A New Look

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
For those who haven't been watching (and my site statistics tell me that must be at least half of you out there) I hit a century with my last post. And it took me more than one year after I started blogging on this site. And with this 101th post, I am also choosing to get rid of Blogger's Snapshot Sable template.

So, those of you who've been here before, will notice that I've changed the look of the blog somewhat. Alright. A little more than 'somewhat'.

The new design was developed from scratch by yours truly, over a period of three to four months. Right from the creation of the initial mockups, to the basic html framework, and the slow refinement of the same to make it all work on Blogspot. Yes, I'm slow. But in my defense, I'm not a web designer. At one time, one of the main reasons for the lull in my posting frequency was the amount of time I spent on the re-design. When you try to do something that you don't have a natural talent for, it tends to take quite a while to complete.

And then, a couple of months went by looking for the right moment to inflict it on you, the poor unsuspecting reader.

I've learnt a number of things during the process of designing this template. A few of them are -
  • IE really sucks with respect to standards compliance. So your blog will look exactly the same in Firefox, Opera, and Safari, but IE will screw it up.
  • Microsoft, by not fixing CSS bugs in Internet Explorer, is really holding the web back. As an example, imagine semi-transparent backgrounds.
  • 65% of people out there, for some reason, still use that god-forsaken browser. (I'm still talking about IE)
  • You really don't need to use the 'Table' tag to define your layout anymore.
  • I am not as creative as I had hoped I was.
  • The resolution of 800x600 is not dead.
  • You can't do with your browser what you can do with an image editor. (Okay, you can to extent, but then you'll need to forget that a lot of people who visit your blog use Internet Explorer)
I've used some Javascript on this page, and even set a few cookies, in an attempt to increase the user-friendliness of the design. The cookies don't violate your privacy. But the site should work just fine with Javascript and cookies disabled, so turn them off if you must. Also, this blog should still be readable if you turn off images. So those of you with limited bandwidth might want to consider doing that. The only thing that will disappear is the title and the tag-line. I still haven't figured out how to fix that.

As with anything new, there are a number of people to thank -
  • The Template Queen - whose fantastic work on her own blog opened my eyes to the amazing possibilities of blog-templates. A number of elements in my new design were inspired by ideas that she has used on her blog, even if I actually implemented them a little differently - like the basic blog layout, and the collapsing sidebar and sidebar sections. Not to mention that I did seek her sage advice during the development of this design. Advice which she was kind enough to give.
  • Spencer Kimball & Peter Mattis - for developing that wonderful piece of software called The GIMP, and all the other open-source developers out there who have helped bring it to its current state after S&P abandoned it at version 0.99. The GIMP is why miserly bloggers like me can afford to do their own image work, without having to fork out $600 for Adobe Photoshop. Of course, as a disclaimer to Photoshop fans out there, I haven't compared PhotoShop to The GIMP, so I really don't know how they compare feature-wise. All images used in the design on this template were created and edited using The GIMP 2.2.3 for Windows (The Windows build for 2.2.8 should be out in a couple of days. I plan to upgrade then).
  • Richard M Stallman and The GNU Foundation for developing and maintaining GNU Emacs - the only real editor. I used it exclusively for writing and working with HTML during the design of this template.
  • W3Schools for their excellent compilation of reference material on CSS. I'm the kind of person who generally prefers reading the specification, but this website fulfilled all my CSS needs, and quickly.
  • Peter-Paul Koch for sharing his simple Cookie manipulation functions with internet developers all over the world. I was feeling particularly lazy the day I decided to use cookies, and came across his website. The code he's written, is simple, and works very well. I never had a reason to try to rewrite the code on my own. (My excuse is that a good programmer is a lazy programmer)
  • The Mozilla Foundation for developing Gecko, the technology behind the Mozilla and Firefox Web-browsers. I've developed this template primarily using Firefox as my browser, and a number of its wonderful extensions for Web developers.
  • Opera Software for making their browser freely downloadable. This made it possible for me to test this template on both Opera 7 and 8.
  • The World Wide Web Consortium for maintaining and promoting Web Standards like CSS and XHTML. If all browsers stuck to these standards, the world-wide web would be a much better looking place.
Alright. I think I must stop now. This isn't the oscars.

