Slashdot: News for nerds, stuff that matters

I remember. When I was a kid, there was this great desire in me to learn. I was one of those kids whose hands itched whenever they saw screws, bolts, clips and any other mechanism that allowed you to take a peek. Toys were amusing. They did their part of entertainment, but then they also provided great mechanisms to open and play with. I loved simple toys, not because I like simple things, but because they were ingenious and used simple hacks to come up with brilliant mechanisms.

Then I grew up, and this craze to know stuff got translated into reading technical stuff. Reading about obscure things became a passion, a fashion. Things mundane were out, exotic was in. Things that were worth reading were either the too big or the too small. Deep Space or the string theory. Anything else was mere time-pass. And anything remotely emotional / human was - bah.

Then I grew up a bit more. And I started reading Slashdot. This was a take on the words 'slash' and 'dot' used as part of any standard URL that is pronounced. Today I will introduce you to slashdot and will introduce you to some of the people who reside on this online space. And I will also talk about something slashdot is proliferating, in the sphere of self moderated expression.

Slashdot (henceforth known as /.) is a news link posting site. This site has a huge fan following, which it has built over the years. Now these users of this site submit stories, as and when they happen all over the world. There are a set of authors of the site, who go through all the submissions and choose the ones more suited to be published on the site. Typically something between 10 and 20 stories get posted in a day. The idea of the site is not to be an exhaustive collection of links, or to be a detailed discussion on various topics. The site couldn't care less about such objective. The site is driven by a need to make a good omlette of news links each day, which makes sense and generates interest in all sections of its diverse users.

So how does this work. Imagine. There are millions of eyeballs, who are reading a similar number of sites and stories all the time. Anything that happens is immediately sent as a story to /. And stories are accepted within hours. Thus each day, there are a host of stories, related to various categories of interest to the nerds, at one place. The efficacy of the system is such that, Slashdot starts becoming a starting place for people to check up on important happennings, rather than keep track of hundreds of news services for anything remotely interesting or spectacular or out of the ordinary.

The aim of posting such news links on the site is not just to provide work as a clearing house for links. Slashdot provides for discussions amongst the members on the various stories that are posted. Although this is commonplace now, slashdot was one of the pioneers of this method of discussion boards. And by-far it remains one of the most powerful mechanisms of self-regulated online discussions. We will talk about the method of moderation soon.

The moderation of Slashdot is a two step affair, carried out entirely by the user community. The first level of moderation is the moderation, done by the moderators. The second round of moderators is the meta-moderation, done by the community to the moderation of moderators. Now the best part of this two step moderation is that none of these moderators and meta-moderators are not fixed. They are dynamically selected and allocated tasks automatically. This happens like this.

Moderators are selected randomly from the entire set of serious users (seriousness is tracked and kept record of). Each such selected user is given 5 points which he can use to moderate user comments. A comment can be moderated positively or negatively. Positive moderations are more visible to other users (users can view messages according to the moderations) Thus better and more important messages are seen by a greater number of people.

These moderators are automatically checked by the meta-moderators. Every metamoderators is given 10 moderations each day and asked to rate it as fair and unfair. This not only corrects any errors, but also reflects on the fairness of the moderators and will decide when they will be given moderator status next time.

Hence the entire setup is a great experiment on the self moderation capability of online communities. So far, so good, (so what).

I will talk about the kind of people on slashdot, in another post.
~!nrk

August 30, 2002

Absolutely Nothing!

Anarchy - the next form of government. Anarchy Rocks!!!

Welcome back. Oh well, I just wanted to welcome myself. Reborn. Well basically I had these exam things. They lasted 5 horrible days. Had 8 of them coming at me. Of various hues and sizes. Some qualitative, others quantitative. Some were a strain on the brain, some on the memory, some on the heart and others left a deep scar on my psyche. And totally change the way I thought about nothing.

Have you ever thought about nothing. No, I mean it. Did you ever think about nothing. No, not vacuum. Not that. Just about nothing. No, not even void. Just nothing.

