February 28, 2006

Lessons of life

What exactly do we teach our kids? That’s what I find myself wondering at times. OK, I don’t wonder that all the time but recently, I’ve had more occasion to wonder about this than usual :p We have our nephew and niece staying with us for a couple of weeks at the moment. Ike, our nephew, is five years old and so, he gives me plenty of things to think about 🙂

This latest train of thought was set off on its merry way when Ike was watching a movie. Now Ike’s mother and sister have a habit of covering his eyes when a "bad part" comes up in the movie. This is not usually Ike’s choice mind you – they just decide what they think is something that will scare him and then cover his eyes. Or tell him to cover his eyes. It made me wonder what he actually thinks about all of this and what goes through his mind when his eyes are covered?

Personally, I think it would be more terrifying for me to have my eyes covered and not to know what is going on. I’d be imagining all sorts of horrible things going on on the screen – much worse than what was actually happening. But then again, I have a really vivid imagination :p

The thing is, what are we most afraid of? I think what we fear the most is what is unknown. Which probably also explains why a lot of us fear the dark and death :p Wouldn’t it be better to know what is going on on the screen and to let understanding illuminate the dark corners of our imagination rather than to have our eyes covered and not to know what actually is going on? I would think so. But then again, most "adults" don’t seem to think this is an option. Perhaps because they always live under the impression that children are somehow less capable of dealing with emotions and new sensations than the "adults" are – shows how much they know :p

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Posted by Fahim at 8:38 am  |  No Comments

February 27, 2006

Fresh territory

We’ve been watching "Lost" for a couple of days now. When we first bought the DVD set for the first season, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. All I knew was that the series was about plane crash survivors and that it was created by J. J. Abrams, who also created "Alias". Now I’m a major "Alias" fan (at least of the first two seasons) and that was probably the main reason for getting "Lost" since I am not particularly fond of survivor stories and while there seemed to be a lot of fans of the show, as far as I knew, there was nothing more to the series than it being about plane crash survivors.

Now that I’ve seen the first 6-8 episodes, my opinion has changed drastically :p While the story is indeed about plane crash survivors, it is not merely about them. It is also about the mysteries of the island they find themselves on, the past histories of each of the survivors, their day-to-day decisions and how their decisions are affected by their past. In fact, I personally think that some of the characters are extremely well-written and that some of the episodes are actually brilliant 🙂

One of the best episodes so far, again in my opinion, is "The Moth". The writers take the analogy of a moth coming out of the cocoon in so many brilliant ways and tie it all together into the storyline that I just loved it. It was the tones, the nuances, the subtleties about the stories that get me 🙂

But "The Moth" does not stand alone. There are so many other stories, so many other characters. The characters are not one-dimensional, they are not black or white. Most of them have different facets that you get to see as the season progresses and sometimes you root for them and sometimes you find yourself hating them. That is good television!

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Posted by Fahim at 8:29 am  |  1 Comment

February 26, 2006

Heavenly movies and other stuff

I am a sucker for a good love story – anybody who’s read these pages for long enough knows this :p Despite all the bed-hopping that would put an Olympic-class bedbug to shame, Hollywood still manages to put out a good love story every once in a while that leaves both the Bollywood and Mollywood movie industries combined in the dust. "Just Like Heaven" is such a movie.

We got the movie just a couple of days ago and we went in not knowing anything about it. In fact, we got the movie mostly because it had Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon in it. We watched it last night and I was enthralled. Sure, others might call it a typical, run-of-the-mill romantic comedy or something but to me, it was a beautiful, funny and moving cinematic experience :p

There wasn’t anything spectacular or though provoking about the story or the movie. Nothing which makes you sit up and think about stuff. But still, it tells a story about characters that are real – or can be real, in a believable way. I liked the central characters, their mannerisms and the way they interact with the rest of the world. Once you’ve got good, believable characters that you are invested in, the rest is all the way downhill :p If you like a good, solid love story with some good bits of humour thrown in, "Just Like Heaven" is one not to be missed 🙂

In other news, I’ve decided to do a release of Blog 8.0 beta 5 sometime today or tomorrow 🙂 I’ve finally managed to spruce up the Blog page so that it is consistent with the look of the new Bytes page. I have to do the same for the other application pages but haven’t gotten around to doing so yet :p But eventually, I should get that done too. In the meantime, I want to release this beta of Blog since it is at a stage where I feel comfortable about the functionality. However, I must confess that most of the stuff that I’ve been working on these days have been related to XMLRPC-based posting rather than classic Blog posting. But the classic stuff should (hopefully) work fine too 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 8:13 am  |  No Comments

February 25, 2006

To Analyze and Categorize

Now that I’ve got Blog categories working fine via WordPress (or vice versa :p) and the Heat Map plugin is doing an excellent job of displaying a tag cloud (or at least simulating one), I decided that it was time to do one more thing – go through all my old entries and re-categorize them to reflect the actual subject matter.

