Tuesday, June 16, 2020

toddlerBoolean: a promising new data type for the obfuscated coding community

It all starts with the following

parent: are you done?

toddler: no I'm done.

This reminds me of the occasional adult failure to use the nuance of mind:

X: do you mind if I change the channel?

Y: sure! go ahead

Programmers -- specifically those who work with Java -- may likely have encountered helpless code where a boolean field or the result of a method returning a boolean value is compared using == (or worse !=) to false or true.

The time has come to offer a balm of sorts for those wounds. There's nothing like granting formal recognition to a mistake abd paving the way for it to become standard practice in a more palatable form.

I give you the toddlerBoolean. Assertion through negation with a cherubic twist.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

comics and the reading habit

For a while now, I have had to boostrap my reading habit. Short stories have usually sufficed in the past. But I might have hit a new low when I reached out for a stack of unread graphic novels this time. This isn't to reflect my view about comics and graphic novels. Quite the contrary. They are a bit easier on me as a reader. I can cheat with a readymade visualisation of ideas instead of trying to do that in my head while reading the words in a short story or a novel. Of course there are many exceptions. Luckily, my stack wasn't biased in favour of exceptions.

I started off with the rather interesting compilation Knight and Squire: For Six, a limited series from writer Paul Cornell with some great art by Jimmy Broxton. This explores the world of Cyril Sheldrake/Knight ("Batman in England!") and his sidekick Beryl Hutchison/Squire. The British atmosphere is a refreshing shift from the darkness of Gotham (although the darkness does survive, balanced by glib takes) and there are generous doses of Cockney slang (none of which is really meant for young eyes and ears) and to top it all, there is the not-unexpected welcome reference to Monty Python.

Next up in the stack came the only example of the exception I wrote about earlier. It was Kissing Mister Quimper, the sixth volume in the Invisibles series. Grant Morrison is clearly on a trip. The work is loaded with references, many of which I am sure I missed; it's also quite graphic; there's a reference to a real-life celebrity that has been redacted by the publishers (a little bit of Googling will tell you what that was). The volume succeeded in leaving me confused. And a tad unsettled. Given that it has been more than 10 years since I read Volume I in the series, I have to wait till I -- if ever -- read all the volumes in a reasonable span of time, before I decide if the point of the series is to send the mind down tunnels where no mind has gone before.

The next item was something from more familiar territory. Tarnished Angel, the fourth collection in Kurt Busiek's excellent series Astro City. Busiek continues to make impressive exploration of the idea of regular life in a world filled with super heroes (and super villains). Good art from Brent Anderson and lovely covers from Alex Ross.

The final item in the stack was a great way to finish off my boostrapping. Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic. Just like the Sandman series, there's a load of great writing balanced by the style of a different artist in each entry in the collection. And there are appearances from several familiar characters from the DC Comics Universe, including Gaiman's own creations and interpretations for the Sandman series. It all comes through cohesively instead of feeling like a pencil holder of creative flourishes.

After all this, I found myself adequately invested (a fancy way of saying "past the introduction and well into chapter one") in my first Elmore Leonard novel after all these years. It's called The Hunted and it's part of a collection called Dutch Treat. Not a bad way to rejuvenate the reading habit. All I have to do now is keep the flame burning. Otherwise, I'll have to hope I get lucky in the comics section of the local used book store for another kickstarter.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

two groaners for the price of none

What do you think Bappi Lahiri's build tool of choice is? Why Maven of course. "How so?" you ask. Well, haven't you heard this song from Justice Chaudhury? That's where you'll find supporting evidence (मामा मिया, POM POM). (waits for the groans and the rain of rotten tomatoes to subside).

I wonder why I never thought of the carriage return as the possible fruit of a collaboration between John LeCarre (who created Control) and Ian Fleming (who created M). Isn't it a nice origin to have had for Control+M? (recedes into the shadows before bricks replace rotten tomatoes)

Saturday, October 04, 2014

haider: Vishal triumphs with his third

What does one say when a man like Vishal Bhardwaj praised for his skills in writing dialogue surprises you pleasantly by becoming a scribe of visuals?

Should I be disappointed not to find as many memorable utterances in Haider as I had in Omkara or Maqbool, his previous adaptation of the Bard's works?

Should I not see how 7 Khoon Maaf had offered some hints that Vishal was working on being a chef in another form of cinematic cuisine?

