Friday, May 29, 2015

Two Weeks to go !!

Wayward Pines


Been watching Wayward Pines, the new TV series. The pilot episode was directed by M Night Shyamalan. Yes, the one and only 'Twist' Shyamalan. And he is also executive producing the show. The series follows Detective Ehan Burke, who was on a mission trying to locate two of his colleagues, but then has a motor accident and wakes up mysteriously in a small time shady town of Wayward Pines. He has no recollection of why he even went there, and his personal effects are lost. There is no sign of his car either. And when he makes his way to the town, he finds the townspeople creepy.

Not creepy in the sense of zombie or ghosts. Creepy in the sense they seem to live in a cult. They refuse to discuss their past, there is a constant look of fear on their faces. They don't seem interested in the outside world , and refuse to let Ethan leave. Ethan himself finds that he is unable to call the outside world, the entire town is surrounded by electric fences, and there are mysterious beings living probably outside the perimeter. The town's sheriff is hell bent on keeping Ethan there, and although he finds the dead body of one of the colleagues he was searching for, the sheriff does not help him in his case.

It is also shown that Ethan's wife and son is trying to search or contact Ethan as well, but are unsuccessful in their attempts. Ethan's wife Theresa suspects Ethan may have followed Kate, his ex, and the other cop Ethan is trying to locate. Eventually Ethan does find Kate in Wayward Pines, but is shocked to see Kate has aged by several years although he had seen her last 5 weeks ago.

This is an interesting premise. There is mystery, creepy town full of creepy people, and Ethan has no gadgets , computers or even a cell phone to help him. Nobody in the town is helping him, and everyone is trying to keep him in the town, specially the sheriff. Ethan is trying desperately to get home to his family, and also trying to make sense of the situation he is in.

And this is the explanation of it all: Wayward Pines is not a typical town in the countryside, it is a self sustained time capsule to sustain life. The year is not 2014 as Ethan thinks it is, almost 2000 years have passed since then. A 'genius' scientist had figured that humanity is evolving to its eventual doom, and something has to be done to preserve life as we know it. So gets the funding and sets up an elaborate time-capsule. People were selected and frozen in some kind of cryogenic life preserve, and were re-animated 2000 years later in the artificial town. Outside the town limits, humans evolved into their next stage, into a half-animal half-human breed, and are no unrecognisable. The scientist, Jenkins , then set out to form Wayward Pines to be the last surviving town on the planet with real humans in them. Since the people were taken at various time lines, they all have aged differently. And no one can leave the town because the world outside has completely changed. It is no longer hospitable. There is group of people in power who run the town, with the sole aim that the townspeople are kept in the dark from the true reality, and that they continue to thrive in the town and take humanity to its next generation.

Of course this full plot is yet to be revealed in the series, as only 2 episodes have aired to this day. But the series is based on a set of books, and the books are available on the net.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

PreBook Jurassic World Tickets in India Now !!

PVR has enabled PreBooking of Tickets to Jurassic World shows in India now. Not sure for how long this has been active, but looks like the first two day's tickets are already gone !
Head over to PVRCinemas
Search for Jurassic World

Clicking on the link takes you to the summary page.

Click on PreBook

Make your selection for date, seats and venue. You will have to pay to confirm the PreBooking.

Window Live Writer no longer connects to Blogger

Today I started seeing errors when I tried to post to blogger via LivWriter

Turns out, the issue is because Google has made  changes to thier APIs and authentication system, that LiveWriter can no longer authenticate in.

The blogger online composer works fine, but uploading images there is a real pain.

Here is another way out..if you want to post to blogger, but do not want to use the online composer...

you can...just mail it in !

In your blogger account, you can turn on a secure email system, and any email you send to this account will be published automatically !

Go down to Settings-> Mobile and email

Set up a new email id and select "Publish email immediately". Any e-mail you send to this id will be published. So be sure NOT to share this email id with anyone.

You can insert images into the e-mail, and they will be handled by blogger correctly the same way it did for livewriter.

This is how I am posting this post as well..

Enjoy !!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Don't buy the Yureka !


Ok, this is not a public service agreement. I had the worse smartphone experience using the Yureka, YU India's first phone offering. I bought it last week on Amazon India's revised sale, and I just had them pick it up for returns today.

So here is the rundown, it is a really powerful device, if what you want is an electric cooktop or toaster. The battery is completely use-less, with no Wifi on, the battery runs down in under 5 hours. And with full Wifi turnd on , the battery ran down completely in under 2 hours. And no matter how much you re-charge the battery, it never reaches 100% charge. It is proof that a 100% energy conversion is not possible, as per the laws of thermodynamics.

But its not just the useless battery which let me down. One huuuge limitation of the system is that the CyanogenOS running on the system has no support for OTGs or even the plugged in SD cards. The on-board file manager app can read the SD card, but the MP3 player and the video player apps on the phone DO NOT recognize them. So,if you want to play your favourite tunes or videos, you have to go via the file manager and start playing them.

Anyway, I am in a way relieved I got rid of that thin, and that Amazon will issue me a 100% refund of the payment. Those guys at YU, they have a lot of work to do before they can ,or should,  release their next phone.

For me, its back to my trusted Nokia.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Xerox scanners/photocopiers randomly alter numbers in scanned documents



scanners / copiers of the Xerox WorkCentre Line randomly alter written numbers in pages that are scanned. This is not an OCR problem (as we switched off OCR on purpose), it is a lot worse – patches of the pixel data are randomly replaced in a very subtle and dangerous way: The scanned images look correct at first glance, even though numbers may actually be incorrect. Without a fuss, this may cause scenarios like:

  1. Incorrect invoices

  2. Construction plans with incorrect numbers (as will be shown later in the article) even though they look right

  3. Other incorrect construction plans, for example for bridges (danger of life may be the result!)

  4. Incorrect metering of medicine, even worse, I think.

The errors are caused by an eight (!) year old bug in widely used WorkCentre and ColorQube scan copier families of the manufacturer Xerox – according to reseller data, hundreds of thousands of those machines are used across the planet. As a result, anyone having used machines of the named families has to ask himself:

  • How many incorrect documents (even though they look correct!) did I produce during the last years by scanning with xerox machines? Did I even give them to others?

  • What dangers are imposed by such possible document errors? Is there a danger of life for someone?

