July 31, 2006

 

Omkara

As a lot has been written about Omkara, I will put some quick notes.
All said and done, I'm watching this movie once again.

July 26, 2006

 

Pine configuration

To get Pine configured with my company's mailing system was little harder. Especially configuring Secure SMTP with Pine. Thanks to this great article, I fixed it quickly. Now, I'm back to the text-based mail client. This post is just to thank Paul Heinlein who wrote this great document on Pine configuration, and one way to show the gratitude is to link the page with right anchor text.

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July 25, 2006

 

The fake sense of security

When logging in to my ICICI Direct a/c few days back, I was greeted with a "Change your password" screen. I logged out assuming I have come through some wrong option. Next login showed the same "Change password" message with text boxes for current password, new password and confirmation of new password. Reluctantly, I changed the password. There was a link to the New Password Policy. To put it mildly, I am in a state of shock after reading the policy. According to this policy, password needs to be changed every 14 days. Yes, after every fourteen freaking days! Apparently, National Stock Exchange (NSE), the "professionally managed" stock exchange is brain behind this scheme.

Now, the case of ICICI is peculiar one. They don't allow you to choose login name, though I distinctly remember putting down my preferred login ID. Generally, this login name is strong enough to serve as a password. eg. If the name is Tilottama Das-Punj (yeah, its hard to forget Konkana from YHTKH) and she got married on 30th August, 2001, then ICICI will allocate the login name TILDAP30. This login name is more secure than the password "jamesbond". Now you have to remember both - login name and password.

This was only about ICICI Direct - the stock trading platform. You need access to your bank and Demat account. Multiply the above trouble by 2 (I'm being conservative. The headache increases exponentially in these cases.) Oh.. I must add that in case of bank account, you get one more password which enable transactions (for money transfer, etc.)

ATM card is a must with bank account. (Who has the time to wait for an hour to withdraw own money? That too, with the teller behaving as if he is doing a big favour by giving you your money.) Obviously, you have to remember a 4-6 digit PIN or Personal Identification Number.

Couple of years back, ICICI had another unique personal ID and a password for phone banking. Thankfully, now they have got rid of it and using 16-digit credit/debit card number along with its PIN.

The baggage of internet account and PIN also comes with credit card. I think, the Maestro Card needs the user to enter PIN authorizing every single credit card transaction. On a side note, it is amusing to watch somebody enter the PIN number. The salesperson turns the card reader to the card owner, half of the store and all the people on cash counter watch that person enter the PIN, and the guy (mostly its the guy) is sweating hard as he has to hold the reader so that not many people can watch what he is entering, enter the correct PIN and enter it quickly.

My salary account is with earlier employer was with a different bank. My first taste of security implemented by a bureaucracy came there. First, just like ICICI, they reduced my login name to a 7-digit prime number which was tested for primality using deterministic algorithm. Then, I had to change my password every 3 months. My frequency of login was approximately thrice a month. Which translates into a new password for every 10 logins. Top of all this, I was not allowed to use any of last TEN passwords.

Another policy of blocking the account after 3 failures, in conjunction with above rules surely results into thousands of re-generated passwords everyday. So, to access your account real fast and 24x7, you have to wait for the password to come through snail mail. Pray to God that it doesn't get drowned in 26th July.

A brutal and calm analysis of these password-based security schemes will tell us that this nuisance just makes the security weaker. Thanks to dozens of login names and passwords, I am left with no choice but to write them down. Extremely fertile ground for attacks using social engineering. Needless to say, I don't write the passwords in plain text making it slightly less vulnerable. Hey, technology is supposed to make life simpler, right? Here I am facing a full blown nightmare.

To sum, such ill-thought policy annoy users to no end, weaken the security system and increase the cost of business for companies. Solution for this? Educating user is the smartest thing to do as they are weakest link in the chain.

Update on 11th Sept: My smartness backfired. I created two passwords and used alternatively. I did not write which one is the current. Three wrong attempts and my account has been locked. And Murphy's laws are back in action. Market is providing good buying opportunity with index down 3% as I cannot transact. Down down with such security measures and my stupidity!

