Wednesday, December 13, 2017

As long predicted, now tax on Bitcoin

 

The taxmen are coming. For your Bitcoins. Saw this on Indian media today. Indian Income Tax officials have begun raiding bitcoin exchanges across the country.  Multiple teams of tax sleuths yesterday, investigating virtual currency Bitcoin's investors and transactions, conducted raids at nine cryptocurrency exchanges in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kochi, Hapur and Gurugram.

 

image

Bitcoin was created as a virtual currency not under the control of any government. But now it seems that definition no longer holds. Exchanges operating in bitcoin will be expected to pay tax just like any other company. And their customers too.

But I think the anonymous miners are still …well, safe. Wondering how they will be taxed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Does quikr , olx work ?

 

After all the buying online, it was finally time to sell something online for me. I was moving, and wanted to dispose off some things second hand , which were in fairly good condition. Being in the tech city, it was obvious the answer was online. So I installed apps of the two top reselling apps in ‘demand’. And tried my hand on trying to make a little profit instead of giving things away for free.

Well, it did not work. Some did. But mostly not. Instead of what I thought were  intelligent, careful buyers who would ask questions about what I was selling, I was greeted by a horde of deal jumping numbskulls with quick fingers. The only question they asked were: can you reduce the price to zero ? Something very low. You get the point. I had success selling a steel cupboard when I reduced the price to 50% of what I had paid originally. But for everything else, the buyer wanted the product for free. Even when I asked them to come over and inspect the goods to check its quality , to justify my asking price, they flatly refused. All they were doing were judging the quality of the goods on sale looking at the picture. And thats it.

This poses a problem. What you sell must be in good condition, or it will be returned. But if it is in very good condition, you wont get a good price for it. So basically, you can only sell off things in good condition for throw away prices. Basically its a market to dispose of good things at near zero prices.

Some years ago I was building a top CRM product for eBay. You know, the online auction company ? The site which started the whole online auction and marketplace business, now left for dust. I could see production data were customers were debating the quality of items sold. Some customers had clearly been cheaten, sellers sold a box of bricks packaged as UPS batteries and electronics. But there were also lots of complaints of ‘bad condition’ and ‘poor quality’ in them. In most cases, eBay policy meant reversing the sale, and they were loosing money taking care of the logistics expenses. Thankfully I was not a case agent, I was just building the CRM system for the agents. But I could see that they had a lot of work cut out for them, even with all the automation we built for them.

Sites like quikr and olx are quick ways to dispose off your good condition stuff you no longer need. But for dirt cheap prices. Don’t expect to make money off them, specially after their sale commissions.

Well, coming back to my problem, I found success somewhere else. Another new second hand furniture service called gozefo. These guys buy your funiture and appliaces, refurbish and sell them. They will still offer you less, but before arriving at the final price, they send an agent over to inspect the goods. The technician verifiies the goods are in good condition and then quotes a value. They take away the goods in 24 hours, and sell it refurbished via their online marketplace.

Its a much better service, if you want to talk some more sane buyers.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Media is powerless

 

While growing up, we were taught at school that journalism is one of the most important & powerful career choices open to us. Because it takes an army of truth-reporters to breakdown the days news so that it can be understood by the common man. He who wields the pen, the pen is migthier than sword pen, has more power than the forces. Or so were were told. So it is disheartening to see how journalism and media are losing the war. Politiicians, corrupt or otherwise, are growing in power and are in control of the narrative, and media has no other option but to report as mute spectators.

I first came to notice this about 2 years ago, when assaults against reporters were reported in the Indian media. Any paper critical of the party in power or government, would be served defamation cases. Then the free and fair media were denied permission to report from courts etc. Then it became clear that the people who read thorough researched journalism did not vote,  and those who voted, did not read. Every big decision of the governement was criticized, clinically, by supportive facts and figures. But people failed to take notice. And nothing changed.

Demonitization was critcized, but to no avail.

The ill affects of GST were predicted. But no one cared. And the economy fell anyway.

Communal clashes were widely reported. But what changed ?

Rising crime against women were reported. But the crime only grew.

 

Although I speak of Indian media, it is a similiar story everywhere else. The biggest dumbstruck moment in 2016 was when no US-media could predict a Trump victory. All their prediction models and alaytics failed. In the US, its painful to see virtually every channel and talk show criticizing the administrations actions, yet not being able to keep them in check.

Late night shows in US have to demean themselves by making fun of….the first lady ! . Because they are…helpless ? There are numerous jokes about the first lady trying escape. There are jokes about ties (suit ties, not russian ties), hair and makeup, and food choices (fried chicken) even fat shaming (Chris Christie) and age shaming (Mitch McConell looks like a tortoise) representatives. Yes, they do report the news, but why do they have to bow so low themselves ?

Of course they can get away with these acts because they have absolute freedom of speech. Something we can only dream of here.  Its much worse this side. Journalists are now relegated to tweet reporters, busy reporting what is happening on social media. Everybody on twitter is angry anyway, so they just report their anger. This post go these many retweets…etc etc.

Pathetic.

Now they have started reporting on a new financial law, using which failing banks can take away citizens hard-earned money. Something tells me the law will be passed anyway, with no one having power to oppose it.

Low standards of journalism could be another reason why subscriptions of newspapers have also decreased.

Why pay for nonsense ?

With no power, comes no responsibility …, right ?