For when we talk about vacuum, we talk about the absence of matter (as we know it) in space (as we know it) but surely inhabited by a whole lot of other stuff. For example, there is a hell lot of light in vacuum. There is a hell lot of other energy, or matter, or non-matter in vacuum. I am talking about something even more bare as compared to that. I am talking about nothing. Absolute nothingness. Where there is no time, for there is nothing to identify time. There is no matter, no energy, for either of these would immeadiately make it the swarming space we have here. And there is nothingness pervading everything. And that is so thick that it is almost as if there is nothing there at all.

Yeah, I know. You are thinking that all I am talking about it just a play of words to impress you. What if I tell you how to get there? What if I give you a series of steps which if executed will get you there? Then you will believe me right?

Let me try. Do you know where the true nothing is? Inside you. Absolute nothing is your consciousness. Absolute nothing is your intelligence. Absolute nothing is your sense of "I" or "ID" or "IS". That my friend is the most absolute of nothings which you will ever get to. Did you ever bother thinking about consciousness. There have been all forms of inferences to it - as a place. As a plane in space. As another dimension. Others have dismissed it a nothing other than just a bunch of neurons. I dont know. I believe that, there is something that distinguishes us from non-intelligence. I believe that we are not just the sum of several atoms. It is too easy. If we were, that would mean that we are symbols of random sparks that happened sometime ago.

Dont get me wrong. I dont believe that we were either from the 7days of work or from the golden lotus from the lord. Far from that, I accept that we were from random sparks of lightning in amino acids. But I believe that something happened then. We were introduced to nothingness. An element of basic consciousness was transferred. There appeared a means of trapping nothingness in the fabric of matter. And that became life.

So that my friends is a theory that I came up with, to just pass some time. Listening to "Symptom of the Universe" by Ozzy. Sexy strings.

Did I tell you, my speakers rock! They are oh so incredible incredible.

The next song is "Am I going insane", how appropriate.

~!nrk

Security?

"Typically with these types of issues it will be six to nine months until we see a massive attempt to start exploiting it," Cooper said, adding that a preemptive patch was critical.

This is from an article, that discusses yet another *sigh* security disclosure by MicroSoft. It is incredible, what this guys cannot do. I mean they teach you this at school. "How-to-code-sensibly-101". And these guys come up with pathetic code, time after time. They are simply amazing. I never knew they had so much of code which could give rise to so many critical bugs.

But that is more irrevelant. What i felt more about was the above statement by Russ Cooper, head of security at TruSecure Corp. What a hell load of crap. How long does it take for a CR4c|<3r to take a vulnerability and mount an attack you said? 6-9 months. WOW. get real. I'd say something like 6-9 hours is more like it. Does the guy know anything about the current state of security? Mebbe he ought to read of a project called the honeynet. Ask them. The script kiddies take that long to get easy to use GUI tools to launch attacks. Not crackers. Atleast not the talented ones.

The only thing we can bank on is that no one does serious work on Office anyway, so it does not matter what crackers do. Yah I was just joking. There is no solace. Those people at Redmond keep churning bad code. These guys at security agencies keep tracking them. Those people keep playing down the seriousness. And cracking continues to be done by kids with ready to use tools. It is sad. Wonder what happened to M$'s trust initiative. Remember sometime back, Bill Gates asked all his programmers to stop coding and sit around fixing bugs. Wow, I mean look at the nerve of the guy. He produces sloppy code, then he is under pressure and asks his own programmers to do what they were supposed to do better, and gets mileage out of it, and establishes M$ as a security focused company because of his initiatives. Simply, pathetic.

Have my end terms starting from next week. Sad. I have eight subjects and five days. Lets see how it goes.

50 10n6 & 7|-|4nk5 f0R h4x0R-5p34|<
~!nrk

August 25, 2002

Incredewl = Incredibly kewl

Check out this link at slate.com. And Incredibly it talks about the topic I was talking about in my last post. About how the RIAA is responsible for its own state of affairs.

Just some perspectives first. The MPAAs and the RIAAs of this world are leaders in crying wolf, at each and every change that ever happens. Right from the disbelief filled furore over motion pictures ("Who in his right mind will want to watch a motion picture?") to the RIAA screaming blue murder at audio cassettes and the problem of "home taping" in 1980. The tight monopolistic short-sightedness of these associations is their undoing. Do read the article, it does give a good perspective.