Since I'm only a miserly blogger, and don't have access to every OS out there, this template was tested on Mozilla Firefox 1.0+, Opera 7 and 8, and IE 6.0 on Windows XP Professional, and Mozilla Suite and Mozilla Firefox on Fedora Linux Core 1 (I live in the past). I know that some of the people who visit this blog use other browsers - like IE 5, and Safari, so please let me know if this blog doesn't seem to behave correctly for you. Screenshots would help.

As a request to IE users out there, of course - Get Firefox. (This is specially for those of you on older versions like 5.x).

There. I've done it. Now back to regular blogging.

One Hundred Things To Rant About: Post #100

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
My first ever article/story published online was a collection of rants. So were a large number of posts I have published on this blog. The title of this blog itself, is a rant.

You see, my favourite activity in the world is to complain. When I was born, my first thought was - "Put me back in there! This place is cold! And it smells!"

My mother has had to bear the brunt of my complaining. When I was a kid, I used to complain about anything she cooked. Everything I ate, was too hot. Hot as in temperature, most of the time. And if it was ice cold, then it was still too hot. As in spicy. I have even claimed to find salted yoghurt too spicy. All the women who've had the misfortune to cook for me (my mom and my aunts), have at some time considered replacing the salt with rat poison. But they know I'd probably complain that the food smelt weird.

In spite of all the complaining though, I've been known to keep a cheery disposition. Most of the time, anyway. The secret to that, of course, is the complaining.
  1. I enjoy it.
  2. Having complained about something, I find it infinitely easier to deal with.
Of course, there is the problem of those things that you can't complain about. Things you're not allowed to complain about. Things that are too personal to tell anyone else. Things you can't share with anyone. These pent up frustrations can be quite depressing. But there's a slight solution to that too, right? Complain that you can't complain!

Yes. I'm quite crazy.

So, on this hundredth post of mine, I thought I'd compile a list of one hundred things that I have complained about at some time in my life.

