This and That: 9th Edition

It’s been long since something substantial appeared here. By here, I mean, specifically here in the Journal - there’s no lack of activity elsewhere. And by substantial, I mean something bloggy, not some email outage or worm coverage. I’ll try and make up for it by making this the longest blog post ever. So set some time aside and prepare for some serious rambling. Get a snack if you must.

I’ve been travelling for the past few weeks for work. Now travelling by itself isn’t so bad if you can avoid the travel part of it. The travel itself isn’t so bad if you can avoid the airports, especially all of the non-Changi ones. The airports themselves aren’t so bad if you can avoid the insane security theatre that greets you at every one of them. It helps to have flown enough miles to get priority check-in & boarding privileges but there’s no way around the barefoot dance through the scanner while some uniformed drone peers at layers of your packed stuff in grey/green/red. Or is there?

I was in San Francisco for the first couple of weeks of this trip. It was cold. I was mostly working out of the hotel so that wasn’t such a big deal. But I didn’t relish having to think about stepping out at just seven in the evening! I guess it’s kinda like having to think about stepping out at two in the afternoon here in Singapore.


As you may know, it gets dark pretty early in the northern latitudes of our planet. (I haven’t gone South of Equator yet.) I knew that factoid too and have experienced it first hand for more than a couple of times. Still, having to re-adjust my clock to a new Sun-cycle is hard. And I’m not talking about jet-lag. You see, I am used to working till dusk, then tuning out, having dinner and perhaps doing a bit of work later in the night after dinner. But with dusk falling at 5 in the evening, it’s hard to keep my head from tuning out so early in the day. I felt like shutting down at 5 in the evening, watching TV at 6 and then having dinner at 6:30. My body-clock’s working hours are intimately tied to the Sun’s - whether I work at night or day. It’s hard to separate my schedule from the Sun’s.

I shudder to think of how I would cope in Finland.

I managed to visit the Golden Gate bridge this time. It’s truly a magnificent structure. Luckily, the day that I went there was a clear one and I got great views all around. Well, all around except for due-west where the late afternoon sun was hanging out.

Golden Gate Bridge

I got a little active on Facebook while in California. It’s much better designed than Orkut, for sure. And it’s got Apps. Oh apps.. at once the best and the worst of Facebook. Do I really need to know who bit whom? I’d rather use an app like Dopplr to know who’s going where - now that’s useful! And I imagine usefulness is the raison d’etre of a social network. Seriously, everyone I know should join Dopplr. It’s really useful when you need it and stays out of your way when you don’t. Just perfect.

Facebook couple

For all the talk of platforms and openness on Facebook, I haven’t found any app that is really open. There’s the Flixster movies app. I already rate my movies elsewhere - can I import those ratings into Flixster? Can I take my ratings out of Flixster to re-use elsewhere? No and no. Then there are the places I’ve been to apps. Same story. Can’t take out data and can’t bring in data from elsewhere.

And then there are the annoying and downright devious apps from the folks. I added their Likeness app and they used that access privilege to start sending me messages for their Superwall app. Cross-selling BS! No more Rockyou apps for me, thank you very much.

I guess I’ll have to write my own apps the way I want them. But then, why would I bother writing one for this closed platform?

I got a chance to visit the Stanford campus where a friend from IIT days showed me around. It’s a nice campus with some interesting architecture. Though I found Princeton to be more charming in that sense. But anything is better than MIT architecture, I suppose ;-)

Jordan Hall

I also went down to the campus bookstore while at Stanford to pick up a Moleskine. It’s certainly a very well made notebook with a great feel to it. But I don’t think it justifies the cost. I guess the price premium is because many regard it, for lack of a better analogy, as the iPod of notebooks. For me, my horrible handwriting just destroys the beauty of the book :-) It’s been really long since I hand-wrote a full page of text in one go. Have any of you written much since you stopped attending classes?

I tried writing in Hindi some time back. It was a disaster. I don’t think I can write the entire varnamala from memory. Depressing. On the other hand, I’m happy I could recall the word varnamala without looking it up!

Speaking of writing, I’m writing this in white letters on a dark background. Yes, I’ve switched my KDE colour scheme to a dark one. It’s a nice experience, like all your apps are Adobe Lightroom :-) But it also breaks many apps since lots of apps assume a default light background or a light colour scheme. It’s especially bad if you set the web browser to use a default dark canvas - it breaks a lot of websites (including mine!) which forget to explicitly set a background colour. You can imagine the results of that!

Kate, with the dark syntax highlighting scheme, looks great in this colour theme. I tried replicating this with Eclipse but it’s just not possible. Broken-ness all over the place.

Kate with dark colour scheme

What else?

The last leg of the trip was in Tokyo where the temperature dropped below 10°C. The hotel we stayed at this time had rooms of a size that reminded me of my cozy hostel room in IIT Madras. And the bathroom was as big as an Indian Railways coach toilet - except - this one also had to make space for a shower. Interestingly, the shower area was a bath-tub but I can’t imagine anyone over four feet tall using that tub. The bath had some redeeming qualities, though. The shower featured independent knobs for water volume & water temperature. It bugs me no end where the shower apparatus doesn’t let me zero in to the right temperature and then lock that! I don’t want every use of the shower to become a chance to exercise the Bisection method!

The other redeeming quality was the presence of heated mirror. I don’t really like the soft-blur effect when I’m shaving, thank you very much. If you take these two things for granted, clearly, your quality of life is much better than mine.

The Japanese have this interesting culture of going out almost every night of the week, unlike us who limit the partying to the weekend. You’ll find the watering holes crowded until midnight all through the week. I wonder how the young cope with their hang-overs when they have to report to work the next day, on time, no matter what time they hit the sack the night before. :-)

I got a free evening in Tokyo and while walking around Ginza, decided to visit Bic Camera on a lark. I was actually going to get just a retractable ethernet cable before walking out of the store but ended up spending almost an hour over there just geeking over everything. Got a chance to play with the Ricoh GR Digital II. It’s a beautiful camera, both in looks and operation. The look is very distinctive with a matt finish and great form. The operation is just fabulous with almost every function you’d want just a dial/knob/click away! If only it weren’t so darn expensive! 74,800 Yen! Its zoom lens cousin, the GX 100, wasn’t much cheaper at 68,800 Yen :-(

Ricoh GR Digital II

That’s a long enough post! I’ll leave you with these yummy digital delights from a Bic store display.

Sushi with something extra