 

Friday, December 1, 2017

A point about the 189 visa application


My journey to securing the 189 Australia visa was full of ups and downs. Mostly downs. There are so many things changing about the EOI and the lodgement, and so few of the details are documented, thousands of clueless aspirants are just waiting for things to happen. There are forums, hundreds of forums, where people are just swapping and sharing ‘what they know’. There are so many aspirants who have submitted an EOI (expression of interest) with the basic 60 points. And are waiting, just waiting patiently, for more than one and a half years. I didn’t know people had that kind of patience.

So here is an important point about the application process. The points matter, both for the EOI process, as WELL as for the visa grant application. There are those buffoons who will tell you that the points you score matter only for the EOI. And that once the visa application is submitted, the points dont matter, and things will take time on their own.

As Donald Trump declared , wrong.  Maybe this is not true for all trades in the list, but there is a lot of competition for software engineers . Most of the aspirants are flooding the system with the bare minimum points. No problem there, but you will end up waiting a long time. Some for years.

I submitted my EOI with 80 points, it was accepted the next week for the 189 indepenant visa. Later I submitted my visa application,and visa was granted on the 37th day. Direct grant. Without any correspondence from the case officer. Having a higher score allowed me to cut queues and get there sooner. And no, I did not engage an agent.

If you are serious about getting the visa and moving to Australia permanently, I only have one point to contribute. Try and increase your point score. Don’t be satisfied with the basic 65 points application. Keep on trying to increase your point score. This will result in your EOI getting picked up faster, and you will get your visa sooner. Contrary to popular beliefs, your EOI score matters for the visa grant application.

The way the rules are currently setup, the only part of the application the aspirant can easily control is the English language test. The points for experience will take time, as the aspirant has to actually spend those years gaining experience. The points for age…is ..err..ditto. Same for higher education. But the english language test can be beaten. With some hard work, of course. If you score the minimum of 50+, you will qualify for the minimum 65 points. But score higher, and your overall points can be increased. And chances improved. So do not be satisfied with the minimum. Try and improve your score.

Good luck. See you on the other side.


Australia 189 visa independent migratoin GSM EOI points trick hack tip improve score




Thursday, November 23, 2017

COK has a huge International Lounge

 

If you are flying out of Cochin International Airport (COK), be sure to visit its international lounge. Its on the second floor, and almost nobody knows about it. I happened to drop by during my recent trip to Colombo, and it took me by surprise. I was expecting to see one of those crowded and loud lounges usually seen in Bangalore and Chennai, but here the ambience was much more quiet.

Its on the Airside, so after immigration and security, take the elevators up the second floor. The Earth lounge is tucked into one of the corners towards the airstrip side.

 

IMG_20171116_151726

IMG_20171116_151914

IMG_20171116_151919

There is restuarant style seating easily for more thant 120 people, and plush chairs still to spare. There is a play area for kids, and showers are free to use. Indian and Arabic style cuisine was on offer, with plenty of vegetarian options too. And…I think the gentlemen will love this, two alchololic drinks free on every visit. There was also a live counter to server the local favourites, though I had to decline as I was already stuffed.

IMG_20171116_151546

IMG_20171116_151622

But immediately struck me was that the place was almost deserted. Less thant 5 visitors where in there , even though there was one international fight taking off every one hour. Mainly to the middle east.I talked to some of the staff and got to know that the place was redone and reopened in April this year, and they have also revamped the lounge in the domestic section of the airport. Missed it !

I should also mention that most international flights are priced cheaper when flown out of Cochin, and that was the reason I chose too. So with lesser charges and smaller crowds, COK seems perfect for family/group travel.

                                                                       vlcsnap-2017-11-24-11h17m31s294  vlcsnap-2017-11-24-11h17m13s024

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Who reads book nowadays ?

 

No really, who reads books today ? Text books prescribed in schools and colleges…well, they still have their takers. But I am talking of all those novels and long form literature. Buying those hardcover books is sheer waste of money. As I recently found out. You see, I had a bunch of these old novels lying around the house. And in order to make space, I decided to get rid of them. Now in the past, I used to drive straight to  the second hand book store, where the book-loving-sales/agent would give me at least 40% of the cover value of the books in return. Higher if it is an non-Indian author, and even higher for hard cover books instead of paperbacks. Enough money to go buy another brand new book.

So imagine my surprise when this time the seller blankly refused to take the book. No one reads them, he tells me. Nowadays everyone buys soft copy. By that he meant the PDF/EPUB versions of books sold online. He then further proceeds to make me an offer. I can exchange my 3 year old Tom Clancy novel for another book by the same author, and pay him 50 rupees for his inconvenience. So, he wants my money AND the book.

No thanks, I respectfully declined. And then gave the book, and a few more I had to the kabbadiwala. Those road side dealers of paper and scrap. I got the worth of the book in the weight of its paper. About 15 rupees. I had bought some of them for 750/- plus.

This was today. But then something else had happened around two weeks prior. We got a free promotional copy of the Hindu at our doorstep, with the advertisement: one year subscription rates halved !. What used to cost 1800/- a year will now just cost 900/- for one years subscription to the paper. They were actually giving them away for its paper’s weight. Now I have never taken a newspaper subscription during the 10 years I have lived on my own. But I could see that more and more people were turning of these physical news feeds.

Back home, I used to have my own little collection of english novels I loved to read, even when I knew the whole story in my head. But they too went into the garbage when the paper in them started to disintegrate.

