## 2010-07-27

### FOLLOW-UP: Truly Competitive Cell Phone Markets

The US government has had an unprecedented bout of sensibility (Joelle Tessler, Associated Press via Yahoo! News) of late. It covers quite a few areas, so I'll try to go through each point one-by-one. In general, the new statement says that breaking technological locks on devices is not in itself illegal unless provable copyright infringement is committed.
The biggest news is that anyone can unlock their cell phone to work with any service provider or to use any application developed for that phone. The phone most affected by this news is, of course, the iPhone (which has thus far been locked to AT&T and can only run apps approved by Apple).
Now, anyone can run any app they want and use it on any network (supported by the hardware) that they want. Prior to this, Apple claimed that under the provisions of the DMCA, jailbreaking iPhones and iPod Touches is illegal (and they threatened to sue jailbreakers). Now, this can't happen (unless, of course, the third-party apps are guilty of copyright infringement).
The reason why I made this a follow-up post to this post is because although phones are not likely to be sold unlocked from the start, users now have the choice of moving their phone to any carrier (provided the phone's hardware supports calls on that carrier). Now, cell phone markets can be more competitive (though the situation isn't quite ideal yet).
Along with the new rules regarding cell phones, people can now break controls on video games to patch security issues. This is almost an open-sourcing of video games, which is great (though this circumvention of technical restrictions is pretty specific).
People can break locks on DVDs and use clips from these DVDs "for educational purposes, criticism or commentary." This is a huge victory for fair use; that really is what fair use is about. This could also mean that the arrest of a European cryptography professor for breaking, analyzing, and publicizing some encryption scheme at a conference will never happen again. Also, people can now make their own videos with clips from movies without fear of being sued for copyright infringement (or so I hope).
Finally, blind people can break locks on e-books to use them with any text-to-speech software. This is a huge step forward, as I have reported in the past cases of publishing houses refusing to release books in formats friendly to blind people for fear of "potential copyright infringement".
Could this be true? Could we actually have a government that cares more about the rights of ordinary citizens than about the "rights" of vested interests? WOW!

## 2010-07-26

### So How DO You Promote a Blog?

Since I started writing Das U-Blog, I've been worried that I may never reach an audience who might otherwise (possibly) be interested in what I'm writing.
A lot of sites online have numerous tips on how to promote a blog to make it more successful and widely-read. Of course, I haven't even been at this for a full year (speaking of which, Das U-Blog's 1st birthday is coming up soon!). Therefore, I don't really have any experience from which to speak regarding these matters.
I personally know many of the people who read this blog. I know some of you readers only through comments in other blogs.
I actually tried making a Facebook page for this blog, but I deleted it when I realized that the page should direct readers to this site (and not the other way around); also, because I ask a lot of people in person (or via Internet IM) to check out this site, a Facebook page just seemed that much more redundant. On top of all of that, while I could import posts from the site, Facebook would import from Das U-Blog's RSS feed, so I could only get a limited number of recent posts, and the post would only contain the title (and sharing options — no content). With that, a Facebook page looked downright ridiculous.
But was deleting that page really a good idea? Or, should I be trying something else (or more than one strategy, for that matter)?
I'm just writing the material; you, the readers, certainly know better than I do as to how I should best reach new readers.
Thank you!

