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Showing posts from 2012

Announcing Personal Keys for the web -

Annoucement This is to announce another small little project I have been working on. If thats enough to get your attention then have a look at  or . Longer Annoucement Essentially all it does is allow you to create short urls for yourself. The problem I was trying to solve was there were some websites which I accessed frequently enough that I wanted to do so with a few keystrokes. I have found it quite useful and so I decided to make it such that everyone can setup their personal accounts with their own short keywords. If you are know about linux then you can think of these as aliases for the web. If this piques your interest go to I have taken the liberty of adding a few defaults such as gmail, facebook and techmeme to get you started. They can be accessed using and  which get activated the first time you login It will ask you to login using your

KBookSearch now has a chrome extension

KBookSearch now has a chrome extension. Try it out  here As usual this happened when I was trying to solve a problem that hampered the book search experience. Amazon is a great place to look for books but there is no way to know what the prices are like in India so this extension lets me know what the prices are with a click of the button. Here is a screenshot. Its simple, easy to use, very very functional and should just work wherever books are sold. The experience might actually be better than using KBookSearch itself.

How to setup as a search engine on chrome

The best way to use this I find is to set this up as a search engine of Chrome with a keywords of its own. Here is an image that explains the process. The short version is below 1) Fire up Chrome Settings (A button on the extreme right in chrome) 2) Go to Manage Search Engines Add the following Name --> KKey Keyword --> d (I find 'd' nice because its easily accessible on the keyboard) URL with %s in place of query --> or which is more reliable 3)Save This is what it should like once you are finished Now you should have things all setup. If you now hit d  on the Chrome Omnibar you can hit ' m ' or any keyword that you choose. If they keyword exists it will take you to the page otherwise ask you to add the keyword.

Announcing the first part of the Karna trilogy

Finally after a lot of procrastination and some hard work the novel is done or at least the first part of it. Its about Karna in the Mahabharata. It also revolves around Kunti. From my reading experience Karna is highly readable and is short as well. (Novella length). You can read the whole book online here or if you want to get the pdf/epub for your reading devices you can get them from Leanpub Let me know what you think of Karna Part One. Two more parts are on their way.

All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites by Cory Doctorow

All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites Cory Doctorow [email protected] For the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference San Diego, California 16 March 2005 -- This text is dedicated to the public domain, using a Creative Commons public domain dedication: > Copyright-Only Dedication (based on United States law) > > The person or persons who have associated their work with this > document (the "Dedicator") hereby dedicate the entire copyright > in the work of authorship identified below (the "Work") to the > public domain. > > Dedicator makes this dedication for the benefit of the public at > large and to the detriment of Dedicator's heirs and successors. > Dedicator intends this dedication to be an overt act of > relinquishment in perpetuity of all present and future rights > under copyright law, whether vested or contingent, in the Work. > Dedicator understands that such relinquishment of

The Scar by China Mieville Blown away after a Reread

I just finished Rereading The Scar by China Mieville all over again. If anything this time I was even more entranced by the world of Bas Lag. I even looked at the Maps of Bas Lag which I never bother doing. There is so much to enjoy and relish here, the astounding world building, the depth of the characters, the way their motivations are setup, the way politics works. Bas Lag is a world filled with strange creatures pulled from various mythologies and legends. Their motivations, the way they think seem alien until they do not. Elves and Dwarves seem to be old news when you see the depth of the Races that Mieville introduces.  Perhaps the greatest thing Mieville manages to pull of is create the most plausible situations out of seemingly unconceivable beginnings. All his characters are not even humanoid, but yet you are drawn to them, their power struggles and sucked into their narrative. The impressive thing is that each race is developed with strengths and weapons that wor

What no one noticed about Moneyball

I have watched Moneyball and read the book by Michael Lewis a number of times and it is a grand underdog story with some great performances. What no one seems to have noticed is the way they also subverted another cliche in the underdog tale. In most movies, the big guy is the one who uses data, analysis, and cold logic to figure out what to do. The hero, the underdog typically relies on his gut, on flashes of inspiration to beat the odds and then proceeds to lay the virtues of the intangible that cannot be measured. Moneyball is the exact opposite. The Oakland As, use every conceivable statistical tool available to them, they are cold, practical and totally uninspired. They rely on cold logic. The big teams use their instincts, their gut reactions, the five tools etc etc and if they do any analysis they analyze the wrong thing. This to me is the most amazing aspect of Moneyball, that the little guy is actually more analytical,  logical than the big guns of the league.

