Friday, December 02, 2011

You know you are a geek when...

This was sitting in my cache of posts-to-make for over 2 years!  Thought of giving it a finishing touch and putting it out.
I generally take it as a compliment when someone calls me a geek/nerd (and I trust most of us would), unless it is said with an obvious hint of contempt.  So if you take being called a geek in the right vein, then you might enjoy this post.  If you don't, then I mean no offense.  Also I don't imply to stereotype geeks, so take it easy guys-n-gals.
Most of this is from personal experience, some is from observation, a few passed down as second hand information and some might even be figments of my imagination. Don't hesitate to take this with a grain of salt if your diet allows for any more room for sodium, that is :)
Don't know if you are a (computer) geek?  Here are some tell-tale signs that will help identify a tech-savvy computer geek inside of you...
  1. The first thing you do after meeting a new person is Google him/her out!
    (Note: Bing him/Bing her still doesn't sound right to me! Bing'ing is just too hilarious to even think of as a verb!)
    From there, you then check out every link there is referring to this person, particularly (strictly in that order): personal webpage, posts in mailing lists, LinkedIn profile, blog, Orkut, Google+, Facebook, and any other other (anti-)social networking websites you happen to be on. Of course, given the person must pique your interest to a certain extent.
    This doubles up for any unknown tech jargon, new words or technology you come across ... almost anything new you don't know about, animate or inanimate.
    Also, on your first date you are tempted to say "Tell me something that I don't already know from Google" ;-)
  2. Looking at a resume, you can immediately tell if it was written in M$ Word, OpenOffice or LaTeX.
    Corollary: You are intolerant to resumes (and any documents in general) that you DO NOT have access to in pure text (or at least in pdf) format.
  3. You can type your search queries on faster than it can suggest likely matches based on your partial input.
  4. When you see someone's Windoze desktop the first thing reaction is that you have an insuppressible desire to clean the desktop, delete MB's worth of temporary files, empty Recycle Bin, run a Windows Update and rid the computer off the WinRot. If it doesn't have an anti-virus, you raise your hands in the air and silently swear under your breath, "[S]he doesn't deserve to own a PC!".
  5. When you go to your friends house, and find his/her wi-fi router open (not secured), you spend the rest of the day re-configuring the router and all his computers to use secure connections. Chances are you will render at least one of the computers without network access, but you would have convinced your friend (against his will!) that it is better this way than keeping the router unsecured. Though, for the love of roller-blading computers, you can't explain him why has it _not_ caused a problem till now (that is until you proclaimed, without any proof, it was a problem)!
  6. You get irritable when someone spends more than a fraction of second to find the right key on the keyboard
  7. You have a craving to buy the latest and most sophisticated laptop there is. But the only thing preventing you from doing so is either you already have pile-loads of them, or you don't have bandwidth to keep all of them up-to-date with latest patches. Or your budget doesn't allow you to get one (strictly in that order).
  8. You can still dig into one of your closets and produce a 5-1/4 or a 3-inch archaic floppy disks.
  9. At any given point in time, you can flick out GBs worth of storage space in flash/usb drives from your backpack or pockets.
  10. The first thing you think of on your perfect outing, date or any such important occasion, is how soon you can go back to your computer and blog it all out! And chances are you have already composed most of the post in your head already! Including layout, photos you will include and their captions too!
  11. You don't necessarily hate GUIs, but command-line is still your way of life, and you root for root access.
  12. At any given time, you have a total of at least 15 tabs open in your browser (most of them still unread).
  13. You have almost all of your important documents GPG'ed and backed somewhere. Not to mention, you have a backup in at least 2/more places: external HDD and DVD.
  14. You are paranoid about always keeping your personal documents encrypted
  15. Your public key is published on some well known key server
  16. You can remember all the different UserId-Password combinations by heart to all the tens of sites you visit regularly. Heck, you even remember exact URLs. And you are on your way to memorizing the IP addresses too ;-)
  17. Given an IP address, you cannot suppress a desire to do a nslookup on it, ping it and even traceroute it! You just can't look at an IP address and not know what domain it belongs to.
  18. When you look at something new, you are brimming with thoughts of how does it work. If you don't find a convincible enough theory, the first thing you do is Google it out on the first chance.
  19. You look at yourself in a mirror only when:
    • you have to shave (doesn't apply to girls)
    • comb your hair (strictly not more than once a day! And some even consider that as optional)
    • something's gotten into your eyes and it won't go away by just swiping your bacteria-laden coffee/tea stained rough fingers through it multiple times
    • trying new clothes, which you buy STRICTLY only if you if HAVE to (for ex. I took out a new pair of jeans when the one I wore for a year and a half started giving way. For which I generally don't care, but I was worried the stitches around crotch region would give way to the cool breeze, and Seattle's pretty cold).
  20. As long as the important body parts are covered with a clean and fresh clothing, you don't give a damn about what you are wearing, specially to work. Hell! You don't even bother if you wear the same clothes the whole year. And given you rarely look at yourself anyway, functionally, in my opinion, this is a very efficient choice. Mental faculties are best spent solving a bug, instead! Or creating one :-P
    But please wear fresh/washed clothes, don't want you giving a bad name to the rest of geekdom.
  21. You know the technical difference between a password and a passphrase
  22. You can understand, a majority of xkcd strips
  23. You can key in your zip code at the gas station machine faster than it can accept it! And the delay it expects between each keystroke freaks the hell out of you!
  24. You can see things only one way....
    • If it is broken: Rip it open, of course you can fix it!
    • If it ain't broken: Rip it open, how the hell does it work? You are sure you can make it work faster/better!
    • Either ways, you end up with a non-functioning object but a satisfied soul. Hey, satisfaction counts, doesn't it!