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July 23, 2006

 

Yun Hota To Kya Hota

No spoilers ahead....

The film's claim to fame is Naseeruddin Shah's debut venture as a film director. The promo of the movie said "Four stories... One dream... One destination. America." My limited movie databases pointed to bunch of movies with similar theme. One end was Ram Gopal Verma's Darna Manaa Hain (I didn't watch Darna Zaroori Hain) where the different stories are not connected, though story tellers are a group of friends. At the other end, I had Oscar Winner Crash and Magnolia on mind, where different stories are strongly connected. Yun Hota.. has four unrelated stories which bump into each other, as you might have guessed it, in the last reel. The stories are connected to a single event. The movie also has the touch of Fargo where small things go wrong and what you see is the Butterfly Effect.

This movie is extremely watchable not just for a different subject, but for the mature treatment of the subject. The superlative performances of Paresh Rawal and Konkana Sen-Sharma stand out without shadowing the rest of the team. Naseeruddin Shah has managed to get a big team of talented people. Music has been used thoughtfully with pieces of one song being played during entire movie.

Uttam Gada, the writer of film, created storm of a sort by claiming the director has modified large part of the original script. He has put the original script on his site. When I went over the script quickly, after watching the movie, I strongly felt Naseeruddin Shah has done justice the script. After all, one cannot just pick the script and make a full-length movie out of it. Especially when the original script has stale jokes which were circulated on web some 3 years back. Finally, it is always the director who says "OK" for every single thing. As the buck stops at him, he is entitled to make decisions.

Other note related to movies: It is hard to ignore the high decibel publicity of Omkara by Vishal Bharadwaj. His last movie Maqbool was one of the finest in recent times. But unfortunately it didn't receive much attention on box office. Movie vanished from multiplexes (in Pune) after first week. So, even the niche crowd of multiplex missed the movie. I had to watch the movie in a standalone movie hall. To make matters worse, even the National Awards, which takes enormous pride in appreciating cinema instead of utterly commercialized dozens of bollywood awards, ignored this movie. This time Bharadwaj is hitting the right PR notes to make sure he can afford to work on his next movie. Maqbool was one brilliant effort ignored by almost everybody.

Music of Omkara is ruled by Gulzaar's lyrics and Sukhwinder's title song. Just the way Daler Mehandi's Ru-ba-ru dominated Maqbool. I hope, Omkara comes close to the bar set by Maqbool.

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July 18, 2006

 

Blog status from me

When the news of blanket ban on certain blog sites was first reported 3 days back, I was able to access blogspot.com. Then, last evening, I started getting Timed Out error with blogspot. Surprise, surprise, I'm able to access the same site from my office. The surprise element has kicked in because I use broadband service of the company which provides connectivity to our company. Let me not hide the name of ISP as a state secret. Sify, it is. Does it mean, they have different set of rules for different users?

Since this is a blog, I have to vent my self-righteous opinion. Thinking of our politicians and bureaucrats is so 70-ish - emergency style. Anybody with little understanding of technology can associate this act with sure sign of technology illiteracy.

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July 15, 2006

 

Corporate

Madhur Bhandarkar's Page 3 was incisive, honest and creative. It deserved the national award. I haven't seen his earlier Chandani Bar, but it was clear that the director is not interested in the boy-meets-girl formula flick. The expectations from his latest movie, Corporate, ran high. When expectations are set, you risk disappointment.

The theme of the movie is rivalry of two business houses. Not rivalry really, as there are no rivals in the business, only competitors. The movie is replete with real world situations and jargon - disinvestment, FDI, stock markets, politics-business nexus, corporate espionage, substandard products, race to reach the top, etc. The movie wants us to believe that this is a pain staking research. But, scratch the surface, and you will see the utter shallowness of the ideas. While disinvestment is real, there are no protests against it. The competitive bidding is a lot transparent than shown in the movie. You need to inform stock exchange when the stake in a listed company increases to 1% and is not dependent on the whims of acquirers. Business awards are not like Filmfare or Oscars where the fate of tycoons is sealed in an envelope and opened in front of audience to declare the winner. The winners are announced quite some time which don't have a shock value. The deals worth hundreds of crores are struck verbally over a dinner. The executive of a company is also an expert on corporate espionage. Another executive working for 11 years quits after a discussion lasting for 11 seconds. The point I am trying to make here is enough homework is not done by the director and his team.