So this lead me to ponder, who are the ones still reading physical books and subscribing to newspapers today ? Maybe they are still popular in small towns and deep within villages. But within the cities, it no longer makes sense to spend money on them, when you can get the news for free. And the books for slightly more than free.  In a way, mass media and book publishers are also being disrupted, they will have to find a new way to price their products within the spare budget of today’s smartpone wiedling techies, if they want to stay in business. No one seems to be doing anything about it. Digital is the way forward.

But I still miss the joy and smell of a good book during a rainy day.

 

PS: My favourite authors are Agatha Christie, Michael Crichton, and P G Wodehouse. I have read every work they have created.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat

 

Taking small steps today. Hopefully things will work out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image

Friday, November 3, 2017

India’s data science conundrum

 

Came across a nice article attempting to burst the myth of data science jobs, supposedly the coolest new job trend. Every day I get at least 2 e-mails from companies advertising data science courses which enables candidates to get data science jobs. Turns out, they are eventually paid the same salary which programmers working in traditional languages get. Maybe a little more. But the median is the same.

This is primarily because most of India’s data scientists only know how to use the tools, but do not possess the solid foundation in math and statistics to grow in the field.

image

 

 

image

 

 

image

And some of the these data-scientists are also jobless.

image

Friday, October 27, 2017

Stranger Things - Bingeing on Season 2


I don’ usually do this binge watching thing, never understood how people find time to do it. But I just had to watch season 2 on Stranger Things the day it is released. I had so many questions ! And I love the eighties ! Yay !

Well i just finished watching all nine episodes back to back.  Overall, loved it !

Its amazing how the show creators have managed to build up the entire mythology and increased the danger, and still got children to save the day. And nobody else in the little town is aware of all these dark tidings. This season ended without a cliffhanger, but there is definitely one more season coming.

I loved the story, acting, and all those eighties references. Arcade games, nylon records, the costumes and music…reminder of a simpler era. I kept forgetting that they still don’t have mobile phones there, so they all cant talk to each other over long distances like you today. And we all need a sister like Erika !

But I hated that the breakout character from last season, eleven, is separated from the rest of the group. They only meet in the last episode.  Also I didn’t like Will’s exorcism, and when Dustin tried to protect his creature, knowing it is from the other side. And I could not also relate to some of the newer characters.

Poor Bob had to die. :( . Barb did get a funeral, but what about Bob now ?





----------------------------------------Earlier content------------------------------------------------

Here are some thoughts….in real-time.

Twist right at the beginning : eight ! Somebody got out earlier.

Eighties vibe…arcade games, those cool cycles, retro cars, and the music. The terminator is playing, and some in a ghostbuster suit is walking into the upside down.


How did they get all those pictures of younger Barb ?

Eleven is back ! She is staying with Hopper ! Wow.they treated that so…calmly.

Ok…moving on to episode 2.

Flashback time. Eleven is stuck in the upside down, trying to get back.

Yep, its worse now in the real world for her. Felt so bad for her in the woods.

I don’t like Madmax. And her mullet-brother creeps me out.

Ok, this episode was more about Eleven than Will.

Ok..moving on to episode 3. I think I will watch this at the gym.

Eeww…new …strange…creature..and it is growing…its actually a little version of the demogorgon, revealed in episode 4

Poor mews.

Episode 7—this one felt out of place. The events in this episode is entirely out of Hawkins. Weird Chicago punk.


Jumping right to the final episode, it was Will’s exorcism. Everyone was heating and poking the poor guy. And of course eleven’s show of strength.







Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Predictable Mr Dan Brown

 

I finally finished reading Dan Brown’s new novel. Yes, he is still writing, and he still has got a few tricks up this harris tweed sleeve. I remember the first time I read his novel, it was the DaVinci code, which I read more than 10 years ago. My dear friend Tomci loaned me his original copy. Back then, I was gripped by the narrative, transported instantly to Paris, and London, the setting of the story. This was before the internet had penetrated our lives like it has today. There was no way to verify the claims mentioned in the book, and one simply had to take it at face value. Being  non-christian, I was not offended by the book, but was smiling mischeviously with a I-knew-it smirk. An author with the guts to write, I remember thinking to myself.

Not anymore. Since the day he found his style, he has stuck to it. Religiously, for the lack of a better term. His latest book is equal parts boring and interesting. Boring because it is completely predictable. The settings, the characters, some of the lousy dialogues, and excrucitating detail. And interesting because the book again talks of the rivalry between science and religion. Most of the ideas presented in his latest books are not original, he has taken some ideas and theories presented by others and neatly packaged it. But man of man, it is so boring. Brown needs to find a new characther, or a new genre.

Just a few chapters into the book, I grew suspiciuos of the charachter Winston, and suspected him to be the mastermind orchestratin the crimes about to be committed in the story. There is another, young female companion for Robert Langdon to talk to, who is again a subject matter expert from science, complimenting Langdon’s own expertise in symbols. The whole story takes place over a few hours, less than a day. But the mastermind has planned it all for weeks , or even months. And in the end, predictably, Robert Langdon saves the day, and reveals the secret. He will live for his next adventure. Something about an ancient cult trying to prove aliens exist on earth among us…..

Again the latest book has attracted negativity from religious circles. I find it fascinating that even in this day and age religious evangelists use technology to criticize…well, science ! The question of where we came from is the oldest question mankind has asked. Brown has distilled some long standing ideas into a quick two day read, there is no need to question his faith because the ideas itself are not his original. Until the real truth is revealed, I think the dialogue should be kept open.