## 2010-07-23

### Book Review: "Big Bang" by Simon Singh

(CC-BY-NC-SA Das U-Blog by Prashanth)
This was actually given to me as a gift by the same relative who has The Undercover Economist. I will also say that I have read The Code Book, one of Simon Singh's other books, but it has been a few years since I read it, so I will not be reviewing it any time soon.
Singh starts with an overview of creation myths and the use of reason and science to determine whether the sun goes around the Earth or vice versa. He continues with the heightening and resolution of the debate between the geocentric universe and heliocentric universe camps, and introduces the debate between those who believed in an eternal universe and those who believed the universe had a moment of creation. He brings in the developments of relativity and the atomic model, the measurement of the speed of light, and the rise and fall of the ether hypothesis to lay the foundations for the theory of the Big Bang. He also discusses the debate between whether the Milky Way is our only galaxy or whether there are many galaxies separate from the Milky Way and its subsequent resolution, and connects this to the use of spectroscopy to show redshifting of galaxies to bolster the case for the Big Bang over the eternal universe theory. He continues with further developments in atomic theory and the postulation of CMB radiation (radiation coming from the farthest reaches of the universe dating back to 300000 years after the Big Bang) to frame the debate now between supporters of the Big Bang theory and supporters of the eternal universe theory, which had by then morphed into the Steady State theory (which held that the universe was expanding, but galaxies were forming in the voids as expansion happened, so the overall composition of the universe remained constant). He concludes with the solution of the nucleosynthesis problem (how elements heavier than helium could be formed in the early stages of the universe), the detection of CMB radiation, and the detection of tiny density variations in the early particle soup as the final pieces of evidence necessary to secure the Big Bang theory as the correct one. In the epilogue, he discusses some missing parts of the Big Bang theory, as well as its religious/philosophical implications.
In a sentence, I really like this book. (That was the sentence. The rest is extra.) It's a great overview of all of the science that led to the acceptance of the Big Bang as the dominant theory regarding the origin and state of the universe, and on top of that, it talks about all of the characters involved in its development. It is a fairly large book, but any formulae used are clearly explained in layperson's terms, and there are a lot of helpful illustrations tied with such formulae. More interesting than that, though, is the presence of a brief, illustrated summary section at the end of each chapter (because each chapter is approximately 80 pages long). This really helps to remind one of what one has read at the beginning of the chapter and how it ties in to later parts of the chapter. I also like how it talks about the arguments between people without just focusing on the science, as this adds a more human element to the history of it all. I would recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in the subject.

## 2010-07-22

### Book Review: "The Undercover Economist" by Tim Harford

(CC-BY-NC-SA Das U-Blog by Prashanth)
This is also a borrowed book (from the same relative that lent me the book Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya). That said, I will say right off the bat that this is a far superior book in terms of writing style and quality.
I took an AP Economics course this past year, so I was somewhat familiar with most of the concepts presented in this book beforehand. However, when I read the book, I realized what I had been missing.
My class's questions didn't have any apparent relation with what was going on in the world. Why should I care if XYZ Corporation's average variable cost is higher than the market price of the good it sells? One is truly an economic theorist if one weeps at the thought of a hypothetical company shutting down to minimize costs. On the other hand, this book relates economic concepts to things that matter, like why coffee is sold at different prices and why different land areas fetch different prices.
Harford first talks about the ideas of rents and profits, continuing with the various functions of prices as signals and the various means companies try to extract different prices from different customers (for the same product). He then talks about externality taxes and subsidies, continuing with market failures occurring due to the presence of inside information (i.e. information that one side but not the other doesn't). He then continues with a discussion on the stock market and on bidding wars. He concludes with discussions on why poor countries remain poor and on the effects of globalization on various countries, both rich and poor.
In short, I am convinced. By using relevant, practical examples in explanations of every concept introduced, he has convinced me that while the free market can solve most problems, government intervention is generally required when externalities show up (and these can't be solved by market negotiations); this is a very reasonable-sounding idea, without resorting to the ideologies of either "government is always bad" or "markets are always harmful".

## 2010-07-20

### Book Review: "Bursts" by Albert-László Barabási

(CC-BY-NC-SA Das U-Blog by Prashanth)
Some of you may be wondering why I've written 3 posts today. Well, as I'm staying at my relatives' house, these relatives are at school or work during the day, so I don't really have a whole lot to do; hence, I've been reading a lot and blogging a lot. (I wish I had a more consistent Internet connection to download and try out some Unixoid distributions as well, but while I'm at it, I might as well wish for a Prancing Horse (Ferrari, for automobile non-enthusiasts).) Yeah, yeah, I have no life.
Also, some of you may be wondering why I've been putting up "(CC-BY-NC-SA Das U-Blog by Prashanth)" at the beginning of these book reviews. "CC-BY-NC-SA" refers to a Creative Commons 3.0 license where you can view, modify, and distribute the work as you like so long as you attribute me ("Das U-Blog by Prashanth") as the original creator, distribute derivative work for non-commercial purposes, and license derivative work with a similar/Creative Commons-compatible license allowing for similar unlimited viewing, modification, and redistribution.
Anyway, sorry to keep you waiting. Follow the jump for a review of the book.