Why mostly everything on Television in rubbish

Sometimes I think looking at a television program that all of television is a conspiracy to dumb everyone down. Nothing on is  ever good with the exception of sports otherwise most of it seems remarkably shallow(Some might argue the same about Sports). But the more I think about it the more it seems that TV is not a conspiracy. Like anything that lives long enough on the market it gives people exactly what they want. There was a survey about movies that people want to watch versus what they actually watch on their Netflix queues. For some Schindler's List keeps popping up on the list of movies want to watch in the future but when the time for choosing something comes along they prefer a low brow brainless flick. One can easily extrapolate and see why this happens in TV. Every channel is trying to garner the attention of the viewer. Now imagine that a TV channel happens to be showing Schindler's List, the viewer is simply going to skip and go over to the channel that happens

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

Of all the Stephenson books I have read The Diamond Age is easily the best written with a lyrical quality to the prose that is not present in his other works. If the name on the cover did not say Stephenson I would not have believed that he wrote it. Stephenson sets this book in The Diamond Age . An age in which nano tech is a reality and there really is no scarcity. This entails all the standard nano technology that can build things, food out of atoms. He really does develop this concept well though. When Stephenson talks about technology you feel that it already exists. The thing that this book is really about is culture and how an environment shapes people specifically children and it does this through an ingenious plot device called the Young Lady's illustrated primer a learning device for young girls. Hackworth is an engineer who has been commissioned to develop a young lady's illustrated primer. Of course he manages to lose a copy and this lands up in the hand

The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway : Incredible tale set sometime in the future

This is a terrific novel. Easily the best debut I have read in a while (including Altered Carbon ). I was moved beyond words by Gone Away World even though I anticipated the twist. I was one with the narrator, his every triumph became mine, his sorrow melded with my consciousness. A novel hasn't done this to me in a long time. The plot concerns our narrator who narrates his life which intertwines with the life of his best friend Gonzo Lubitsch. Its set in future where a weapon has been deployed, that has consequences beyond what anyone could have imagined. A pipe runs through the world keeping the world livable. This is as far as I will go about revealing the setting because anything more would take something out of the reader's experience, the slow burn of connecting the dots and figuring out how the world became gone away would be ruined. Gone Away World is many things, dystopia, sci fi, fantasy, horror in parts along with a bit of romance thrown in. It is a nove

Some extracts from In the Beginning was the Command Line by Neal Stephenson

This seminal essay was written by Neal Stephenson at the dawn of GUIs, when computers had become necessities and had gone beyond just being calculating machines and become a lot more. This is available freely online and yet for an essay as good as this it doesn't have a well formatted version that is easy to read. So I just decided to go ahead and do it myself. You can read the whole essay here (templated with the excellent twitter bootstrap) or a readable version here  (Done using the fantastic readabilitly extension). The original site is here where you will need to download a text file that is a pain to read but excellent for everything else. You can also download a pdf here . The essay is rather long so I have collected the extracts that I liked best. Even the least technically-minded people in our society now have at least a hazy idea of what operating systems do; what is more, they have strong opinions about their relative merits. It is commonly un

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow : A young hacker sets out to make privacy a public issue

I read Little Brother in one sitting and then went back and forth figuring out some of the stuff that I did not understand. As I read it I wished that I had read this when I was much younger. The novel is about Marcus,  a smart seventeen year old who likes to hack. He breaks security systems that have been setup. That's just the way his mind is wired. He and his friends are playing a game(they are on quest) when all of a sudden there is a terrorist attack during which they happen to be in the vicinity. (It sounds incredibly lame the way I have stated the premise but trust me on this, it is not). Marcus gets taken to certain facilities where he is shaken up to put it mildly. What follows next is a masterclass.  What Doctorow does really well is talk about the trade off between security and privacy. He also talks about what makes people feel (feel is the keyword here, the security might not actually be increased but people feel that it has been) secure may ruin their pri

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell : A year in the life of a thirteen year old