Lets believe we are in front of the Oracle (the geek variety with the predictive powers and not the RDBMS variety). Lets pretend to peep into the future of music and the RIAA. Lets also assume that humans are inherently reasonable intelligent.

The cost of making music is falling. This means that more and more artists would be able to make their kind of music. This will not only proliferate the number of musicians, but will also multiply and mix the various genres and styles. Music will just be music and everyone will have access to an unprecedented variety of it. How would someone control it. Lets see...

Placing controls in the music itself. Ya, but if you are intelligent, so am I. What you can make I can break. Check this article which almost seems to say the same thing. Considering an industry with a great many firms, a great many independants, who will be able to enforce such a format? It is not about the power of the control placed. Too restrictive ones will cost you customers, too loose and it is not a constraint any longer. It is like Icarus flying between the ocean and the sun, and this Icarus is bound to fail. Forget everything, what will you do to music that will prevent a dictaphone from recording the sound that emanates from the speaker?

Okay so you will place controls in the playback system. Huh? Get real. And the same problems will plague the hardware too. You either lose customers or you will lose the entire point of the exercise.

Maybe you will try to control the swapping of music. Did you know the RIAA and the MPAA got permission to hack into networks which allow P2P sharing of services. Look what happenned. ISPs refused to allow the MPAA and the RIAA to attack their customers. Simple. Why would the rest of the world change its priorities just so that the RIAA can make some money? They will not. As long as RIAA is not the God of File Swapping, swapping will go on. For the masses want it. And Capitalism is in the want of the masses.

Why does it seem so bleak and unfair to the RIAA. Because the RIAA has not moved on. The RIAA is stuck in the past and refuses to budge and inch. The government will entertain it as long as it is strong. Once the artists realize that the RIAA is an intermediary, a pain in the ass, a source of inefficiencies and a drain on resources, the RIAA will cease to exist. Atleast the RIAA that exists today.

What will happen then. Lets take another peek onto the Crystal Ball. By the time artists would have eliminated the intermediary, one additional change would have occured. Money as we know it would also have completed its transition to the online world. Distribution and Payment would be online.

Why will people pay. Because people are not thieves by birth. Because if you music is good, you will have fans who care about you. And to live you will not need too many fans (remember the RIAA mammoth is no longer there). And as an artist you will have a global audience and a small fan following. Your music will be exchanged freely. The charts will be the number of times your song is exchanged. The more a song is exchanged the more the excitement it will generate, and more people will want to possess. And a new form of ownership will start. "Original Copies" will become a symbol - of fan-following, of loyalty, of integrity. Swapping networks grade users on their loyalty points, and this will automatically become an incentive. The consumer will spend but will get a lot more, and he will spend even more. Public performances will become a craze, another show of loyalty. And if you are a good artist, you will get money. Independent of which side of the bed your music house or the RIAA woke up today. Independent of which genre is being played by MTV. Independent of whether you have great resources to make songs or not.

What else might happen? Try this. Abstract art will meet with music. CGI and music will become a craze. Videos with music will drive the popularity. Music will come with additional components, like beat information for automatic playback at discos, visualization information, which will automatically be loaded by you winamp and a lot more. This complete entertainment units will replace the mp3 of today.

Of course there will be a time when everyone will see this happening and tom, dick, harry and their friend sally will also want to make music. The swappers will kill them. There will be a great rout, of icons and the newcomers and only the best will survive. And only the best will survive.

You think this will not work? Do you like music? When was the last time you went to a concert? Why did you pay for the ticket, and not just stay outside, salivating, at the gate, listening to music?

Think about it. This is no big deal. This is just a correction being made to the error committed by 2nd wave capitalism - the commoditization of music.

Practicing miniature photography now. My friend got a digi-cam. And that is setting right a great imbalance committed by this world - of not including a camera when I was sent down from the heavens.

gotta go get shot

~!nrk

August 23, 2002

Milestone

Today we unite in celebration of the fact that my first two blogs have rolled off the "5-blog" limit in the editor. This means that we have really taken off.

