FOSS.IN 2006@IISc Bangalore

Last year I could just read Jonathan Corbet’s report on FOSS.IN 2005:

On the last day of the conference, your editor delivered a brutally technical kernel programming talk to a crowd which nearly filled the 750-seat “Intel Hall.” That is several times the number of people which normally turn up for that sort of session. These people were not just filling the seats; they asked no end of detailed questions during the session and after as well. Alan Cox’s technical device driver talk drew an even larger crowd. An immediate conclusion which might be drawn is that Bangalore contains hundreds of programmers who are interested in – and capable of – hacking on the kernel.

If that does not set the stage, I wonder what will. Now that I am living in Bangalore, I am looking forward to the privilege of attending the event this year. Further, I am excited about the opportunity to interact with some DDs and see if I could start my NM process again.

Go ahead – register now and make sure you get one Almighty FIM. The list of talks is impressive too! See you there.


In search of stupidity

I just finished reading "In search of stupidity – Over 20 years of high tech of marketing disasters" by Merrill R. Chapman, a funny weekend read with a rehashed history of the growing pangs of the computing industry. One of the better parts of the book is the afterword aptly titled "Stupid Development Tricks"; an interview with Joel Spolsky, and true to the form, starts with some neat buildup –

"Major failure doesn't just happen: To achieve it, everyone must pull togather as a team"

The interview has some more interesting soundbites than the rest of the book, including this closing gem

SMS: You paint a picture of the programmer almost as a semi-deity. But in our experience, we've seen powerful technical personalities take down major companies. ….. How do you manage situations like these?

Joel: This is a hard problem. I've seen plenty of companies with prima donna programmers who literally drive their companies into the ground. If the management of the company is technical (think Bill Gates), management isn't afraid to argue with them and win — or fire the programmer and get someone new in. If the management of the company is not technical enough (think John Sculley), they act like scared rabbits, strangely believing that this ONE person is the only person on the planet who can write code, and it's not a long way from there to the failure of the company. If you're a non-technical CEO with programmers who aren't getting with the program, you have to bite the bullet and fire them. This is your only hope. And it means you're going to have to find new technical talent, so your chances aren't great. That's why I don't think technology companies that don't have engineers at the very top have much of a chance.

The online version of this interview is longer and is full of wisdom just as the numerous articles on the Joel On Software site.

Rock Paper Scissors, Go.

There is no dearth of fads in this world, but using the game of Rock Paper Scissors as a strategic decision tool is rich. It seems that it has been used in some key decisions in few scenarios atleast, also its been getting due attention from mass media e.g. this column in the Fortune magazine by Jennifer Crick:

You may ask, "Why not just toss a coin?" The difference is that while coin-tossing relies solely on random odds, RPS, despite what many people think, doesn't. What's fascinating about RPS is that it's a competition to simultaneously read your opponent's mind and prevent him from reading yours. And unlike other games that involve reading and misleading your opponent (like poker), you can't win RPS by bluffing alone. Eventually you have to show your hand.

Winning at RPS is all about knowing what your opponent is going to do. Successful strategizing involves a series of mental questions: "If you know that I know that you know that I know …" The popular name for this strategy is Sicilian Reasoning. Part of the trick is knowing when to stop the series; otherwise you risk overestimating your opponent's intelligence (and outwitting yourself). Another part is knowing where to start: Ask yourself, "Deep down, is my opponent rock, paper, or scissors?"

On the pop culture front, as also mentioned in the same article, there is a world RPS championship. More interesting is the competition between bots as mentioned on the RSBPC page. Sicilian Reasoning, as referenced in the article is just one of the strategies, but is most intriguing of the lot: it goes counter to what we normally do in real life – we over analyze the past patterns and lean in favour of winning moves, the Sicilian Reasoning advises biasing against the past moves. As mentioned in the RSBPC page the small programs do as well as complicated algorithms, there is even a mention of a one-liner implementation called 'Henny'.

Madwifi driver for Atheros based WiFi cards

The WiFi drivers and chipsets are almost commodity now, still the best in the field is the Atheros+madwifi combination for the sheer flexibility that it offers. The madwifi implementation allows one to make changes to upper layers of the implementation while maintaining the API compatibility with the binary HAL that Atheros supplies as a vendor.
Experimentation aside, I took out the linux-unfriendly miniPCI from broadcom in my work laptop, and got a generic atheros card working with madwifi in practially no time. Ofcourse due thanks to the instructions for installing the madwifi driver in the debian way of doing things by Martin List-Petersen.

Planner Goodness

planner-mode rocks!
As maintained by Sacha Chua currently, per the original concept and design by John Wiegley, the planner-mode is as good a PIM as you could need. It fits in very well with my current Emacs usage, and the combination of remember-mode with planner-mode is just too good to be left alone. In a single interface you have almost all the crucial aspects of your day planning and self organizing needs catered for. I have not yet started using Gnus as the mail reader so bbdb etc are not as useful for me, yet. Someday I might just learn enough to start using it as fully as Sacha does, which is even to maintain a site. Who knows? Stranger things have happened!