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October 31, 2002

Disjointed thoughts on trackbacks, Movable Type and weblogs

I am probably the last weblogger on earth to have noticed that blogdex now has a great look complete with track backs. I am sorry that they haven't brought back search as I had hoped, but trackback is a very welcome addition.

Two of the key reasons I I migrated from blogger to movabletype are a) a better comment system and b) trackbacks. Every time I clicked on the comments on this page, I could feel YACCS groaning under the collective weight of all of us. I think the premise of a remotely administered comment system (specially free ones) is inherently faulty. Any Content management system that aspires to be a serious contender ought to have its own native comment system.

The other thing which really, really excited me was the idea of trackbacks (See Gallagher for a detailed treatment). I think trackbacks as an idea is going to find widespread adoption on the net and MT is the pioneer in this area.

I don't care much for the whole RSS brouhaha.

From a big picture perspective, I don't think weblog management systems will take off as independent large business entities. There will probably be significant enterprise interest in weblogs as a tool, but it will be a functionality in a CMS or a portal product, a market that the biggies like Microsoft are much better placed to serve. The really good weblog products will be bought out by the large CMS vendors.

But while I don't have much faith on the large scale enterprise adoption of weblogs as standalone entities, I do believe in the increasing popularity of weblogs as a net culture phenomenon. Weblogs have democratised web based content publication and can help realize a global conversational commons. From that context, Blogger is probably the most visible and highly trafficked product out there.

The less talked about thing about MT is that some of the best minds using weblogs have either migrated or are migrating to movable type. I quite think that at least in the foreseeable future, most innovation in the weblog space will happen in or around MT.

October 30, 2002

Resource for web navigation works

Robert Danielson has listed, what are in his opinion, the 27 most Important works in web navigation (via Pixelcharmer). Many of these are available online.

I think Steven Johnson's Interface culture is in the same category.

Yahoo goes completely open source

yahoo is migrating its application logic from C++ to PHP. Radwin has an interesting slide deck online which explores the logic and the evaluation criteria that Yahoo used to choose PHP (via algorhythm).

I don't see this as part of a broader trend of larger enterprises adopting open source. Open source does have a great deal more credibility than it did a few years back. But Yahoo has always been an early adopter of open source and in that it is different from other Bay area technology companies.

Large scale adoption of open source in large companies, specially non-IT fortune 500s, is probably a long way away. This is partly because of the conservative nature of large businesses, partly becuase of the ingrained belief of their advisers that 'commercial software is better supported and is more stable' (as an entity). Those mainframes are not going to go away easily.

But I do see this as part of a broader trend by larger companies to cut cost by whatever means possible. As recession continues and the IT budgets stay frozen across the country, layoffs have reached saturation points in most places. Companies are now showing innovation and smart thinking in their IT planning. Many are sending a great deal of work offshore. There was an excellent article in McKinsey Quarterly sometime back on offshore development which I wish I could link to here. Unfortunately, they have now made the online version priced.

October 28, 2002

Modigliani exhibition

Albright-Knox has created a fabulous Modigliani website to showcase their exhibition called 'Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse'. There is a review of the exhibition by Blake Gopnik in yesterday's Washington Post. (via Modern art notes)

Red, Kieslowski

I finally saw Red by Krzysztof Kieslowski last night. I wanna watch it again. Sobocinski's cinematography was also awesome.

Browsing for stuff on Kieslowski, I found this hilarious anecdote:

"About a year ago, Krzystof Kieslowski recieved a courteous letter from Oxford University Press. They were in the process of updating their music encyclopaedia, and could he please provide them with some details about Van den Budenmayer, the late 18th century Dutch composer whose music he had featured in his Dekalog, Double Life of Veronique and Three Colours trilogy. Their research had yielded nothing. Kieslowski replied equally courteously that Van den Budenmayer was a fictional character created by him and his composer, Zbigniew Preisner. Soon he received a second letter. Of course they understood his concern to protect his sources, but as this was to be the definitive series on classical music could he please provide them with at least some information. Kieslowski wrote a second letter, reiterating that the score had been written by Preisner, a 19 stone self-taught musician from Cracow. Still they did not believe him. After about half a year of this fruitless correspondence back and forth Kieslowski stopped replying."

October 24, 2002

Here is what I think

Anil Dash on LGF.

One of our favourite poets, Rabindranath Tagore wrote the following poem in early parts of twentieth century. It is hung in a lot of school premises in India. In 1977, when Mrs. Gandhi declared emergency, there was heavy censorship of newspapers. Lots of people were sent to jail, tortured. There was fear in the air. Apparently this poem started vanishing from the walls. Don't know whether it is just myth.

I can not find it in me to provide a reasoned, nuanced post about this. I obviously don't have any sympathy for the LGF comments crowd. I also like Anil's weblog and keep going back there. But in the larger debate, when you get beyond things like LGF's target audience, I feel alienated by the stridency and fundamentalism of both the left and right. I found Nick Denton's post on the subject dignified. But I dont think there is any political umbrella anymore for people like me.

