Been lazy again. So this is just a quick post in a hope to “get back into the groove” again. I realize that most of my interests wax and wane. For the last few weeks, I was consciously aware that I was not actively blogging (even during those carnatic cryptic puzzle weeks) and also remember feeling “just not interested” to do so. But now today all of a sudden the interest spiked up – for no particular reason.  But dont have anything interesting to say. So what has been happening at my end the last few weeks?

  • A trip to Far-East: Went on a rare official trip to South Korea. I almost never travel officially, and so to go to South Korea of all places  is an extremely rare situation indeed. Went to Suwon near Seoul. I was impressed by the efficiency of the country, and the achievements its people have made. Managed by with some decent vegetarian food choices for the few days I was there. There were Indian restaurants near where I was, but then my colleague wasnt interested in them 🙂 !  The pizza I had there was actually pretty good (spicy). I tried “kimchi”. Well, I can see I tried kimchi.  I guess since I was used to some western vegetarian choices, I was able to get by better (pizza, pasta, and many cakes). Breakfast was awesome – but again a western breakfast which I always like.
  • A “Cookie” for my daughter: We have a new member in the family – albeit not boy or a girl. We have pet Cinnamon Green-Cheeked Conure (a member of the parrot family). More about “Cookie”  perhaps in a later post.  “He” is adorable (we dont know the sex, you cant tell until a DNA test, but we are presuming him) in a later post. He was “hand-raised” by a breeder, and so will step on your hand/finger when you ask him to.  He is even potty trained. He is my daughter’s and by now he thinks so too. When she is around, he is itching to get to her. We (my wife and I) never thought we were “pet people” – but we certainly have warmed up to it well.
  • Super Daddy: Managed the fort with my daughter for a couple of weeks on our own when Mom was out of town. We suffered a few casualities – all in the botanical area, both inside the house and outside. My question “Oh, so that was a real plant?” did not go well when Mom returned.  Someone joked “Hey, it was either water the plants, or water the kid. I think you made the right choice”. Anyway, I think in spite of that, I have like a million brownie points in my account. This may be connected to the “droolarama” point below.
  • Amateur Singer: Sang as part of a group at the local carnatic music festival. I call this festival my “Annual Embarrassment Conference”, but this time we actually did well. Like animals at the bottom of the food-chain, we amateurs do feel “strength in numbers” and I think that could have been the reason (besides our teacher training us well). I am glad that I got to learn many beautiful songs – many in my favorite ragas. With rItigauLa, bhairavi, husEni, nIlAmbari, sahAnA, Ahiri – who can complain?
  • Mergers and Acquistions: The company I work for got acquired. They say it wont affect anything. Ha, Ha :-)! Now, where have I heard that before?  But I think I should be ok.
  • Droolarama: Have been drooling over electronic gadgets again. This time, my credit card points were exchangeable for electronics gift cards. Planning to buy a real good camera (panasonic fz28) + something else that I am still deciding.  So little money (after the camera), and so much more to buy:
    • An LCD TV for upstairs (this is the only one that is atleast somewhat need based)
    • Apple TV
    • Mac OS Leopard (yes, I am still on Tiger)
    • A 1 TB hard drive that will work with Leopard’s Time Machine.  The Apple’s Time Capsule looks like it is a big rip-off.
    • I also bought the Creative’s Vado HD video player – outside of points at Amazon (since I drooled, and since Amazon gave $50 credit on top). But I will return it now, since its low-light (actually medium-low light itself) is bad, and the camera I will be able to get via points should have HD video recording as well.  Both are not going to be like a HD camcorder – but atleast my pocket will not become too light.
    • Of course, the mother of all drools – an MacPro Notebook. I see that the 13 inch one would be $1200 come September ….

Warning: There is a good reason why this is tagged under Weak Humor.

As everyone knows, writers (particularly bad bloggers like mua) experience Writer’s Block frequently. The most irritating form of this is when you come up with a nice train of thought, something funny or profound or powerful, but then you all of a sudden you start losing gas, and soon hit a wall. You are unable to finish it with the punch you had envisioned when it all started.

Now, I would guess that most people simply bang their heads, pull their hair, swear at their computer screens and so on until they come with something decent, or they just give it up for another day. I mean that you don’t see people still ending that thought with gibberish like “and blah blah blah blah”.