  • Can I be sued for such errors?



Thursday, May 21, 2015

JAVA is 20


The JAVA programming language grows 20 years old this year.

Java at 20: The JVM, Java's other big legacy

May 23 marks 20 years since the first version of Java was released for public use. The timing of its arrival coincided with the advent of the web and the new role technology took in improving business productivity, streamlining business processes, and creating new ways for businesses and customers to interact.

The importance of a given programming language—especially one as pervasive as Java—in changing how people use technology is difficult to underestimate. The big data revolution, for example, is primarily a Java phenomenon.

In industry and business, most of server-side computing is done using Java applications. And much of the Internet of Things is also emerging on Java devices.

But 20 years ago, the language was delivered to an entirely different set of needs: a good, general-purpose language for desktop computing.

Java arrived at an important moment in software development. Up until then, the primary programming languages were few and well-established: Fortran in scientific computing, COBOL in business, and C or the emerging C++ everywhere else in commercial programming.

While less popular languages filled specific niches—Ada (defense), Pascal (hobbyists and consultants to SMBs), Smalltalk and Lisp (academia), Perl (system administrators), and so on—the Big Three dominated computing.

Fatigue with C

However, a fatigue with C was definitely emerging. The language had two major handicaps in those days: First, it was too low level—that is, it required too many instructions to perform even simple tasks. Second, it wasn’t portable, meaning that code written in C for the PC could not easily be made to run on minicomputers and mainframes.
The low-level aspects, which still are apparent today, led developers to feel that writing applications in C was akin to mowing the lawn with a pair of scissors. As a result, large software projects were tedious and truly grueling.

The portability of C was also a major problem. Although by 1995, many vendors had adopted the 1989 ISO standard, they all added unique extensions that made porting code to a new platform almost impossible.

It’s no coincidence, then, that this era saw the emergence of a new generation of languages. In 1995 alone, there appeared Ruby, PHP, Java, and JavaScript.

Java almost immediately became popular for mainstream programming due to its portability and large set of built-in libraries. The then-mantra for Java was “write once, run anywhere.” While not strictly true initially, it quickly became so, making Java a good choice for business applications that needed to run on several platforms.

IBM  subsequent embrace of Java (especially via Project San Francisco) clinched the new language’s central place in business programming.

Once a language becomes mainstream, it tends to have a long lifetime, as will be demonstrated this year when the languages born in 1995 all begin celebrating their twentieth  anniversaries. What makes Java stand out, though, is how much the language and platform have evolved in that time span.

Most conspicuous, to me at least, is the change in the Java Virtual Machine (JVM JVM). While it delivered portability almost from the start, it did not initially deliver speed. Java was known for being slow to start and slow to run.

Continual Improvements
Today, Java is among the fastest languages and can scale to programs that can process vast resources, as the big data revolution—a mostly Java-based phenomenon—has amply demonstrated.

The language, too has seen extensive revision. From a start in which there were rough corners lying here and there, Java has evolved into a tool that can address almost every kind of programming problem.

The advent of Java 8 in particular added important features taken from functional programming idioms that make code shorter, more reliable, and more expressive.

The details of Java’s history are so well known that it’s easy to forget how truly rare it really is. The rarity is that few languages have benefited from constant, large-scale engineering investment for two decades. Among major languages today, only Microsoft MSFT C# (and the .NET runtime) has been favored in this same way.

At one time, it was hoped that large communities of developers would be capable of driving this change by themselves. And certainly, the rapid pace at which early development tools advanced gave all programmers reason to believe. But those early tools turned out to be outliers, rather than heralds of coming things.

So, while others might celebrate 20 years of Java as if language endurance were in itself a major accomplishment, I prefer to celebrate the sustained rate of innovation and the 20 years of continuous investment required to make that happen.




Oracle's Version


Other media:


Java has turned 20

The technology community is celebrating 20 years of the Java programming language, heralding its use by some nine million developers and the fact that it runs on seven billion devices worldwide.

The language was launched in 1995 by Sun Microsystems, and is now run as part of Oracle after the firm acquired Sun in 2010.

Georges Saab, vice president of development for the Java Platform Group at Oracle, explained that the Java programme has been one of the most important of the past two decades.

“Java has grown and evolved to become one of the most important and dependable technologies in our industry today,” he said.

“Those who have chosen Java have been rewarded many times over with increases in performance, scalability, reliability, compatibility and functionality.”

As part of the celebrations, Oracle has released a detailed timeline of the history of Java, starting as far back as 1991 and the background to its inception when it was called Oak.

Other technology giants that use Java, such as IBM and Fujitsu, have lined up to sing the praises of the platform, and executives from both firms noted its impact over the past 20 years and looked ahead to its future.

"IBM is celebrating Java's 20th anniversary as one of the most important industry-led programming platforms spanning mobile, client and enterprise software platforms,” said Harish Grama, vice president of middleware products at IBM Systems.

“IBM looks forward to the next 20 years of growth and innovation in the Java ecosystem, including mobile, cloud, analytics and the Internet of Things."  

Yasushi Fujii, vice president of Fujitsu's Application Management Middleware Division, said: “Fujitsu recognised the utility of Java in IT systems as soon as it first became available, and even now we are working to promote its applications.

"We expect that Java’s continuing evolution will lead to further ICT development and a changing society, and look forward to working with the Java community to develop Java technologies."

One company that is perhaps not going to join in the celebrations is Google, which is in the middle of a long-running $1bn patent battle with Oracle over the use of Java in the Android operating system.

Oracle has also faced criticism for its management of Java, specifically that it releases security updates for the software only every quarter, often leading to huge patch releases that can cause headaches for IT admins.

Nevertheless, Oracle said that its stewardship of Java since acquiring Sun has seen two major platform releases, Java 7 and Java 8, as well as the next release, Java 9, slated for 2016.

Java 9 is set to include a new feature called Project Jigsaw which aims to "modularise the platform" to make it scalable to a wider range of devices and easier for developers to build larger applications on the platform.

As part of the celebrations, Oracle is offering a 20 percent discount on all Java certification exams until 31 December.




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Java At 20: The JVM, Java's Other Big Legacy

Think of Java, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, and your first thoughts most likely go to the language itself. But underneath the language is a piece of technology that has a legacy at least as important and powerful as Java itself: the Java virtual machine, or JVM.