Instead I give you this poem. It says what I believe in:

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake"


October 22, 2002

New York! New York!

Check out
-A rather unconventional introduction to New York
-The comments on the ins and outs of NYC in Jason Kottke's weblog.

If you like the city, Both make for fascinating reading.

I am hoping to check out the following whenever I go to New York next:
-The Winograd exhibition in ICP
-Liz Deschenes show in Bronwyn Keenan.
Aperture exhibitions.

My article in Satyacircle

Satyacircle published my op-ed 'The Jammu and Kashmir Dispute: At the crossroads' yesterday. Please check it out!

I'll also be writing a monthly column for Satya Circle from next month.

October 21, 2002

Street photography

In-public.com is a terrific showcase for contemporary street photography (via Consumptive).

Talking of street photography, I had run into this Henri Cartier bresson portfolio in mefi sometime back that I have been meaning to post for some time. (More Bresson portfolios here and here). I also think of Martin Parr as primarily a street photographer. And in spite of Bresson's disdain for him (He was famously disgusted when he heard that Parr has gotten admittance in Magnum), he has gone on to do incredibly well in Magnum. He has a unique eye that captures the ridiculous even in mundane circumstances.

But the street photographer that I really admire from the Bresson era is André Kertész. (Some his works are displayed in Petrimoine Photographique and in Jane Corkin's). I find his images elegant and powerful in a very quiet way.


Note to readers

Alright. I moved house to Movabletype.org. As you can imagine, things are kinda broken right now. To begin with, I need to add legible titles to the past posts and categorize them. Then I need to figure out how to import the comments from YACCS (any ideas?). THEN I am going to try to figure out the rest of the system.

It is going to take a while. In the mean time, if you see something specially iffy, please let me know.

October 18, 2002

Durga Puja in Upstate New York

Birendra Krishna Bhadra's recitations, his voice breaking with passion as he invokes Durga, is broadcast by All India Radio in the predawn hours of Mahalaya every year. Listening to Agomani, semi asleep, as light slowly creaks in through the curtains, is one of the abiding memories of Durga Puja from my childhood. In the Bengali psyche, Bhadra is irreplacable. At one time, AIR got a noted Bengali movie actor (Uttam Kumar) to recite the Sanskrit slokas. The story goes, that the people got so incensed that many started towards the radio station with brickbats (a not very surprising development in Calcutta).

In his old age, Bhadra was locked up in his own house by his son and daughter in law. they claimed that he had gone mad. A lot of people feel that they covetted his property. I wish he had a better death. His Agomani recitations are very uplifting. This year on Mahalaya, we listened to a recording that my wife has brought from India.

The puja of course is packaged into a weekend affair in USA instead of the elaboate four day thing that it is in India. None of us have that kind of time. Durga is carefully packed away every year in keeping with the environmental regulations of New York. Last year, the diyas had somehow sparked off the fire alarms in a building in Albani and a number of fire brigade vehicles had arrived.

We had gone to Dr. Mukherjee's house for the Pujas last weekend. He has been doing this in his house for the last 25 years. For those who don't know, Durga Puja is a fairly complex, demanding affair, rarely done at home.

Dr Mukherjee had worked in many corners of the world throughout his life. I was much impressed with the fact that he had served in Siberia for 'Doctors Without Border'. Now old, he has retired to a a quiet town in upstate New York. He has a pacemaker for his heart. He had another heart attack last month. But his back was ramrod straight, his Sanskrit pronunciations were correct and clear, only his gait kinda shuffled and tentative.

There was some singing later on. There was this small, balding man from Mysore who sang divinely. He had that vocal range that certain classically trained southern vocalists have, that doesn't need any accompanying instruments. I think Sinead O'Connor has that. There was a woman who sang horrible Gazals. There was lots of color, awesome Bengali sweets, disjointed conversations, cars parked in wrong places ......

It rained all day that day. Later, we drove up 87 all the way to Albani past catskill mountains vivid with fall colors . As we neared Adirondack, the trees took on many different hues. It was a great drive.

In Albani, I had the weirdest conversation with another guy:

"So where did you move from?"
"California"
"You SHOULD go back"
"Huh?"
"There is nothing here. Let the winter start. It is going to be terrible. Absolutely terrible. I went to San Francisco for a training last month. There is life there! They have the real city life out there."
"Oh"
"Albany sucks". He started pacing. "Connecticut sucks."
"Hmmm".
"Go back. Ask your company to send you back."
"You know, we don't have any ongoing projects in the Bay area."
"Why don't you join Microsoft?"

October 15, 2002

Weblogging ethics

Mitch Ratcliffe made a very good point about recent ethical lapses in blogging and it was good to see Doc Searls making amends.

For what it is worth, I do think that many professional journalists also have strong conflicts of interest. Ratclife kinda blurred that. But what for me differentiated blogging was that the majority of bloggers with a large following seemed to have a strong sense of integrity.

Update: In this context, I really liked Mark Pilgrim's post and Dorothea Salo's post that he referred to in his.

