Nov 28, 2006

Bringing knowledge back to life

I had referred in one of my previous blog entries to the loss of digital knowledge due to the fast changing computer landscape. A far more subtle loss is occurring in the written and printed archives, as editions of old texts lie decaying behind closed doors. Sometimes caring individuals invest their time and money in bringing fragments of these back to active life. Their are many such treasures in my own family hierlooms that are so delicate that they crumble at the merest touch. Stories like the following lend hope of their salvation.

Imaging technology restores 700-year-old sacred Hindu text from

Scientists who worked on the Archimedes Palimpsest are using modern imaging technologies to digitally restore a 700-year-old palm-leaf manuscript containing the essence of Hindu philosophy.


Nov 26, 2006

Fire in the Sky

Since the beginning of November I'd been waiting for an opportunity to clear my stash of Chinese firecrackers, but nooooo - the thick woolly clouds stayed overhead and the city was washed out. Finally the blue sky peered out this Friday, and I got the go-ahead.

A bright starry night and Petone beach was deserted except for some joggers and idlers. All five of us trotted out on the beach in the night, and proceeded to have some firecracking FUN. It's not necessary describe it further than the pictures shown below...

(click to see larger image)

Image  Image

Image  Image

See more photos here

Nov 17, 2006

How to make a site inaccessible

The publication Indian Newslink of New Zealand Indian community seems headed for a negative spiral. They had a very nice HTML delivered web page with full contents available for free for all to see. Then suddenly some old-timer must have protested that it doesn't look like their printed newspaper and he doesn't understand it.

So somebody must have had a brainstorm to go an deliver the whole publication as a printed page look alike. There was an grand announcement that the publication is tying up with India's Bodhtree software company to apply their Pressmart ePaper solution to deliver their publication in much more amazing way.

Now that it has been done, though this solution is interesting, it's mostly a flashy novelty. It delivers the print page onscreen to view, and the user can move the mouse over any of the article areas to get a hover-view popup of the summary. The article print is an image and usually too small to be readable. So to actually read it, you have to click the dang thing which opens up a pop-up page which is lo-and-behold a normal HTML page. "Why couldn't they have normal HTML pages anyway", you ask? Good question. In addition there are also the following faults. The whole paper is delivered through a standard application that - get this - doesn't work in Firefox! They seem to have used .Net technologies but in a way that's not cross-browser compatible.

The application delivers one edition of the publication at a time on screen. Though you can use a calendar drop-down to navigate to previous editions, note that only the edition which is currently visible is actively loaded in the application. That means that the searches that happen only search the current edition, and there's not archival search available. That makes a very poor tool for researchers. Then their are RSS feeds which are non-dynamic. No kidding, the RSS feeds provided correspond to a single page on a single date. Sooo, that means that you can load that RSS link to your RSS reader and the contents will never change!

Recently I read someone saying that "the current delivery of data has to be at the point where the user needs it". But this novelty application absolutely refused to confirm to this principle. I've noticed that some of the other clients of this software such as Times of India, mainly provide a normal HTML website with this as a side feature.

On top of all this the publication which as basic-HTML was free for the community, now requires a subscription fee before it lets you take a look at its precious contents. What must have happened was that now that they are using this propriety software to deliver their publication, they have to pay a recurring license fee, and that cannot be handled by a simple community budget.

In the end I was roused up enough to send them some feedback about it :


I would like to offer the following suggestions.
1. Provide an RSS feed URL for all the news, that gets updated automatically when each new editon is published. Your current RSS Url's seem tied down to a specific page on a specific date. This defeats the very purpose of RSS which are supposed to remain constant and their content is dynamically updated. It's ridiculous to be expected to manually copy the RSS each time for a new edition from the site.
2. You are no doubt aware that the current site application architecture does not allow it to function in Firefox browser. As Firefox is currently considered to be the most advanced browser and it's use is rising - you are severely limiting the accessibility of this publication. I would recommend that an alternative simple HTML equivalent of the publication be also made available, or that Java applets be used to deliver the application which are compatible across all browsers.
3. I understand that you are focussing on delivering a print equivalent of your publication online, but it is important that you want to make the contents available on the web so it would be good to follow basic web conventions and standards.

In a competitive environment it would not be in your interest to have publication whose accessibility is restricted, while there may be other more easily available sources of equivalent news. The fact that I have to pay for it is another factor that increases your responsibility to provide responsible access.

My father who used to follow your publication with keen interest, has been so frustrated with your current interface, that he has given up reading it.

Hope somebody's listening, else I see a failed publication.

Nov 15, 2006

The end of Bangalore

What I was afraid of has finally happened. As part of a patriotic and anti-colonial posturing by the oh-so humble Indian politicians, another city (my old city) has lost its identity. Bangalore has been renamed Bengaluroo. Hmm ... doesn't that sound like the capital of West Bengal?

Bangalore was a name which I loved because it packed a phonetic bang. "Bang-a-lore" I would sing riding around on my trusty motorcycle. When I first arrived in Bangalore, the head of the state goverment was Chief Minister Bangarappa (Bang-a-rapper?). I got my college degree from 'Bangalore University' a name that's known internationally. Believe it or not, Bangalore is an globally recognized (pronounce-able) brand associated with the information technology revolution of India. Due to its loss, the city will take a hit.


It's even funny to know what Bengaluroo may actually mean. There's a popular story that a king from the Hoysala dynasty, while on a hunting expedition, stopped for a meal break and was fed boiled beans by a kindly old lady, and thus he named the old hamlet after that dish - benda kala ooru (in Kannada), the village of boiled beans. However some historians seek to console us that it's not true and that the name actually derives from some specimen of flora.

Indian cartographers have been tearing out their hair vigorously for the past decade or so. Trivandrum became Thiruvananthapuram (even Indians have problems saying that out loud). Bombay (now, did't that sound explosive) became an uninspiring Mumbai. Madras became Chennai (which sounds like another food item). Calcutta became Kolkata (in Hindi that would sound like 'I bit [something] yesterday'). And I haven't even started discussing individual street names yet.

"But it's all the Britisher's fault", protests the Indian politician, "because they couldn't pronounce the Indian dialect, they twisted it into a English sounding word". Granted, but that does not mean that you are doing anyone favours by renaming these cities 40 years after Independence. When the true generation of Indian freedom fighter did not have any problem with these names, why do you?

These names have become identities or brands in their own right, with long histories. A Bombay or Madras does not get located in Britain because of its name. There are no other places in the world with theses names. These names also belonged to India, in fact the India of your fathers and grandfathers. Bangalore had been named thus since 1537.

The politician thinks he or she can go down in history as the person who got the city's name changed. Let me tell you - history doesn't care. In another 100 years your contributions will be judged on other criteria. And what would happen if other politicians got the same idea? Even worse, what would happen if the latest pundit, numerologist, psychic or guru-ji decided that the current name is 'cursed with bad luck'? Well, we'll go skipping along singing another name-changing tune.

See also article in the Economist