Happy Birthday Java

20 years of Java

Because the JVM wasn't designed to run any particular language -- Java is only one of many possibilities -- it's become somewhat of a platform unto itself. Languages have been developed for the JVM that owe little or nothing to Java, and the future development of the JVM is turning more to empower the creation of new items that can leverage Java's existing culture of libraries and software or depart from it entirely.

The engines under the JVM hood

When people talk about the JVM, they're generally referring to a specific JVM: the one originally produced by Sun Microsystems and now owned by Oracle, which uses the HotSpot engine for just-in-time compilation and performance acceleration. With proper warmup time for long-running applications, code operating on HotSpot can sometimes meet or beat the performance of code written in C/C++.

Nothing says the HotSpot-empowered JVM has to be the one and only implementation of Java, but its performance and many years of development have made it the de facto choice for good reason. A galaxy of other JVMs have come (and gone), but HotSpot itself -- now an open source project -- remains the most common option for enterprise production use.

Here and there, though, others are attempting to become the keepers of their own JVM flame: One programmer, for instance, is developing a JVM entirely in Google's Go language -- although right now more as an experiment than as a serious way to give HotSpot any kind of competition.

Because of all the advanced optimization work put into HotSpot, the JVM has over time become a target platform by itself for other languages. Some are entirely new creations designed to exploit the JVM's high speed and cross-platform deployment; others are ports of existing language. Plus, using the JVM means devoting less work to creating a runtime for a language from scratch.

The big JVM stars: Clojure, Scala, and Groovy

Of the languages created anew on the JVM, one stands out for being most unlike Java as possible: Clojure, a functional language designed (in the words of its creator, Rich Hickey) to be a "kind of a Lisp for the JVM," one "useful anywhere Java is." Or even where Java isn't: Puppet Server, for example, recently swapped out Ruby for Clojure as its core language, citing performance as one reason for the switch.

Aside from its power as a functional language, Clojure illustrates one of the fringe benefits of creating a language for the JVM: access to all of the resources provided by Java itself, typically libraries like Swing or JavaFX. To that end, developers more comfortable with Clojure can write programs sporting platform-native UIs, by way of what Java already offers -- but without having to write Java code directly.

Scala, another functional language for the JVM, hews more closely to Java in terms of syntax, but it was created in response to many perceived limitations of Java. Some limitations, like the lack of lambda expressions, have been addressed in recent versions of Java. However, Scala's creators believe suchimprovements will leave developers wanting even more -- and Scala, not Java, will provide them in ways that developers will prefer.

Groovy, formerly stewarded by Pivotal but now an Apache Software Foundation project, was also developed as a complement to Java -- a way to mix in features from languages like Ruby or Python while still keeping the resulting language accessible to Java developers. It, too, functioned in part as a critique of Java by providing less-verbose versions of many Java expressions.

The JVM ports: Jython, JRuby, and the rest

Another side effect of the JVM serving as a language target: Implementations of several languages now run there as well. For example, if you thought Node.js was the first time JavaScript ran as a server-side entity, think again: Mozilla's Rhino has been doing so, in Java and on the JVM, since 1999 (albeit in only an open source variety after 2006).

Most prominent among the ported languages -- and relevant to enterprise developers -- are Python and Ruby, which have been implemented in JVMs as Jython and JRuby, respectively. As with the other JVM languages, hosting Python and Ruby on the JVM gives them access to the existing universe of Java software. This relationship works both ways: You can leverage Python from within Java applications as a scripting language for testing, by way of Jython.

Despite the speed of languages on the JVM, there's no guarantee that a JVM-ported version of a language will be higher-performing than its other incarnations. Jython, for example, is sometimes faster, sometimes slower than the conventional CPython implementation; performance depends greatly on the workload. Likewise, JRuby can be faster than its stock implementation, but not always.

Another disadvantage of a JVM-hosted version of a language: It doesn't always track the most recent version of the language. Jython, for example, supports only the 2.x branch of Python.

The next steps for the JVM

Even apart from performance issues, it's unlikely any of these languages will replace Java. But that has never been the plan -- after all, why replace Java when it's so widely entrenched, successful, and useful?

Instead, it's better to take the culture that's sprung up around Java -- all the libraries and applications -- and make it useful by way of the JVM to far more than Java programmers.

Next, the JVM must become easier to use as a development environment for forward-thinking language work. In 2014, Oracle unveiled Graal VM, a project that exposes the JVM's innards via Java APIs. When completed, this will allow programmers to create new languages for the JVM by using Java as a kind of command-and-control language. (Prototypes of JavaScript, Ruby, and R hosted with Graal showed promising, if inconsistent, results.)

Tougher to predict is whether the JVM or its successors can foster a new language that's as influential and broad as Java itself -- or whether such a language comes from another direction entirely.

JavaScript and the V8 engine for JavaScript are strong candidates as influential successors to Java. Node.js already has a culture of software reuse akin to Java's own, and languages that transpile to JavaScript allow use of the ecosystem without having to write JavaScript.

But with Java preparing for major makeovers, languages on the JVM seems far closer to the beginning of their journey than to the journey's end.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Relevant Tale: How Google Killed Inktomi




On March 20th, 2000 Inktomi had a market capitalization of 25 billion dollars. As a relatively early employee, I was a multimillionaire on paper. Life was good. In the next year and a half the stock went down by 99.9%. In the end, Inktomi was acquired by Yahoo for 250M. What happened? Among other things, Google. Grab some popcorn and enjoy this story.

Inktomi was the #1 search engine in the world for a while. When I joined we had just won the Yahoo contract, and were serving search results for HotBot (there is still a search page there!) At first I worked on developing crawling and indexing tools written in C++. Our main goal at the time was to grow our index size, and at the same time to improve relevance. It became clear that as our document base grew, relevance would play a more important role. For ten million documents you may be able to filter out all but a handful of documents with a few well-chosen keywords. In that case any relevance algorithm would do; your desired result would be present in the one and only result page. You wouldn’t miss it. For a billion documents however, the handful would become hundreds or thousands. Without a good relevance algorithm, your desired result might be on page 17. You’d give up before getting to it.