Since none of my old entries had categories assigned, it was easy enough. All I had to do was make the default category (General) count zero :p Of course, in order to actually do this, I had to go read all of my old entries, find the categories that they belonged to, create the categories if they weren’t there and then add the categories to the entries. This meant that I basically had to do a lot of reading of my own old entries.

I did learn a few interesting stuff about how I used to do things :p It looks as if I wasn’t as compulsive about entries in the past as I am now. But it also looks as if I was a lot less controlled in what I wrote. There were a lot more introspective entries where I would just talk out loud to clarify my thoughts and there certainly was a lot more about what was going on with me on a day to day basis. And there was a lot more soapboxing too :p

It looks as if I have gotten too busy (or a bit more reserved) nowadays. I hardly ever talk about stuff going on in real life any more and I don’t do that much of reflective writing (at least not the soul searching variety). Even my comments on movies used to be much more reflective whereas now, it’s more descriptive but not does not go into so much detail about the ideas behind the movie. Not sure if the changes are a good thing but they certainly are there 🙂

Of course, now that categories have become that much more important, I have started thinking about how Blog can be improved to utilize categories. One idea is to have a way to navigate entries not just by date but also by category. I’m not exactly sure how to implement this yet – perhaps a tab panel where the calendar currently is so that you can switch between calendar and category views? – but I do want to look into a method to do this. The other thing is to have a hierarchical category view so that you can have a bunch of categories under another category – for instance, movies, books, television and music under entertainment. WordPress supports such a hierarchy but it does not affect how things work beyond the categorization itself. In Blog, I simply want it for ease of organization and for ease of access to different categories. Again not quite sure how to implement it (without breaking any existing functionality that is :p)

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Posted by Fahim at 8:24 am  |  No Comments

February 24, 2006

Tags, categories and changes

After getting the latest builds of Blog to work, I have decided to remove Ultimate Tag Warrior from the mix here on SM. This is not due to any issues with UTW itself – it’s a great plugin and does the job well – but due to me realizing that UTW was overkill and that for what I was doing, it introduced overhead that wasn’t needed 🙂

Basically, I post all my entries from Blog. I never use the WP admin interface much except to remove spam. I do all my editing, posting and other entry management stuff via Blog itself. The only reason I was looking for a tag cloud mechanism was so that I could show a visual representation of the various topics covered on this site and let somebody interested drill down easily to only the posts that interested them. UTW allows you to do all that but in my case, I was simply converting categories to tags to do this. Since the categories are a built-in feature of WordPress, it occurred to me that I didn’t need the overhead of UTW (which would slow down XMLRPC to an extent) if I had a plugin which displayed a tag cloud based on my categories.

Enter the WordPress Heat Map plugin which does exactly that 🙂 After a brief search of the Net, I actually found a couple of different alternatives. The other one was the Weighted Categories plugin, which apparently inspired the author of the Heat Map Plugin. However, the Heat Map plugin appeared to be better maintained and supported and so, I went with that :p Incidentally, the author of the Weighted Categories plugin is apparently working on a way to make his plugin work with keywords instead of categories. I would be interested in that if it didn’t create too much overhead and worked without any issues with XMLRPC-based posting. But I doubt it … There is another plugin which supports keywords – the Keywords plugin, and the author is apparently working on tag cloud kind of support. Unfortunately, it works basically the same as UTW (just not as well :p) and so, I don’t see the point to pursuing that one either :p

Basically, what I’d like from a keyword tagging plugin for WP, is for the plugin to examine each new post, identify the keywords automatically and then add them as tags. Of course, at the moment, that appears to be too much to ask for :p The biggest problem appears to be identifying the keywords. Yahoo Content Analysis doesn’t do too great a job of it as I’ve mentioned before and while Tagyu does do a much better job, it is abominably slow and tends to end up in my XMLRCP session timing out before the analysis is done :p The best solution would be something that the plugin can do itself instead of contacting an external server but the implementation is the key ….

February 23, 2006

The not so marvellous side of Marvel

I saw the previews for "Civil War" today and I must say that I have a sinking feeling in my stomach again :p Of late, Marvel just seems to be trailing behind their Distinguished Counterparts and simply playing a game of catch up – but never succeeding to actually do so. Of late, as I keep on writing, DC seems to do much better at telling stories via comics than Marvel can.

