The shapeshifting design philosophy

I have rarely been one to run away from facts, which is why when it dawned on me that I am eternally dissatisfied with the design of this website I realised I had to pick my battles. I would rather be disappointed by this than, say, my pursuit of physics, which is also eternal — knowing that any ideas about this site being poorly designed is wholly untrue, that it is more a case of the shine washing off a new toy a few weeks after I redesign this website. Which is why I have decided not to touch this website in any way for the next six months.

This is a bigger challenge to me than most people may realise. I constantly get new ideas to fix this or that, not because it is broken, but because it would be better that way. Perhaps. Or maybe this radical new thing I came up with. Would it be too much? You will never know until you try it. And so it drifts from thought to thought, design idea to design idea, until, like a chameleon, or worse still, like a shapeshifter, this website transforms subtly or dramatically but certainly. To those of you who subscribe via RSS, kudos I say: you have not been subjected to this horrendous identity crisis. To the others, settle down.

My biggest trouble with this design as it stands now is that Cheltenham, which I love and have used for headings all this year, is not ITC’s version but Bitstream’s. Continue reading

Simplify Life

I am going to keep this journal entry brief. Most of us do a lot of superfluous things in our daily lives that we do not have to but want to for whatever reason. Perhaps we enjoy it or perhaps we are paid for it, or, for the lucky ones, both. But some of these things have benefits that are so entwined with our life that we hardly ever recognise, let alone acknowledge, their existence until they are gone. To me, writing is one such thing. It is something I love immensely, I occasionally get paid for my articles when they are published elsewhere, but it is not my day job, so to speak.

I recently also bought Launch Centre Pro because it was selling for only 40% of the regular price. I think it is worth it although I do not see myself using it anytime soon. The x-callback syntaxes are simple enough, but the core purpose of the software is where my problem lies. Over the past nine months I have been on an experiment to use technology more mindfully (a report marking my entire year is due by the end of October, so I will not describe specifics for the time being) and one of the results of that has been, rather unsurprisingly, a stark simplicity in the way I use technology. I therefore have no need for automating the modification of clipboard contents and then automating its use to invoke another application, or quickly viewing select 1Password entries, or building lists of contacts and the manners in which to reach them, or logging paid purchases to a cloud-based spreadsheet, or any of the myriad, unusually specific things Launch Centre Pro lets one accomplish. Continue reading

The state of blogs today

I spent considerable time this week mulling over what this blog means and what blogging means in general. Specifically, I refer to the increasingly valid concern about the state of blogs today. They are so vastly different from what they were a few years ago, and almost nothing like they were back when weblogging started, that I ended up with two conclusions: one, blogging in the form that it started is either evolving or dying, depending on how you look at it; two, the spirit behind blogs, the core interests they brought to the table are being resurrected, albeit painfully slowly.

These two statements may at first seem counterintuitive, but they are not. In any case they demand further explanation. Luckily enough, over the course of this week I came across two interesting writings on this issue. One is a short post published on Seth Godin’s blog, and the other is an article by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic, published earlier this year, titled What blogging has become. (On a side note, I have found articles in The Atlantic to be increasingly more interesting than The New Yorker of late.)

Mr Meyer writes about blogging as a victim to corporate consolidation:

Open up an old blog and it was a list of posts in “reverse-chronological order”… Meanwhile, in the right rail, there was a list of other blogs read by this one. Things were generally chummy… Very, very few people do that anymore… For a couple years now, it was clear we were going to lose the reverse-chron, single-URL game… in return, we got Twitter and Facebook… They adopted the chatty tone of blogs, and they unified the hundreds of streams of content in reverse-chronological order into just one big one… a writer didn’t have to attract and maintain a consistent audience in the same way anymore.

Continue reading

You should start a blog

For as long as I can remember, I have been recommending to people that they start blog; to write as frequently as possible, no oftener, no rarer. And to have the patience to let blogging become your hobby more than your habit because that is when the many dimensions of the craft become clearer, and that is when it starts to have a profound and lasting impact on your life. Blogging, once nurtured as a hobby, has the potential to have an impact as deep as reading itself and all this is simply because blogging is not entirely different from journaling or essay– or diary–writing and the like: a common art that have been around since mankind itself in different manifestations.