And comging back to Origin, well, nothing in it is original. Its a merge of all this previous charachters and style in a new setting and facing a graver threat.

 

In a 2006 interview, Brown stated that he had ideas for about 12 future books featuring Robert Langdon. Oh no….

 

 

PS: I lied, This time, I did not ‘read’ the book. I listened to it. On audiobook. Some chaps have uploaded the audiobook version directly on to youtube, and it can be accessed for free.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bad movies

 

I’ve been watching lesser and lesser movies nowadays, partly because I hardly get the time. But mostly because most of the movies coming out nowadays are garbage.  There are tricks to identify a bad movie.  One trick is asking someone who watched it. If someone tells you it is ok for a one time watch, then it is a bad movie.

Another trick is to check the wikipedia page of that movie sometime after it comes out. If its not updated, specially the plot part, then it is really bad. I mean really bad. Run ! Escape !!

But there are even worse movies coming out, which for some reason , people seem to enjoy. And write about. I watched a few of them this year, because the are available on DVD rip sites. Like the latest Transformer movie, the Last Knight. I wonder what the hell were the creators, thinking ? Right, they were not thinking. Its so bad, I deleted my download the second I skipped till the end. Same for baywatch, the new mummy reboot and furious 8. Horrible horrible movies.

Its even worse for bollywood. That Harry-Sejal bullshit, Raabta, Lipstick-Burka…eww…there are just ones I watched. There are far outrageous crimes being committed. Can’t believe they remade that bad Tamil movie as well.

What I cannot fathom is why are the public still watching these kind of movies. They still make money , some of them still get remakes and sequels. They get prime air time when they debut on cable. The makers are able to make a quick buck before the word gets out, its almost like a huge ponzi scheme. And hardly anyone seems to care.

I guess its a little difficult when there aren’t many options. I can’t say for sure, but I think this is one of the worst years for movie entertainment.

 

 

So bad, I had to go back to my collection of classics, just to stay sane.

Plus point: I came across an Indian version of the Golden Raspberry awards for bad movies, termed the Golden Kela awards.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Id's Wizardy

All Images: ID Software

Over the last 12 years, the evolving realism of Id Software's graphics has set the bar for the industry. Among the games [bottom to top, left]: Commander Keen (1990); Hovertank (1991); Wolfenstein 3D (1992); Doom (1993); Quake (1996); and Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001). Click on the image for a larger view.

It's after midnight when the carnage begins. Inside a castle, soldiers chase Nazis through the halls. A flame-thrower unfurls a hideous tongue of fire. This is Return to Castle Wolfenstein, a computer game that's as much a scientific marvel as it is a visceral adventure. It's also the latest product of Id Software (Mesquite, Texas). Through its technologically innovative games, Id has had a huge influence on everyday computing, from the high-speed, high-color, and high-resolution graphics cards common in today's PCs to the marshalling of an army of on-line game programmers and players who have helped shape popular culture.

Id shot to prominence 10 years ago with the release of its original kill-the-Nazis-and-escape game, Wolfenstein 3D. It and its successors, Doom and Quake, cast players as endangered foot soldiers, racing through mazes while fighting monsters or, if they so chose, each other. To bring these games to the consumer PC and establish Id as the market leader required skill at simplifying difficult graphics problems and cunning in exploiting on-going improvements in computer graphics cards, processing power, and memory size [see illustration, Driven]. To date, their games have earned over US $150 million in sales, according to The NPD Group, a New York City market research firm.

It all began with a guy named Mario

The company owes much of its success to advances made by John Carmack, its 31-year-old lead programmer and cofounder who has been programming games since he was a teenager.

Back in the late 1980s, the electronic gaming industry was dominated by dedicated video game consoles. Most game software was distributed in cartridges, which slotted into the consoles, and as a consequence, writing games required expensive development systems and corporate backing.

The only alternative was home computer game programming, an underworld in which amateurs could develop and distribute software. Writing games for the low-powered machines required only programming skill and a love of gaming.

Four guys with that passion were artist Adrian Carmack; programmer John Carmack (no relation); game designer Tom Hall; and programmer John Romero. While working together at Softdisk (Shreveport, La.), a small software publisher, these inveterate gamers began moonlighting on their own titles.

At the time, the PC was still largely viewed as being for business only. It had, after all, only a handful of screen colors and squeaked out sounds through a tiny tinny speaker. Nonetheless, the Softdisk gamers figured this was enough to start using the PC as a games platform.

First, hey decided to see if they could recreate on a PC the gaming industry's biggest hit at the time, Super Mario Brothers 3. This two-dimensional game ran on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which drove a regular television screen. The object was to make a mustached plumber, named Mario, leap over platforms and dodge hazards while running across a landscape below a blue sky strewn with puffy clouds. As Mario ran, the terrain scrolled from side to side to keep him more or less in the middle of the screen. To get the graphics performance required, the Nintendo console resorted to dedicated hardware. "We had clear examples of console games [like Mario] that did smooth scrolling," John Carmack says, "but [in 1990] no one had done it on an IBM PC."

After a few nights of experimentation, Carmack figured out how to emulate the side-scrolling action on a PC. In the game, the screen image was drawn, or rendered, by assembling an array of 16-by-16-pixel tiles. Usually the on-screen background took over 200 of these square tiles, a blue sky tile here, a cloud tile there, and so on. Graphics for active elements, such as Mario, were then drawn on top of the background.