Should I dispell all the little things that connect Haider to his previous work? The reflections and the mirrors (with all their metaphors) from Maqbool? The return of Tabu and Irrfan from Maqbool? Tabu sharing the mirror with a different man. Most of this is, of course, inevitable, because it's the same actress playing Lady Macbeth and Gertrude.

Should I wish that some lines of dialogue didn't see to explain the rather obvious visual cue?

Or should I just sit back and watch a filmmaker, who is a great craftsman, a wonderful music director, a good singer, a great writer with an appreciation for the spoken (and unspoken) word, paint an ode to Kashmir of the kind that we have not seen in years?

Should I just chuckle and wonder if the chutzpah riff (adapted with credit from Osho talks) is supposed to remind me of an offensive Hindi word (after all, nobody pronounces it the way it's supposed to be pronounced)?

While films like Talaash (the answer lies within) (the most recent example from my viewing) continue to explore the hues of Bombay, I don't remember any Hindi film in recent times that did what Haider has done for Kashmir. All the colour and beauty in the culture and fabric of the place comes up on the screen with a strange mix of verve and melancholy. In sharp contrast to every bright burst of colour is a lurking sense of dread and fear and sadness.

There's all this and more in support of the most loose of Vishal's takes on William Shakespeare. Yes, we have the obvious players, the creative adaptations (Rosencratz and Guildenstern are transformed into a pair of Salmans -- fans of Salman Khan -- running a video store; the ghost of Hamlet's father is interpreted as an appropriately named bearer of bad news; the adaptation of "The Mouse-Trap") and the delightful trinity of gravediggers, but the famous soliloquoy gets adapted to a form that might disappoint those keen on hearing a good Hindi version of "to be or not to be" and the skull of Yorick gets a political twist at a different point in the narrative. Moreover, it's only until after the interval that anything suggesting that the Bard was involved really takes shape. The first half is dedicated entirely to a gripping preparation of the milieu and ends with the "appearance of the ghost" (in a manner of speaking), rendered with an interesting flourish of the camera.

Perhaps this is why very few songs from the soundtrack actually appear in the film. If you were expecting to hear Vishal Dadlani or Suresh Wadkar, prepare to be disappointed. Perhaps this is also why khul kabhii seems a tad out of place and almost a throwback to the obligatory song sequences of traditional Bollywood cinema.

But these are just quibbles in the face of what is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the year. There is so much to relish in the craft -- the visual cues for exposition (hint: watch the nameplates outside the houses); the cameos (fellow screenwriter Basharat Peer appears as the Kashmiri suffering from the "New Disease" (itself a reference to 'Nav Byemaer' by Akhtar Mohiuddin); the examples of Chekhov's gun. There is so much to enjoy in the performances (Tabu, in my opinion, leads the list: it's almost like she was Heath Ledger's Joker to Shahid Kapoor's Batman). There's all the learning in the dialogue (for once, the subtitles slapped onto prints that run in the US were a welcome aid in my education). There are motifs in things people say (looking at things from someone else's point of view). And then there's the sight of Kashmiris stepping out during the crackdown with identity cards. The sequence at the square where we see Haider's new look. And the climax.

Time to see if I can get back to the movie hall and watch this again.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

exposition done nicely

After finding bearable exposition with Michael Connelly and being disappointed at finding Dan Brownian exposition in Michael Crichton's earlier books, I was relieved to find a nice sample of exposition in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon:

(Now, standing there waiting to have his passport stamped, Randy can see it clearly. For once he doesn't mind the wait. He gets in a lane next to the OCW lane and studies them. They are Epiphyte Corp.'s market. Mostly young women, many of them fashionably dressed, but still with a kind of Catholic boarding-school demureness. Exhausted from long flights, tired of the wait, they slump, then suddenly straighten up and elevate their fine chins, as if an invisible nun were making her way up the line whacking their manicured knuckles with a ruler.)

But seventy-two hours ago he hadn't really understood what Avi meant by lanes, so he just said, "Yeah, I've seen the lane thing."

"At Manila, they have a whole lane just for returning OCWs!"


"Overseas Contract Workers. Filipinos working abroad--because the economy of the Philippines is so lame. [...]

See how he uses a flashback at the right place?

There's more than just good exposition to relish in this book and it's time I turned a few more pages. So much for all the regular reading material awaiting my attention.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

foot; know thyself

Q: what is a trochee?

A: a trochee.

Thanks so much, Randall.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

how precisely vague do you want to be?

