Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The man who grew a finger

What's it about: Lee Spievak lost half a finger in an accident, applied regenerative medicine ('pixie dust'), and now his finger has regrown. Contains video depiction. Here's the link. If you're interested, check out this as well. Comments: Fascinating stuff. Maybe this might even become mainstream in the future. Caution: the images aren't for the faint of heart. Here's a video:

Life without a computer

Our trusted laptop has finally stopped working. It was one of those kinds of things that survived only due to lack of competition (it was the only one we had in Vancouver) but went on to flourish in terms of other functionalities (it was our most accesible excuse for cursing the whole wide world). The recently deceased sported 256MB of RAM and a 1.0GHz Celeron processor. You get the idea. Right now we're desperately hunting for a new computer with the zeal of homicidal cults seeking new recruits from orphanages posing as endearing parents. It isn't proving very fruitful, and we've discovered that buying a computer in Dhaka was a hell lot cheaper (repeat: hell lot cheaper) and certainly less complicated. In other words, I'm at a loss. My legs refuse to move when I'm walking, my eyes have sunk deep into their sockets for the weight of many unshed tears, and my gloomy attire has so far been ignored by my dear friends only because they're familiar with my absent-mindedness, which in turn is fast becoming stuff of legend. How on earth does one survive without a computer? What light be light if it doth not glow from a screen? I'm still amidst suffering, but yesterday Tina lit up my life by buying me a Linux magazine from Chapters. That joy alone is keeping me on my feet. Another way, I guess, of life's reminding me that things can't make you feel priceless. People can.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Iron Man movie: first review

What's it about: Are you kidding me? Just follow the link if you're interested. Click here for a trailer.

Comments: If you haven't heard, the latest superhero to grace the silver screen is Marvel's Iron Man. Now I never really was a big fan of the Iron Man comic books, but the movie reportedly has some smashing special effects. I'm cool with that. This is also the first movie totally funded by Marvel.

More details: Strong points of the movie includes Robert Downey Jr.'s acting (that's him in the picture; looks kinda funny, doesn't he?), special effects (not just the explosions, and particularly Downey Jr. getting used to his suit), and a nice storyline that allows room for character development and witty dialogue. You also have Gwyneth Paltrow making a comeback after four years (her character's name is Pepper Potts... another one of Stan Lee's amazing alliterations, à la Peter Parker and Bruce Banner). Everyone's saying it's a sure blockbuster. And yes, the Black Sabbath song 'Iron Man' does play at the conclusion.

Here's the link again.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Adding a line break in Excel


I keep forgetting this! To add a line break/create a new line in an Excel cell, press Alt+Enter. Problem solved!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Morocco fire claims 55

It's been a really tough time already, with rising gas prices and a worldwide food crisis. And now we have this: a violent fire broke out in a mattress factory in Morocco. 55 people are said to be dead; 12 are seriously injured. At the time of the fire 100 of the factory's 150 workers were reportedly inside. The name of the city? Casablanca.

Really Useful Stuff: Acronis True Image

Don't turn away before reading this: this is probably the most underrated and most useful piece of software that could make you happier person. Ever. Okay, you're done, free to go, don't need to know more. Or do you?

For many years (many years ago) I used to think Acronis True Image had something to do with Adobe Photoshop. Well, let's just say I don't believe ignorance is bliss anymore. True Image basically takes a snapshot of your hard disk or partition (snapshot = image. Got it?). The snapshot, in turn, is a compressed backup of your partition or hard disk which you can uncompress and roll back to. So if you've saved a snapshot, you can always restore it whenever viruses or any sort of muckamuck is making your life miserable. Voila! All problems solved.

Don't worry about document files or your Outlook configuration. You can actually exclude/include folders to restore. And: you don't need to make complete backups all the time, you can make incremental backups; you can clone hard disks; you can schedule backups; you can restore certain files; you can restore from a boot disc; you can even have a secure zone on your computer, and much, much more.