### Book Review: "Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya" by V. S. Narayana Rao

(CC-BY-NC-SA Das U-Blog by Prashanth)
This is actually a relative's book; this relative has let me borrow the book for the time being.
I must confess that I haven't read the entire book. But there's a reason for this.
With parents from Karnataka, I am of course proud of Sir M. Visvesvaraya's contributions to the industrialization of India. I am of course amazed by his physical and mental agility even through his 90s.
Yet, I am pained when I read this book. As a work written by an author and journalist, no less (as opposed to an engineer or contemporary with questionable English writing skills), this is one of the worst biographies I have ever written (which should be taken with a grain of salt, as I haven't read too many biographies).
For one, the writing style is way too choppy. The author keeps jumping from Visvesvaraya's life to some background about one of Visvesvaraya's work sites without any transition at all.
More importantly than that, though, is that it portrays Visvesvaraya like a saint. It talks about how morally pure he was and how he always won somehow or the other in the face of adversity (and if Visvesvaraya loses in some dispute, the author spins it to make it look like it was Visvesvaraya's gain and the adversary's loss). While it may be true that Visvesvaraya was as morally pure and principled as described in the book, I am immediately suspicious of a book that doesn't even attempt to offer any kind of criticism. Even at the end (which I have read), the book is almost apologetic that Visvesvaraya had to die after living up to the ripe old age of 102 (and even here, the book is inconsistent with itself, because his given lifespan doesn't correspond to the difference between his birth and death dates).
If you come upon this book, please save yourself the trouble of reading it. It's not worth reading at all.

### Book Review: "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson

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I had actually started reading this book over a year ago but never had the time to get past the first few chapters, so when I picked it up again just over a month ago, I decided to read it in full, from the beginning.
I guess another appropriate title for this would be "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Nonfiction) by Not Douglas Adams". It really is a comprehensive guide to atomic physics, astronomy, chemistry, and biology for the layperson.
Bryson starts by discussing the origins of the universe and its measurement, both in terms of age and size. He continues by going into the developments of measurements of the Earth's age, chemistry, and modern physics. He then segues into the origins of life, continuing into full-blown biology, and finally concludes with a history of mankind.
Even though this is not a textbook by any means, I thoroughly enjoy it as an overview of the sciences for several reasons.
First, Bryson always tries to engage the reader by making the tone very conversational and by (rightfully) assuming that the average reader has no prior technical expertise in any of the fields; in fact, part of the humor comes from Bryson being humorously scornful of topics that are too technical for the average reader to understand. More important than that, though, is that Bryson makes the whole study of science more human by keeping the technical aspects at a minimum and focusing more on the personalities that have discovered the various sciences. For example, Carl von Linné (better known as Carolus Linnaeus) is hailed as the person who saved taxonomy by introducing the revolutionary 7-tiered classification system. However, I never knew that he was ridiculously obsessed with the methods that sometimes start human reproduction (I will not say that word here because this blog may then be blocked by parental controls). Those few pages of the book were enormously entertaining and enlightening (in that they shed light on the kind of character Linnaeus was). There are many other such pages of the book. Through it all, Bryson succeeds in bringing science to the layperson through his ability to show a very human side of science. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn a little more about science but finds conventional resources too technical (and hence, too inaccessible).

