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Apr. 16th, 2009

Goodbye LJ

I've migrated this blog to cheeni.wordpress.com, I don't think I will be on LJ anymore. It was good while it lasted, but it's clear to me and a lot of other LJers who've blogged here pretty regularly over the past 8 - 10 years (kalyan, jace) that LJ isn't about being a community anymore, and its new owners have a less than attractive makeover in mind.

I've tried reasoning with them, and they've only come back with weasel-word clever arguments, and not really understood the problem we were pointing out.

So long LJ, it was a great time we had together.

Mar. 6th, 2009

The God jukebox

The God jukebox

I call them the "god jukeboxes" - little pocket radio sized devices that are dedicated to play religious music. I saw some in the Mylapore area being hawked by the roadside vendors. They are made in China and play little audio clips of devotional songs presumably off a flash ROM. They have pictures of Hindu gods on all sides and there is a knob that you turn to get the desired song.

I also saw this buddha machine today that's similar - http://www.fm3buddhamachine.com

It's a very convenient accessory for the religious I suppose - plug it in and twiddle the knob to get sweet religion flowing through your ears.

Feb. 4th, 2009

LJ Angst

My pent up angst at SUP's management of LJ bubbled over and I let it fly at a couple of posts by SUP minions. I will reproduce it here for the fun of it, and because surely they aren't going to be strong enough to take honest criticism.

#1 - http://community.livejournal.com/cyberabad/149566.html?thread=2723390#t2723390

Dear rajikatalwar, team_lj_india and wpbenjamin,

Can't say I appreciate the spam. Your message just appeared multiple times in my friends view. Ever since LJ started the promotional spamming for LJ India with the shrill voice of a bazaar hawker I've been more and more tempted to leave.

You know LJ grew to be this big without any of this 'savvy marketing', and now all of this 'community building' is actually destroying the community. LJ doesn't have much going for it by way of features currently other than the awesome community. Drive the LJ loyalists away, and (believe me, you are certainly trying very hard), you will have a shell of a website that won't go very far.

If I wanted Bollywood gossip, India centric news or any of the other drivel that you are peddling I'd be blogging at rediff.com, seriously! You did start well with the caferati thing, but then you oversold it with over the top hype and promotion. I bet your signup stats look great from that campaign, but what you didn't see, or didn't bother to deem important was the frustration of the old timers.

If you must market LJ, at least hire someone who knows and understands LJ, not some marketroid like blogworks.in that's can't see beyond the instant ROI.

I want the old LJ back...


#2 - http://community.livejournal.com/lj_india/1531.html?thread=13051#t13051

Hi wpbenjamin,

You share some interesting information on your plans for LJ and LJ in India in general, thanks. I just left a ranting comment at a couple of posts [1], [2] where your minions from blogworks were messing about. And then I started taking a look at the LJ India community which I hadn't bothered to visit till now, and yours is the first post from the SUP camp that sounds intelligent and sincere. Plus, you also have a blog that actually has more than a couple of posts, so I think you will understand what I am about to say. I am bothering to put some effort into detailing what's wrong, I hope you listen.

First off, I appreciate the investment SUP is putting into LJ, hiring more programmers is good. I also understand that SUP has to make money. So far so good.

(Actually that contradicts with what I've read elsewhere about recent LJ layoffs, but your post is from a while back. In any case, you still seem to have money for stupid marketing tricks, ouch!).

However, hiring a marketing firm like Blogworks or any of the clueless bunch that are pimping LJ in India isn't going to get you anywhere. You will get a bunch of clicks, your marketroids will collect their cash and be on their way and LJ will have deteriorated considerably.

For example, read any of the posts that the blogworks team has made so far on this community, they are full of fake sincerity and enthusiasm. Seriously, it's not nice to see my LJ experience being ruined by a bunch of amateur shysters.

I count zero comments to most of the blogworks team's posts. You on the other hand got a single very helpful comment, and you chose to ignore it. What's the point of asking for feedback if you won't even bother to acknowledge it publicly and act on it?

You are getting some really good advise from people like angiasaa, (the other comment on this thread); you should think about implementing some of what he says, or hiring someone like him to help you with your marketing.

LJ has a dedicated band of followers in India, and they would definitely like more features and all that jazz, but they are here for one thing, and one thing only, the nice homey feel that LJ gives each of them. It's a personal thing that wasn't created by savvy marketing. It's also an exclusive feeling, despite the millions of users. Be thankful for having a good thing on your hands, something that runs without much maintenance. If you insist on continuing down this path of turning LJ into a commodity blogging platform, you risk losing what you have and not gaining much in return.