There are two ways to look at this: the first takes a mechanical outlook where you realise blogging can help you to publish books eventually and so on, to grow a community, to gain subscribers and, at the end of the day, ears to listen to what you have to say. These are what some call niche blogs. The second perspective looks at it from an entirely selfish angle, but one that I, myself, would recommend: blogging makes the writer (or blogger if you will) a better person.

It helps you grow and opens you up to several ways of looking at something and as a result makes you a better person. From its humble start as little more than a way to make daily logs on the web (hence web log, hence blog), to its eventual growth into a journal, an essay book, even a personal diary, and at the height of it all, a form of journalism, the root of blogging has remained intact in spirit, but has otherwise been largely forgotten. Continue reading

From start to finish: details and tips on how to write a blog post quickly, yet thoroughly

As promised in my recent article, I am going to dedicate this one to detail my blogging method. Generally, how to write a blog post so that it saves time, not takes it all away. Many people have asked me specifics before, and, over conversations with other bloggers, I learnt that this is one of the most frequent questions established bloggers get: how exactly do you blog?

When you come down to it, the thing is pretty simple; but some dumb it down so much that it loses meaning. A lot of thinking does go behind a blog post, and my intention today is to explain to you exactly what I do and how I do it. Particularly, the physical process of turning an idea into an article.

If, in my last writing I was unclear that I would talk about the mental approach rather than the physical technique, I apologise. In this one, we will surely talk about doing things — typing and things along those lines, yes. And I hope to keep this article quite short.

(Also note that, in an attempt to address the largest possible group of people, I will be focusing on writing on a WordPress blog. Except for a couple of specifics, however, the process should largely be the same.)

An idea strikes

Like everything else, blog posts too begin with ideas. At the start, it is one at a time; then it floods like a barrage gave way.

That is when you will need two apps I strongly recommend to all you serious WordPress bloggers. Continue reading

Personal blogging ethics and know-how

Two things prompted me to write this article: a couple of blogs that I follow, and the fact that I have never addressed the personal blogging scene very often in my considerable years of blogging.

Firstly, I will not detail the incidents themselves, but you might gather they broke or gravely bent these rules; and, secondly, I believe strongly in sharing what I have learnt with people who can put aside their ego and listen.

What can I expect from following all this, and when?

Now that that is done, here are a bunch of things most personal bloggers will never bother to practice because they are not blogging on a professional capacity. But these are things that you, as a personal blogger, should adopt.

Following what I detail below will help you create a more targeted community. It will help robotic evaluations better grade your blog and hence what you write will reach people you meant it to. It will, in general, make you blog more active and keep you on the safe side of the data gathering line i.e. those rules which are used to determine, across the internet, whether your writing is worth others’ time and is to be shared, or whether it is to be blocked.

What will I gain from all this?
Photo courtesy: Jacob Botter

How long will it take for results to show? Well, that depends on you and how strictly and closely you follow this.

Does it really work? It worked for me. Continue reading

What is your blogging approach?

Yesterday I received an email asking me what my blogging technique was. Apparently, “it is clear that [I am] doing something right” according to my sender, and he was interested to know what it was.

A conglomeration

I think blogging is a combination of many things, not the least of which is writing. When you come down to it, blogging is writing, but on a very different platform. So, when I was asked my blogging technique, I was at a loss of words.

Then I began to think about it systematically. When we talk of a blog, we talk of a post. So I would define blogging technique as the process of transforming a post from an idea, or an inspiration, or an opinion — generally, from something only existent in the writer’s mind — to something that is shaped and formatted in a way that a large number of people will like to read.

So where do we start?

The idea, uncatalogued

An idea strikes anytime. While conversing, while reading a book, while playing my violin, while sprawled on the swing, while playing with my dog, even while eating. You’ll never know.

But it would be crazy to get up and type an entire article. It is possible, but that would be a shoddy job.

All blogs start with a clean sheet: use it wisely, you will never get that chance again.
Photo courtesy: Flickr/guudmonring!

Secondly, I make it a point to read the writings of those around me. Continue reading

The Theremin

Divinity, untouched

I watch Castle and occasionally Bones or maybe Dexter. But, to me, none of these shows will be as uniquely supreme as the mother of all whodunits (as I like to call it) Midsomer Murders.