## 2010-07-19

### Book Review: "Wired for War" by P. W. Singer

(CC-BY-NC-SA Das U-Blog by Prashanth)
I actually got the idea of getting this book after watching an episode of The Daily Show with John Stewart and its interview of this book's author (who was there to promote this very book). It piqued my curiosity because I am very much into computers and robots.
Let me say that this book, just like the robots it discusses, is "frakin' cool".
The book starts out by describing typical scenes of robotic battle in Iraq and Afghanistan today alongside descriptions of the daily goings-on at the offices of the manufacturers of these robotic warriors. It goes on to discuss the history of robots and what constitutes robots in laypeople's terms. It continues to talk about how the development of the robotics sector is exponential rather than linear in pace; it then talks about future robotic warriors and their creators. To conclude Part One, the book discusses science fiction's influence on robotic development as well as the culture of roboticists who choose to conduct research while rejecting military funding for their research.
Part Two starts with a discussion of revolutions in military affairs (RMAs) and whether the computer, Internet, or robotics revolution would be the RMA du jour; it continues by talking about human-robot interactions on the battlefield when robots become adversaries, as well as when robots end up in the hands of enemies. It further discusses the decentralization of power with the advent of the Internet and robotics and how power is shifting away from governments and towards individuals, organizations, and contracting companies. It then talks about how the public is becoming more apathetic towards the realities of war now that soldiers themselves are being separated from the battlefield, as well as what this change means for the soldiers and their families. It finally explores the possible scenarios of a robot revolt and the feasibility of programming ethics into robots.
It's a great read because it accurately conveys the excitement of the author in dealing with the subject. (Really, it's a great read because I'm into robots.) But there is one concern that I have that the book also does discuss: in today's warfare, the enemy is not fazed by the loss of their own life (in fact, such loss of life is revered as a sort of martyrdom), while the enemy looks upon our use of robotic technologies not with shock and awe at their technical prowess but with disdain at what they perceive is indicative of our cowardice. With that combination, we will never win.

## 2010-07-17

### Red Hat, Fedora, and Small Towns

I was visiting $relative's house in a small town, where access to the cutting edge in technology is not the easiest to come by. First, I was surprised to find a digital photo frame (and a big one, at that) hanging on the wall. Then,$relative asked me to turn on the computer so that I could show some recent family pictures to other relatives. I turned on the computer, expecting to find nothing more than the Microsoft Windows XP loading screen. To my shock (which quickly morphed into delight), I was greeted instead by this (note: not verbatim):
GNU GRUB Version 0.97
Please choose which operating system to start:
Fedora Core 6
Microsoft Windows XP
That said, I must disagree with what quoted economist Will Page says about file sharing sites damaging legitimate sites like Spotify. Looking at the data of pre- and post-DRM-free iTunes vs. music downloads on file sharing sites, iTunes sales shot up like anything after DRM was removed and all songs were set at $0.99, while file sharing music downloads fell off the charts when this happened. People will obtain goods legally if it is easier/more convenient than doing so illegally, and download data supports this. ## 2010-07-14 ### An All-In-One RIAA bash I never thought something like this would happen, but I have seen 3 articles today bashing the RIAA (and one doing so for the MPAA) for different reasons. The first (Ray Beckerman, Recording Industry vs. The People) summarizes how the RIAA, to get a certain (relatively small, for the RIAA) sum of money back, spent at least 50 times that sum of money on legal fees alone. (They spent$20 million in legal fees to recover \$0.4 million in probable lost revenue.)
Well, now we know that the money recovered probably isn't going towards the artists that the RIAA claims are harmed by music sharing.
Actually, on that note, the second article (Mike Masnick, TechDirt) talks about just that. Though the RIAA claims to speak for artists and musicians, the record labels make millions of dollars, while the artists themselves net absolutely no money. I won't go into the numbers here because the analysis in the original article is much more thorough anyway. What I will say is that when labels like Sony-BMG and industry groups like the RIAA claim that piracy hurts the industry, carefully consider who is actually hurt by lost sales (hint: not the artists).
There is a third article (Mike Masnick, TechDirt) that talks about related screwy accounting with MPAA revenue figures. Basically, film companies manage to claim losses on blockbuster movies because a lot of the supposed costs are actually the company paying a studio or themselves (as far as I understand). Thankfully, this can't last because a few companies are now losing lawsuits relating to these bogus claims of monetary losses. Hopefully a similar thing will happen with the record companies.
If you think all hope is lost for artists who can't possibly make a dime under the conventional system, follow the jump to read the solution.