First DC had "Identity Crisis". Sure, the ending could have been done better but still, the story was good and it kept you reading month after month and kept you guessing. Then they had the whole "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" storylines which I found to be rather engrossing and introduced some rather good new characters, or brought minor characters back into the spotlight. I especially liked how most of the characters involved in those four mini-series grew and the hints dropped about how they will continue to grow. Then came "Infinite Crisis" itself. At first, I was a bit sceptical of "Infinite Crisis" as it seemed to riff on the original "Crisis on Infinite Earths" but as the story progressed, I see where the similarities came from and why they were needed – they were portents, clues as to what was coming. I still haven’t seen how it all turns out but the story is good and, to me at least, seems even better than the original "Crisis on Infinite Earths".

On the other hand, what has Marvel done recently? First they had, "Avengers Disassembled" which was all about killing off some of their major characters and churning up stuff for the sake of churning up stuff. Then they went on from their to "House of M" which seemed to be their attempt to steal the thunder from DC’s "Infinite Crisis" but it turned out to be rather a damp squib. Again, there were major explosions, people get killed, people lose powers but there seems to be no movement forward for the characters themselves. Then came Spidey’s "The Other" – again not the best Spider-Man story written – in fact, after the events, instead of feeling buoyed by it all, I feel reluctant to read any more Spidey comics … and he used to be one of my favourite characters! (Spider-Man still is one of my favourites – just not under the present batch of writers and the present storyline) Despite the fanfare of a new beginning, all I see is the same old guy, the changes are more statements than fact that you see in the story itself – it’s all tell, no show :p

And now we have "Civil War" coming up. The previews shows Nitro blowing up a school bus and perhaps a ground full of school kids. Appropriate for Marvel these days. They go for the big, "Oooh, look at all those kids blown up!" kind of reaction than the little personal touches. I’ll certainly read "Civil War" to see how it shapes up (eventually) but unless they make a shift in storytelling style, I think the days are gone when I said, "Make mine Marvel!"

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Posted by Fahim at 7:49 am  |  No Comments

February 22, 2006

Midnight fires in the coding forges …

It’s more Blog news again I’m afraid since I haven’t been doing much else :p (Incidentally, I really should get the Blog page re-designed so that it is more consistent with the look of the new site … you know how it goes, so many things to do ..) Anyway, getting back to Blog coding, after doing some extensive coding and light testing, the category feature in Blog works fully and it even publishes via XMLRPC to WordPress :p I was really happy to get that bit working finally since I’ve been working non-stop at that functionality since I got back to working on Blog.

Now that that is done, I have a few more things to fix up in Blog before I can do a release. The internal release versions have been jumping around quite a bit since the last beta release due to the fact that I’ve been sending private builds to a few people who asked 🙂 I need to keep the newer builds compatible with the older builds and so I’m now up to 8.0 beta 5 at the moment. I’m hoping that I can do a public release of beta 5 but I do need to get a few more things fixed up first.

One thing that I have fixed since the category stuff was done was the find feature. It has been broken since at least beta 3 and I finally got around to fixing it :p At the same time, I want to add the option to be able to search the current entry for some given text as well as searching the current blog and all blogs under Blog. I even managed to fix up the search results dialog so that it shows the new WYSIWYG view as well as the old HTML view. However, I just discovered that the HTMLEdit component that I use might not be able to do search and replace of text. This is going to be a bit of an issue with the find feature and the new replace feature that I intend to implement … bummer 🙁 Hopefully, I can find a workaround … There are also the pages of bug reports on the 8.0 betas at the forums that I need to attend to … Work, work, work :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:52 am  |  1 Comment

February 21, 2006

Mad coding ….

I’ve been working on Blog every spare moment I’ve got :p Most of the coding yesterday was on fixing the categories. The category display in Blog is based on a new Delphi component that I created – it’s a (sort of) data aware check list component which displays values from a database table as choices for you to select. Most data aware components are basically tied to a specific field in a data table. This one is only sort of data aware since it retrieves the information for the list from a table but doesn’t actually store the results in a data column :p Instead, you have to both supply it with the initially checked values and then later retrieve the final check list and store it manually yourself. I don’t know if anybody else has ever needed a component like this but I’ve come across this specific need several times so far. Hence, the creation of the component.