Any attempt to redraw the entire background every frame resulted in a game that ran too slowly, so Carmack figured out how to have to redraw only a handful of tiles every frame, speeding the game up immensely. His technique relied on a new type of graphics card that had become available, and the observation that the player's movement occurred incrementally, so most of the next frame's scenery had already been drawn.

The new graphics cards were known as Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA) cards. They had more on-board video memory than the earlier Color Graphics Adapter (CGA) cards and could display 16 colors at once, instead of four. For Carmack, the extra memory had two important consequences. First, while intended for a single relatively high-resolution screen image, the card's memory could hold several video screens' worth of low-resolution images, typically 300 by 200 pixels, simultaneously, good enough for video games. By pointing to different video memory addresses, the card could switch which image was being sent to the screen at around 60 times a second, allowing smooth animation without annoying flicker. Second, the card could move data around in its video memory much faster than image data could be copied from the PC's main memory to the card, eliminating a major graphics performance bottleneck.

Carmack wrote a so-called graphics display engine that exploited both properties to the full by using a technique that had been originally developed in the 1970s for scrolling over large images, such as satellite photographs. First, he assembled a complete screen in video memory, tile by tile--plus a border one tile wide [see illustration, "Scrolling With the Action" ]. If the player moved one pixel in any direction, the display engine moved the origin of the image it sent to the screen by one pixel in the corresponding direction. No new tiles had to be drawn. When the player's movements finally pushed the screen image to the outer edge of a border, the engine still did not redraw most of the screen. Instead, it copied most of the existing image--the part that would remain constant--into another portion of video memory. Then it added the new tiles and moved the origin of the screen display so that it pointed to the new image .

Scrolling With the Action: For two-dimensional scrolling in his PC game, programmer John Carmack cheated a little by not always redrawing the background. He built the background of graphical tiles stored in video memory [left] but only sent part of the image to the screen [top left, inside orange border]. As the play character [yellow circle] moved, the background sent to the screen was adjusted to include tiles outside the border [see top right]. New background elements would be needed only after a shift of one tile width. Then, most of the background was copied to another region of video memory [see bottom right], and the screen image centered in the new background.

In short, rather than having the PC redraw tens of thousands of pixels every time the player moved, the engine usually had to change only a single memory address--the one that indicated the origin of the screen image--or, at worst, draw a relatively thin strip of pixels for the new tiles. So the PC's CPU was left with plenty of time for other tasks, such as drawing and animating the game's moving platforms, hostile characters, and the other active elements with which the player interacted.

Hall and Carmack knocked up a Mario clone for the PC, which they dubbed Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement. But Softdisk, their employer, had no interest in publishing what were then high-end EGA games, preferring to stick with the market for CGA applications. So the nascent Id Software company went into moonlight overdrive, using the technology to create its own side-scrolling PC game called Commander Keen. When it came time to release the game, they hooked up with game publisher Scott Miller, who urged them to go with a distribution plan that was as novel as their technology: shareware.

In the 1980s, hackers started making their programs available through shareware, which relied on an honor code: try it and if you like it, pay me. But it had been used only for utilitarian programs like file tools or word processors. The next frontier, Miller suggested, was games. Instead of giving away the entire game, he said, why not give out only the first portion, then make the player buy the rest? Id agreed to let Miller's company, Apogee, release the game. Prior to Commander Keen, Apogee's most popular shareware game had sold a few thousand copies. Within months of Keen's release in December 1990, the game had sold 30 000 copies. For the burgeoning world of PC games, Miller recalls, "it was a little atom bomb."

Going for depth

Meanwhile programmer Carmack was again pushing the graphics envelope. He had been experimenting with 3-D graphics ever since junior high school, when he produced wire-frame MTV logos on his Apple II. Since then, several game creators had experimented with first-person 3-D points of view, where the flat tiles of 2-D games are replaced by polygons forming the surfaces of the player's surrounding environment. The player no longer felt outside, looking in on the game's world, but saw it as if from the inside.

The results had been mixed, though. The PC was simply too slow to redraw detailed 3-D scenes as the player's position shifted. It had to draw lots of surfaces for each and every frame sent to the screen, including many that would be obscured by other surfaces closer to the player.

Carmack had an idea that would let the computer draw only those surfaces that were seen by the player. "If you're willing to restrict the flexibility of your approach," he says, "you can almost always do something better."

So he chose not to address the general problem of drawing arbitrary polygons that could be positioned anywhere in space, but designed a program that would draw only trapezoids. His concern at this time was with walls (which are shaped like trapezoids in 3-D), not ceilings or floors.

For his program, Carmack simplified a technique for rendering realistic images on then high-end systems. In raycasting, as it is called, the computer draws scenes by extending lines from the player's position in the direction he or she is facing. When it strikes a surface, the pixel corresponding to that line on the player's screen is painted the appropriate color. None of the computer's time is wasted on drawing surfaces that would never be seen anyway. By only drawing walls, Carmack could raycast scenes very quickly.

Carmack's final challenge was to furnish his 3-D world with treasure chests, hostile characters, and other objects. Once again, he simplified the task, this time by using 2-D graphical icons, known as sprites. He got the computer to scale the size of the sprite, depending on the player's location, so that he did not have to model the objects as 3-D figures, a task that would have slowed the game painfully. By combining sprites with raycasting, Carmack was able to place players in a fast-moving 3-D world. The upshot was Hovertank, released in April 1991. It was the first fast-action 3-D first-person action shooter for the PC.