The ANN project report, I was talking about yesterday, is complete. See, I am being precise here. The project report is complete. Sadly not the project. Atleast not the part that we had promised mid-way through the evaluation. But it is done and now there are a lot more things on the mind that it is not possible to waste further thought on it.

I wanted to talk about an article I had read over at salon.com, led by slashdot. But I will not. However I want to talk about something that I have been thinking about for sometime now. It is basically because i eyed this article. Basically the article talks about a great number of developments on the CopyRight front. If you are any person who keeps in touch with the happennings on the net, you would have surely heard of the peer-to-peer programs. These programs, (remember the estwhile napster and the latest kazaa, bearshare, limewire and the host of other Gnutella clients?) allow people to share music, programs and other software. The MPAA and the RIAA have been up in arms, entreating the law-makers to do something to protect the "poor artists" from being ripped off their hard earned money.

This discussion will not focus on what the MPAA and the RIAA themselves are a sad representation of. Nor will we talk about the nature of the money in this business, or who actually makes the money, how profits have been increasing regularly, or how most of their claims are hypocritical in their own right.

Instead lets look if the entire concept of CopyRight actually makes sense, in this new world. CopyRights came into being in order to protect the interests of the people, who put in substantial investments to come up with something new. The idea was that the investment that the entity put in, so as to produce the new product/service, has a chance at being redeemed. Hence giving a initial start to the entity, as a monopoly offering the particular service, would allow it to do the same. The two aspects of the idea were that a) there was a quasi-monopoly created and b) the corresponding entity would have time to recover the costs it put in.

What is the difference today? Well, both concepts of monopoly, time and costs are being revised and rewritten. Digitization has ensured that the costs of production and reproduction, have hit the floor. It is possible to create copies of the same original quickly and painlessly. Similarly, it is possible to create new originals, with much greater ease, thanks to digitization. Hence what was seen as a major cost is no longer so great a quantity. The concept of time itself has also been changed. With industries rising in a matter of years, allowing monopolies itself is archaic.

Lets look at this from the point of view of a recording studio. In the past, a recording studio was a big deal. Yeah it is so today too. But computers have made it possible for a small desktop to do a great part of what required incredible hunks of sophisticated machinery. Those were the days when cassettes and CDs had to be mass produced. Thus making a song was not just and idea and a guitar. It involved a lot more people, capital and time. Thus it was reasonable to assume that there was a need to somehow protect the poor guy strumming the guitar, till he and his music studio made some money.

Now things are different. No longer is your setup cost the same. Nor is the cost of distribution so high. You do not always required CD stamping machines or cassettes production units. Also it does not really take years for a song to be really well known all around the world. What then is the CopyRight act protecting here? How exactly is originality defined? Is it just the ability to compile a song? What does a mammoth organization like the RIAA need that they are preventing easy access of songs for the fans? What is the justification for maintaining the MPAAs and the RIAAs of this world, when music no longer is what it used to be? Instead of trying to use the "second wave" tactics to prevent change, should the change itself not be studied? Instead of trying to change the rules of the game, should we not seek to change the game itself?

I think it is time, we stopped using the dated tools and structures of the older era to control the change of the new era. Music is not what is was. It is time we accepted the change and then advocated checks, not vice versa.

Look ahead and you are a dreamer,
look back and you are a laggard,
but if thou thinks you can get away,
by not looking, beware you are a hazard

I know it is sad. About what I could come up at this time of the morning. Methinks me needs to sleep.

Oh, and Jack says hi

~!nrk

August 21, 2002

I am Jack's Brilliance.

What is in a mind? What is it that differentiates one mind from the other. I have Artificial Neural Networks as a course this term. And they tell me it is all in the weights.

Let me elaborate. Artificial Neural Networks work like this. Inside your head are tiny little orange balls called neurons. There are a number of these things in your head, millions of them. And they are connected to each other to form a network. These connections help in "learning". What basically happens is that every new situation is an input to the network. And with each new input, the neurons "learn" the input and reconfigure themselves. This happens over time, and hence people grow wiser as they gain experience.