I have no agenda here other than protecting an experience and a habit that I picked up in 2001. That's right, it's been nearly 8 years on LJ and it would be a shame if I left now because of a bunch of less than competent marketers and ham handed management from SUP. Stop wasting money on the marketing and hire back some of the good engineers you laid off recently.

Seriously now, do it.



Jan. 26th, 2009

Electric shavers disappoint

They over promise and under deliver. What exactly do they promise anyway? Gillette's multiple (tending to infinity) blade system is very explicit in forwarding the theory of a closer, smoother shave - the number of blades supposedly has a linear relationship to the closeness of shave. The aloe strip counts for something I suppose.

On the other hand, most advertisements for electric shavers are about the shavers being better than the competition or the previous generation of shavers - look, I can be washed with water, no look I can also lube the skin while shaving, and no look I can run for 90 minutes without a recharge.

What I really care about is the closeness of the shave and the less irritable the experience the better.

No electric shaver ever seems to want to take on the traditional twin (multiple) blade system head on in a contest of smoothness or comfort. That must say something about the efficacy of these beasts. So why do people want electric shavers? I ask this because I have one, and I have no idea why I got it in the first place. Well, it was kinda cool and you know man toy like.

Nov. 17th, 2008

Vehicles for sale

I am moving and I have some things to sell. All items for pickup in Hyderabad. Contact me for more misc. household stuff.

2001, 26000km, Royal Enfield Bullet Machismo, Green, Karnataka registration

Indica XETA GLS 9000kms excellent condition, like new
2007 July, 9000 kms, like new fully accessorized Indica XETA GLS - Hyderabad

Nov. 4th, 2008

Eyeing the new G10

Eyeing the new G10, originally uploaded by cheeni.

More pictures from my new G10 are here - http://cheeni.net/mypix/Bay%20Area,%20November%202008/index.html

Until I shell out for a pro flickr account, which I guess I should, I'll be uploading most of my pictures to a non-flickr location to be under the 200 image limit.

Oct. 10th, 2008

Economic cycles

J told me about this joke. It seems very appropriate in the context of our flapping economy and crazy brokers and their stock markets.

It was October and the Indians on a remote reservation asked their new Chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild.

Since he was a Chief in a modern society he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky he couldn’t tell what the winter was going to be like.

Nevertheless, to be on the safe side he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared.

But being a practical leader, after several days he got an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?” “It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,” the meteorologist at the weather service responded.

So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared.

A week later he called the National Weather Service again. “Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?”

“Yes,” the man at National Weather Service again replied, “it’s going to be a very cold winter.”
The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find.

Two weeks later the Chief called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”

“Absolutely,” the man replied. “It’s looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever.”

“How can you be so sure?” the Chief asked.

The weatherman replied,

“The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy.”

Oct. 8th, 2008

Random snippets on my love for books

This post started out as a comment to kadambarid's post. Since it has become outrageously long for a comment I've decided to make it a post instead.

I used to shop at Blossoms in Church street, Bangalore a lot because of the discounts. No such luck here in HYD, in fact the book shops here don't have what I want most of the time. Despite this I seem to pick up book(s) every other week from Crossword. It doesn't help that S also loves her books, so we have this perennial space jam for our books.

During my relatively impoverished college days in Madras I used to browse through books in expensive stores like Odyssey that had open racks, air conditioning and seating, and then shamelessly head to a deep discounting wholesale book store which operated more like a pharmacy and hand in a list of books I was ready to buy. Occasionally I'd feel very guilty and buy a book from Odyssey as well. Funnily, I only read books about computers and hackers at this stage in my life. Right now my bookshelf doesn't have (m)any of those books. Yes, life is indeed like a box of chocolates! My father keeps reminding me occasionally that there are two giant cartons of my books on programming and systems that are taking up a lot of space in their store room in Madras. I always dodge the question. In truth, I don't know when I'll ever get around to reading them again. I hate throwing away books, even books I know I won't read much anymore. Not even the books on accounting, marketing and law from my undergrad days that stopped being interesting to me over a decade ago.

There was this unfortunate time that I had to literally throw away my books. I was relocating back to India from the US, and I had sold or given away most of my belongings, but I was hanging on to a few books anyway. I suspected I was over the luggage limit, but didn't realize by how much, until I began checking in. The overage charges for the luggage made me swoon, and I knew I had no logical reason to hold onto the books. What I'd save in overage charges could buy me three times the number of books I was carrying. I was really sad, but I had to leave my heaviest books next to a garbage bin at O' Hare. I hope someone saved them, and it didn't end up in a landfill.