It's also geared at novice to intermediate users. The latest version of True Image (v11) has new privacy tools and virtualization capabilities, and even supports 64-bit PCs. (I actually use a much older version! v8.0. Henceforth: if you do come across older versions of True Image at a bargain price, by all means go for it. Just remember to check whether it supports your operating system, since it might not support Vista if it's too old.)

Of course, operating systems have their own system restore mechanisms, and there are alternatives around like Norton Ghost. But True Image has more features, and performs far better than everyone else in its field. I ought to add that it's wise to stay clear of any product with Norton in its name. Enough said! It's really useful.

Hop off to Acronis to know more or download a trial. The home edition costs $49.99, but you might get it for cheaper online.

For: Provides a diverse range of options to save and restore backups of your drives, certain folders or entire hard disks.
Against: Some people have reportedly suffered from installation issues.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Eating out

This is actually long overdue. I'm a foodie, there's absolutely no doubt about that, and here's where I share my gastronomical adventures with you. However (here's where things get interesting), my focus is not on expensive food: I'm looking for a good meal for around $5.

If you're from Vancouver you know that's crazy. A 'meal' is generally described as something wholesome. But the price tag inevitably puts the 'meal' in the fast food category. Not always true! There are lots of local shops that serve great food. And some of the big chains come up with their own surprises from time to time.

I'm not promising that the food will always be around $5, or even $10. Quality comes first! But of course, the lower the price tag the merrier: after all, the 'food' that gets served in restaurants costs a fragment of the dish itself.

Here's proof that I do enjoy food. (Look at him gleaming in the picture, the cheeky bastard. You don't know you're ugly, do you, ha?)...

I don't remember the shop or the exact name of the dish, so this isn't really a review! It was at a Hong Kong airport and was probably beef noodle soup. Posts will be, hm, once every two weeks? Four weeks? Let's see.

Can you influence a baby's sex?

Update: Apparently, yes! Check out this NYT post. I'm still intrigued by the fact that the two articles got published roughly hours apart. What's it about: the state-of-the-art practices of couples in the UK attempting to predetermine the gender of their kids. Comments: this is amusing. You also get to know it's not legally possible, and get a bit of historical insight. Read it here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Guess what they stole

Updated What's it about: the chaos that's broken out in Congo. People are beating up sorcerers, accusing them of "stealing" their male organs with black magic. I'm not joking, it's all over the radio over there, and the police have arrested 13 suspects. Comments: need one say more? Check it out here. If you like it, check out this as well.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Top 100 Web 2.0 products 2008

What's it about: an assortment of the 100 most popular Web 2.0 sites and tools, courtesy of Comments: If you're looking for useful websites and web-related software this is definitely worth a look. CNet is traditionally geared towards big names, so the biggies were obvious (Facebook, Google, Firefox, etc). The less popular ones are the ones to look up. I was very surprised (an excellent photo sharing site) didn't turn up in the list, though. Check out the Webware summary, the related blog, and here's the top 100 list.

Possible UFO sighting at Phoenix, Arizona -- video

Just out (well, actually I was a couple of hours late to catch up): strange objects emitting bright red light appeared in Phoenix, Arizona skies yesterday at around 8pm local time. The lights aligned themselves in different patterns, and were too precise to be talked away as being flash fires or something similar. The local Air Force base said the lights weren't part of any Air Force activities. Now, was this a real UFO sighting? Well, the image quality is certainly quite good, something they admitted on the news. And lots of local residents, including journalists and air traffic controllers, claimed they witnessed the event. Check out the video for yourself. Here's a link to the source.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Classic Bollywood rain song

A fine example of a classic Bollywood rain song. For the uninitiated: until very recently, rain songs were the steamiest parts in Bollywood movies (closely followed by rape scenes, which were, strangely, very popular). Nowadays pretty much everything goes, but there was a time when the actors weren't allowed to kiss on-screen (scandal magazines filled the void of our imaginations), so they tried to do everything else to keep you interested. Fans of this song (featuring Amitabh Bachchan and the late Smita Patil) will religiously tell you that it's very romantic. The tune is catchy on my Hindi-tolerant ears, but in polite disagreement, I never can stop laughing at it. Go on, take a look. PS1- the guy who appears at the end of the song plays the owner of the hotel where the other two work. At the end of the movie, he turns out to be the long-lost brother of the tall guy. PS2- my wife tells me that this was once voted the sexiest Bollywood song ever. PS3- sorry if this post offends anybody.