I think music composers (lyricists included) must also experience such blocks, but they also must be quite bold and daring to end those fine musical thoughts with gibberish. That can be the only explanation for blabber to find a place in some songs. However amazingly, the gibberish seems to have an accentuating effect on the music. At the least, I think the composers seem to fall in love with it and get carried away. And this happens even to the best of them. Here, I present some examples:

Example-1: Deva’s Achakku and Gumukku
Here, the evidence of the block that this music director experienced, and and how he got out of it is quite obvious:

Phase-1: He comes up with a killer tune, a pulsating beat, the beginnings of a sure hit:

But, he runs into a wall – he just cannot finish that train of high-energy musical thought. Those last two phrases – he has even got the bleeping tune but no !$#@$ words that rhyme! The blasted lyricist is no help as he seems to be stuck in a do-loop and can only up with more of the same stuff – photo-kaaran, moto-kaaran, motto-kaaran, lotto-kaaran, thoatta-karan, ralph-lauren etc. What to do?

Briliiant – isnt’t it? But he is not done! For the ending of the song, he feels that the energy must be taken up a few notches, and so he simply goes bonkers:

Example – 2: Maestro’s Jagajagajaalam
Now some of maestro‘s fans (mua included) may shake their heads and go Tsk tsk tsk! What else would you expect from normal, mortal, non-genius music directors?

However, it shocked me to find out that even the maestro has succumbed to this 😦 .

Phase-1: A nice tune, catchy beat:

Phase-2: But for the next two lines, the maestro wanted something else besides the violin response. Some other instrument maybe? But he was obviously unhappy with cello, flute, veena etc. or any known instrument the world had produced till then – acoustic and electronic. The search must have been hard and painful. It ended with the selection of that uniquely Indian alternative to the synthesizer – the jagajagajijer.

Phase-3: He obviously fell in love with the sound of the jagajagajijer, and hence decided to forge new ground. I suspect that he must have hooked it up to some sort of an effects rhythm processor to create new, funky rhythmic sounds like jaangu, jakku and chajakku. However note that he is respectful to intellectual property and plagiarism laws, and avoids using the obvious “jaambajaar jakku” that would have jelled perfectly here.

BTW, Deva above also uses the human jagajagajijer in the Sample 1 song above, but out of respect to maesrtro, he morphs the ja to ya as in yayayaaayaya yayayaayaya yayayaayaya (perhaps he used a Hispanic version of the jagajagagjijer). He also respects maestro’s intellectual property and uses more new rhythmic sounds: jumku, juppadi and jumka (check it all out here).

Example-3: Dahler’s Th(k)unuk(ku)
Now some of our north Indian friends may say – Well that is Tamil music for you. Meaningless, silly stuff!. But we must inform them that this is not something that afflicts only the proud tamizh makkal. Let us look at Dahler Mehndi.

He has a nice raag going setting a calm mood. He also has the words and tune for the opening line – the storm following the calm as he envisioned it. But something probably didn’t feel right. He needed a bridge over babblebrook.

Sidebar: Coming to think of it, the lyrics sound vaguely familiar bringing back nostalgic memories of me begging my grandpa for that South Indian snack called kunukku. BTW, are there any restaurants in Chennai that serve kunukku?

Example-4: The Greatest Bladi Band
Now maybe some of our western friends want to pooh-pooh all of Indian music because of all this. Besides the obvious point that they just simply don’t get our music, allow me to present the greatest band of all time:

I heard that Desmond went “Oh bloody Molly! Shut up!” but Paul didn’t know about it.

There are of course many more examples – perhaps more outrageous than these. So feel free to chime in.

A quick one to express my frustration. For my upcoming post, I want to include a couple of videos. Now these are sort of unique videos, with a custom size – smaller than what you see on Google Video, YouTube, and are sort of hi-res (for that size). I mean, unless shown at that native size, they become grainy and it would be pointless to the purpose of including them.

Now WordPress.com, one of the most popular blog sites, allows you to link to YouTube, Google Video easily but offer not much control over the size of video. This irritates me to no end. It also opens the floodgates for other pet-peeves I have about WordPress.com. Apparently, their paranoid view of anything even remotely fancy (although some of which are well founded), is good reason to give highly restricted features. For example, you can upload images etc. but mp3s and audio? No. (unless you buy a space upgrade?) You can embed video, but cannot easily control size (unless you buy a space upgrade?). I think other blogs offer more by default. In short, with regards to these things, WordPress.com gets a D grade – euphemistically speaking!