The next big problem with movie is, it is highly judgmental. It passes judgments on everybody and everything and shows them in bad light. I'll list some of them. PSU disinvestment is completely opaque process and politicians sell them as if it is their own property. Protests by NGOs, PILs, demonstrations by anti-MNC organizations, media frenzy are a sham and can be manipulated easily. The business houses are money-seeking leeches and give a damn to anything that comes in between - ethics or people. Skirt-chasing is rampant in the corporates. Everybody can be brought at a price. It is not as if these things figments of Bhandarkar's imagination. But the film tries to convey that all these things are extremely normal in the world of business. It gives an impression that, Bhandarkar, first decided a set of conclusions and then started searching for the reasons to support them. The synopsis of the movie given on the official sites reflects the same - "Welcome to the Corporate World. A battlefield of power hungry people. A world filled with deceit and corrupted minds. Where wealth, fame and success are fought over. And rules don’t exist."

While Bhandarkar proclaims his subject is different, he picks up the Page 3 formula with shameless laziness. Scene after scene you can see the ideas being copied from the earlier movie. Every single thing he has shown in the movie tend to be so high on drama that it makes Johar-Chopra movies look like realistic. I don't know what audience was on his mind when the raunchy item number was added to the movie. It was not only unnecessary, but incongruent, too.

On the other fronts, most of the actors - Kay Kay Menon, Rajat Kapoor, Raj Babbar, Vinay Apte - perform well except the lead, Bipasha Basu. Apparently, Aishwarya Rai was supposed to play that role. Bipasha is perfect replacement for Aishwarya, high on glamour quotient and low on acting skills with most of the dialogues delivered with a glacial face and voice. She makes a mess out of a wonderful opportunity. Seriously, how come the industry survives when there is such a paucity of talented female leads? Music tends to be forgettable, except for one song of Asha.

Mr Bhandarkar takes a strong position on ethics. Ironically, the movie gives liberal space to its partners - all news is beamed on Times Now, everybody is wearing Allen Solly (and Allen Solly store is rendezvous to exchange notes), all the sofas and boardroom furniture is from Durian, and competing companies use only Lenovo laptops (Side note: IBM sold its personal computing business to the Lenovo, a Chinese company). All are the big companies which the movie aspires to unmask.

Take out the audacity of Bhandarkar to pick up a different topic, and this movie is just one of those hundreds of mediocre movies churned by Bollywood.

Update: Minor corrections.

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July 11, 2006

 

Soft Target

A terrorist attack hit Mumbai today. 8 7 (updated) bombs explode in different trains in a matter minutes. All trains are suburban bound, carrying maximum traffic of peak hours on a normal weekday. All bombs explode in the relatively less crowded (when I mean less, the benchmark is this) First-Class compartments of trains . If I have to go by the images, the bombs were probably placed on the upper shelf. Here is one of the chilling image. Go here, for more. Following image is directly linked from 20minutos.es.



A meticulous terrorist plan executed with cynical precision. For me, it is an act of supreme cowardice.

All those who have their hands tainted with the innocent blood, F*** YOU.