In no particular order -
  1. Homework.
  2. Teachers who gave homework.
  3. Having to learn more than one language.
  4. Having to learn more than two languages.
  5. Exams.
  6. The fact that there are Integral equations that cannot be solved (Yes, I'm quite the math buff).
  7. Engineering submissions.
  8. No work.
  9. Too much work.
  10. Deadlines.
  11. Computers with 1GB of RAM that take 25 seconds to delete a zero-byte file.
  12. That there are no single women left on this planet.
  13. Women who claim they are single but really aren't.
  14. Children who swear more than I do.
  15. Not being able to bring myself to swear as much as some of my female classmates.
  16. Not being able to speak every third sentence without the F-word.
  17. Having to watch clean versions of movies on Star Movies with all the interesting parts removed.
  18. Global poverty.
  19. Global warming.
  20. Pollution.
  21. Printers that don't make it easy to print on both sides of the paper.
  22. Being misunderstood.
  23. Cafeteria food.
  24. My own cooking.
  25. Missing mom's cooking.
  26. That eating Chhole Bhature can give you gas.
  27. Having to eat rice everyday once I moved to Chennai.
  28. Chennai auto-rickshaw drivers.
  29. Power-failures in the sweltering Chennai summer.
  30. Waiting for the rains on a hot summer day.
  31. Waiting for the sun to come out on a rainy day.
  32. Potholes.
  33. People playing Holi with permanent colours.
  34. Women who ruffle my hair and mess it up minutes after I finally got it looking presentable.
  35. Women who say I'm "So Sweet!".
  36. That all women are different.
  37. That all women are the same.
  38. Being called "Uncle" when I was seventeen.
  39. Being the only person my age at a party.
  40. Attending a friend's wedding to find that they're the only people I know.
  41. Having to rice with my hands at a South-Indian wedding because a spoon would damage the banana leaf.
  42. Being given a spoon at the next South-Indian wedding even though I didn't ask for it.
  43. Plagiarism.
  44. Writer's block.
  45. People who write emails and blogs as if they were writing an SMS.
  46. HTML mail.
  47. Browsers that don't support web standards (read as IE).
  48. Inequality of the sexes.
  49. Men who beat their wives.
  50. Child-molestation.
  51. Rape.
  52. Suicide.
  53. Murder.
  54. Terrorism.
  55. Communalism.
  56. Sexism.
  57. Racism.
  58. Casteism.
  59. Hate.
  60. Cities where people lack civic sense.
  61. Cars that cost too much.
  62. Rising petrol prices.
  63. Restaurants in the US that give you ice in your water when the temperature outside is -5°F (~ -20°C).
  64. Sugar in lime-juice (Yes, like I mentioned before, I've got very specific tastes).
  65. People who don't follow the instructions on the back of the box when cooking Knorr instant soups even if it turns out more tasty than when I tried.
  66. Having to watch that growing dust-gathering pile of washed clothes on my roommate's bed, because he was too lazy to put them in the closet.
  67. Years later, watching a growing dust-gathering pile of washed clothes on my own bed, because I do not have the time (I'll fold them today, I promise).
  68. The fact that Lime'n'Spoon is not a national sport.
  69. Knowing that we probably won't learn if there is any other intelligent life in the universe, in my lifetime.
  70. The fact that I picked up my first Isaac Asimov book only after Asimov died.
  71. Not being able to lay my hands on a single unused copy of Asimov's Empire novels.
  72. That Douglas Adams never finished writing his last book.
  73. Talkative fellow passengers on an eight-hour flight when you are in no mood to socialize.
  74. Fellow passengers who keep to themselves on a nine-hour flight when you are extremely bored.
  75. Rude flight-stewardesses.
  76. Airline food.
  77. Mini pretzels.
  78. Juice shops that add water to their milk-shakes.
  79. Needing to have malaria to get time off from work.
  80. The fact that almost all my friends are getting engaged or married by the end of this year.
  81. People who buy movie tickets in black.
  82. Friends making me watch a movie with tickets bought in black.
  83. Hard and extremely sharp grass in the company lawn that was planted to make sure the employees do NOT sit on it.
  84. Reading a suspense story through to the end, only to find the last page missing.
  85. People who give away the plot of a book before you start reading it.
  86. Finding out who the killer was in the movie "Kaun" before I saw the movie.
  87. That most movie/book reviews have spoilers.
  88. That no word rhymes with "Orange".
  89. Missing a large number of movies I wanted to watch because I didn't have company.
  90. Reaching the US when a movie I wanted to watch is no longer running in movie halls.
  91. Returning back to India to find that the movie is no longer running in movie halls there either.
  92. That it's extremely difficult to get company to watch a show on Broadway.
  93. That my cellular provider won't switch me to a post-paid plan without changing my number.
  94. Spam.
  95. Having to throw away food because we couldn't eat it all before it went bad.
  96. People who don't cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze or cough.
  97. People who put the wrong thing in the wrong shelf (No, the plates do NOT go in the same shelf as the pressure cooker!).
  98. People who don't try to clean up the mess right after they spill something.
  99. Roommates who use your blanket without asking if they can.
  100. That when it comes to things to complain about, one hundred is too small a number.
There! I feel better now.

The Year Ahead

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
No. It's not this blog's birthday.

First of all, I prefer the term blog-anniversary. So if anything, it is one day past the first anniversary of this blog. Not a blog birthday. Not a blog anniversary. Okay?

So now you're going to say that that's not true. The earliest post on this blog seems to be posted on the 17th of April, last year. Well see, that was just to throw you off. *evil grin*

I did start blogging on the 17th of April in 2004. But that was on Sulekha. That "blog" if you want to call it that, can be found here. The first post on this blog was posted on the 5th of June, 2004. Once I started blogging here a little more regularly, I just copied my first ever blog post to this site, with the original date. Why? Oh, it felt like the right thing to do at the time.