  25. You feel elated (have achieved nirvana?) when you have one of your pages (blog or homepage) turn up as the TOP hit in Google search (of course other than narcissistic searches i.e. searches for your own unique name)!
    Your search results may vary. Snapshots below:
  26. You never delete an entry from your TODO list when done, you just comment them out with '//' or a '#':
        //  9. Reply pending emails - DONE
        10. Update the TODO list (with what?)
        #  11. Grocery list: Milk, veggies, cheese, bread - DONE
    One has to be particularly careful because you can't send emails with lines commented out in place of deleting them!
  27. You know all the switches to give for all the commands you frequently use. But you have been using them for so long that you often can't tell which one does what :)
  28. You have the know-how of tools such that you can transcode any audio or video to make it work on any of your video-playing devices: ipod, phone, music player or TV.
  29. You squirm restlessly in your theater seat when you see one of these in a movie:
    • The lead actor/actress can hack into ANY damn computer by typing furiously onto the keyboard, without any regards to what operating system it is running! That too without even looking at the keyboard. Let me tell you, even the best of hackers can't do that!
      "Please be REASONABLE", you want to scream your lungs out!
    • People can do almost anything to a photo/video with just one or two key strokes.
      Agent: Freeze the frame, right there, notice the little girl's eye (standing at least one football field away)... That's our number plate reflecting in her teary eyes, zoom in and show it to papa...
      ~~~click click~~ The agent hits no more than 2 keystrokes, and viola! Magic happens!
      But what worries more than the fact that there is no way a handful of keystrokes can do that, but the fact that the original photo didn't even have that much fidelity in it to begin with!
  30. A new email, even if only occasionally, still excites you
  31. More than a handful of unread emails in your Inbox makes you squirm with discomfort
  32. You have a strong opinion about whether an opening brace '{' should be placed on the same line as if/while or the line after. And you don't even want to start on why 'space' is such a superior choice for indention over 'tabs'.
  33. You know what a regular expression is and use them more than regularly.
  34. You know exactly what processes should be running and not running in the background. It annoys the hell out of you if you cannot find out what a particular process does, even if it is a useless process.
    Recently I bought a bluetooth dongle for my old PC. After letting appropriate drivers to install, I noticed that it had installed at least 5 freakin' additional services (all auto-started on boot!) and at least 2-3 other supporting processes.  All of them were consuming a part of my measly cpu. I freaked out and have never used that dongle again. It is lying in the catacombs of pile of junk somewhere now.
  35. If your laptop/pc is sitting idle and you happen to gaze upon its HDD activity LED (and I BET you will every so often!) and you notice any flickering, you will be fuming with rage and shall unleash your full wrath on the offending process. Tell you, it won't be easy to find the one, but you will make it your day long project, week long, if it comes to that, to find and remove the process from your life, forever!
  36. You have at least one OCD that you are consciously aware of. And, of course, you are NOT ashamed of it :-)
  37. Last but not the least, one sure-shot way of knowing you are a geek (as pointed out by one geeky reader who commented on the post) is if you noticed numbering started with a "0" and not "1"!  Don't worry, you are still a geek if you quickly hit a page-up just to check that :D
But, above all you know you are a (computer) geek if you could read through the end of the list and laugh out at some of them :-D
Feel free to share your idiosyncrasies...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Potpourri of things

Frequency of posts have definitely dropped, but that is not for the lack of ideas/thoughts/drafts for the posts. Quite the opposite, I have more than enough to last a year if I were to regain my regular posting frequency.
I think what is affecting my posts is a deluding perception that life is regressing from a state of Ordered Chaos into a state of Meaningless Chaos (no proofs needed!).  Which is making me question everything I do more often than I used to.  My email responses (of which at one time I could boast of less than 24hrs turn around time!) have become slower and more spaced (in time).  Activity on (anti)social networks has dropped to near-zero (but that is a good thing!).
Not to say I am not having exciting moments.  Quite a few, actually.  And I wish that this (and upcoming) post(s) will make you believe so (without regards to what the reality is :-P )
So I thought of posting something that is potpourri of various things, in no particular order, just to prove that the (un)creative juices are still oozing strong, often inundating me with enough of it to prevent any productive work from happening :)
Lack of posts is often perceived by my friends as a cause of turbulence in my life.  So I hope this post will help me debunk their notions in that regards.
0. Microsoft Photo Book: Inspire

Inspire: Sporting my shot
While it isn't as great as getting your photo published in NatGeo, getting one in Microsoft's PhotoBook (along side many NatGeo-quality photos) is nothing short of exciting.  Every year (since last 2 or 3 years) shutterbugs at Microsoft request employees to submit their best shots.  They then run it through judging process and of the thousands that they swift through, they choose a few to be eventually published in to a nice hard-cover book, with a photo each on glossy paper.  Another team of volunteers then toil hard to get it printed and make it available at the right cost.
All this work is volunteer driven, that is, people do it out of sheer passion in their spare time.  One of the most exciting parts about this whole effort is the economics...  Every copy of book that is sold, part of the purchase money ($35 of the $50 book's value) goes to charity, United Way. To top it off, Microsoft matches $-for-$ which doubles the charity to $70!  You spend $50 buying the book and somewhere a charitable organization receives $70! Interesting!  Personally I'm not too game for donating where I don't know when/how the money is spent, but the thought of doing something that aids charity is, at the least, heart warming.
So, "show me the photo", say you.  Here's the one that got through:
Dreamy Eye
And the description reads (this was a nice touch they added compared to last year's book):
Dream Eyes
Kirkland, Washington | I was trying the typical macro of an eye and couldn't get enough light on the eye, so I tried moving a little farther away to allow enough light in.  During post-processing after a few crops, I soon realized the result was not going to be anything exciting.  Having seen many amazing black-and-white shits, I then wondered what the original photo would look like in pure black-and-white!  One click and there it was, this dreamy-looking photo.  I didn't quite anticipate this outcome when I was shooting; I guess the best shots happen unplanned.
Canon EOS 30D | 100mm | 1/200 | f/5 | ISO 250
While there is no doubt that I love this photo myself, I wasn't expecting this one to make it through.  But, as they say, beauty lies in the eyes of the judges, err... beholder.
My two other submissions were:
Lady Bug's Descend

Space Needle By The Night from Kerry Park
I think the one quality that these two photos lacked was uniqueness.  But that's just a guess.

But...  If only this were an eye of some beautiful girl! Why?  Well, if it were, then I could have easily gotten an opportunity to ask her out on a dinner (date) ;-) That was actually a humorous (but seemingly serious) comment from a colleague of mine at work.
Colleague: Did you ask her out for dinner?
Me: ~~~befuddled and scratching my head~~~  Sorry what?
I was almost certain I missed to catch a few words in the sentence. Judging by my looks he figured I was as lost as Alice in Wonderland!
Colleague: (wearing a teasing smile) Did you ask her out for a dinner, the girl who's eye you shot?
Me: (bright bulb lighting over my head! Smiling but with saddened feelings...)
Oh! That! No! Unfortunately that is a guy's eye!
(With sunken hearts, we both walked in silence for a few seconds, we were on our way to buy copies of book for ourselves and that did cheer me up, though).
BTW, if you do want to buy a copy, you can do so online.
Go to Microsoft Online Company store, create a new account and search for "Inspire".  If you are wondering, then no, I don't get no money or commission if you buy one. More press here.

1. Rediscovering the joy of Jurassic Park
If I haven't said this already (though, I doubt it!), Jurassic Park still ranks top in my list of top-9 scifi movies.  It has been, what, close to 2 decades now and the only scifi movie to beat Jurassic Park at the top spot is Matrix-I (art, direction, cast, concept, Fx, etc.).
So shortly after I read Micheal Crichton's State of Fear, about which I recently raved about in another post, I had an epiphany: "Boy!  Jurassic Park, isn't that your favorite of favorite'st movies based on novel by the same author.  (inner voice, damn right you are!) Don't you think you should read it, then!"
Bam! And off I trotted to my local library to borrow my copy.