Now after breaking my head over this, a lot of googling, and a lot of trial-and-error, I finally did figure out how to control the size:

  1. Upload to google video (after establishing an account) – in my case a flash video file (flv).
  2. Use the vodpod plugin to point to it as an external video i.e. do not use the “easy way” for Google Video (since that will not allow size control) .
  3. (Now this step is vodpod WordPress plugin’s part in this sorry game) Have vodpod create a draft blog entry, just so that you can edit that draft blog entry to the correct post,
  4. Adjust the width, height to what you want (actually cannot use the original video size, have to do some trial and error)
  5. Delete the draft. Seems silly doesn’t it? But all this because vodpod does not seem allow you to get Vodpod videos no longer available. link directly – it wants to create a post! Now, I hope I am wrong about this and I just did not know how it is done. Otherwise, now how boneheaded can you get to have this as the only work flow? How hard is to really to expose the vodpod link when you preview in vodpod?

The above works, but now my video would have to stored in Google video, and also there is also some sort of an entry in the vodpod system (the Vodpod videos no longer available. link has a unique id that vodpod knows points to my Google Video), so that I can get it on my blog. In essence, critical information is stored in 3 places – Google Video, vodpod, and of course my WordPress.com blog. Not exactly a good arrangement.

Now ideally, I want the information be in one place. My blog. I upload the video file like I do images, and I point to them from my blog. How hard is that? Sure space can be a premium, but that is my problem. Otherwise, the next best bet is to put it on a site of my choice, e.g. some place where I have complete control. Or at the least, allow control over the size of the !$#@$ Google Video and YouTube embedded control!

But all of this strangely beyond WordPress.com! Come on! This is not rocket science! I have done it myself, and apparently vodpod has figured it out. This should have done in the first version of WordPress that included embedded video support – i.e. many many months ago! I am puzzled as to how/why WordPress.com missed the boat then, and continues to do so! Extremely frustrating for me as a user!

PS: I know I can host my own WordPress.com site where I can have control. But that is not the point here.

PPS: In case I am wrong and there is an easy, I take back everything said above 😉 !

I guess some visitors to this blog, assuming they still exist(!), should be asking that question!

Have been busy getting distracted in other things. I have this other website http://arunk.freepgs.com, where I host some web applications I have written for the Carnatic Music community. I redressed that site, made it powered by WordPress but developing, enhancing and maintaining those applications take a lot of time.

I want to also get back to blogging about my favorite ragas. It is fun when it is done, but takes time too. But I would like to do it …

But I do find it a bit surprising that my “innocuous” post on a visit to two baseball parks is the top post with a healthy daily dose of hits.

Hopefully, I will return soon with something more substantial.

Today I noticed something with my Yahoo! email account that somehow escaped my attention all this time. The URL did not start with https but was just plain old http.

I think even those who are not very net/tech savvy would know that https:// implies ” fairly safe” – i.e. safe as in the information you enter in a web-page with it (e.g. your password, credit-card information while purchasing) is less likely to be “eaves-dropped upon”. For a technical explanation as to why this is so you can read this wiki page.

Now, the question that burns in me today is why is https not being used for online email accounts – particularly, when a secure https connection is so prevalent nowadays. I have a Yahoo!, and a gmail account, and from what I can tell, both are not using https based addresses for the web-pages that display my personal emails. Both do use https based address for the login page, which is good, as there is protection for your userid and password.

But why not for the other pages? Perhaps this some sort of a resource limit issue as I can imagine a https based web page could take more resources on the server.

Or I am missing something and it is really https through out? I hope so.

If not, it is unnerving to realize that all the content of my personal emails is being exchanged between the server and my browser unencrypted i.e. “in the clear”. This can include sensitive information. For example, your bank sent your userid and password information when you told them you forgot (although here password is temporary).

Worse, you are one of those who sends yourself a “reminder email” that lists some of the userid, passwords for the various different sites you are registered with – so that you just need to remember you email account userid and password, read this email and voila! All the information is “readily accessible”! Well, the problem is, every time you refer to that particular email, this readily accessible, sensitive information would being exchanged “in the clear”. A “packet sniffer” out there on behalf of an identity thief could potentially sniff it out – I would guess these are the things they generally are sniffing for.

Now, admittedly this could be argued as “poor and careless” use of online email accounts. However, shouldn’t we also ask – why isn’t all our online email access always https based? When we are in the middle (and no longer dawn) of the internet age, when just about everyone has at least one online email account, when online email access is more often used as online purchase, why don’t these online email services make it as safe as online purchases?