Estimates are so popular in software development. You know they don't mean much. But those who ask for them defend them fervently and even make good arguments in their favour. Such people are the only ones who reap any benefit from them. These estimates helped them feel more at meetings where they always felt on the spot, because these people often knew even less than you did about what was to be done.

And then someone came up with guesstimate. It's a punny portmanteau and may have become more common, because it added colour to statements that had otherwise become bland. Ears perked up when they heard this word instead. Nothing changed. Things arguably just got obviously worse. When someone wanted a guesstimate instead of an estimate, who could blame you for taking the hint that you were supposed to just throw out a number. High numbers were (and still are) usually scare people, especially when you are talking about how long it would take you to finish something.

This is not to deny that guesstimate does not offer something that estimate does not. A guesstimate is an estimate "based on guesswork or conjecture" (source), it is an estimate that you would provide when you lacked enough information. Statisticians (who coined this new term) would appreciate the distinction, but corporate managers appreciated the sound of the word. The meaningful distinction was lost, because an estimate as practised in management often lacked enough information to begin with. A guesstimate was thus a sassy synonym.

Inevitably, the American propensity to derive a metaphor from the world of sports (preferrably baseball or basketball, both of which are popular in America) gave us ballpark estimate. This likely came from the use of a ball park or baseball stadium to convey a sense of an "acceptable range of approximation" (that and other theories are discussed over here).

It would not be unreasonable to expect to soon hear people asking for ballpark guesstimates. Had there been a larger popular area than the baseball stadium, we would have seen phrases based on it.

There is a lot of good advice about dealing with such requests. There's also good material for laughs and that same source also provides remarkably insightful explanations for useful things like Fermi approximations. Hmm. Now that's something to try out the next time there's a meeting to discussing and trading numbers.

Monday, February 24, 2014

drive to die another day

A family rides on a motorcycle. It's not just a husband and a wife. There are two kids sandwiched between them, fast asleep while their parents negotiate the snarl that is Indian traffic.

A family on a motorcycle prepares to subvert politeness and courtesy by squirming through a path traced between cars waiting abut and behind one another at a traffic light. The husband, wife and three children are banking on luck (which usually favours such ventures in this country) to get them past this point.

Young motorcyclists practise their racing and navigation chops on roads at the risk of scaring and confusing drivers trying to get home. These beacons of danger are wearing helmets. They're making sure they take all the precautions while putting others at grave risk. They also don't realise that physics does not take sides. All it takes is a little nudge to the equilibrium for us to hear squealing brakes and screams and watch another young life get snuffed in a matter of seconds. Or worse: someone maimed for life, left alive to regret their mistake forever.

Selfishness abounds regardless of the dimensions of the vehicle. Each person wants to rise above the unpleasant jam that he or she is faced with and does it by edging ahead and around, eventually creating another version of the jam further ahead. A motorcyclist and the driver of a cement roller agree in this regard. The larger your vehicle is and the more likely it is for it to create more mayhem, the more likely you are to go ahead and effect chaos. By circumventing the problem instead of confronting it and dealing with it by courtesy and fairness, they only contribute to its growth every minute of every day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

the fall of a typo

Thank the world of IT to come up with zingers like I had checked with [the IT department] for the slowness issue. They rebooted it and now the box is performing pretty descent. First things were slow. Presumably, the box was slow. Now you watch it go down beautifully. Fall is truly beautiful and it's not just about the leaves.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

yinless yang or yangless yin?

Employees of the corporate world are no doubt familiar with crapspeak and its unfortunate and inevitably growing influence on the English language. One of its many contributions is the innocuous (and banal) phrase senior management. I am sure those that drop it in all their correspondence (usually to their underlings far removed) nurse thematically rich notions of meaning and semantics for this phrase, but those of us at the receiving end fail to see the difference between this phrase and phrases like program management and senior leadership.

And suddenly today, I wondered, what about junior management and junior leadership? Are they already anathema? Can there only be senior versions of such life forms?

I could go on about how even management and leadership represent ideas that most underlings would disagree with. Even the suggestion that the two are synonymous is enough to make cubicle dwellers break into a cold sweat (or a hot psychotic rage). But all that is fodder for a longer rant that would be misplaced here)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

miscellaneous thoughts

despair is an anagram of diapers. I am sure we are supposed to learn something from that but I don't know what.

The Ninth Configuration and Legion convince me that William Peter Blatty has a way with dialogue, surrealism and plotting. All I need to do now is find a copy of the film adaptation of the former book. He did a good job directing The Exorcist III (adapted from Legion).