Really Useful Stuff:


I know, you're probably surprised and feeling humored. is so commonplace it can't really be listed as a RUS, right?

I disagree! Sometimes the most commonplace things lose their versatility, because, well, they're so commonplace. That's where this post comes in. has a couple of very useful stuff under its belt, which haven't enjoyed halfway-near the same popularity as the word definition check-up feature.

There's a Thesaurus, which is actually very good and is perhaps something you've heard of. We're so used to resorting to synonyms our word processors serve us. Not necessarily the right thing to do: lots of similar words have vastly different contextual usages, something your word processor won't tell you.

The site's Encyclopedia will hardly turn up in search engine results, but is very handy. In fact, there are a lot of entries you won't find elsewhere -- even on Wikipedia! If you're studying linguistics, for instance, this is a must-visit for you.

More: has multilingual dictionaries, widgets, RSS feeds, blogs, toolbars and more! If you're tired of having to go online, grab the toolbar (or even the recommended CleverKeys, which isn't, however, available for Vista). If you think the toolbar is too much, go for the no-nonsense bookmarklet.

To sum up, you've probably frequented, but do take a closer look. It can help you with your scholarly pursuits (and even help you learn a new language!) with resources that you probably won't find elsewhere. Hop off to to explore.

For: Very useful definition, synonym and reference lookup features; also has multilingual dictionaries and translators.
Against: Needs to upgrade to Web 2.0; premium content hardly makes sense; we could do with less ads.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How to put your broadband on alien steroids

Yes, you can -- literally! Except for the part where you're thinking about little green men. But trust me, you could boost your broadband speed by as much as 300%. The trick is to access web content via third-party proxy servers dedicated to this kind of job.

You can either go for or Google Web Accelerator.

What you have to do:
For, you can sign up for a free account. The site will then provide you with two IP addresses to use, as well as with all the necessary pointers. Alternatively, you repeat the following steps on your computer:

1. Go to Network Connections on your computer (via Control Panel), and select 'Properties' of your existing broadband connection:

2. Select 'Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)' and click on 'Properties'.
3. Enter the following DNS addresses as shown, then press OK.
  • (
  • (

The images are from Astalavista, so sorry if they're not too pretty. You need to register with Astalavista to access their forum, by the way.

If you're going with Google Web Accelerator, download and install the thing.

How they work:

OpenDNS has scores of powerful servers worldwide (well actually, currently in Palo Alto, Seattle, New York, Washington DC and London. Servers in Chicago and Hong Kong should be coming up soon). These servers prefetch thousands of webpages; and once you're connected (via a free account), OpenDNS uses its own DNS resolution service to respond to your queries. Google Web Accelerator works in a similar fashion, except that it probably does a bit more client-side tweaking via the install.

Vista and other issues:

  • In Vista you'll need to select the v4 for TCP/IP and plug in the OpenDNS numbers there. However, users have pointed out that the performance boost is much more noticeable in XP compared to Vista.
  • OpenDNS also provides anti-phishing and some content filtering facilities. (Once, this ended up preventing Google from loading.)
  • Google Web Accelerator hasn't reportedly posed any such issues. But in my opinion, OpenDNS works better.

There! Things should be a bit happier for you now. If you liked this article, you might want to check out this.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why languages can't be learned

What's it about: An explanation about a very simple thought experiment that shows that learning new words requires some sort of assumption. Comments: This is a short, smart read. Linguistics doesn't really sound like the most interesting of disciplines, but this article gets you hooked. Also contains links to an ongoing language experiment.