Black Swan Green is a year in the life of thirteen year old stammering Jason Taylor in the small town of Black Swan Green. David Mitchell assumes his voice with amazing deftness and skill. What he does really well is immerse the reader in Jason's world. The narration, the voice is spot on. The characters are brought to life. The setting of Black Swan Green is brilliant. Two characters from Cloud Atlas make an appearance and all of it leads to a surprisingly cohesive whole that is much greater than the sum of his parts. A lot of novels with kids as protagonists are written but this is by far the best I have read. Its loads better than what they call Young Adult fiction and indeed I would  rate it above A Catcher in the Rye. Its not a novel light on subject matter, gypsies come into the picture at one stage and the unrest they cause in Black Swan Green is vividly rendered. Weighty matters are dealt with, without even once losing the narrator's voice. Looking back at h

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka : A disgruntled whisky loving 60 year old's hunt for an elusive cricketer

Chinaman is Sri Lanka seen through the eyes of a disgruntled whisky loving 60 year old cricket fanatic. The sportswriter is on the lookout for the finest bowler he has ever seen Pradeep Matthew but no one seems to know where he is. Slowly though he finds clues and meets a lot of people. Throughout the old man regales us with tales of his life. Chinaman is genuinely funny and contains insights into the Sri Lankan way of life and does a better job of talking about Cricket than any book I have read. As you read it though you realize that a lot of it applies to every race. The cricket itself is described with great verve and a morbid attention to detail but again its the humor that really stands out. Chinaman melds fiction and fact with such deftness that you really do not know where the fiction begins and ends. Anecdotes abound. In this alternate history every cricketer who made an impact on Sri Lankan cricket turns out in some way to be indebted to Pradeep Matthew's insight.

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford : Economics for the rest of us

Economics seems to be full of jargon, but once you get drill down to the fundamentals,  it is about who gets what.(or at least thats what Tim Harford says) The Undercover Economist is what a book about a complex subject should be. Its clear, lucid, well written and once you read it you will never look at the world the same way again. He talks about how companies price their goods(Different from how you think it works). Who gains most when Starbucks sells you a coffee near a metro station and he talks about the power of scarcity.  He takes problems and manages to distill their essence so that at once you understand how things work. He talks about why poor countries remain poor and how China became rich. He deals with why its hard to buy a good used car. There is a section on auctions that is breathtaking. Economic terms come and go but they don't fly over your head. I actually understood most of what was being conveyed. Its really an effortless read. Now that I have had a

The Islanders by Christopher Priest : A Mindbending and narrative defying read

No book has surprised me as much as The Islanders in the past six months. The review is late in coming only because I couldn't figure out how to put what I felt into words.(In case you don't know who Christopher Priest, he is the guy who wrote The Prestige out of which the gobsmackingly brilliant Nolan movie was crafted) I expected The Islanders to be a great but slow read but instead it turned out be a great page turner.  Priest builds a great narrative out of seemingly disparate strands and all his criticisms of the Clarke Award nominees seem well founded .  The Islanders is more a series of stories about different places but they connect in subtle ways and it makes for a surprinsingly cohesive whole. There is a masters hand at work here because in less dexterous hands the novel might have disintegrated into a meaningless nothing. Priest throws a line here and there that just shifts your perception, and makes you view what you have read earlier in a totally differ

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard - A brilliant short story

I just read a short story called Immersion by Aliette de Bodard and it really is an amazing tale. Its about something called immersers which disguise what you truly are and fit you into whatever culture you are currently in. The immersers are a sort of Google Goggles on steroids. They tell you what everything is so that nothing in an alien culture remains unknown. They tell you what the socially acceptable behaviors are and make you a part of the cultural setup. People get addicted to them especially the ones from the not so dominant cultures. It really is a great story, well written and the more I think about it the more it blows me away. The more you use it the more it gains control of the way you think making you dependent on it. The irony is that the inventors themselves use it at the lowest power but the buyers use it at the highest setting and this makes their addiction even worse. The writing is brilliant and subtle. Like most great work, the second reading is even mor

The Magicians by Lev Grossman : Kids who read fantasy and discover they can do magic

I  read The Magicians around an year back. At that point of time I thought it was a solid if not spectacular piece of work. Then The Magician King came around and I was hooked. All of a sudden it put the Magician in context. The two books just fit and became a great story. This is a series that is simultaneously fantasy and about fantasy. The protagonists have grown up reading fantasy. Harry Potter and Narnia are second nature to them. They discover much to their surprise that things such as magic schools actually exist and their lives changes. The characters are incredibly well realized and etched out. The narrative is dealt with panache and a sure hand. The Magician king is definitely the better of the two but reading the magicians really makes it all the more enjoyable. Ideally you should pick both and read them at a stretch. The magicians may be tough going but the Magician king makes it worth it. The Magician King is like The Dark Knight that put Batman Begins in cont