### Another Look at this Blog

Some of you may be wondering what all of the various objects on this blog are. I will try to explain this to the best of my ability.
On top, of course, is the title of this blog. Clicking on the title takes you to the main blog page (or refreshes the page if you are already there).
Each post has a date, title, and content. Clicking on the title brings up the full post (with comments).
At the bottom of each post is a link to share the post to various social networking sites. These consist of Facebook, Google, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Slashdot, Delicious, Digg, Blogger, Wordpress, Google Buzz, and Yahoo! Buzz. If you would like to see additional sites included, please list them in the comments section. I would greatly appreciate it.

## 2010-07-13

### Book Review: "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan

This is actually the book I had to read to get credit for my high school gym class (I did not have to do any of the actual physical requirements for reasons obvious to those who know me personally). It's been a while since I've read the book, so this post will be relatively short.
It's an entertaining read, to be sure, and while I agree with the general guidelines given by the book, I believe that due to the current state of humanity (that is, we have far more people to feed than we did before processed foods came along, so food has to be cheap (and, as it stands now, not necessarily healthy) to maintain the current world population level), implementing many of Pollan's proposals can only be done by the wealthy (i.e. those who can afford to buy organic produce and the like). Also, several studies have shown that organic food is no healthier for one than conventional produce. It seems like what matters more is eating home-cooked food instead of processed/packaged food. Bill Clinton has lamented how in India, people have switched from eating the delicious (in my opinion) traditional meals to eating fast foods like McDonald's and the like, and that this is a major contributor to the rise of obesity and heart issues in India. (I will add that some of these problems already existed in India prior to the advent of multinational fast foods, owing instead to the over-reliance on refined rice as the primary energy-packed food.)
But more than that, I feel uncomfortable with Pollan's outright rejection of nutrition science, especially since analysis of vitamins in food has led to the eradication of many diseases caused by lack of vitamins. While it is true that incomplete science should not be used as a basis for prescribing diets (see, for example, the warnings against saturated fats leading to the prevalence of trans fats (due to overuse of partially hydrogenated oils)), neither should the incompleteness of the science mean by itself that the science should not be pursued further. I feel like Pollan is blinded by his own zeal; where he means to say that dietitians should not enthusiastically convey new studies' recommendations especially when the studies are very focused [on just one aspect of a certain food type], he instead essentially says that the studies themselves should not be carried out at all.

### Android, Open Source, and the Free Market

Glyn Moody has a piece on why Android will beat the iPhone.
To summarize, the reason for this is twofold: Android is making its way onto more platforms than just smartphones (it is also making its way into TVs, set-top boxes, GPS devices, et cetera), and there are apps for the Android allowing for the creation of even more apps for oneself or for further distribution, so the app ecosystem can grow much larger.
The latter part reminds me of a quote (which I can't find verbatim at the moment) I read in the book The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford (which, incidentally, I will be reviewing in a future post) that describes how Soviet officials visiting the US observed the production and sales of cars (I think) and wondered who could possibly be planning it all. (The answer, of course, is no one (aside from the company with its production and sales targets, but ultimately, the customer decides).) Similarly, Apple's apps must all be evaluated by Apple and must be in the correct programming language and must be appropriate (according to Apple) to make it into the app store. It is a time-consuming process, as the app must be available to everyone. With Android, however, users can make apps for personal use without any evaluation process of any kind. No central authority determines which apps make it through and which don't. As long as the user has a good idea (for themselves) and some programming ability (though with the App Inventor, even this is not necessary anymore), an app can be born. Sure, there will be a lot of apps of poor quality, but let the consumers, not any company, decide which apps are worth downloading.
The former part reminds me of a discussion I was having with my relatives on when open source should be used as a business model. One of my relatives said that the reason why Sun was financially doing so badly before being bought by Oracle was because they open-sourced their flagship product (Solaris, which became OpenSolaris) despite not having anyone outside the company to make meaningful contributions to the project. The same was true of their SPARC processor line (which was an example of open source hardware) — it didn't really work well with any other existing hardware, so other developers couldn't really contribute to the project meaningfully. Android, on the other hand, is a good example of an (mostly) open source project because it is being ported to so many different kinds of hardware by so many different developers and companies.
Maybe the competition between the iPhone and Android isn't really fair because Android is present on so many more kinds of devices compared to the iPhone OS.
(UPDATE: TechCrunch agrees with me. Sort of. Yay!)