The movie is very well made, but as it is with most movies-made-from-novels, what you ramble out in words is often not easy to portray on screen.  Often words (aka imagination in this case) has no boundaries, no limitations, none whatsoever.  Movies, as they involve physical/material elements, more often than not, are severely restricted in what they can do and show us.  Even when you have the best of Hollywood's creative artists at your command.  It fails me why I didn't read this book sooner.  But better late than never.
I am still a few pages from the back cover of the novel and I'm enjoying every bit of it.  So much so, that if I'm dropping dead from sleep and it it dawns onto me that I won't be able to read even one line on any given night, I still keep the book besides me when I hit bed :D
(Just so you know... I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested :-P ).

Well, this has become a LONG enough post and I'm barely the scratching surface.  If I were to cover everything I set out to cover in this single post, it will become YAILP (Yet Another Insanely Long Post) that nobody will ever bother reading (though I know a few who still would, I thank you in advance!).  As a side note, YAILP's happen when you don't post often enough. See the (un)creative juices I was alluding to now!

So I will just outline things I intend to post in the hopes that doing so will urge me to follow up on them sooner than later...

 2. Kindle
After much thought and checking out various e-readers, I finally bought Kindle.  Of a few things, I'm relying heavily on Amazon's proven great history with consumers.

 3. Aquarium
Almost every friend I meet, talk to or converse with over emails (e-friends, if you will!) have asked me about my aquarium(s).  Since I was all gung-ho about it when I started and posted almost no update since then, it gives an impression that the fire has ebbed.  Quite contrary.  I am still spending increasing amount of time nurturing (and enjoying) my 2 tanks.  I owe you all a short update, at the very least.  Watch this space for more soon.

 4. Photos
I haven't been shooting as much as I would love to and used to, but that is not for the lack of interest.  It is just that the opportunities to shoot have reduced significantly because of very few (almost no) hikes and treks in recent months.  Blame work for this.  Part of reason is also the lack of time to do even minimal post-processing and captioning.  But I will share a few photos I clicked that I didn't share here.

 5. New Lens!
I splurged and bought a new lens!  Which one? That's a surprise for another post!  Supposed to be gift from my bro, but he hasn't paid me yet! lol ;-)  But it is the sentiment that counts, right! (Though my credit card company refuses :D) !

 6. Movies
Again, very little on the front of movie entertainment and enrichment.  But a few noteworthy ones, vaguely in the order of their awesomeness, I saw are:
  1. Ip Man
  2. Ip Man-2
  3. Flashpoint
  4. Revisiting the Harry Potter's
 7. Ipod Nano: Hits and Misses
On my birthday my brother gifted me iPod Nano.  And I love it.  But it is a far cry from perfection (for my use-case) that I have come to expect from Apple and I want to share my thoughts.  I still love my 3yr old Shuffle.

 8. Jeans
A jeans a year or two!  Keep guessing!

 9. Cruise to Alaska
My family was visiting me for a few weeks and after lot of back and forth, never-ending debates, lot of arguments and absolutely no planning, we went on an outing that turned out to be one of the most amazing family outings we have had so far: Cruise to Alaska. Watch out for details.

10. Vibram Five Finger shoes (linky)
For their alien'y look, my mom was strongly opposed to the concept of me owning Fiver Finger Shoes, let alone wear them.  Glorified socks, she told me!  Don't dare you even think of wearing one to work was her stern ultimatum.  But my perseverance and love won her over and now not only I own one but two beautiful pairs of Five Fingers, I even wear them to work daily! Yes D A I L Y!  I hope to share my feedback on these lovely footwear.  But, like me, if you hate to wait, here's a short one line verdict: If you are a bare-foot'ie just get one, don't think twice!

11. Teas: Green and Oolong
I have always been fascinated by teas, mostly because of its ancestral following and origins than the (un)scientific studies that say they are healthy.  I have come to believe that modern scientific research should be taken with a grain (read: bagful) of salt, esp. where big bucks are involved (which, come to thing of it, is almost everything!).  So I often take refuge in following ancient methods over what science says is best.  I'll share my experiences, sure you are eager to hear them.

12. Obsession with Old Songs and Vividh Bharati
It is now completely official that I'm totally misplaced in time: my ways of life (by and large) and taste (notably in terms of music) is very very archaic.  So my unyielding obsession towards old songs should be no surprise to any.  Watch out for how I rediscovered my lost love and more craziness!

13. Meeting Old-Time Buddies
The joy of connecting with oldest of friends who remain so even in the wake of lack of proper contact and irregular communication, is something that words will always fail to explain, no  matter how hard I try.  But that doesn't mean one should not try!

14. Go-Green: Stop Getting Crap in your Snail-Mailbox
I can swear on my blog that I had a draft post on this when, about a year back, I spent some time researching on how to put an end to those useless annoying marketing bat-crap flyers (which I didn't ask for) that landed in my mailbox.  And it has worked, wonderfully. Except one that I can't put an end to.
I promise to dig out the information and share with you all.

I will add posts as and when they occur to me, hope but I you got a nice preview of upcoming posts, now just wish that I stick to the schedule here.
See you back soon enough! But wait...

Ending Note...
I realized that the post would be incomplete without some dash of music...  So I bring you a rare song from my collection.  Chances are you haven't heard of this song.  Or at least not as often. That's because it is part of an incomplete/unreleased film Picnic from the 60s.  Where did I hear it, of course Vividh Bharati! Though I cannot wish for you enjoy it as much as I did, but least I hope is you enjoy this song once.  I didn't realize Sadhana looked so gorgeous.  Maybe it is the setting of the song that's making her seem prettier and the lyrics is definitely accentuating her beauty: Kitna Rangeen Hai Ye Chaand Sitaaron Ka Samaa.
And if you are wondering then the answer is yes, I too have a feeling this will become my new loopy-song for a few weeks to come ;-)
Turn down your volume, treble seems a bit off on this one.

As usual, the music is effectively simple and lyrics, deeply meaningful (if you care to dig into them).
Singers: Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi
Music  : N. Dutta (Datta Naik)
Movie  : Picnic (unreleased)

If you crave for the full version, head over to here.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Gingerbread: Am loving it!