Around this time, fellow programmer Romero heard about a new graphics technique called texture mapping. In this technique, realistic textures are applied to surfaces in place of their formerly flat, solid colors. in green slime in its next game, Catacombs 3D. While running through a maze, the player shot fireballs at enemy figures using another novelty--a hand drawn in the lower center of the screen. It was as if the player were looking down on his or her own hand, reaching into the computer screen. By including the hand in Catacombs 3D, Id Software was making a subtle, but strong, psychological point to its audience: you are not just playing the game--you're part of it.

Instant sensation

For Id's next game, Wolfenstein 3D, Carmack refined his code. A key decision ensured the graphics engine had as little work to do as possible: to make the walls even easier to draw, they would all be the same height.

This speeded up raycasting immensely. In normal raycasting, one line is projected through space for every pixel displayed. A 320-by-200-pixel screen image of the type common at the time required 64 000 lines. But because Carmack's walls were uniform from top to bottom, he had to raycast along only one horizontal plane, just 320 lines [see diagram, Raycasting 3-D Rooms].

Raycasting 3-D Rooms: To quickly draw three-dimensional rooms without drawing obscured and thus unnecessary surfaces, Carmack used a simplified form of raycasting, a technique used to reate realistic 3-D images. In raycasting, the computer draws scenes by extending lines from the player's viewpoint [top], through an imaginary grid, so that they strike the surfaces the player sees; only these surfaces get drawn. 
Carmack simplified things by keeping all the walls the same height. This allowed him to extend the rays from the player in just a single horizontal 2-D plan [middle] and scale the apparent height of the wall according to its distance from the player, instead of determining every point on the wall individually. The result is the final 3-D image of the walls [bottom]. Click on image for larger view.

With Carmack's graphics engine now blazingly fast, Romero, Adrian Carmack, and Hall set about creating a brutal game in which an American G.I. had to mow down Nazis while negotiating a series of maze-based levels. Upon its release in May 1992, Wolfenstein 3D was an instant sensation and became something of a benchmark for PCs. When Intel wanted to demonstrate the performance of its new Pentium chip to reporters, it showed them a system running Wolfenstein.

Wolfenstein also empowered gamers in unexpected ways--they could modify the game with their own levels and graphics. Instead of a Nazi officer, players could, for example, substitute Barney, the purple dinosaur star of U.S. children's television. Carmack and Romero made no attempt to sue the creators of these mutated versions of Wolfenstein, for, as hackers themselves, they couldn't have been more pleased.

Their next game, Doom, incorporated two important effects Carmack had experimented with in working on another game, Shadowcaster, for a company called Raven in 1992. One was to apply texture mapping to floors and ceilings, as well as to walls. Another was to add diminished lighting. Diminished lighting meant that, as in real life, distant vistas would recede into shadows, whereas in Wolfenstein, every room was brightly lit, with no variation in hue.

By this time, Carmack was programming for the Video Graphics Adapter (VGA) cards that had supplanted the EGA cards. VGA allowed 256 colors--a big step up from EGA's 16, but still a limited range that made it a challenge to incorporate all the shading needed for diminished lighting effects.

The solution was to restrict the palette used for the game's graphics, so that 16 shades of each of 16 colors could be accommodated. Carmack then programmed the computer to display different shades based on the player's location within a room. The darkest hues of a color were applied to far sections of a room; nearer surfaces would always be brighter than those farther away. This added to the moody atmosphere of the game.

Both Carmack and Romero were eager to break away from the simple designs used in the levels of their earlier games. "My whole thing was--let's not do anything that Wolfenstein does," Romero says. "Let's not have the same light levels, let's not have the same ceiling heights, let's not have walls that are 90 degrees [to each other]. Let's show off Carmack's new technology by making everything look different."

Profiting from improvements in computer speed and memory, Carmack began working on how to draw polygons with more arbitrary shapes than Wolfenstein's trapezoids. "It was looking like [the graphics engine] wouldn't be fast enough," he recalls, "so we had to come up with a new approach....I knew that to be fast, we still had to have strictly horizontal floors and vertical walls." The answer was a technique known as binary space partitioning (BSP). Henry Fuchs, Zvi Kedem, and Bruce Naylor had popularized BSP techniques in 1980 while at Bell Labs to render 3-D models of objects on screen.

A fundamental problem in converting a 3-D model of an object into an on-screen image is determining which surfaces are actually visible, which boils down to calculating: is surface Y in front of, or behind, surface X? Traditionally, this calculation was done any time the model changed orientation.

The BSP approach depended on the observation that the model itself is static, and although different views give rise to different images, there is no change in the relationships between its surfaces. BSP allowed the relationships to be determined once and then stored in such a way that determining which surfaces hid other surfaces from any arbitrary viewpoint was a matter of looking up the information, not calculating it anew.

BSP takes the space occupied by the model and partitions it into two sections. If either section contains more than one surface of the model, it is divided again, until the space is completely broken up into sections each containing one surface. The branching hierarchy that results is called a BSP tree and extends all the way from the initial partition of the space down to the individual elements. By following a particular path through the nodes of the stored tree, it is possible to generate key information about the relationships between surfaces in a specific view of the model.