I hope I am wrong and they are indeed secure.

Update: Looks like this article deals with the subject and confirms my fears w.r.t Yahoo! mail, but allays my fears for gmail. To quote from the article:

A secure connection to Gmail is available at httpS://gmail.google.com … Yahoo Mail! transmits your login information in the background to an https page, but you can click on the “Secure” link to reach an https page to log into Yahoo! Mail first. Once you’re logged in, sending and receiving your email happens over an insecure connection.”

What’s up with that Yahoo! ?

I am back. In fact, got back about couple of weeks ago. I had been meaning to post on some interesting stuff about the trip for a while, but had been (as usual) lazy.

If I were to summarize the trip: Fantastic weather, Fantastic food, and Fantastic music!

Can a guy complain with that?

Fantastic weather
Yes, I am talking about Chennai here! Sounds odd like something from bizarro world doesn’t it? Au Contraire, my friends! Every day, the high was about 82-85F and the low was about 70F. The humidity was actually quite low – at least you never felt it, which meant it was low. That my friends, is fantastic weather in December! This was also the weather in Cancun, Mexico in the first week of December (was there for 4 days) but may be more humid. So weather-wise, Chennai in December was like, if not better than that of an exotic paradise! Also to appreciate it more, contrast it with the deep freezer from which I escaped. I am more glad to note that I missed a few ice and snow storms in December. But then we got back in time for a cold-spell where the high last Sunday was all the way up to 4 freaking Fahrenheit! And you know what? Today morning I spent 45 minutes shoveling a few inches of snow off the driveway! A relaxing way to start a day – eh?

I know all too well how Chennai gets boiling hot in May, and weather there is quite abominable most of the year. Many say that cold winter is any day better than hot summer, since you at least can wear a heavy coat. But when it is cold, and the wind is whipping up wind chill factors of -10F and -20F (and sometimes even up to -60F), heavy coat or not, you are freezing your butt and every other part! Cold Winter – any day better? Not for me!

Fantastic food
Well – fantastic home cooking by mom first of course! But fantastic food also on the road – here, there, everywhere! It was liberating to know that no matter where I am, I can walk into almost any restaurant and get food that I like. This is a big difference for me compared to living outside in India, particularly with my taste in food. I say – Screw Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Ethiopian, Greek, American and the other cuisines I have tried! If I were to rate cuisines on a scale of 1 to 100, Indian for me is about 100. The next cuisine – whatever it is barely would pass 10. Yes – I know, not exactly a globe trotter – but that is just me! So I was quite at home in Chennai.

Fantastic Music
I was there for the carnatic music season, one of the main reasons for the trip this time. And I took full advantage of it. I think I caught about 15-20 concerts in about 20 days before I decided it was time to do honor the obligatory social commitments. I did not catch necessarily each one in entirety – as there were some pressing issues including not wanting to miss 3:30 hot mysore bondas at the canteen associated with the concert hall even if that happened to be in the middle of a concert. Since we live a bit far from Mylapore, the carnatic music centre, and I suck pretty bad bargaining with autorickshaw guys – more so late at night when they have the psychological edge, I decided that I will attend morning and early-mid afternoon concerts and get back by MRTS, Ah! MRTS! What a boon! Mylapore Luz Corner from Velacherry in 20 minutes, on prompt and mostly empty trains. You avoid all the traffic noise, and arrive relaxed. Since mostly one evening concerts are ticketed, most of the concerts I attended were free – a nice little bonus, which also meant that the extra savings could be used to gobble up more snacks and food at the canteen! Suited me just fine!

That is it for now. More forthcoming later.

A quick post before I dash off on vacation.

I am about to go back to my home away from home (or is it the other way – am I returning from my home away from home?) – i.e. a visit to India. In a few hours, I will be on the plane. Also, by this time next year, I would have lived in the U.S as long as I have lived in India. Many of my relatives from my generation are in the U.S. We have a good clique in my neck of the woods here. But India still feels very much like home.

I will be there for 4 weeks in Chennai during the December (carnatic) music season, and so I am real excited because of that. I hope to catch as many concerts as possible, and meet some carnatic rasika friends I made on the net. I am looking forward to lot of things. But of course, top of that list is that first cup of mom’s coffee 😉 – it is time to taste real coffee.

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