At first we were using a classic tf-idf based model, enhanced by emphasizing certain features of pages or urls that correlated with “goodness.” For example, is probably more relevant to the query yahoo than We thought shorter urls were better. Of course this query was very popular, so spammers started creating pages stuffed with the word Yahoo. This was the beginning of an arms race that continues today. Back then we were the main target because we processed more searches than anyone else.


Enter The Google

Yahoo had been complaining to us about not being result #1 for yahoo for a while. We fixed that special case, but we couldn’t do the same for many other sites or pages. In 1999 Google was gaining popularity because they were solving exactly this problem. We didn’t perceive them as a threat yet, but we did realize that we had to do our own version of PageRank. I was assigned to that task.

My small contribution to improving our relevance was coming up with a simple formula to take into account the occurrences of words in links pointing to pages. The insight was realizing that this followed a power law: at the time had about 1M instances of the word yahoo in links pointing to it. Nobody else came close. Other Yahoo properties had an order of magnitude less, and then came a long tail of other sites. I decided to use the logarithm of the count as a boost for the word in the document. This wasn’t as sophisticated as PageRank (we’d get to that later), but it was a huge improvement. Our relevance got much better over time as other people spent countless hours implementing our own link analysis algorithms. We had a clear mandate from the execs; our priorities at search were:

1) relevance

2) relevance

3) relevance

Doug Cook built a tool to quickly measure the relevance effects of algorithmic changes based on precomputed human judgments. For example: it was clear that was the definitive result for the query “yahoo” so it would score a 10. Other Yahoo pages would be ok (perhaps a 5 or  6). Irrelevant pages stuffed with Yahoo-related keywords would be spam, and humans would give them a negative score if they showed up for that query. Given ten results and a query, we could instantly evaluate the goodness of the results based on the human rankings.

We had a sample corpus of links and queries for which we could run this test as often as we wanted, and compare ourselves against Google. We did this for months until it became clear that we were “as good as Google.” Our executives were happy.

Relevance Is Only So Relevant

I thought about why I was using Google myself, and I’m sure it’s obvious to everyone now: theexperience was superior.

  • Inktomi didn’t control the front-end. We provided results via our API to our customers. This caused latency. In contrast, Google controlled the rendering speed of their results.
  • Inktomi didn’t have snippets or caching. Our execs claimed that we didn’t need caching because our crawling cycle was much shorter than Google’s. Instead of snippets, we had algorithmically-generated abstracts. Those abstracts were useless when you were looking for something like new ipad screen resolution. An abstract wouldn’t let you see that it’s 2048×1536, you’d have to click a result.

In short, Google had realized that a search engine wasn’t about finding ten links for you to click on. It was about satisfying a need for information. For us engineers who spent our day thinking about search, this was obvious. Unfortunately, we were unable to sell this to our executives. Doug built a clutter-free UI for internal use, but our execs didn’t want to build a destination search engine to compete with our customers. I still have an email in which I outlined a proposal to build a snippets and caching cluster, which was nixed because of costs.

Are there any lessons to be learned from this? For one, if you work at a company where everyone wants to use a competitor’s product instead of its own, be very worried. If I were an executive at such a company I would follow Yoda’s advice: “Do or do not. There is no try.” If you’re not willing to put in the effort to compete, you might as well cut your losses (like Google did with Buzz, for example).


Monday, May 18, 2015

David O'Doherty Stand-Up 04/14/15


This is really funny.

A Primer On Fountain Pens


Power of Words

“To sit at one’s table on a sunny morning, with four clear hours of uninterruptible security, plenty of nice white paper, and a [fountain] pen — that is true happiness.” –Winston Churchill

Taking a break from click-clacking away at one’s keyboard to write something out by hand — a thank you note, a journal entry, a page of copywork — is a uniquely pleasurable activity.

And there are a few things one can do to heighten this pleasure, and its feeling of ritual.

One is applying your writing utensil to a handsome journal or quality stationery.

Another is improving your handwriting.

And then there’s using a fountain pen.

Putting aside one’s ballpoint and picking up a fountain pen is akin to making the switch from shaving with a cartridge razor to using a safety or straight razor. The nature of the tool requires more skill and attention on your part, but the experience is richer and the result sharper.

If you’ve always wanted to see what it’s like to literally get the ink flowing, this article offers an accessible primer on the basics you need to know to get started.

A Brief History of Fountain Pens


While the earliest record of a fountain-like pen dates from the 10th century, fountain pens as we know them today didn’t exist until the late 19th century. In 1884, an American named Lewis Waterman patented the first practical model after supposedly having a sales contract ruined by a leaky precursor. Before Waterman’s version, fountain pens were plagued with ink spills and blots, and were unreliable and inconvenient.

The main problem of earlier fountain pens centered on airflow — there wasn’t enough. Fountain pens work by managing the rate at which the ink flows through the pen. When the pen is held at an upright angle, ink from the reservoir is drawn downward by gravity, and goes through the feed and to the nib in a controlled fashion. Unless air is brought into the reservoir to replace the ink as it is used, a vacuum will build up that stops the flow.


Waterman solved this airflow issue by cutting a series of three fissures in the pen’s feed. This created a capillary-esque mechanism that functioned by drawing ink into these small channels at the same time that air came back in over the fissures and entered the reservoir. The modern fountain pen was born.

Though Waterman’s innovation made fountain pens much more effective and convenient to write with, filling the pen remained a messy and tedious affair. You had to unscrew a portion of the barrel and use an eyedropper to fill the reservoir drop by drop. At the turn of the 20th century, companies began introducing self-filling reservoirs that allowed users to put the nib in the inkbottle and fill the reservoir by pulling a lever or twisting the barrel.


Despite the introduction of the ballpoint pen in the early 1900s, fountain pens maintained their dominance as the go-to writing instrument up until the mid-point of the century. It was not until the 1960s, when the ballpoint pen’s reliability increased, and its price decreased, that fountain pen sales began their long and steady decline in the United States. While they’re still widely used by students in private schools in England and the rest of Europe, in America the fountain pen is largely seen as more of a collector’s item, a status symbol, or the focus of a twee hobby. However, thanks to the internet’s ability to connect enthusiasts, the fountain pen has seen something of a resurgence in the U.S. Today you can find countless forums and blogs dedicated to the virtues of this classic writing instrument.