I never blogged about my darling Motorola Droid X when I got her about a year back.  But rest assured, I don't repent even slightest bit for NOT going with iPhone (and am more than happy I didn't go with WP7, which I could have gotten for free).  Don't get me wrong, I still ogle at the sexiness of iPhones, but Droid X has the advantage that you can also make calls with it :-P (blame it on the crappy AT&T network or grip-of-death, I don't care!).  Even though it leaves a bit to be desired, Droid X is as close as any non-Apple product will ever get to the uber-attention-to-detail and minimalistic design philosophy that is trademark of the Apple products.
For a while I was keen on getting every update there is for my DroidX.  But the enthusiasm died naturally.  So much so that I didn't even realize that Gingerbread update has been pushed out by Verizon for Droid X's (yes, blame i on work)!  How Lame, you say? I know, and I concur!  I generally rely on the update notifications and I still don't know why I didn't get an alert indicating that one is available.  Well, better late than never, I say.
So it wasn't until my co-worker pointed out that gingerbread has been pushed by Verizon, did I update my OS.  Late to join the bandwagon, I got my Gingerbread update more than a full month later.  But, now that I have it, I fell in love with my Droid X all over again :) And I say this in spite of the fact that the upgrade wasn't snappy smooth (and for a while I was cursing myself for upgrading).  So much so, that I thought I should put up a quick post highlighting the changes I noticed.
I was so excited after the new update, that (much to my mum's frustration!) I was fiddling with the phone most of that weekend, drooling over it (all over again) :D

This is by no means a complete treatise on Gingerbread, but just a few noteworthy changes.
Note: I haven't spent time isolating which of these are stock Gingerbread features vs MotoBlur enhancements.
Here goes the list:
  • Text-Selection & Copy-Paste
  • I have always been envied for the fact that I could copy-paste since the very first version of Droid X and I was happy (that while the others are still catching up to it the basics), Android has already took it a notch up! The selection of text is now orders of magnitude easier. Two large sliders come up when you select text, so you no longer have to wear magnifying glasses to select the text precisely. And just tapping on the selected text copies it! Eeze-beeze! In fact this has made me hate the old-fashioned way of selecting text on PCs with pesky mice!
    Text selection is not orders of magnitude easier!
  • Launcher Dock
  • The launcher dock at the bottom is now permanent, no matter which homescreen you are in, it stays there, giving you access to your MOST frequently used apps just one-click away (if you have ever used a Mac, this is much similar Mac's dock).
    The dock (red rectangle) stays so on all home screens
    Here you see an option of adding any app to the Dock
  • Overall Speed
  • I don't know if motorola optimized their interface or it is the Gingerbread magic, but my phone is noticeably faster and animations are much better than Froyo's.
  • Annoying GPS issue resolved
  • My GPS would just refuse to get a fix on current location when I needed it the most. But since I didn't use it very often, it didn't warrant my effort to fight for a replacement. But ever since the new upgrade, I'm yet to see that annoying "Cannot get your current location" error message on maps. I guess time has really come to say good-bye to my (expensive) annoying Garmin GPS.
  • App Groups and more
  • App management has become more usable and coherent with the rest of the system. I have noticed a lot of minor (welcome) tweaks in this area. One of the most tangible change is the ability to add apps to groups and then adding shortcuts to that group on your homescreen. Making organizing your apps a tad better.
  • Quick add-to-home menu
  • Adding shortcut to apps to homescreen is just a one-click operation now!
    Tap-n-hold on any app to get this rich set of options
  • Address Book navigation
  • I have always loved the contacts navigation on Android. It got much slicker with the latest update. I just breeze my finger through A-Z on the right hand corner where a traditional scroll-bar would be and I can jump to next-alphabet smoothly. It has been tuned just right so that you don't have to be super-precise if you want to just move form A to B, it will naturally stop momentarily at each alphabet (depending on your speed).
  • Contact History
  • I don't recall using contact history on Froyo much, but now it has become so very accessible. And very handy too. There are a lot of practical applications of this history (which, too much to my frustration, I couldn't find on iPhone!).
    Full call history for a given contact
  • Speech-to-Text
  • From my past experiences I have NEVER trusted speech-to-text conversions. Right from putting in effort to train the damn software to pronouncing it EXACTLY the way the software expects it to, take your pick. A recent conversation with Anna urged me to try it out again. Holy Rollerblading Cow! Was my exact reaction when the freak'in phone translated my speech into exact words! Without training the software or even straining myself too hard to speak in pure American accent. Man was I impressed! Google has a knack of solving problems, I gotta admit. Typical use case: if I gave someone a time (you know, I go on lot of dates! :-P) and realize that am running late due to traffic (or work), I whip out my text messenger and voice out my apology that I'm running a little late. Voila! I just have to hit 'send' after that :)
    Gingerbread translates my speech into text with too much ease!
  • Minor tweaks
  • There is an incredible amount of fine tuning everywhere that makes using Droid X more fun than ever before! In fact when I have to use an iPhone I feel caged and somewhat restricted! And like wise, iPhone users feel there is just too much to choose from when they take my DroidX for a ride. No offense at iPhone, if it is any consolation, it still is the most ogled-after piece of hardware, I think! 
    Moving cursor, for example, is painfully impossible to get it at the right spot right on iPhone. On Droid you get a nice big-ass cursor, hard to miss the target with those big boys.  Market looks much more organized. Managing apps: starting/stopping, (un)installing, moving between phone/SD card memory, checking resource utilization, etc. has gotten better.  Wi-Fi now connects more reliably when I move across home and office.  And as it has always had: all this PLUS you can still make calls!
    Moving cursor is now easier too!
Thank you once again Google, for giving customers a choice they would love to use (like GMail & GTalk).  Mind you, even if you hate Android, it has up'ed the bar for quality of smartphones: choice is always better for customers.  If you are out in the market for a new smartphone, you now know what to ask for! :)

Note: No phone OS war entertained, but constructive criticism's welcome.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fishtank Update

Aquarium Update:
Every one of my friends (whether I interact with him/her on a very regular basis or irregular) have asked me over the past few months about the fishtank.  And their intent was to genuinely know about it, not just general chit-chat.  Most know about experiments in my life more through my blog than they speak to me (yes, I know that is sad, but not as much as nobody caring at all!). Lack of updates in posts here had got them concerned, I suspect.
So I thought I owe an update on my fishtanks to all you friends who regularly skim through here (irrespective of what draws you here: genuine curiosity, boredom, ample free time to kill or sheer friendship!). .
Thanks for asking, they are doing good!  ~~~touchwood~~~

There are a few enhancements I was wanting to do over this summer on my tank (mainly: upgrading to a better dirt and rearranging the plants), but I couldn't spare enough time.  The tank looks good, but I wanted to take it a notch higher. Guess it will have to wait for a while now  ~~~sigh~~~
I up'ed this video a while ago, but never got around posting it here (what a lazy a$$)!  
So here you go, my 30G (110 liters) fresh water planted aquarium.  I have shot the video of my smaller (10G) tank too, but haven't gotten around uploading it yet.  It had grown a beautiful carpet of Pearl Weed. Which I took down last week as it had a lot of Java Moss intertwined in it, which had started poaching on my pearl weed.  So I cleaned most of the surface and replanted them. Waiting to see how that goes.

Freshwater Planted Aquarium:

Some tips I have come to believe will help budding aquarium enthusiasts.