Anyway. So, what else is special today?

Let's see. It's the 6th of June in the year 2005. That's 6/6/5. So one year from now, the date will be 6/6/6. The year of the Devil is just a year away.

Yes, I know. Very funny.

So, I've been blogging here for more than a year now. What next?

Well, I have a couple of things on my mind. First, hopefully, I'll start blogging everyday again. (Of course, that's probably just wishful thinking).

The other thing I've been thinking about, is starting a blog version of a soap opera. Why? Oh, just like that. It's something to do. In general of course, I've always been afraid of sharing a half-finished story with the world. But I'vevjust begun writing a story for which I don't have a specific end in mind, and I think I'll have to watch it evolve over an extended period of time, to see where it goes. And now I've experimented with episodic blogging in the Celestial Conversations, so I'm just a little more comfortable with the idea of publishing an incomplete story.

I've read stories split over multiple parts on blogs before. One of my favourite bloggers who does this, calls herself Fizo_Al on Sulekha. She now also blogs on blogger sometimes. Of course, I haven't read any of her latest stories, but they used to be quite interesting to follow.

What I'm going to attempt, though, isn't supposed to have a specific end. At least not yet. So writing something, and then not being able to go back and change it, is a little scary.
Still, let's see.

So does that mean that there will be no more Celestial Conversations? Naah. My God's not going anywhere yet. *smile*

I've also had this idea for a blog sit-com for a few months. I haven't been able to write one complete paragraph about that yet, though. Hopefully the new year of blogging will bring me some new words.

There's also that play-type comedy that I've been unable to complete for almost two years now. And the long pending blog-template update.

Lots of blogging to do. So little time.

(Alright. I can't resist it. Happy Belated Birthday Bloggy!)

Plagiarism Returns: This is getting ridiculous

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
In a moment of intense masochism a couple of weeks ago, I set up a Google Alert for the following piece of text - "it was a lovely december morning" (Yes, I hear you saying "Don't tell me you're still going on about that", but I've been known to be quite persistent about certain things).

So, last night Google sent me the following link - Sulekha Expressions

Now, I was initially a little surprised to see that link there, since JALS hasn't been on the main Sulekha page in ages. So I clicked on the link that took me to the page, and as I expected, my story wasn't there.

Still a little curious, I checked Google's cache. And was taken to this page - Google Cache for Sulekha Expressions. (The cache entry will probably expire soon, so here's a screenshot for the sake of posterity).

As you can imagine, my surprise soon turned to shock. Someone had plagiarised my story on Sulekha itself! Yes, it did get taken off the site within a day or so, but still! The fact that it went through their review process (one that lasted four months the last time I sent them a story of mine) and passed, is proof of a gaping hole in the way Sulekha functions, isn't it?

My disillusionment with Sulekha has been increasing for quite some time.

  • The management behind the portal, specially the creative section, is hardly professional anymore.
    Here's a something I heard from a fellow Sulekha author -
    "I submitted the story a few months ago to Sulekha, and they rejected it - quite rudely - telling me that I should consider adding a little humour to it. I then tried submitting it without any changes, a couple of months later under a different name, and this time they published it in a couple of weeks."
    For the record, I considered that particular story quite funny.
  • They keep adding new sections to their portal, without bothering to fix serious existing bugs.
  • The link to the "Vintage" article on the site hasn't been changed in almost two years.
  • Submissions sometimes take months to appear on the site, and then appear without letting the author know.
  • Sulekha management is unresponsive.
  • Their weblogs were supposed to have RSS support a year ago, and there is no sign of that yet.
  • Private submissions magically became public during the last major upgrade, and there is no way to delete them now.
  • The site design is confusing to say the least.

And now this.

Unfortunately, it is probably still the most popular forum for the Indian Community on the internet. And until that changes, they won't have any motivation to get their act together.

So, I'd just like to thank the kind soul who pointed the plagiarism out to the authorities. Thank you!

Update: Fixed broken link to JALS