October 14, 2002

Interesting commentary on US foreign policy

I wanted to write about my weekend (which was nice), but instead I read 'Stability, America's enemy' an old commentary on American foreign policy by Ralph Peters. It is incredibly erudite and sweeping in scope. I don't agree with a lot of what Mr. Peters says, but it is thought provoking and definitely worth reading. (via The heart of things)

October 11, 2002

Great photography resource

This is a fabulous photography related resource. You should also check out Gabrielle's black and white photographs while you are there. (via Mood-indigo).

On software development horror stories

Anil Dash has an interesting commentary about software project cost and time overrun in the context of this New Architect story.

My take:

1. A certain amount of responsibility on how to buy software products and how to manage software projects do lie with the buyer. The kind of enterprise software referred to by 'The New Architect' Magazine is usually bought by medium to large enterprises.

For the last 5-6 years, there had been a huge gulf in the the salaries of the developers engaged in Internet and enterprise software development and in the salaries of developers engaged in government, fortune 500 et al. I am not trying to insinuate here that the later type of enterprises did not get bright people. But anecdotal evidence do suggest that the majority of sharp kids working in the OO / current generation of enterprise software / emerging technology areas worked for start ups / product companies. There had been (and probably still are) unequal distribution of talent in these areas. Many a times, enterprises taking software purchase / implementation decisions did not get quality advise from their IT departments.

2. Consulting companies chosen to advise enterprises have more often evaluated products based on self interest rather than on client interest. What I said on January 25 (my links are acting funny, so I have quoted from there) about technology consulting companies while on the subject of corruption in Anderson is still valid:

"Technology consulting companies are ..... badly compromised by their alliance partnerships. There are very few consulting companies that doesnt pitch (subtly or directly) products in which they have a vested interest to their clients. It has now come to a stage where many good product company will not look to ally itself with a technology consulting company if it does not bring in business to the product company. In many case, it would need to commit sizeable revenue to the product company to be accepted as a partner. As a result, most consulting companies today are becoming more hustler than consultants. Most of the clients who went for the big-buck e-business roduct implementations in the last few years simply did not need to go into that kind of expenses to achieve what they needed. They allowed themselves to be steered them towards the big ticket items by the consultants. The chicken is now coming home to roost."


3.Because of the exponential growth in tech sector there simply wasn't enough competent resources available to do all complext project justice. A well known practice among some consulting companies was of pitching for a project with the best team and switching it with a less experienced team later. A less savvy client will not know how to handle practices like these.

4. Sometimes, the technical team would deliberately steer companies in directions in which they want to have exposure rather than directions which are most practical/beneficial for the organization. Many of the development efforts that were undertaken in the last few years even in smaller start ups were simply started because some people wanted to have exposure to sexy technology. I know of at least one CTO in a web based service provider company (doing well I might add) who feels many of the EJBs that were developed adn deployed earlier was unnecessary, badly designed and added significant performance overhead. He is now looking to slowly rearchitect/reengineer his platform.

All these factors also contributed to the current mess in the IT sector

October 9, 2002

Coastal Connecticut

Captain William Kidd was apparently a heartless, bloodthirsty pirate who terrorized the eastern seaboard of the United States and became enormously wealthy robbing the poor merchants in the seventeenth century. He hid it all in his secret island near the central shoreline of Connecticut. Our tour boat's captain showed off Captain Kidd's island. He talked about the great wealth that must still be safely hidden somewhere in Money Island and about people who still hunt for it.

It was only after I came back from the trip that I found that the reality is more complex, that "Captain William Kidd was a Scottish merchant transplanted to America, who was commissioned in 1695 to hunt down the pirate Thomas Tew (of Newport) in the Indian Ocean. While pursuing Tew, Kidd stretched the limits of his commission, which embarrassed his prominent British backers (including the Crown). When he returned home, Kidd was seized and, after a rigged trial in which evidence of his innocence was suppressed, convicted of murder and piracy and hanged in 1701".

But Thimble islands are beautiful and steeped in lores like these. There are now 23 tiny inhabited islands dotting the coast. A ferry will take you on a tour if you reach Stony creek by 3 PM on a day before winter sets in. Stony creek is a quiet, charming, rural fishing village near Guilford.

To get there, we got off I-95 at exit 52 (right after New Haven) and took much less traveled 146 via 142. 146 from Branford to Stony creek is a very pretty coastal road that loops around rivers, picture perfect churches, old colonial houses, New England clapboards and the occasional jogger. We got back on I-95 after we reached Madison; back to civilization, traffic jam and Honking drivers.

October 7, 2002

'Drugs in the blood'

Drugs in the blood is a heart rending photoessay that was published in yesterday's New York Times. Brenda Ann Kenneally has been photographing ' the legacy of drugs in her Brooklyn neighbourhood ...where she lives with her young son' for a long time. The small images in the Web edition doesn't hit you as hard as those in print edition do, although Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's accompanying story will haunt you.

Brenda won the Eugene Smith memorial award last year and some of her work is displayed there.