What if, Carmack wondered, you could use a BSP to create not just one 3-D model of an object, but an entire virtual world? Again, he made the problem simpler by imposing a constraint: walls had to be vertical and floors and ceilings horizontal. BSP could then be used to divide up not the 3-D space itself, but a much simpler 2-D plan view of that space and still provide all the important information about which surfaces were in front of which [see diagram, Divide and Conquer].

Illustration: Armand Veneziano

Divide and Conquer: "Doom treated [the surfaces of the 3-D world] all as lines," Carmack says, "cutting lines and sorting lines is so much easier than sorting polygons....The whole point was taking BSP [trees] and applying them to...a plane, instead of to polygons in a 3-D world, which let it be drastically simpler."Click on the image for a larger view.

Doom was also designed to make it easy for hackers to extend the game by adding their own graphics and game-level designs. Networking was added to Doom, allowing play between multiple players over a local-area network and modem-to-modem competition.

The game was released in December 1993. Between the multiplayer option, the extensibility, the riveting 3-D graphics, and the cleverly designed levels, which cast the player as a futuristic space marine fighting against the legions of hell, it became a phenomenon. Doom II, the sequel, featured more weapons and new levels but used the same graphics engine. It was released in October 1994 and eventually sold more than 1 500 000 copies at about $50 each; according to the NPD Group, it remains the third best-selling computer game in history.

The finish line

In the mid-1990s, Carmack felt that PC technology had advanced far enough for him to finally achieve two specific goals for his next game, Quake. He wanted to create an arbitrary 3-D world in which true 3-D objects could be viewed from any angle, unlike the flat sprites in Doom and Wolfenstein. The solution was to use the power of the latest generation of PCs to use BSP to chop up the volume of a true 3-D space, rather than just areas of a 2-D plan view. He also wanted to make a game that could be played over the Internet.

For Internet play, a client-server architecture was used. The server--which could be run on any PC--would handle the game environment consisting of rooms, the physics of moving objects, player positions, and so on. Meanwhile, the client PC would be responsible for both the input, through the player's keyboard and mouse, and the output, in the form of graphics and sound. Being online, however, the game was liable to lags and lapses in network packet deliveries--just the thing to screw up a fast action game. To reduce the problem, Id limited the packet delivery method to only the most necessary information, such as a player's position.

"The key point was use of an unreliable transport for all communication," Carmack says, "taking advantage of continuous packet communication and [relaxing] the normal requirements for reliable delivery," such as handshaking and error correction. A variety of data compression methods were also used to reduce the bandwidth. The multiplayer friendliness of the game that emerged--Quake--was rewarded by the emergence of a huge online community when it was released in June 1996.

Looking good

Games in general drove the evolution of video cards. But multiplayer games in particular created an insatiable demand for better graphics systems, providing a market for even the most incremental advance. Business users are not concerned if the graphics card they are using to view their e-mail updates the screen 8 times a second while their neighbor's card allows 10 updates a second. But a gamer playing Quake, in which the difference between killing or being killed is measured in tenths of a second, very much cares.

Quake soon became the de facto benchmark for the consumer graphics card industry. Says David Kirk, chief scientist of NVIDIA, a leading graphics processor manufacturer in Santa Clara, Calif., "Id Software's games always push the envelope."

Quake II improved on its predecessor by taking advantage of hardware acceleration that might be present in a PC, allowing much of the work of rendering 3-D scenes to be moved from the CPU to the video card. Quake III, released in December 1999, went a step further and became the first high-profile game to require hardware acceleration, much as Id had been willing to burn its boats in 1990 by insisting on EGA over CGA with Commander Keen.

Carmack himself feels that his real innovations peaked with Quake in 1996. Everything since, he says, is essentially refining a theme. Return to Castle Wolfenstein, in fact, was based on the Quake III engine, with much of the level and game logic development work being done by an outside company.

"There were critical points in the evolution of this stuff," Carmack says, "getting into first person at all, then getting into arbitrary 3-D, and then getting into hardware acceleration....But the critical goals have been met. There's still infinite refinement that we can do on all these different things, but...we can build an arbitrary representational world at some level of fidelity. We can be improving our fidelity and our special effects and all that. But we have the fundamental tools necessary to be doing games that are a simulation of the world."

 

============================================================================================================================

Disclaimer:  This message and the information contained herein is proprietary and confidential and subject to the Tech Mahindra policy statement, you may review the policy at http://www.techmahindra.com/Disclaimer.html externally http://tim.techmahindra.com/tim/disclaimer.html internally within TechMahindra.

============================================================================================================================

State of the economy

The main paragraph from a newspaper article about the state of the Indian economy today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NEET problems - is just a repetition


Trouble is still brewing in the state of Tamil Nadu, this time due to NEET. This has now taken center stage over the longer running political turmoil. The NEET issue reminds me on the long standing ‘education-reformation’ problem going on the country. It started almost decades back, when I was still in school. Basically it has to do with truth that education is a fundamental right, but it is also a business. The government wants to teach everyone in the country for free, but it does not have the funds and power to do so.

The situation today is that only two groups of students can afford education – the extremely rich, or the extremely intelligent.

This leaves out a significant number of students out, mainly because the best education is always pricey. Even the gifted students need access to quality facilities and faculty to improve their scores. So that they too can move towards professional higher education, and better way of life after that.