I want to end this post by asking you to subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog and/or follow this blog on Blogger if you have not already done so. Both can be done in the sidebar. I've also added a lot of other different subscription/sharing options, and I would greatly appreciate it if you could subscribe.
What do you think about the Android vs. iPhone rivalry? Is it fair? Who will win? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

## 2010-07-12

### Truly Competitive Cell Phone Markets

I visited a village in India recently and was astonished to find that while the water quality was still as poor as it was 35 years ago (according to other traveling companions whom I shall not name here) and the general state of the village has not changed, almost every house has a satellite TV dish and at least 1 cell phone. It just goes to show that the technology revolution has started to reach even the remotest corners of the world.
The question is, why is this true of villages in India and not quite true (yet) in the US?
A few of my relatives have said that before, the Indian government controlled all telephones (landlines), so people would often have to wait years to be able to get a phone line. Now, however, cell phone companies are private and numerous, so anyone with the money to get a cell phone can get one immediately. The difference between the US market and the Indian market is that there are 3 times as many people in India versus the US, so the market is obviously much bigger; also, there are a lot of cell phone manufacturers in India (as in the US) but there are also many more cell phone carriers (unlike the US, where the market is essentially controlled by 4 or 5 major carriers), so the prices of hardware and plans are much lower and the variety of each is much greater in India versus the US. In the US, it is very rare to be able to buy a phone that is not tied to a particular carrier; in India, though such options do exist, it is more common to buy any phone and then tie it to a carrier later. All of this competition drives prices down, so the customer wins.
Now, if only the computer market could be like that...

## 2010-07-05

### FOLLOW-UP: Murdoch's Folly

I know that the original post was many months ago, but it still bears some relevance here.
A few news articles have reported on some ACTA analysts' warnings that ACTA will be detrimental to search engines' businesses.
I can only say that with Rupert Murdoch's moves in the past, I saw this coming. Murdoch has been the only (pre-ACTA) high-profile businessperson to remove the holdings' websites from search engines' indices due to copyright violations. All ACTA is doing is essentially legitimizing this and opening the door to more people removing websites from search indices.
Let's just see how this plays out. I doubt many more people will actually follow Murdoch's suit in the age of Google.

### Movie Review: 3 Idiots

I watched this movie a week ago, but I haven't been able to write this review until today.
I really enjoyed the movie just as a funny little film. I also appreciate its attempts to touch upon the controversial subject of stress levels in the Indian educational system.
At the same time, however, I feel like the message (which is to focus more upon learning than upon rankings and to enjoy life a little more) is too muddled through the movie. Rancho, who supposedly loves learning, isn't shown to be very studious at all and is shown to be enjoying life more than he is studying. Furthermore, while it is true that ViruS's teaching methods aren't quite the best, Rancho does not need to talk back to him, humiliate him, and tell him to his face that he is a horrible professor. I love learning. It is hard. It definitely doesn't involve just sitting back and letting everything just come naturally.
That's all I have to say about it. I guess I'll just say that it was a more entertaining typical Hindi movie about a more realistic subject matter.

## 2010-07-03

### Linux Mint Based on Straight-up Debian

I had previously reported on this development in this post. I am here to report that these developments are getting closer to reality.
Yes, folks. Linux Mint is actually making larger efforts to move towards a Debian base. In my previous post, I reported that the new Debian-based Linux Mint was for PowerPC systems and used the LXDE desktop. Well, the fact that the linked article reports that this new version of Mint will use a rolling-release model, will use GNOME, and will be for i386 systems means that the Mint developers are really serious about moving away from an Ubuntu base and towards a Debian base. The screenshots look really nice, the installer appears to be much-improved over the standard Debian installer, and it is supposed to be a lot faster than current (Ubuntu-based) releases.
I'm even more excited about what will happen. Does this mean that the new Peppermint OS will retain the Ubuntu base and the Mint tools, while Linux Mint itself will shift to a Debian base (while retaining all of the amazing Mint tools)?