Number9Dream by David Mitchell : Eiji Miyake's surreal quest to find his father

Number9Dream is the tale of Eiji Miyake who wants to find his father. He travels to Tokyo from his village to do so. Its not a straight out quest though. He encounters the Yakuza along the way. Dream sequences and Video games abound. There are death sequences so horrific that the line between the surreal and real begins to blur.  David Mitchell is a pure storyteller. He creates suspense and keeps you turning pages all the while churning out prose of the highest quality. This is especially true when he goes into flashback mode. His ramblings are even better and he probably knows Japan as well as anyone with its unpredictable earthquakes and confined spaces along with the food. (He lived there for quite a while hence this is no surprise really). As with his other novels  he structures Number9Dream into self contained arcs that make a whole larger than the sum of its parts.  There are also a ton of John Lennon references that I didn't care for but that is a small gripe in an

Railsea by China Mieville : An Imaginitive tour de force from one of the masters of the genre

The story is about Sham Al Soorap a young apprentice on a train which hunts Moles.  Its the future, the sky is poisoned. So is a lot of the land. The only way to travel is over the sea of rails crisscrossing each other. The rails themselves have been built before and No one knows how they came to be. Myths and deities abound. On the railsea there are moles, not your ordinary moles but giant ones who are hunted. A lot of captains have particular targets referred to as philosophies. Sham is on a  doctor's apprentice on Medes, one of those trains. The Railsea itself is described beautifully in sparse prose with well chosen words. The book has a lot of substance. It doesn't have any romance that stifles the storytelling as in most novels. The moles themselves are beautifully done. Mieville excels in describing the hunt, putting you in the scene and his omniscient narrator is a delight. Parallels with Moby Dick are ever present but the story is much more deftly told.

On Kapil Sibal and his flawed proposal

Kapil Sibal has lost it. He is taking the one fair exam that the nation has and turning it into something that is vehemently unfair. When I went to IIT, I met a range of people with extremely diverse backgrounds. One of them was from a village called Kaimganj which doesn't have even the basic schooling infrastructure in place. There is no way his school would have produced someone in the top bracket. That is the problem with most villages. At least this way with one common examination they have a chance. At first glance his arguments have a point. The coaching institutions do give an advantage to those who study there but at least the teaching body and the examining one are independent of each other unlike the boards. Also his argument about money is flawed to say the least. Money always bestows an advantage no matter what the system may be. A student with the right parents will always have an edge over the poor one. Thats the way life works but as far as possible the gove

Announcing KBookSearch - The best way to find the cheapest book prices

I like to read(understatement) but there so far there was no easy way to get the best price for a book.  I often found myself manually sifting through the book sellers. Sometimes the difference in prices almost made one weep. I thought I could do something about it so I sat down this weekend to hack and the hack turned out to be much better than expected. Have a look at  KBookSearch . It looks at all the online book stores and gets the best price. For example have a look at the differences in prices for the  Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy  here. I have made it as fast and clean as I possibly could and hope it solves the same problems for you as it does for me. Mostly everything should just work. If something goes wrong feel free to comment on this post or send me an email.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway : Victorian machines and madness

Nick Harkaway can write.(Understatement) is what I discovered after reading Angelmaker The prose is top notch. The characters are brilliant. There is Joe Spork, good son of gangster who turns bad. Edie Banister was a world war two spy but is now an octogenarian and it is her world war adventures that are narrated with the most verve and panache. There is Frankie the crazed french woman scientist and of course the villain is the best of the lot. The passion Nick Harkaway has for steampunkish machines just shines through. There are passages of such brilliance describing a mundane detail that you wonder how he managed to put so much life into the object. The trailer should tell you all you need to know about the plot. Its simple on the surface but there are many subtle reveals along the way which should not be spoilt. Its just a brilliant read full of inventive wit.