Why Write With a Fountain Pen


Think you might like to branch out from your ballpoint? Here are a few reasons to give fountain pens a try:

It feels better. Because you don’t have to press down as hard to write as you do with a ballpoint pen, writing with the fountain variety is much easier on the hand. It allows for extended periods of writing without fatigue. It’s easier to get in the flow, when using something that truly flows.

It’s better for the environment. With a ballpoint pen, once you use up all the ink, you toss it into the trash. While you can buy disposable fountain pens, most fountain pens aren’t meant to be thrown away. When you run out of ink, just refill the reservoir and you’re back in business.


More economical in the long run. I don’t want to think about the amount of money I’ve thrown away or lost in the form of half-used ballpoint pens. Because of their disposable nature, I’m pretty careless with them. If I lose one, oh well, I can buy a whole new pack of ‘em.

There’s something about a fountain pen that inspires you to take care of it. The hefty price tag of some models certainly has something to do with that. But the fountain pen’s storied tradition provides an aura of timelessness and permanence that encourages the owner to safeguard it; it may even become a family heirloom.

The result is that, besides the initial investment of the pen, the only recurring expense you’ll accrue is just buying more ink every now and then. Consequently, you save money in the long run with a fountain pen compared to a ballpoint.

It makes cursive handwriting look better. Besides reducing fatigue, the light touch and flowing hand movements that are necessitated by a fountain pen make your handwriting look better.

It makes you feel like a sir. I’ll admit it — one of the appeals of writing with a fountain pen is that it just makes you feel awesome. There’s something about writing with the same implement that Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill used that makes you feel like a true gentleman and scholar.

The Anatomy of a Fountain Pen


The fountain pen’s design is sophisticatedly simple. It consists of three main parts: the nib, the feed, and the filling system.



Notice the slit down the middle and the breather hole.

The nib is the metal tip of the fountain pen that touches the paper. Early fountain pen nibs were fashioned from gold due to the element’s flexibility and resistance to corrosion. However, most modern nibs are made with stainless steel or gold alloys because of their strength and durability.

If a nib is made from pure gold, it’s usually tipped with a hard-wearing metal like iridium or some metal from the platinum family. Steel nibs already have a hard tip, so tipping them with another metal isn’t necessary.

Along the center of the nib runs a small slit that helps bring ink down the tip by way of the aforementioned capillary action. You’ll also find a “breather hole” bored into the top of the nib to help bring air back into the reservoir to prevent a vacuum from forming. The breather hole also serves a structural purpose by acting as a stress-relieving point, which helps prevent the nib from cracking with the repeated flexing that occurs during use.

Nibs come in varying tip shapes and grades. The three basic shapes are round, stub, and italic. Round is the most common shape and provides a fairly uniform-looking line on the paper. Stub and italic nibs are typically used in calligraphy.

Nib grades designate the size of the tip. Five basic grades exist: extra fine (XF), fine (F), medium (M), broad (B), and double broad (BB). The most common nib grades are fine and extra fine.



Part of the feed hugging the bottom of the nib.

The feed is the piece of black plastic (or ebonite on antique pens) that hugs the bottom of the nib. It might not look like it, but the feed is the most important part of a fountain pen. It provides the route by which ink travels from the reservoir to the nib, and by which air fills the reservoir.

Ever since Waterman patented his feed design in 1884, pen makers have strived to create better and more efficient feeds. In 1941, the Parker Company introduced one of the most notable upgrades by adding a “collector” to the feed. On modern fountain pens, the collector is a visible set of grooves or fins just beneath the nib. The collector acts as a second reservoir and keeps the nib well supplied with ink while also preventing too much ink from flowing out at once.

Reservoir or Filling Systems

The reservoir is the cavity inside the fountain pen that holds the ink. This part has seen the most innovations over the course of the pen’s evolution. We could devote an entire article to the various types of reservoirs and filling systems that you can find on antique fountain pens, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to the most common ones you’ll find in modern models:


Cartridge. This is the most common type of reservoir in fountain pens today. A cartridge is a small, sealed disposable plastic tube that holds the fountain pen ink. When a cartridge runs out of ink, you simply remove the old cartridge and put in a new one. The main benefit of cartridge reservoirs is the convenience. The downside is that you often have to rely on the propriety cartridge made for your particular pen. Consequently, your choices of ink will be more limited. Also, there’s the cost factor. While cartridges aren’t too expensive, refilling your pen yourself can save you money in the long run.


Converter. If you don’t like the idea of having to buy new cartridges every time you run out of ink, consider buying a cartridge converter for your fountain pen. A cartridge converter looks pretty much like a cartridge and can fit most cartridge pens, but it has a filling mechanism that allows you to refill it with ink whenever you run out. The upside is that you open yourself up to a variety of inks to use, the downside is convenience; while it’s not hard to fill your cartridge converter, it’s certainly more of a hassle than simply throwing away an old cartridge and installing a new one. Here’s how to fill a cartridge converter.


Piston. This filling system relies on a screw mechanism that draws a piston up the barrel, sucking in ink through the nib and into the reservoir. It’s basically a built-in converter. The only downside (if you can call it a downside) on a pen with a piston filling mechanism, is that you’ll never be able to use cartridges with it. You have to fill it up manually every single time. Here’s how to fill a piston style pen.

Best Fountain Pens for Beginners

If want to give fountain pens a try, but aren’t ready to drop $100 for a fancy pen, consider trying the following three models:


Varsity Fountain Pen by Pilot. These are disposable, so you’re not going to get the “true” fountain pen experience with them. But at $8 for a pack of three, it’s a great way to give fountain pens a try without much investment. The big downside I’ve found is that the ink feathers on most types of paper, causing my handwriting to sometimes become less legible.


Lamy Safari. After lurking on several fountain pen forums and polling the aficionados among my Twitter followers, it became clear that the Lamy Safari was hands down the most recommend fountain pen for beginners. With a ~$20 price tag, it’s a great reusable/refillable fountain pen for the man just getting started.


Pilot Metropolitan. Right behind the chorus of recommendations for the Lamy Safari was the Pilot Metropolitan. It’s a sharp looking pen that writes well and costs a mere $15.

How to Write With a Fountain Pen


Post your cap (or not). Posting your cap means putting the cap on the end of your pen while you’re writing. The pen usually feels more balanced in the hand when you have it posted. Of course, some folks prefer to write with the cap set aside. Experiment and find what works for you.