So, essentially, it all boils down to two things

  • the way learning happens with each new input
  • how much of these inputs are provided

Now my arguments goes like this. It is tempting to assume that the human learning differs from each other in the learning function used. But this may not be the truth because, if there were different learning rates and learning methods, and some were better than the other, Mr. Darwin and his theory would have ensured that the best remain while the others would die. In fact this would also mean that the child would always be more "brilliant" than the father and so on. But clearly this is not the case.

Hence the case for the other idea. That what actually differs from person to person is the inputs given. "Hold on...", you will be saying, "moron, all people live in the same world, how can each persons input be different from the others". My answer is simple. People do not live in the same world. Each person lives in his/her perception of the world. And this is what makes the difference.

Here I want to define a term - Sphere of Perception. It is that selected inputs that are filtered from the various inputs, and fed into your learning network. It in essence captures what you see the world as, and what you would like to learn from. We will understand it more as we go along. But one final clincher. Remember, how the big talk always asked you to see the truth, and gain enlightenment? Well, that proves my point. The constant struggle of man should be just for one thing. To gain enlightenment - by expanding and extending one's sphere of perception.

I have to Submit an assignment in ANN tomorrow. Doesnt seem as if I will be able to make the deadline. Lets see how it goes.

Perception IS the reality, all else is an ILLUSION.

~!nrk

August 20, 2002

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Or CatB as it is popularly known, is a mecca of thoughts.

A collection of ideas central to tommorrow. Why tommorrow? Ever heard of the third wave? If you have not, we'll postpone detailed discussion for another day. But what it essentially means is that there were two waves of development in the human past; the first wave - when man learnt to grow food. The second wave - when the industrial revolution happenned. And in the same line, todays knowledge revolution is the third wave. And this third wave is changing the fundamentals of our society.

And for me, that is the one and only commandment. Over the days, you will be treated to several of my ideas regarding it. But for now we will stick to Cathedral and the Bazaar. Why am I talking about this? Because, I have several ideas related to this, which i want to discuss.

Cathedral and Bazaar, is a juxtaposition of two means of working, especially with reference to the software industry. The Cathedral is the organized juggarnaut for software production. It is the means employed by the Microsofts, the Oracles and others of this world. Where software is atomized into a set of small, simple tasks, doable by everyone. The Bazaar is the opposite. The unorganized wave of will, driven by motives other than those of profit, moving towards an undefined goal. It is the way the Linuxs of this world are built.

Why am I talking about it?

Well, I found a gem, that for me proves a central point of CatB. Yesterday we had a talk by some seniors who had come from McKinsey. Now these people, working consultants, were talking about the informal and helpful work-culture in McKinsey. The topic of discussion was the effectiveness of the mailing list and how helpful people of McKinsey can be. To quote from memory, "These people are very very helpful. When I was new to the topic, I posted messages, asking about everything and anything, and people responded. They answered all my doubts. And just a few days back, there was a question about which I actually knew something about. So I took that extra half an hour to post a reply. It felt great. That is that work culture here at McKinsey"

That aint no work culture, that is Maslow at work. The satisfaction of having helped. The power of knowledge in the knowledge economy.

The precise idea behind the bazaar in CatB.

The Bazaar is not an accident. Long live the bazaar.
I am Jack's wannabe bazaar

~!nrk

August 19, 2002

Change

Did not have anything else to do, at least nothing that would enthuse me right now. So am getting on with my next post.

Was chatting with a friend, who had just gone to the United States, to pursue her post-grad studies. The difference between this place and that, she felt there was not in terms of the weather, or in terms of the land, or the color of the skin of the people there. What she said psyched her out the most was that on the streets there was this solemn procession of cars. Cars and more cars, moving in orderly funeral perfection. What was wrong with the scene was that there were no people to see. None at all, no open cars, no two wheelers, no pedestrians, none at all.

"Man boxed by metal", I'd said.

I am not a Luddite. Far from it, I am a programmer (by heart and mind), I revel in technology, I do system administration as a hobby. And I love it. But somehow that statement struck a raw note in me.