  1. Regular water change
  2. I underestimated the importance of this for a long time and did water changes only once in 2 or 3 weeks without much consistency. Now I have moved to a strict once-a-week 20% water change policy. And about 50% once in 4 weeks. With every water change, I add a few drops of liquid fertilizer (API Leaf Zone). I have noticed marked difference. Advantage: Lesser fluctuation in water quality, meaning much stabler chemistry, which all-in-all brings in a lot of goodness within it: healthier fishes & lush green plants being but a few.
  3. Lighting
  4. I wanted to move to a fancier T5HO lighting, but it costs a bomb (I have an expensive 65W CoralLife AquaLight that I got on a discount but it is just too powerful for my tank, I started getting a lot of algae), so I just switched out my aging CFL and put in a new cheap 15W CFL (Phillips, 5100K), which I keep on for about 8 hrs a day. And results were quite satisfactory. I might, now on, keep replacing my CFL every year till the time I can afford fancier lighting. There are talks in the community that effectiveness (notably wavelength and Kelvin temperature) degrades with age of the tube (unlike natural sunlight). Haven't spent too much time validating the claims, but I think it might be true and won't hurt my pocket too much to follow it.

Anyways, hope you enjoyed the video.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Designing Good Interfaces: Function Names, Arguments & Their Actions

Wanted to share an interesting (and very oftenly overlooked) programming practice.  It is a very bright idea, intuitive, almost, I would argue, to have function names describe their actions and/or intentions:
  create_stack(), destroy_stack(), walk_stack(), kill_process().
What these functions might do is almost self explanatory from their names.
This simple (often untold) rule has helped legions of programmers maintain their sanity (at least of whatever is left), because they know that when they call create_stack() it will create stack, NOT destroy it.  And if it does, then there is something obviously wrong with the function.  Easy-Beezee.  Basic programming principle, correct?

So imagine yourself working at the famous LHC and you want to excite an electron!  Luckily for you, you are a programmer! So the herculean task of exciting an electron is reduced to writing a few lines of code for you!
Now say, you are onto writing a subroutine to excite an electron, naturally you will be tempted call your's as some variation of: excite_electron().

Everything excited, has to eventually come down to a ground state, so you want a complimentary function to bring that electron back to the ground state.  You can go with unexcite_electron().  Or you can pass in a TRUE/FALSE argument to the same excite_electron() function and let it decide whether to excite or undo the excitement (pull it to ground state, unexcite).
(Note: Yes, in most cases we programmers couldn't care less if unexcite is not a valid English word, as long as it unambiguously conveys the functionality).

No big deal. Trivial. Programming looks so easy, you say!
Well, then why the hell do so many programmers look eternally grim with unkempt premature white/gray hair? Here's one reason why...
I bet there are many ways to come up with good function name(s), excite/unexcite pair being one (even if they sound so unexciting!).
But here's particularly one sure-shot way to earn the wrath of your fellow-programmers who have to maintain your code and use your (dreaded!) APIs...
 void excite_electron (void* electron, boolean undo_excite)  
   if (undo_excite) {  
     decrement( electron->energy );  
   } else {  
     increment( electron->energy );  
What! Don't see the problem yet!  Wait till you have to invoke that interface to do something:
   // Excite an electron
   excite_electron( &hydrogen_electron, FALSE );  
   // Do your fancy experiments  
   // Now bring it back to ground state
   excite_electron( &hydrogen_electron, TRUE );  
@#$! Yes, that was my reaction too!  See the problem NOW!
Nothing wrong with the function in itself, but put into larger perspective and it looks dreadful.  NEVER EVER have a function name with one verb/action (excite in this case) and a totally opposite action/verb in the arguments (unexcite).  Not even for obfuscated code!  In my opinion this is plain wrong, not obfuscated.

Just for the kicks... if you want to make it worse, you can go with:
 excite_electron_2 (void* electron, boolean undo_excite)  
   if (undo_excite != FALSE) {  
     decrement( electron->energy );  
   } else {  
     increment( electron->energy );  
- OR -
 excite_electron_2 (void* electron, boolean undo_excite)  
   if (!undo_excite) {  
     increment( electron->energy );  
   } else {  
     decrement( electron->energy );  

If you still haven't evoked the wrath of that seasoned programmer who has, say, assimilated the essence of zen into himself, you can take it a notch higher by declaring the prototype in a header file as:
 // Function prototype to excite an electron, that is bound to get you killed!  
 void excite_electron (void* , boolean);  

And let the caller be totally surprised of what happens next! :)
Exact same function and exact same outcome, but you have just made it a little harder for reader to decode its workings.  Make sure you are not around after you checkin this kind of sh!t into the code repository!

This is NOT out of my figment of imagination, this sh!t happens for real!

0. Law of least astonishment: Please use consistent verbs for function names and arguments. This would be the correct function declaration:
     excite_electron( void* electron, boolean excite );  
Now the following invocation tells me intuitively without any ambiguity that I am trying to excite an hydrogen electron even without looking at function prototype or its definition.
     excite_electron( &hydrogen_electron, TRUE );
1. Avoid double negation:
     if (dont_remove != FALSE) { ... }   // not too readable, DON'T do it  
     if (dont_remove == TRUE)  { ... }   // much readable now!  
     if (dont_remove)          { ... }   // not only readable but also elegant!  
2. Designing good usable interfaces is a non-trivial task! Programming is NOT just about churning out lines of code.  It is way more than that! That is why some of us believe programming is not just a science, it is an art!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

THEY Want...

THEY want you to cry...
THEY want you to rejoice...
THEY want you to be crushed from the juggernaut cycle of joy-n-sorrow
THEY want you to be unhappy...
THEY want you to be jealous...
THEY want you to be restless, frightened, terrorized...
THEY want you to be trapped...
THEY want you to be sick (but of course NOT die, O! how thoughtful of them!)...
THEY want you to be discontent... distraught... to be dissatisfied...
THEY want you to be careless... and to be reckless...
THEY want you to rob, wage wars, stir unrest, kill...
THEY want you to drink to stupor, smoke weed and such...
THEY want you to buy, beg, borrow and steal...
THEY want you to fall...

THEY want you to want MORE...
THEY want you to be in constant search of peace...
What they DON'T want is for you to attain the peace within yourself, never reach out to that ever illusive  inner peace...
So that THEY can run their own agenda unhindered while you are too busy untangling your own mess!
Simply, because, if everybody finds his or her zen or connection to the core or victory over their minds-and-bodies the whole of socio-politico-economic machinery as we know of today will ~~bham~~~ come to an abrupt end!
Would that be so bad, after all?  THEY don't want you to know that!
What?  You are lost! So was I, until this epiphany dawned upon me ~~~beaming with newly earned uselessly dangerous knowledge~~~ Frankly, I'm still lost, but at least I now know where: a place from where I seem to see no escape.