Hold it at the correct angle. The pen should make a 40 to 55-degree angle with your writing surface. A fountain pen’s “sweet spot” is usually in this range, as ink flows more easily at these angles. The exception is a pen with a round nib; in this case, you want the nib’s top to point straight up and not be rotated to either side.

Use less pressure. You don’t need to press down to get the ink to flow like you do with a ballpoint pen. In fact, too much pressure can prevent the ink from flowing properly or can damage the nib. Keep your strokes light.

Use your arm. Most people are “finger writers,” meaning that they just move their fingers to write. Finger writing has a tendency to cause you to apply too much pressure to the pen, which rotates it and in turn causes ink flow problems. Instead, focus on using your shoulder and arm more while you’re writing. It will feel weird at first, but this style of writing keeps your nib steady and helps reduce the pressure on it.

How to Take Care of Your Fountain Pen


Always keep your pen’s cap on when not in use.

Keep the cap on when the pen is not in use.This prevents the ink on your nib from drying up and protects the nib from damage. If you do happen to leave your pen uncapped and find that the ink has dried up, you’ll need to remove the dried ink that’s blocking the flow. Soaking the nib with water can often do the trick. If that doesn’t work, consider doing a complete flush of your pen — repeatedly filling it and emptying it with cool water.

Don’t let others borrow your pen. As you use your pen, the nib will adapt to your writing style. If you let someone else borrow it for extended periods and apply their own style to it, the nib can get out of whack. If they just need to sign something, let them borrow it; it’s a gentlemanly gesture. If they need to write an essay, lend them a cheap-o ballpoint.

Give your pen a regular flush. It’s recommended that you give your fountain pen a flush once a month. It ensures proper ink flow by removing any build-up in the nib or feed. Here’s how you do it.

In addition to flushing, you might consider soaking your nib in a cup of cool water overnight to remove any stubborn ink build-up.

Becoming a Fountain Pen Aficionado


This post just scratched (see what I did there?) the surface of the fountain pen world. We didn’t even get into antique fountain pens. Hopefully, a true fountain pen aficionado will be up for writing that article for us. (Nudge, nudge.) If you want to learn more about fountain pens, I highly recommend you check out the following sources: This is THE source on fountain pens on the web. I spent hours just reading through the in-depth articles he has on every aspect of fountain pens. This site is a must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about them.

The Fountain Pen Network. A forum dedicated to fountain pens. The folks there are super helpful with beginners, so if you have a question, ask. They also have lists of groups, meetings and events dedicated to fountain penning (yeah, I just used fountain pen as a verb), as well as a marketplace where you can buy or trade new fountain pens.

Fountain Pen Board. A smaller, more tight-knit forum than Fountain Pen Network. Ask questions or buy or sell your antique fountain pens.

Fountain Pen Geeks. Another fountain pen forum with an accompanying podcast (which looks like it’s been shut down, but has plenty of great archived episodes).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A short History Of 'Hello, World'




It’s the most famous program. Known as the first example in nearly every programming language for every programmer, where did this message come from?

As a function, the computer program simply tells the computer to display the words “Hello, World!” Traditionally, it’s the first programming language developers use to test systems. For programmers, seeing the two words on the screen means their code can compile, load, run and they can see the output.

It’s a test, signifying a start to a program. Over the past several decades, it’s grown to become a time-honored tradition.  All programmers that have come before you have, at some point, felt the same rush of adrenaline after realizing they successfully communicated through the computer. Here’s how the two most famous words in the history of programming first began:

Where does ‘Hello World’ come from?

“Hello, World” was created by Brian Kernighan (pictured above), author of one of the most widely read programming books: C Programming Language, in 1978. He first referenced ‘Hello World’ in the C Programming Language book’s predecessor: A Tutorial Introduction to the Programming Language B published in 1973.

main( ) {
extrn a, b, c;
putchar(a); putchar(b); putchar(c); putchar(’!*n’);
} 1 ’hell’;
b ’o, w’;
c ’orld’;

Unfortunately, the legend himself can’t definitely pinpoint when or why he chose the words “Hello, World.” When asked what sparked the idea for the name “Hello, World” in interview with Forbes India, he said his memory’s dim. “What I do remember is that I had seen a cartoon that showed an egg and a chick and the chick was saying, “Hello, World.”

It’s pretty fitting, considering “Hello, World” represents the birth of computer programming as a widespread phenomenon for the masses.

At the time, neither Kernighan nor his colleague Dennis Ritchie, the late author of the C language, could imagine just how monumental the language and the tutorial book would have on the field of programming today. These ideas were nothing but a research project inside Bell Labs, the research and development branch of AT&T.

Although no one can scientifically explain why “Hello, World,” grew to become wildly popular, “Hello, World” program marks a major change in the historical rhetoric of programming. Let’s look at its historical context.

Still in its Shell

It’s hard to imagine today, but before “Hello World” was published in Kernighan’s book, computers carried a negative connotation among the public before the 1970s. They were massive mainframes, incredibly slow, filled an entire room and needed a full staff of scientists or researchers for maintenance. In fact, before the late 70s, computer scientists programmed using stacks of punch cards!

Untitled Infographic (6)
People generally saw computers as untouchable, complex and ridiculously expensive devices reserved only for the elite in academia, defense or the government.  In fact, the industry titans who devoted their lives to the world of computing worked hard to overcome this stigma. It’s amazing to think how we’ve come so far as to some actually feel anxiety in being without our personal devices.

One of the first famous uses of computers in the US was back in 1890 when the Automatic Electrical Tabulating Machine calculated data for over 60 million Americans. In the 1940s, the Bombes and Colossuscomputers decrypted German codes during World War II.

The 1950s welcomed the first commercial computers, like the Zuse 3 and UNIVAC, for arithmetic operations, but you would need millions of dollars to actually buy one.

From an educational standpoint, most all of the programming language books about the earlier programming languages, like FORTRAN or BASIC, started off by proving a point: Computers are, in fact, useful. This is according to  Algorithmist and Researcher John Mount. Mount says the explosive popularity of “Hello, World” signifies an era when computer scientists no longer felt they needed to convince society that the utility of computers is tangible.