The blurb on the back cover of Ramsey Campbell's Obsession is terribly misleading. You would think this was going to be an extended take on The Monkey's Paw or a thinner elder cousin to Stephen King's It. Mercifully, it's neither. This is a rather simple psychological tale that works quite well even if you discount a supernatural presence completely.

Another pick from my pile of random acquisitions from library sales is Headhunter, a book credited to Michael Slade, a pseudonym for three trial lawyers in Vancouver (it is now used, evidently, by just one of them and his daughter). The novel chugs along with three narrative threads set in three different times. It employs additional devices (like switching the standard third-person narrative to a first-person narrative that misleads you with its purpose) to good effect to elevate the standard serial killer piece to something more rewarding.

Love Kills by Dan Greenburg is another example of a novel that makes the standard serial killer piece interesting with narrative devices. Right from the first chapter till the end, this novel goes back and forth in time with each successive chapter and switches focus (chapters told with the hunters as the protagonists mixed with chapters from the point of view of the killer). Also tossed in for good measure are the occasional police report and generous doses of humour.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

stephen king liked munson's book and that worked for me

I stood before my shelf of paperbacks wondering which one to read next and finally decided to try Ronald Munson's Fan Mail only because its dark cover had nothing else but the title and the author's name in red and a glowing blurb from Stephen King (A fantastically crafty nail-biter in the Ira Levin tradition. I loved it!) instead of a tantalising drawing or sketch.

And I found it hard to find good places in the narrative to put the book down while life and sleep took over.

This doesn't mean that I had discovered a rich trove of literary achievement. It just means that it was the proverbial page-turner for me. For good reasons (more about that below).

This also doesn't mean that an endorsement from Stephen King is a guarantee of any kind that you will like the book (although in this case, it did for me).

The story of a beautiful TV anchorwoman who is the object of the obsessive creepy attentions of a secret admirer on the deranged side of the fence called "The Watcher." It is told entirely using emails, faxes, messages left on answering machines and transcripts of recorded conversations. I've had mixed results with such a device (worked for me with The Anderson Tapes and didn't with Death of a Politician). This alone can make this book seem unfilmable (something that has happened with an Ira Levin work before). Although Sidney Lumet managed to do well with The Anderson Tapes, a similar exercise with Munson's book would require a significant departure in material and setting. A heaping bowl of To Die For and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind along with generous doses of John Waters might work, but it still feels too stale. Perhaps some David Lynch and David Fincher for good measure. Oh! And perhaps Oliver Stone in his Natural Born Killers mood.

But I digress.

Not entirely.

Just like in Condon's book, you find yourself laughing at and with some of the characters in the book. Unlike Condon's book, though, the turning of pages ends appropriately. There's almost no fat in the book.

And of course, no flights of expository fancy. What a relief.

Back to the bookshelf now to find the next rabbit. Thank you so much, Mr. King.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

did crichton have a dan brown phase?

I just finished reading a copy of The Terminal Man, Michael Crichton's second novel after doing really well with The Andromeda Strain. There's woefully little to the plot and the bulk of the book is dedicated to exposition showing off all the research in the areas of mind control, psychomotor epilepsy, police reports (there's even a recreation of a report for a death in the book), advances in cutting-edge medical research (call it "bleeding edge" if you will) and the like.

And I thought of Dan Brown.

And then I remembered writing that I had preferred Crichton over Brown for doing a far better job at exposition than Mr. Brown ever could.

And yet, here I was looking at a novel that could well have been written by Dan Brown, except that the actual narrative was written crisply -- had Mr. Brown written this novel, it would have been thicker with some more exposition and with more pages devoted to the narrative recovering after an ambitious dive into the sea of exposition.

And now some questions float through my head.

Did Michael Crichton have a Dan Brown phase?

Does Dan Brown represent a stage in the evolution of a commercial writer of pulp thrillers?

Does Michael Crichton represent a later stage in this evolution?

Will Dan Brown evolve into Michael Crichton?

Will Dan Brown ever evolve?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

open irony

In September 2012, the OpenJDK bug database moved to JIRA. Elsewhere, in the JIRA Knowledge Base, we have a page telling us that the OpenJDK is not supported for running JIRA. Those who are familiar with the phrase "eating your own dog food" (or if you are a company like IBM, the more exalted version, "drink your own champagne"), will now probably wonder about this. In other old news, The OpenJDK wiki uses Atlassian Confluence.
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