THEY are the ones who own you and yet make you feel you are free,
THEY are the ones who siphon riches out while you toil away and pay your taxes, it is
THEY who reap the benefits of most of your material hard work,
THEY are the ones who control when you feel and what you feel,
THEY tell you what to read, write and hear...
THEY tell you what to do and how to do it, while making you believe you have a free (~~stifled chuckles~~, free???) free will,
THEY are the ones who own you, worse, they own your souls!
There is only THEY, not you or me.
All your base are belong to THEM. 
This my friends, is nothing but a progression towards Dystopian world (1984?)! And...
This my friend, is an illusion of Democracy! A hallucination of highest degree, if you will! And...
THEY don't want you to know that! 
Because, you, like a respectably good populace, are too busy earning your bread, paying your bills, rentals, loans on time, living (as much as possible!) a lawful life and spending the rest of your energies loving your loved ones, turning a blind eye to everything else.  You are not like this because of your own will or (laughably your) destiny... you are what you are only because THEY want you to be like this!  At least most of you are, there are always mavericks(???) amongst us, and THEY hate (read: eliminate!) them.
THEY choose who becomes what, how and when... Not you...
THIS my dear friend, is THEIR machinery and THEIR victory, not ours! At least for now and some more decades to come!
If you understand this (which I highly doubt ~~huh~~~  Not because you are not smart, but only because of its vagueness and lack of a head-or-a-tail) but if you do understand then you will know that this is a universal fact which knows no personal, political, geographical, social or economical boundaries.  The only thing that varies is how sophisticated this machinery of THEIR's can get.  But the machinery is omnipresent ~~sigh~~

But, the point I wanted to say was,
this started out as a random thought (#33), but I figured it won't be too bad to call it my very own Independence Day Special! (Independence? ~~~chuckles chuckles~~~ I know I know and I agree with you on this, a very laughable illusion, Independence, indeed!). I found it too apt to pass it otherwise.
Of course, my fellow Indian friends...
Happy Independence Day!
And here's a sincere hoping that you don't see what I do in the above lines!
P.S.: An annoyingly deliberate emphasis on THEY is to signify the power THEY possess over your lives.  And so you must reflect it while you read it by putting extra emphasis whenever you encounter THEY.  Out of respect, you ask?  Lol! Hell NO!!!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Better Way To Live?

Most of you know that I'm a potpourri of random thoughts and epiphanies.  What? You didn't! Well...Well...Well! _Now_ you know! :)
So here's one from my bag of random thoughts...
Random Thought #29 (contrary to the theme, the number 29 itself, btw, is not random):
I often yearn for the much awaited weekends, times of week when I can do whatever (ok, _almost_ whatever) I want to do.  Of course, within the realms of other duties like weekly chores of cleaning, washing clothes, catching up with buddies, etc.
But the most importantly, I get some time for myself and do things that don't have a direct calculated invest-and-returns benefits, I can do things that just make be feel happy, no strings attached.  From what I know, a lot of us mortals yearn for that.  At least a lot of mortals that I know do.  Which makes me wonder if there HAS to exist a better way to live than just yearn for those 2 coveted days of a 7-day week!  There ought to be!
It seems so hand-to-mouth existence:
Solving only immediate or maybe near-future problems.  The smarter amongst us anticipates future problems and acts proactively.  But still, most of our time goes in either yearning for something too distant in the future (this is slightly different than dreaming).  Or we are working just too hard to earn our daily breads and ensure enough provisional safety net for the rainy days.
I am not particularly unhappy, neither do I keep yearning for weekends every day of the week, but today's life style (if it can be called one! and I doubt it could!) in my opinion begs this question: Is there a better to live other than to (however occasionally) yearn for the weekends?  I know there is one, but don't know anything beyond that.  Or is it just in human nature to yearn!
What's your secret?  Care to share?

Seed for thought:  Just came to me while replying a friend's email who insisted on looking up to the weekend.

p.s.: Live every moment as it if it were your last, is total rat-crap and I don't buy it!  Living in the present, is slightly palatable form, though.  But that's a matter for totally different post(s), or is it!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Transformers-Disappoints me again

While I'm really short of time (is this becoming a norm??? :'( ~~sniff sniff~~ ) and there are definitely more interesting posts to be made, I thought it might be worth it if this saves some of my readers their precious time (and their hard-earned monies).
As I already set the tone, it might be evident that the latest sequel of Transformers, the 3rd part, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon has me disappointed. Transformers-2: Revenge of the Fallen, I guess, is not even worth mentioning.
I can't pinpoint one single thing that disappointed me...
Was it the strikingly typical Bollywood-style masala where Rosie (who replaces Megan Fox, what? you already lost interest!) acts as typical spice or was it the action being too-fast-and-a-little-too-much to comprehend to the point of being completely chaotic or the length (2hrs and 40mins) or the utter absurdity of various scenes in the movie.  Or was it the 3D format! Take your pick.
While objectifying Megan Fox in the first Transformers was more or less quite subtle, or at least not very clear from the beginning, it is quite evident from the very beginning that the primary role for Rosie is to distract the audience and give them a respite from almost incomprehensible (non-stop) action scenes.  And for that reason, maybe, just, maybe, I kind of lost interest every time she popped up on the screen.  People wanting to see the movie just for Megan might end up with mixed feelings.
As to me, I personally went to expose myself to some thought provoking concepts and cool FX but I was completely dissatisfied. Maybe I should have gone for something else.  There was just too much going on in the screen to comprehend at one time.  It was, in my view, special effects overused. There is, after all, abusing special effects to no creative end.
Moral: Skip it if you can, or if you MUST absolutely watch it (which I doubt!), save yourself some money (and more importantly, TIME) by watching it on a rented DVD while you cook or clean your house. Trust me, you won't repent.
Unsolicited tip: Well, this deserves a post in itself, but nonetheless... Kungfu Panda-II is every bit exciting as part-I was. My only complain; the movie is way too short, just 1hr and 30min.  On second thoughts, that is not too short!  I guess it was Einstein's theory of relativity at play, can't be totally sure. But the movie does end just as you think you want more. Anyways, don't miss that one.  If you like light-hearted animated movies, you will enjoy this sequel, whether you are a Panda fan or not.
Another totally unrelated random stuff...
An amazing melody voiced by, none other than the maestro Rafi Sahab and Asha Bhosle (btw, did I ever tell you I love Asha's voice an order of magnitude times more over Lata's!), penned by Rajendra Krishna and aggrandized by Ravindra Jain's music has stuck in my head: Yeh Khamoshiyan Yeh Tanhaiyan, from Ye Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke.
A few days of endless listening and still can't seem to it get out of my head. Of course, loving it more with every single iteration :) Beautiful words and even more beautiful tune and voices! Of course, feel free to totally disregard the visuals and focus only on the audio.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Funny Haircut, Again!