For instance, in the 1964 book My Computer Likes Me When I Speak Basic, the introduction talks about the purpose of programming languages in general. Plus, the first example outputs: “MY HUMAN UNDERSTANDS ME.” Using this example aims to reinforce the unpopular idea that humans can, in fact, talk to computers. The 1956 Dynamic Programming kicks off with examples that can be applied to ordinary calculus.

It wasn’t until The C Programming Language when “Hello World” really took off.

‘Hello World:’ Programming Has Arrived

One major catalyst that sparked the spread of ‘Hello World’ was the parallel introduction of the PDP-11, one of the first commercial success of microcomputers. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) sold over 600,000 units of the PDP-11 total at about $10,000 each, which was drastically lower than the millions of dollars computers typically cost. Plus, the PDP-11 16-bit series didn’t require punch cards. It was the first time you could use a programming language to directly talk to a computer.

But in order to boost public acceptance, DEC didn’t refer to it as a computer. It marketed it as “Programmed Data Processor” to disassociate the product from the mainframe computers of the past. As more people were purchasing a programmable computer, the demand for his book C Programming Language rose skyrocketed.

C and the operating system Unix first became popular on the PDP-11. So, it would follow then that the boom in commercial computers that supports the new C programming language, propelled thousands of people to read 200-page The C Programming Language. This re-introduced ‘Hello World.’

Almost every programmer who worked on desktop software in the 80s and 90s thereafter owned a copy or referenced the book. Million of copies have sold to date.

There were probably many different basic programs to start with, but ‘Hello World’ is, by far, the most famous today. Every programmer remembers their first ‘Hello World’ as a rite of passage. Many might not realize it, but each time a programmer feels the sweet feeling of triumph in clearing the first hurdle of programming with the words ‘Hello World,’ is experiencing a moment that transcends history.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Nokia - My Tryst



Today I stumbled across these videos on youtube. They are about the meteoric rise and unexpected fall of mobile devices maker Nokia. I think the downward spiral of the Finnish company is now studied by marketting students in MBA courses, because here is an example of being the first in any industry or market simply does not guarantee everlasting success. In other words, becomming number one is easy. Retaining that position is the difficult part. Once this company was the leading telecommunication handset manufacturer in the world. It still is today, in a way, counting their number of feature phones or dumb phones as some pundits call it. But they lost the battle in the smartphone market, having theoretically  invented that market. Today the only devices where their brand name can be seen is on low end feature phones which do not run a complicated smartphone OS.

I have a personal tryst with this company. I have been (and still am) a Nokia fan. Because of their design. And because at one point I did get to work for Nokia. Well, not directly. I started my career in the IT industry in 2007 with a Accenture, the American IT outsourcing company. Accenture had a long-standing partnership with Nokia, and much of their Nokia projects where being run from the Indian city of Chennai. From 2007 to 2009 I was part of the team in India which designed and developed an all-under-one-umbrella CRM system for Nokia's numerous worldwide partners. It was my first project and the best learning platform I had. In 2008 I got the fairly early opportunity to travel to Nokia's headquarters in Finland to co-ordinate in the onsite-offshore teams. I travelled twice, and got to experience the notorious Finnish winter and the effect of the nordic sun (long days in summer). I travelled there a few months after Apple had launcher the first iphone. At that time, Nokia was world leader in terms of number of units sold, and they practically owned both the feature phone and smartphone markets. Apple's venture into the smartphone market with a single, expensively priced phone on an exclusive contract with a telecom network did not pose any challenge to Nokia. Instead, they took it as a joke.

Nokia immediately went into defensive and denial mode. In the company's internal networking forums, employees where actively discussing the unique features and coolness of the new iphone, and whether this posed any danger to Nokia. The company's technology leaders responded by announcing that the iphone was Apple's doom. In internal mails (which I no longer have a copy of) the company described in detail why the iphone could not replace Nokia. Apple had only a single model, priced ridiculously high on an exclusive contract, compared to the various hundreds of Nokia models. Apple wanted to sell the same phone to CEOs of companies and world leaders, and even to college students. Should CEOs have the same phones are students ? Nokia had various models customized for every type of user, and in every price range. The first iphone did not support multitasking, while Symbian coolly supported multitasking. Apple's desire to have the user's thumb for navigation on a small screen  was impractical, since a larger screen would mean a shorter battery life. While Nokia phones boasted of battery life of couple of days even for the high end models. And then there was the service network, Nokia had the world's best customer service network for their products. The project I was on at that point was developing new software to be used on this network globally. Apple had no such end customer support, nor global partner network.

The list goes on and on, every feature of the iphone was found by Nokia to have faults. The iphone, they predicted,  would only be used by the apple's user community, which was of course a minority. Anyone reading these internal mails would  be convinced that Nokia had many decades in them before they would lose their market share. My employer at that time was promised projects for many years and we were delighted to hear that ! During my second travel to Finland in 2009, Nokia had responded by releasing the ExpressMusic phone, which had a tilt-able touch-screen and full qwerty keyboard underneath running a newer version of symbian. It still did not have multi-touch, but scored high on all other points. Even as early as 2009, Nokia had prototype version of tablet computer and what they called mini-laptops lined up for launch. We came to know of this because we were asked to include these products in the CRM system we were developing.

I left the company in 2010, and moved onto other things, happy and confident that the CRM software we had developed would bring back the lost charm to Nokia. By 2011, the writing was clear on the wall. Worldwide sales of the company dropped, and Asian handset makers overtook Nokia in the smartphone market. The recession did not help either. Nokia had to layoff a majority of their employees, many people I had worked with during my project lost their jobs. I was really really hoping they would partner with Google and embrace Android as their new smartphone OS.  I even expected them to come up with a totally new Unix based OS. Meego was too late and did not count.  While Samsung and LG where shamelessly copying the iphone design for their devices, Nokia still decided to stay true to their European modular designs. They sold their symbian project to Accenture somewhere in 2009, and transferred many of that team. But Symbian was lightyears behind what iOS and Android could do. The developer community too waned, and programmers jumped onto the new OSs and started selling their apps on appmarkets. The only relief probably was that they where no the only phone company losing. RIM, the blackberry company folded first, and turned into a joke for the industry. At least Nokia could have learnt from other's mistakes. And when Stephen Elop decided to sell Nokia to his previous company Microsoft, that was the last nail on the coffin.

I guess without innovation, a technology company cannot survive for long. Nokia's failure to act on time and address competition was probably their biggest mistake. It is a lesson technology companies will brood over forever.