For what is the limit of human endurance? I dont see our genes modifying themselves, to accept this change that we see. What then is the limit of human acceptance, when man will break. When will the surroundings go beyond a certain threshold of acceptance, after which the human mind will refuse to accept of rationalize them. We talk about technological progress, and about change happening at an increasingly fast pace.

What is the limit? Who will break first? Man or Change?

Happy thoughts on this Glorious evening. The sky is overcast. and there is a gentle breeze blowing across the land, and my room lies smack in the middle of it. And there is a glorious song playing on my Cambridge SoundWorks speakers. Can life get any better?

50 10n6 & 7|-|4nk5 f0R the small and the beautiful

~!nrk

August 17, 2002

Rain

Wow, this is a first. The second time in two days. Must be a record of sorts. Lets just see how long this goes.

Why do people hate rain? Did you ever sit on the street, watching, when it is about to rain. Did you see people scurrying about. There is a faint mixture of amusement and annoyance in the way they scurry away from water. Why?

Isn't it the same water you take bath in, everyday? What is bad with getting wet. Or is it that we are concerned about our clothes? Or that mebbe our appearance would get spoilt? Agreed that not everything we carry with everyday is water-proof. Why then do people strive to cover their heads as they run to find the closest cover? Is the head not water resistant?

Okay, I know what you are thinking of right now. That we run away from rain, because it will get us ill. Hmm, well then you ought to be ill everyday, after your bath. And more importantly, who has ever taken the pains to see if there is a relationship between getting wet in the rain and falling ill right after that?

Do you know what I think? I think it has got more to do with social engineering of the mind rather than anything else. We have been fed images of people running away from rain. We have been fed "data" telling us that one falls ill after getting wet. We suffer from a global mis-consciousness. We therefore think that we ought to run from rain, and if needed help others "realize" the same. Global mis-consciousness. Figures, doesnt it. And there seem to be more of such examples. But maybe for another day.

Do you know what tastes incredible on a hot day, when you have a parched throat. Take a earthen drinking tumbler, add the juice of two lemons in it. Put in a little mixture of condiments, add some artificial flavour. Open a bottle of aereated soda, and pressure mix the entire concoction. Taste it. Brilliant.

I know.

I am Jack's Global Mis-consciousness

~!nrk

August 16, 2002

I am Jack's Laziness, and his excuses.

I like Fight Club, not for what it says, but for what it does not say.

Fight Club is like one of those strict teachers in school. They always mean good, but always end up being taken wrongly. That is Fight Club. I normally dont bother discussion films. One reason being that it is just not worth it. Most of the movies in our part of the world end up being exponents of faces, clothes, songs, dances and other acts.. never of thought. So is the case with a majority of the movies from other parts of the world. At the most they end up being cases of incredible CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). There are few movies that end up being those that change the way you think. That provide a new means of looking at life.

I could go off into a number of tangential directions here. I could talk about movies I like, for example. Or I could talk about the differences between movies in our part of the world and other parts of the world. Or mebbe I could talk about my new habit of quoting from movies and poems. Or i could talk about Fight Club.

But this is my BLOG, and I choose to talk about what films should be.

This is a problem I have with a lot of people. The way they assign abnormal properties to various items in daily life. There are units for entertainment, there are units for learning and there are more and more units. And we tend to make them water-tight. probably because we cannot handle different facets of the same unit. We cannot accept that something that is supposed to teach can be entertaining as well. And something that is meant for entertaining can teach. That is Jack's water-tight problem. And what people fear, more than cross-listing of functions is hidden functions. We just cannot accept anything that is subtle, or hidden. Especially when another meaning is apparent. Fight Club, is a sorry victim of the same. One friend told me, "it is telling you to discover your inner self. Destroy, attack and plunder and you will discover your inner self". I felt sad. I am Jack's shaking head.

What is especially sad is the fact that all through the guy just had a smile of his face. Incredible. I mean is this just going to be a big joke. Is that how we learn?

I'll come back to Fight Club in later blogs. But for now, birds are-a-chirping and the sun are-a-rising. And I think i need to go to sleep.

I am Jacks bbye,

~!nrk

August 15, 2002

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