piece of hand baggage to a volume limit of 55x40x20cm (including wheels and pockets) (“Standard Hand Baggage”). It must fit without force into the gauges provided at check-in or departure gates. No weight restriction applies within reasonable limits — i.e. a passenger must be able to place the piece of luggage safely in the overhead storage bins without assistance.

I have traveled extensively with the hand bags that we had and never ever had any problems with any airlines. I’m convinced that our gate agent was determined to give us grief, by the rude manner in which she dealt with us, her hostile attitude and body language. In any case, she asked us to show that our hand bags “fit without force” into the bin. Unfortunately our hand bags were shaped more like bags and less like suitcases (which is what the bin was designed for), so they did not fit comfortably, but they did fit.

I tried to explain the agent that we never had problems with the bags before, that they were empty on the top so looked bigger than they actually were. Furthermore, we were in transit to an international destination, and had no issues in the first leg of our flight (on American Airlines). But the gate agent was simply not ready to listen — it was almost as if she had made up her mind to spoil our morning.

Arguing with her was frustrating since it was not really a dialogue. I might as well have been talking to a wall. She would not listen to reason, or show any compassion. Worried that we might miss our flight, in a moment of panic, I decided to just pay whatever fee was required, and get on with it. Big mistake. As it turns out, easyJet not only charges for the number of checked bags, but after 20kg, there is a per-kg excess baggage charge, which needless to add, is exhorbitant. Long story short, we ended up paying a ridiculous fee for our hand luggage.

To add insult to injury, while waiting in the gate area for boarding to begin, I counted at least two dozen passengers whose hand bags were at least as big as ours, if not bigger. There were bags in all shapes and sizes, and several which could not have fit into the bins no matter what. I spoke again to the ground staff and they deferred saying that we had to discuss it with the airlines. It turns out discussing anything with easyJet is not easy either — they don’t have offices at most airports they serve, finding a phone number on their website was a challenge, the online customer support was basically just boiler plate responses.

It was an extremely frustrating and disappointing experience. I was extremely angry at that time and had thought I’d take this up with easyJet as soon as I got back. But just thinking of the time and energy it would take just to get to speak to some human at easyJet who would actually try to listen and understand our situation is disheartening. At least, I’ve learnt my lesson.

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