But for me, they still make the best hardware for phones. I have used their phones all my lift. Those handsets never woudl heat up during conversations, and were built to last. The N72 I had bought in 2007 served me faithfully for 8 years ! It had travelled with me to 7 countries and had weathered rain , sand and snow. I have used the sim cards of 5 work networks on it. The 3310 was my first cell phone. I was an expert on composing ring tone on that hone using the composer. I developerd the J2ME version of Sokoban for symbian during my college years to study the platform.My entire family use Nokia phones, even today.

So long, Nokia.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

NOKIA - 150 years


NOKIA was founded on this date 150 years ago.

Sadly, even it's wikipedia page did not get any visitors for the occasion.




Well, they remembered it at their own offices:





From paper to phones to acquisition by Microsoft and its recent revival, the story of Nokia goes back 150 years to May 12, 1865 when Knut Fredrik Idestam secured the permit to set up his paper mill in southern Finland. Idestam's second mill was on the banks of the Nokianvirta river. Nokia derives its name from the river. After diversifying into rubber, cables and electronics Nokia entered the world, that it would later conquer, of mobile communications in 1968.



In 1979 Nokia and Salora got together to establish Mobira Oy, a radio telephone company. 1981 marked a new era for Nokia when the Nordic Mobile Telephone service was set up. It was the world's first international cellular network and Nokia launched its first car phone, Mobira Senator, in 1982.


150 years ago, on May 12, 1865, Nokia founder Knut Fredrik Idestam secured the permit to set up his paper mill in southern Finland.


The Mobira Talkman, a giant 'wireless' car phone was introduced in 1984. Much of the weight was attributed to its battery.


In 1987, Nokia phones shed some weight with the launch of its first handheld mobile phone - the Mobira Cityman. The Mobira Cityman 900 weighed 800 grams and cost about 4,560 euros (approximately Rs 267,200). The phone got the nickname "Gorba", as the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was famously pictured making a call from the phone.


When the GSM network was rolled out in 1991, Nokia released its first digital handheld GSM phone, the Nokia 1011. The world's first first GSM call was also made using a Nokia device.


Nokia followed up on the 1011 with the Nokia 101 phone in 1992. The phone came with an extendible aerial.


Launched by Nokia in 1994, the Nokia 2110 was the first phone to feature the Nokia Tune as a ringtone. The Nokia Tune is derived from Gran Vals, a classical guitar piece, composed by Francisco Tarrega in the 19th century. The Nokia 2100 series went to to be a big success. Nokia had expected to sell about 400,000 units, but 20 million phones were sold the world over.


The banana-shaped Nokia 8110 was launched in 1996. This slider-phone found a place in popular culture when it was featured in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix.


The 1997 Nokia 6110 was the first device to feature the addictive Snake game. The game is available on about 350 million mobile phones. The hot-selling 6110 also boasted of some other Nokia firsts: infra-red port and menu icons.


Launched in 1998, the Nokia 8810 was the first mobile phone without an external antenna. The slider form of the phone also added to its appeal. By 1998 Nokia was the world leader in mobile phones, a position it holds till date.


2002 was an year of innovation at Nokia. The Nokia 6650 launched was Nokia's first 3G phone launched that year.


Also released in 2002, the Nokia 7650 was the first Nokia phone with a built-in camera. The 7650 was also one of the first Nokia phones to have a colour display.


Another 2002 innovation at Nokia was the 3650. The Nokia 3650 was the first phone by Nokia to be able to record video.


Nokia launched its mobile-phone-cum-handheld-gaming-device N-Gage in 2003. In 2009 Nokia announced that it will stop development of N-Gage games and would discontinue the N-Gage service by the end of 2010.


Nokia launched its Nseries phones in 2005. These entertainment-cum-communication devices form Nokia's top line of offerings. The N70, N90 and N91 were the first of the series to be introduced.


In April 2010, Nokia announced the N8, it's new flagship phone. The phone was launched in October 2010.


Faced with dwindling sales and stiff competition from Android and iPhone, Nokia ditched its ageing Symbian platform in favour of Microsoft Windows Phone software. Nokia hoped that this move would help it reclaim the smartphone crown and bring back its mojo. The company announced its first Windows Phone devices, Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 at the Nokia World 2011 in London on October 26.


To further strengthen its hold on the feature phone segment and get an entry into the entry-level smartphone market Nokia introduced its Asha range of phones in 2011.


At the Mobile World Congress 2012, Nokia unveiled its Nokia 808 PureView smartphone with a 41 megapixel camera usinng a new camera technology. Though the phone was not a success, it laid the framework for cameras in future Nokia devices.


In July 2013, Nokia introduced a new smartphone, the Lumia 1020, with a powerful 41-megapixel camera (last seen in the PureView 808) in a bid to catch up with rivals Samsung and Apple.


On September 3, 2013 Microsoft and Nokia announced that Microsoft is buying Nokia's devices and services business, and getting access to the company's patents, for a total of 5.44 billion euros ($7.2 billion) in an effort to expand its share of the smartphone market. Microsoft will pay 3.79 billion euros ($5 billion) for the Nokia unit that makes mobile phones, including its line of Lumia smartphones that run Windows Phone software.


Foraying into the phablet market, Nokia announced the launch of its first 6-inch smartphones - the Lumia 1320 and Lumia 1520.


Nokia introduced its fist tablet - Lumia 2520 - in 2013.


Nokia announced its first-ever Android-based smartphones early this year. The first three phones in the family - the Nokia X, X and XL - run on the new Nokia X software platform, that is based on Google's Android. These phones were later discontinued.


Nokia, on April 25, completed the 5.44 billion-euro ($7.5 billion) sale of its troubled cellphone and services division to Microsoft, ending a chapter in the former world leading cellphone maker's history that began with paper making in 1865.


In November 2014, Microsoft released the Lumia 535, the first Lumia phone without Nokia branding.


In the same month as the Lumia 535 launch, Nokia announced its plans to bring its brand back to consumers with a new tablet - the Android-based Nokia N1.


Last month, Nokia confirmed the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent to build up its telecom equipment business to compete with market leader Ericsson.

And as we post this on the 150th anniversary of one of the biggest technology brands, there are numerous reports on the imminent sale of Nokia Oyj's map business, Here.