For a long time now, Celia Sheen’s theme music for the show, played on an almost unheard of music instrument, the Theremin, has been my phone ringtone. It is eerie and aptly suited for the classy, sophisticated television show I call my favourite. The film-length show on TV will never be the same now that (a) Barnaby has left and (b) Celia Sheen just passed away a couple of days ago.

It is like a small piece of the show lost, although the slot will always be well worth watching — it has been so for 14 years now! And Ms Sheen has played for the entire 14-year period. As a little tribute to her, I wrote this short piece on her instrument. But first, let us watch her play.


What is the Theremin?

You might have a question now: in the video, what on earth is Celia playing on? There are no keys, no strings, nothing physical to touch! The truth is, the music that she is creating, she is doing so by touching nothing. And that is the Theremin.

The oldest electric music instrument ever made was by Russian inventor, Leon Theremin. Named after him, this beautiful instrument is easy to learn but difficult to master. Continue reading

Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

A long thirst well quenched!

On 11/11/11 Tintin released here in India and I soon realised there was hardly any movie I had waited so eagerly to watch, ever. I first came across Tintin as a kid of very few years of age and—like so many others around the globe—found it impossible to leave the fandom. A few years later, I wished I could watch Tintin on the silver screen. This was in the last millenium. Today, that wish came true!

Now this is not a review or a critique, merely my thoughts on the Spielberg-Jackson venture which few, if any, expected to be bad. First things first: I shall try to go in order.

The characters have eyes!

Alright I had noticed this in the trailers. Something had seemed wrong. A while later when I took out one of my Tintin cartoons from my collection, I realised that Herge drew the characters with mere dots for eyes.

Tintin happens to be blue-eyed. While this does not spoil anything and while Jackson was right in deciding to go for stop-motion animation as opposed to a live action film, what disappointed me was that all the pivotal characters were not present.

To be precise, Prof Calculus is absent

That is right. Cuffbert Calculus is absent. What was Spielberg thinking? Perhaps, now that I look back at the film, I see Calculus would have hardly fit in; but Steven Moffat is one of those writer-geniuses who I’m sure could have worked out a plot to fit Calculus into it. Continue reading

Answer me this

That looped statistical mathematics question only smart people seem to figure out

I have spotted this question around the internet more than a few times now and have seen my bearable share of wrong answers/explanations, so I decided to provide my version of (what I reckon is) the correct answer.

First of all, here is the question:

If you randomly picked an answer to this question, of the four choices below, what are the chances of your answer being correct?

  1. 25%
  2. 75%
  3. 50%
  4. 25%

I shall give you some time to figure out the answer yourself before you go ahead and read my answer.

The Explanation

Now any maths/physics student (or somebody better) will, in a general case of four options provide you the answer 25%. Now I do not refer to this question, but to any such question with four options, of which only one is absolutely correct.

The case here too is the same. The chance of you picking the right answer is 25% except that there is a catch right after this. The option 25% appears twice. This means that the chance of you picking the right answer (i.e. 25%) is two of four. Having just doubled, the correct answer would be 50% and not 25%.

And now the real fun starts: if 50% is indeed the correct answer (i.e. option 2) then the chances of you picking that would again come back down to 25% since 50%, as an option, only appears one of four times. Continue reading

Guide to buying a digital point and shoot camera

Or, how I bought a great camera and how you can too!

There are way too many p&s cameras out there in the market and almost everybody seems to portray their products as more worthy a buy than another. But how much can we bend before we break?

I faced the same problem when I was contemplating on which camera to buy, and after a few weeks’ repeated consideration which required quite a lot of endurance, I finally ordered one. But I learned an extensive lot in the process: terms I never new existed, stuff I never knew mattered and more stuff I never knew meant nothing. And most importantly, what one’s itinerary ought to be on the map of confusion that is the market of cameras. So this is my two cents on what you ought to consider when you buy the next digital camera. Rest assured I have covered everything there is in this brief, yet informative, guide filled with all you need to know. Plus my own experience from a few days ago!

Is what I have now not good enough?

Perhaps the first question one needs to ask themselves is whether they need  a digital camera at all. A few good reasons you can convince yourself is because the images are output digitally, which means they are easier to handle and you do not have to wait for an entire reel of film to run out before you develop it (if you really like to hold it physically.)
That said, and if you already have a digital camera or a mode of shooting digitally  (I had my smartphone) do you need a new one? Continue reading