However, since it’s my own component, it had a few bugs left. Plus, I’d done it as a quick-and-dirty component a long time ago and had not gone back to it. So, I spent yesterday tightening up the data-aware-ness of the component a bit more. The category list was supposed to be editable in-place (kind of like WordPress’ Ajax aware categories but I had this in place a long time before that :p). But the editing in-place wasn’t working properly because the component itself wasn’t totally data-aware. So after much searching, debugging and fixing, I was able to get that all working. In the process, I also managed to stumble upon a few optimizations which seems to have made Blog itself load much faster :p All in all, it was good day of coding work though the result was that I went to bed much later than usual and boy am I tired today 🙂 I have to still do all the work related to handling remote categories and posting category selection via XMLRPC to a remote blog but I’m getting there and the goal is ever closer …

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Posted by Fahim at 8:22 am  |  1 Comment

February 20, 2006

Coding again …

Well, some of the internal Blog changes are done 🙂 I finally added a data module to the Blog code, transferred over all the data tables scattered over different forms on to the data module and cleaned up the code to work with the data module. Then of course, there was all the work involved in getting the code to compile again. It is finally done and in the process I fixed another issue – the internal Blog categories were not showing up properly and this is something which has been annoying Laurie :p Turns out that the categories were getting assigned fine but were not displaying due to an issue with the sequence of events that were being carried out.

Now that I’ve got the code working again, I plan to redo the entire Journal Management dialog. Instead of the current single dialog with multiple tabs, I’m going to go for four different dialogs which will allow more flexibility in terms of how each area (servers, blogs, templates and uploads) works. This is mostly to accommodate all the new category management stuff which is going to have to come in for the new release. I’m going to have to add category lists for each remote blog so that each installation of WP (or whatever supported blog) is kept distinct from the internal Blog categories. I will also have to add code to merge in the new remote blog categories with existing Blog categories and keep track of what gets assigned where. Ah, joy :p

On other coding fronts, I still have that add-on plugin I started work on. I still want to finalize the feature where it will automatically create tags for all posts without tags even though I will not use the tag for the main purpose it was created 🙂 So, I don’t know which one I will want to work on today – Blog or the plugin but hopefully, both will get worked on …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:47 am  |  No Comments

February 19, 2006

The religious scams …

This one is going to be a bit of a circular reference :p Funky Dung posted an entry where he linked to a post made by me and in going back and reading his entry, I came across the Apostates of Islam.

When I first read the site, I was like, "OK, this seems to be by Muslims who’ve gotten tired of all the negativity attached to Islam at the moment". I didn’t agree with their viewpoint but everybody is free to make their own choices, right? 🙂 The reason I didn’t agree with their viewpoint was because if you give up your religion just because people have misconceptions about it and because there are people in your own religion who don’t understand what the religion is all about, then it just means that you didn’t have enough faith or didn’t truly understand your religion either. However, religion is all about faith and you should follow the path that you truly believe in.

But then, I saw the link that the Apostates of Islam posted for Muslims. When I went to this page and read what they had to say, my conception of this site changed rather dramatically – but probably not in the way the site owners intended it to :p This site is certainly not created by "former" Muslims. In fact, I don’t believe any Muslims had any hand in the site at all. If they did, then they are as equally ignorant of Islam as the terrorists whom they claim to abhor. The site is basically religious propaganda :p It starts with a twist on a Quranic verse which is supposed to cleverly reveal to Muslims how wrong Islam is. If the Muslim is uninformed, then perhaps it will have effect. The verse they quote is from Surah At Taubah – verse 5. This verse is supposed to indicate that Muslims are supposed to kill non-believers at every opportunity.

The fact that most people ignore, either conveniently or out of ignorance, is that every Quranic verse was revealed for a specific event or under some context. This particular verse gives some of the context if you read from verse 1 – instead of just taking verse 5. It says that there was a peace treaty between the Muslims and the Mushriks (pagans) of Makkah. This treaty was violated by the Mushriks of Makkah. A period of four months was given to the Mushriks of Makkah to make amends. Then comes verse 5 about killing of disbelievers, which pertains to only a particular period when the disbelievers had rejected a treaty. To draw this particular event out and to say that you are supposed to kill all non-believers for all eternity is just plain ridiculous. But then again, as P. T. Barnum never said, "there is a sucker born every minute" and the Apostates of Islam, amongst others, seems to be simply trying to draw the newborns in :p

The problem is not with Islam, or with any other religion in the world. The problem is with humanity. We find it easier to wallow in ignorance, in prejudice, in hatred and in bigotry than to actual think for ourselves or to understand our fellow human beings. So if anybody ever wants to start an Apostates of Humanity site, then sign me right up … but then again, maybe not … I’d rather try to change humanity than to leave humanity behind :p


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Posted by Fahim at 7:44 am  |  No Comments

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