In the professional education sector, there have two kinds of colleges for some time, the ones started and run by government, and the private institutions. Most of today’s reputed institutions were originally started by the government decades back, and have now earned a reputation of dispersing affordable , high quality education. The fees is heavily subsidized , students only need to worry about minor lodging fees. And students from the SC/ST reservation list received stipends. For this reason, such ‘government colleges’ have always attracted the most studios  or talented students. There are so few seats available, that only very few of the millions of students passing of high school are able to get into them. The rest have to settle for some kind of graduation, which may or may not fetch them a job. Or, if they can afford it, try and get into one of those thousands of ‘self financing’ colleges. But noting comes free at these colleges, the fees itself is extremely high.

The problem is compounded by the fact that although there is a central board of education in the country, most students study a course prescribed by the state they live in . This lead to establishing a central entrance test, where students from different education boards will have to attend and write a common test, and be graded solely on that result. The top government ‘free’ seats would go to the ones scoring the highest percentile, and the rest will just have to settle for one of the self-financed colleges.

As you can see, this whole system does not solve any problem at all. The problem is still present, but it has now moved from the high school marks to the entrance marks.  Only the smartest get in.

I was going through the initial phases of the government’s pathetic education reform during my college days. The government was largely deaf. And then, a student jumped to her death. This caused students to erupt in anger. Remember the Rajini suicide ?

image


On July 22, 2004, Rajani jumped to death from the terrace of the building which houses the office of Commissioner of Entrance Examinations, Government of Kerala. In the weeks that followed her death, Kerala had been in flames. In cities and towns, enraged students have gone on the rampage, attacking ministers, setting ablaze scores of government vehicles and ransacking offices. Violent mobs also targeted the banks since the Indian Overseas Bank had allegedly refused Anand the educational loan. The incident had brought to the fore the deeper malaise in the state's education system, particularly the recent mushrooming of self-financing professional colleges, of which Rajani was a student. These colleges had rejected the Government's plea to allocate 50 per cent of the seats to merit category. The Opposition points out that the exorbitant fees charged at these institutions make professional education impossible for the economically backward sections of the society. Though the statewide protests are led by students' unions and youth wings affiliated to the Left Democratic Front (LDF), even pro-BJP organizations like the ABVP have been actively involved. The embarrassment for the Congress-led ruling United Democratic Front was complete when its Kerala Students' Union joined the agitation.

More than a decade later, I am still reading about student suicides. About high fees. About the debate between strict and liberal grades.

NEET won’t solve anything. It is another revision and repetition of the same problem.




PS:I was lucky enough to get one of the last remaining free government seats at a dilapidated aided college. I got by somehow. In the later years I have realized that nothing I learned in college ever proved useful to me in my career.






Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bollywood is stuck



It has occurred to me over the years, I now watch less and less bollywood movies. The bollywood flavor of love stories is now irritating  and tediously repetitive. Its nice to see others come to the same point.


Watch how CBE breaks down the typical bollywood movie, and why its always just a fantasy, never realistic.



Thursday, September 7, 2017

Got it. Finally.


Today is an important milestone for us. The date has always been special. But now its also the date we cleared a milestone. Slowly , very slowly, things we put in action almost a year back are falling in place. It could have been earlier, we could have achieve it sooner. But, you know..life.. There will always be hindrances. And better late than never, right ?

We are moving. We are leaving this company. This country. And moving for good. Abroad. Today we were granted our 189 independent visa for Australia.

After dreaming about and planning about this day for months, we have climbed one more hurdle. And something tells me there will be more hurdles  down the path for us.



We’ll take it one at a time.

Puttakke putaakkee karimeen puttakkeyy, we are going there ! All our dreams will come true. We will make them come true.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Hat trick for Indian judiciary !

Moments after a CBI court convicted Dera Sacha Sauda chief Ram Rahim of rape, the Indian judiciary finds itself the unlikely hero of events of the past week.

 

In the span of a week, the judiciary has delivered three historic verdicts in three cases that had the nation glued to their television case.

 

On August 22, the Supreme Court struck down instant triple talaq practiced among Muslims. On August 24, the apex court once again emerged as the star, upholding the right to privacy as a fundamental right. To cap off the week, a CBI court in Panchkula convicted Ram Rahim in the rape case, despite the fact that 200,000 of his followers had laid siege to the city.

 

 

 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What is the verdict ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, July 31, 2017

I hate hospitals

I hate hospitals.

 

I hate the smells of those disinfectants, I hate the sight of white labcoats. And the sound of those ambulances. But mostly I hate the inefficient design of hospitals. Yes, in India, the hospitals are literally designed to hurt you.

 

For the past one week, I have been stuck at not one, but two different hospitals. There was nothing wrong with me , by the way. I was caring for a patient. But the way I struggled to run from ward to pharmacy to scanning to reports to ward reminded me why I hated hospitals in the first place.

 

These places are never designed movement, but to maximize it. Facilities which logically should have been next to each other are placed levels apart. And there are a limited number of lifts for the ailing patients. And I haven’t understood why the pharmacy never has all the medicines in stock, one has to frequently get some of the medicines from outside the hospital.

 

I think the main problem is the same one with every other public space in India, they are never designed for the actual load. The number of users/visitors/patients in the hospital vastly outrun the number of people who can comfortably use the system. Everywhere I went, I was waiting in queue. Things are built to suit the management’s convenience rather than that of the patients.

 

Besides, they are also for-profit institutions.