A couple of months back I picked up about 15 books from Strand in NYC on a whim, and I had to buy a separate bag to carry the books back to HYD. They weighed a ton, and I wasn't even headed back to HYD directly, I had to stop over in Zurich. I rued the day I visited Strand because the books weighed the most, and I had to carry my bags up 6 floors to the apartment (they don't like elevators in CH). Of course it's another matter that I couldn't resist grabbing a few more books in CH to make my journey back even more miserable.

I'd only partly read a library copy of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon a long while back, and it's bothered me ever since. I wanted to fix that, except the main Strand store didn't have any copies, but their annex branch in Wall Street did have a single copy. Predictably, the next day after dinner in Brooklyn, I changed two trains and had the last copy safely in my hand.

I was reading Salman Rushdie's "Enchantress of Florence" around this time, and his frequent references to "Babur Nama" started in me a hankering to read it. Quite coincidentally I came across an English translation of it the next Sunday morning at the Borders near Penn Station. Having just missed my train which pulled away just as I was entering the platform, I had decided to cancel my Sunday plans anyway. So I plopped down in a chair and over coffee and bagels almost finished reading Babur Nama right there in the store. It must have taken 4 or 5 hours.

I find I don't need to finish reading my books all the time. I'd definitely like to complete reading a book, but sometimes I'll lose interest half way when I have a sense for the plot, or the material bores me. In the case of Babur Nama, it was a bit of both, a diary, which is really what it is, gets repetitive after you've read most of it.

http://cheeni.net/books is a somewhat outdated list of books that S and I have collected over the last two or three years. I know it doesn't account for our latest two shopping trips, and it is missing numerous titles, but it does give some idea of the state of affairs. This list is mostly for myself; I look at it occasionally to find a book I haven't yet read, or to ask myself how all of these different books have shaped my thinking, and who I am.

What I'd really like to do is take a reading vacation. Pack all my unread books, and take them with me to some quiet beach or forest hideout and start reading. So far I've only done this for a week at a time, and that's hardly enough to even get started. Perhaps I'll get the chance to do it for longer, like maybe a month of long walks in the country, quiet time with the books and the solitude of nature.

I've done this kind of thing once before, when right after grad school I had a few months of idle time waiting for my work permit. I didn't exactly start out planning to do so, but I went through 75% of the IMDB top 250, and many other movies that weren't on it. Watching 3 movies a day sometimes, it got pretty obsessive. I also did other stuff during the period, but this is the only remarkable activity I remember now. Let me tell you that watching that many critically acclaimed movies in an already depressed state of mind (because of the work permit delay) can actually be still more depressing. Given that most of the best movies are an enquiry into human values, this isn't very unusual.

I don't know much about philosophy. I know more now, than I did back then, but reading philosophers isn't yet a favorite activity of mine. No surprise then, that looking deep into the meaning of all these movies, I independently came up with the concept of nihilism. I was quite convinced about the pointlessness of life, and the chaos that is human existence. I don't think much about it now, even if I self realized the concept, because believing in nihilism makes life very difficult.

I hope a reading vacation won't do the same, but I suppose that depends on the books I pick :-)

I love the American public library system, but for it, this sort of a movie vacation wouldn't have been possible. I wouldn't even need to buy books now if we had similar libraries in India.

I'd like to follow that reading vacation with a writing vacation. A long month of walks in the country, quiet time with the word processor and the solitude of nature. Perhaps I'll even produce something publishable!

Oct. 7th, 2008

Self sealing fuel tanks

Self sealing fuel tanks : fuel tanks that can seal themselves after being punctured by a bullet. Self sealing fuel tanks were invented back in WWII, but they are even today an area of research. Sadly, even now they aren't standard on all military aircraft, it's an optional extra.

"Self-sealing tanks have two layers of rubber, one of vulcanized rubber and one of untreated rubber that can absorb oil and expand when wet. When a fuel tank is punctured, the fuel will spill on to the layers, causing the swelling of the untreated layer, thus sealing the puncture." (source: Wikipedia)

A propaganda video from WWII:

Sep. 26th, 2008

An evening at Kalakshetra

An evening at Kalakshetra, originally uploaded by cheeni.

At a concert by Sikkil Sisters. I can't imagine there are too many places in the world where a 78 year old can perform music professionally.

Kalakshetra is breath taking in its beauty and purpose. The Kathak performance (Murali Mohan & Nandini Mehta) that followed was sheer magic. It didn't lend itself to photography as well, since it was quite dark most of the time for effect, and I didn't want to be the loser with a bright LCD in the audience spoiling it for everyone. However, there's this youtube video of one of the performers. He appears right at the beginning.

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