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July 10, 2006

 

Rankings rankings everywhere

This ranking business has caught like plague in the Indian Media. It started with B-school rankings. Even the printing press which turns reams of paper into lottery tickets, now reports its own unique, transparent and honest ranking of B-schools. And the news weeklies use the rankings to hide their intellectual bankruptcy. The destitution of ideas is quite obvious from the topics they choose. From my observations of last few years, the number of issues Outlook devoted to "Top 5/10 XYZ" has consistently gone up every single year. B-schools, educational institutes, cities, states, restaurants, bars, bollywood actors/actresses/directors, film songs, Chief Ministers, Ministers of Central Government, business tycoons, celebrities, tech innovations, tourist destinations, private companies, fashion designers are some of the topics I remember without straining a dozen grey cells. The good thing (for magazines!) about rankings is that it brings cheer to some and upsets others. The magazine gets to publish bouquets and bashing, thereby increasing the credibility of the ranking. Then, there are some things you can't just rank, so you publish a survey. Favourite topic of such surveys is dead obvious - sex. The sheer number of issues devoted to rankings can accomodate one more - Top Ten of Top Ten Rankings!

Current issue of Outlook ranks Top 100 engineering and 25 medical colleges. I won't get into the gory details of how Institute ABC should have got 4% higher score than XYZ on parameter PQR. There are quite a few readers of the magazines and bloggers specializing in the same. For me these rankings mean zilch. Not because, I am out of that vicious circle, but because, to the core, these rankings are extremely superficial with parameters not-so-hard to manipulate. They are at best useless and at worst, misleading. For the magazine, it just another cover story, to be revived after every 52 weeks. Let me end my views on the rankings right here.

The thing which attracted my attention was the following picture. (Online image available on Outlook's site.)




The pic of a medico and a civil engineer are put on the cover story. I am fully aware that India now top notch civil engineers. The metro projects and airport modernization in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore need civil engineers. The golden quadrilateral and east-west/north-south corridor need civil engineers. The Bandra-Worli sea link needs civil engineers. All these project needs great structural designers if they are to complete in my lifetime. (I'm just in the late twenties, BTW.) But, seriously, are there some real takers for those courses? And even those who complete it with top grades aspire to work for India's Most Admired Company (TM). An acquaintance, who runs a recruiting firm, tells me, when they are recruiting for some of the really good Indian manufacturing companies, they don't even bother to visit tier 1 and tier 2 engineering colleges. The hit ratio is so poor, that it doesn't even deserve a thought. They go to really "low rung" colleges in non-metro cities and recruit the good folks. The starting salary for freshers in IT companies can be anywhere from 50-80% higher than equivalent manufacturing companies. Add the kicker of fast growth path, opportunity to work abroad and earn $$$, the fresh graduates may not even give thought to give IT job a miss and work for the company utilizing their 4 years of hard-earned knowledge.

The magazine reads the pulse so wrong!

The ranking is mostly useless to the students at large, because, barring a few, most of the colleges admit students from the same state in which college resides. That leaves the students very few colleges to pick from. The number of students who get to pick both, the colleges and the stream, is abysmally low. So, I believe, the target audience of this issue is a few hundred students across the country.

BTW, in spite of all such trash Outlook churns, I like the magazine and they continue to enjoy my unabated loyalty.


July 06, 2006

 

Happy Journey (provided you know when it starts)

I was mildly shocked when I did not find the usual train numbers on my train tickets. But the name of the train was correct. At the bottom right, the fine print said, New Time Table from 01-07-2006. Few years back, I was curious when I first discovered that the train ticket doesn't carry the departure time. But with this change, missing departure time was absolutely irritating.

With quick search for Indian train ticket images, I landed on this page. Here is the image (just in case the original vanishes.)



First thing I notice is the remarkable similarity of this ticket with the current ticket. That means, in last 13 years, nobody has given a passing thought to restructuring the information on this ticket. At least, 13 years! I'm the believer of Don't-fix-if-it-ain't-broke wisdom. But, one of the sensible things, the departure time, was there in 1993 (see bottom-right corner AT 0915). Why sudden loss of prudence over time?


July 03, 2006

 

Google Earth + Wikipedia

Wikimapia is one of the coolest app built on top of Google Earth/Maps. You can zoom to a location and then it lets you to assign tags to the selected area. So, next time somebody asks you direction for your home, you can answer, "Search for my name and city on Wikimapia and you'll get it." Hope your name is not among the most common names in that region.

Go, play!


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