A song of ice and fire

What happened to a Song of Ice and Fire. I still remember being gripped and hooked by the first three books in the series. The books were big but never long to read. I devoured the pages. Scenes still stick out in my head. I loved the way Martin confounded my expectations at every turn. How he twisted the characters and how the POV made everyone seem right. I enjoyed the way he turned Jaime Lannister around in a Storm of Swords. Martin was a writer at the height of his powers but then the inevitable fall began.  The downfall started wtih Feast and it was a torrid bore. It felt big, there was no tension, there was nothing I could take away from the book. Dance I thought would be better but it too disappointed with everyone just walking from point A to point B. I could hardly believe that this was the same Martin who penned scenes like the Red Wedding. The introduction of the Direwolves set everything up wonderfully. In that one scene you knew who the characters were, what sort of w

Desolation Road by Ian McDonald : Mars with the most impeccable set of characters

Absolutely bloody brilliant. Each chapter is beautifully written and the vast cast of characters is utterly memorable and compelling. The book is set in a mars that is being terraformed for human survival. McDonald plays with the characters, challenges your assumptions about what a Science Fiction novel should be and despite being around 20 years old it hasn't dated a bit. The Science rests mostly in the background but the more you notice it the more you realize that McDonald's research is impeccable.It just takes you on a ride, surprises you and then just when you think you have it figured out surprises you again. Page after page is filled with prose of the highest quality possessing a poetry, a rhythm and cadence to it that renders most other authors obsolete.  Its actually the most un Science Fiction like on Mars that I have ever read and as with most of McDonald's work I didn't think that it was possible to do what he did until I actually read it. You c

Stiff by Mary Roach : How the dead help out the living

This is a book about Cadavers(dead bodies) and how they have been used for a variety of curious purposes. More specifically it chronicles the contributions of the deceased to scientific research. On the surface the premise sounds stale and incredibly boring but Mary Roach pulls of a rank page turner writing with deftness and a wry sense of humor. A gem of a book, entertaining and enlightening at the same time. You can buy Stiff here .

The stuff I enjoyed in 2011

Here are some of the things I really enjoyed in 2011. This is no particular order of course. I am following Kurt Vonnegut's advice who said "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'" This post has been lying around in my drafts for a while now(since 2012 actually) but it looked presentable all of a sudden so here it is with a few cuts. Insurgentes and Grace for drowning - These are two albums by Steven Wilson that I really enjoyed. Both of them are magnificent albums both of them with brilliant soundscapes. His solo work is turning out to ve really good so far. The live shows seem to be even better than Porcupine Tree. Just listen to this . Embassytown   - This is the novel of the year for me. I was hooked and read this in a single sitting. I dipped into it quite often for a few tidbits throughout as well. Hyperion - This science fiction and fantasy s

A land fit for heroes By Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan, the author of the fantastic mind bending Altered Carbon makes his foray into Fantasy(albeit with strange AIs, multiple realities and what not) with this series and its turning out to be a good ride so far. Morgan takes the conventions of fantasy and gives them a crash course in reality so to speak. The story is told through three characters Ringil, Archeth and Egar. All three of them are war veterans, heroes of the war against alien forces. They should be treated like Gods but each of them has a quirk so extreme that violates social norms so thoroughly that this never really pans out. The characters are really well written and realized and Morgan establishes them in a short period of time so much so that you are rooting for the dysfunctional protagonists by the end of it all. Morgans shatters all notions of romanticized fantasy(Actually this is nothing new after the song of ice and fire and The blade itself) but the language is offensive to say the least.

The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch : Mind bending and far reaching treatise on Science

The Beginning of Infinity is great read. It is supremely ambitious and full of great big ideas on what makes sets humans apart from the rest of the planet. It is philosophy but it also a great treatise on what makes science work, what makes great art great and what is that makes stories tick. It is about how abstractions are as real as reality itself, how science is not theories but explanations that haven't failed.  He talks about how science is about good explanations. He then goes on to talk about how the best stories are the ones that are consistent and that the best fictional worlds have their basis in good explanations. He also talks about how societies prosper, thrive and what causes them to fall by the wayside. There is a chapter in which he explains parallel universes which might get a little weighty for most but the rest of the book should make for some mind bending reading. That he manages to do this in a style that is clear, concise and lucid, never once talki

On Identity

Identity is a something that people grapple with all the time but don't really get. Consider for a second  looking out of a car with the windows rolled up. When you do this you sometimes see your reflection along with the outside world at the same time. Identity is a bit like that. Who you share as is just as important as who you share with. This is something that both facebook and google plus get wrong. Have a look at how Sacha Baron Cohen has various personas. What he can do as very different from what he does as AliG even though in many cases the audience is the same. Twitter gets it right because they are the only service that allows multiple handles, monikers and they are essentially the only ones right now who allow(or even encourage) you  to have a online presence that is completely divorced from real life. This is important because people have stereotypes in their head and if your name or picture reinforces those, you are already in a box, out of which it is very diffic