Life has been a little too demanding lately. While this is not my normal way of having fun, now that I can't do anything about it, I said to myself: "Rather than being glum over it, why don't you have some fun with it!"
One fine Sunday when I thought of getting the much-delayed haircut, I didn't have this outcome in my mind. I don't know what did the lady hear, but after she heard me she armed herself with the electric trimmer and slapped on some numbered attachment to it. A normal(?) person would be alarmed, but I thought she would trim the side-burns with the trimmer (as has been my usual experience). Indeed she did, but soon she switched gears and, Nooo....(you can hear me screaming, right!) she went straight for the center of my head...  and ~~zaapp~~ one swift movement and a good chunk of hair from the top of my head disappeared! Martyred, my beautiful hair lay on glaze titled floor, ready to be sucked into the vacuum!
What choice did I then have but to let hair on the rest of my head be reduced to same (lowly-)level! (Some of my friends suggested I should have contested and got a free haircut, while some said this should have been reflected in the tip. I did neither).

Surprised with the haircut?
Reaction from all my friends was unanimously from WTF to LMAO! Got a few raised eyebrows from coworkers too.  The ones who didn't share the same reaction were just too polite to admit it.  Some mild reactions were toned down to "Guys look smart in short hair".  Everybody claimed that I must have fallen asleep during the haircut, but they know it is not true. While most of the world pictures us programmers as caffeine-hooked god(?)-made animate beings (most of them think of us as almost animate), none of us would fall asleep on a chair while someone wields life-threateningly sharp scissors around our heads!
But one thing was increasingly clear to me, this incident would make for a good post :-P Esp. when I haven't posted in a while.

As a result of this (pathetic) haircut, my parents almost disowned me. But I convinced my lovely Mom that I will grow them fast (I make her put Dabur Amla Hair Oil every other day.  Anyone has better ideas on how to grow them faster!) She agreed to calm my daddy down :) And all's well now and everybody has agreed to take me back into family for the time being :-D You see, my father still adorns the 70's Vinod Khanna style long haircut. More than 4 decades and there is very little to no change in his hair style.  So it is only natural for him to be very upset looking at his son's navy-styled trimmed haircut given that I'm not in Navy or even closely related.

Anyway, thought it has been a while I posted something, what better choice than make some people chuckle!
Btw, the last time this happened, it was by choice. But this time it was by hmm... force, may I say.  You would have a much harder LMAO session with nice before-after pictures from last episode there: In Search Of Perfect Haircut!

As a side note: A lot of friends I talked to conceded that they have been victimized by a similar haircut fail. Unanimously everyone called out the fail at the chain of Supercuts (just like me)!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Best Day and Tulip Festival

Pink Tulips up close
Wet Pink Tulip Petal
That Saturday was one of the BEST'est days I have seen in Seattle in about a year. No kidding, I'm not exaggerating.  It was only one of the 2-3 days that the Sun was out for a whole day with no rains, no clouds and temperature comfortably hovering a little over 60F (15C).  Ok, I give it to you that I'm only talking about weekends, because a sunny weekday is only as useful as a 3-1/2 inch floppy inside a Lightscribe CD Drive (lame analogy, I know, I'm on a roll!).
Yellow Tulips Field with Cascasdes in the backdrop
It was a perfect day _NOT_ to spend waste at the office (like all the other weekends ~~sigh~~), so we had already decided to visit Skagit Tulip Festival. Looking back, a hike would have been orders of magnitude more exhilarating, but I was more than glad just to step out into the open air.  With some last-minute changes in plan more people wanted to join and while one group was running late in spite of my insistence of being out-of-the door by 0800hrs. After waiting for long (restlessly) I said let one group go ahead while the second joins.  So we started off at early around 0930 hours and luckily didn't hit any traffic (neither on I-5 nor on the internal roads). The second group (who started 20 minutes after us came more than an hour and a half later). A colleague of mine at office, I later learned, left at noon for the festival and was stuck in a 20+ long miles traffic jam! Indeed, while returning I counted the line on other side of the freeway, it had come to a crawl for 10 miles, after which I stopped paying attention on the other side (because I was driving :-P).
Long story short, I was as ecstatic for being out in the sun with clear skies as a kid is when you let him loose in a candy store with his favorite Disney Characters. I felt alive again!  I am not a bot no more.  I pray to thee, for you give life, Sun!  I was breathing sun :D
The weather forecast looks abysmal for rest of the Spring, so I hope I make best of the days that are good (read: sunny).
Here are some shots form my Tulips Album for the year 2011.

Pink Tulips
Beautiful Pink Tulips
Tulips by a Pond
At the Heart of Every Tulip!
And now time for one nice Group Photo
Full Album here: Tulip Festival 2011!

Additional Info:
2011 seems the worst year on record with the fewest number of days above 55F, per one blogger on his/her post: Are Northwest Springs Getting Worse?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Epic MSN Ads Fail!

I just noticed that lately my blog has been filled with too much seriousness. So I thought it might be a good idea to lighten things up a bit. But I wasn't exactly sure how, because I didn't want to (re)post xckd, geek & poke or dilbert. Facebook, lately, it seems is flooding you with such things already. I don't want to add to your spam. Just then an opportunity knocked in the most unusual way.
I was searching for something in my mail archives. A 5 year old email turned up in the results, which I didn't expect to show up for something I was looking for. It was an old email asking my professor at PICT for a letter of recommendation while I was applying for masters.  Google is pretty good with searches (did I already mention that?) so out of curiosity I opened the email.  Lo and behold! I discovered what could easily be one of the biggest Google MSN Ads fail!  Here's the screen shot! Click to read the complete email thread and ads fail!

Epic Google MSN Ads Fail!
I was neither looking for s_x not headache after s_x! Google MSN Ads are supposed to be relevant to the content, or so I thought! But as you can see here, it seems way off the target! There is no correlation, whatsoever, between asking for a letter of recommendation and s_x doctors!  Lol! I thought this was a perfect opportunity to lighten things up a bit!

Keep watching the space, I have a nice post cooked up for some more fun, esp. for geeks! :)
edit, 2011/12/02: You know you are a geek when...

On a completely unrelated note (lazy to make another post?), the weather here in Seattle today was simply outstanding.  It must have been more than 6-8 months (I'm not kidding!) that Sun was out from morning through evening, without any trace of rains or clouds.  I, for sure, haven't see such a beautiful day in Seattle in months.  On freeways, I could see even the farthest of mountain ranges! I felt as ecstatic watching them as a kid feels after watching his favorite Disney character come to life :)

- - - - - - - - - edit, 2011/04/26 - - - - - - - - -
Thanks to my friend, Magesh, for hinting that the ad in question might actually be coming from sender's email client. I verified that and it indeed coming from sender's client, MSN, and NOT from Google Ads. Screenshot below shows URL when I mouse-over the link.
So I stand corrected, it is an Epic MSN Ads fail! :) Or... given that a few years ago hotmail would deliver EVERY junk mail to my inbox and most of legitimate emails to Junk folder, this was expected? :-P

Mouse-over reveals the link.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

One quick note...

I'm racing against deadlines here, but the only way to satiate this overwhelming desire of expressing my gratitude amid increasing disorder (or frenzy, should I say) in life, was to make this quick 2-min post...

Hardly goes by a day when I haven't thanked the musicians/composers, lyricists and singers of Golden Era of Bollywood Music (roughly 1955 through 1975). I re-iterate, these have made my life a little more enjoyable, few minutes at a time!
I am disappointed that I was not born in their era (physically, that is, because many believe I mentally still am!), but then, I'm thankful that, at the least, I am born in an era when it is still possible to have access to some/most of their masterful work!
Once again, I bow to the enviably unprecedented talent these people possessed which produced nothing but magical concoction of words, music and emotions topping it off with a dash of simplicity.
By no means a complete list, but fairly representative, are:
the composers:
O.P. Nayyar, Madan Mohan, R.D. Burman, S.D. Burman, Shankar-Jaikishan, Ravindra Jain, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Kalyanji-Anandji.
the Poets (Lyricists):
Sahir Ludhianvi, Ravindra Jain, Kaifi Azmi, Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra.
the Singers:
Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey, Asha Bhosle, Geeta Dutt, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar.
The song that, once again, impressed onto me the power of simplicity, beautiful words and heart warming music is the one from movie Shabnam, composed by Usha Khanna, penned by Javed Anwar and sung by none other than the maestro himself, Mohammed Rafi: the song Yeh Teri Sadgi Yeh Tera Bakpan.

p.s.: Don't focus on the video, it ain't that great. Just take in the song sans video.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review: State of Fear, Michael Crichton

It might have taken me a few renewals and a few return-hold-pickup cycles at my community library to get through this book, but I have finally managed to get through it.  My records tell me this quest to read State of Fear started sometime back in November last year!
But don't let my sloth in finishing this book talk about its goodness. If anything look at my penchant to finish it, somehow! Anyhow!
It has been a very-very-very long time that I have read a novel cover-to-cover under mounting work and less-than-optimal personal time management. That is if I were to skip my re-read of Herman Hesse's Siddartha on my flight to-and-fro to India (which still happens to be my #0 favorite) . I did manage to read a few of Harry Potter's volumes though.
Without jogging my memory too hard, these are the two latest failed trysts with literary work:
0. The Glass Bead Game : (aka, Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse
1. Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
I guess these books were a bit too heavy on spirituality/philosophy for my mind to take on as casual bedtime reading. One needs to set aside considerable chunk of time to enjoy them.  So I thought of falling back on my regular thriller and sci-fi. 
This is the first novel of Crichton's I have read and I was quite thrilled.  Frankly, I picked up this work only because I liked Jurassic Park, which was adapted from his work by same title. To date that movie remains in my list of top 5 movies. 
As to the novel itself... But let me put you at ease first.
Dont' worry, there are no spoilers, so read on...
The book is a wonderfully thought provoking techno-thriller, revolving around the (what I now believe to be highly distorted and misunderstood!) phenomenon of Global Warming.  And if there is one thing that I adore a lot, it is a constructive-thought-provoking material. The journey from crowded concrete jungles of LA through the glaciers of Iceland to volcanoes of Antarctica to Arizonian deserts to the spine chilling jungles of Solomon Islands, for the lack of better work, the journey is just breathtaking.
Though mostly bordering around the realm of fiction, his work highlights quite a few interesting (lesser known and often ugly) facts that we don't get to hear.  The Appendix-I, in particular,  earned my greatest interest.
The author must have done quite a bit of research, as is evident from numerous footnotes, graphs cited from scientific papers & journals, two rich appendices and a whooping twenty page bibliography.
The broader point that the book tries to make  is quite remarkable.  75% of the book (quite literally!) goes on and on about whether global warming is really something we need to worry about and whether we can stop or is it just yet another meticulously orchestrated corporate charade. Nothing too out of the ordinary.  I kept going along only because it was entertaining and the suspense was quite enticing.
But I almost read the remaining 25% of the book (the last 200 pages) in almost 2-3 seating (yes, that did cost me quite a bit of my sleep, but I suppose it was totally worth it). The book takes on a very interesting and engaging turn when the some Professor Hoffman from USC enters the picture and the title of the book is quoted, verbatim, for the first time since the beginning: State of Fear.  That, my dear friends, is when the real book starts. Until that point, there is no connection to the title of the book and story. This is the point where all the dots seem to connect, and things seem to light up.
I don't quite know how to put it, but you will need to have a certain kind of inclination, or quality, of lack thereof, if you will, to like this work. No, I don't mean tendencies towards conspiracy theories, but my vocabulary just isn't rich enough yet to describe that quality.  Without divulging too much of the plot, the fans of Nineteen-Eighty-Four (by George Orwell) should definitely devour this work of Crichton's.
The book has played right into my pessimistic optimism. But besides that main theme, the book now also has me yearning for the composure, knowledge and the right balance of arrogance-and-humility that Kenner carries (and, not to forget, a girlfriend like Sarah too :-P).  (Yes, I recently have had an epiphany about the importance of the right amount of arrogance to earn respect in this effing world. More on that some other day).
Moral, though slightly indirect, that I took away is, man has never been able to and will never be able to fathom the way Mother Nature works to the fullest.  And so she is best left alone, with as much of little interference from effing pesky humans as is possible.  You can admire her, you can nourish her, you can bask in her glory, and even cry over her apathy towards you, you can even caress her, but you can NEVER freakin' try to change her so as to suit your needs.  Lest you face unforeseen and unimaginable repercussions and pay princely prices for your interference.  A price not measured in terms of money, beware, which is but just a man-made necessary evil, but price in terms of life itself.
And there a quite a few documented cases (really large scale cases) presented in appendix to support that observation. Worth a read, even if you skip the book and just read them. Of course, they will be a bit out of context, but will still drive the point home.  Also, it has bolstered my very strongly held belief: Never trust any corporation!

Anyway, the bottom line is (because that is what increasingly everybody cares about these days ~~sigh~~) this techno-thriller will not only whet your hunger for suspense, action and thrill, but also provide a little food for your post-dinner thoughts.
I should now be onto another book that I have been putting off for almost a decade now (yes, decade, that was not a typo!) Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (and its revised version Brave New World Revisited).  Already put a hold at library, can't wait to get my hands on them, am looking forward to enjoying these books.

More suggestions for a good read are most welcome.

P.S.: If you want to enjoy the novel as much as I did, then don't read any revealing reviews, esp. Wikipedia. Read'em after you are done with the novel.