A climate change nightmare for Bangladesh

What's it about: How climate changes will create a huge humanitarian and economic crisis in Bangladesh within the next few decades. Comments: Irrespective of wherever you live, you're not safe from the effects of climate change. It's pretty likely that during our lifetimes we will witness tremendous environmental changes and subsequent hostilities -- a global water crisis, tsunamis and long winters are just for starters. If you're concerned, check out this Reuters article.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Picture of a cancer cell


I had forgot what a cancer cell looks like, when I came across this Guardian article. It's about a potential radiation vaccine that could revolutionize medical science. The image is of a brain cancer cell.

Really Useful Stuff: RAMBooster 2

I'm a multi-tasker -- I like to listen to music, work on a document and surf the internet from my computer at the same time. And I bet you're one too, which makes RAMBooster 2 a worthy candidate for your software arsenal.

RAMBooster frees up stale memory on your computer. Windows isn't the best thing out there at memory reallocation, so RAMBooster frequently ends up working wonders. Once installed, it will run in your system tray; the icon color will change according to your system's RAM consumption, so you know that you need to right-click on it and free up some RAM when the icon turns yellow. You can also schedule RAMBooster to run automatically whenever your system memory drops below a certain level. It's a nice feature, but I'm happy driving with a stick.

From my experience, I didn't really like RAMBooster very much when I first installed it (a previous version). After many bouts of trial and error, I realized that I was trying to free up too much RAM -- more than my system could afford, which got RAMBooster stuttering. Advice: don't do that. Settle for a target level of free RAM that is 30 percent of the RAM you actually have (My Computer>Properties), and you'll find this software genuinely useful.

For: Great software that cleans up unused system memory
Against: Desperately needs a version upgrade. It doesn't support Vista, and the last version came out almost 3 years ago.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Secret life of a porn star

What's it about: A brother's memoir of a traumatized girl's slow descent into bulimia and the world of pornography. Comments: A brilliant article and an absolute must-read. Read it here.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Time management à la Saadi


In his youth, Saadi decided to be a student for thirty years of his life, then a poet for the next thirty, and a philosopher for the thirty years after that. He died of old age on the precise date the last thirty years had ended. Saadi is still remembered as a polymath, one of the greatest Persian poets of all time and a great Muslim humanist.

  • "I fear God and next to God I mostly fear them that fear Him not."
  • "To give pleasure to a single heart by a single kind act is better than a thousand head-bowings in prayer."
  • "The rose and the thorn, and sorrow and gladness are linked together."
  • "When the belly is empty, the body becomes spirit; and when it is full, the spirit becomes body."
  • "Every leaf of the tree becomes a page of the sacred scripture once the soul has learnt to read."

Really Useful Stuff: Diigo

If you ask me, Diigo is the best thing to come out of Web 2.0. It's not a Digg-alike: the name stands for Digest of Internet Information and Other Stuff.

In short, Diigo is a social bookmarking site that comes with an optional toolbar. But: you can highlight content in webpages (the way you can highlight text in Microsoft Word or FrontPage); add comments (as sticky notes); find people who have similar interests as you (who have bookmarked similar webpages), and most importantly, the page you bookmark will be saved to Diigo's archive, so it'll never vanish even if the site returns a 404.

And that isn't even half of Diigo's features. The thing is still in its infancy (the latest is Diigo 3.0 beta), so not many people know about it. All in all, it's a great research tool.

Hop off to Diigo's website to get started or view an introductory video. Here's my Diigo profile.

For: Ground-breaking social bookmarking features
Against: Minor bugs (deleting cookies will reset some preferences to default)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Why do people enjoy horror movies?

I'm just back from watching The Ruins. These days when I go to the theatre to watch a horror movie, I no longer concentrate on the scenes intended to cause the most trauma. I spend my time looking around, observing how people react.

In Doomsday, when a man is being burnt alive to feed a horde of post-apocalyptic cannibals, the audience is cheering. It's supposedly cool when the Jigsaw Killer in the Saw movies succeeds in making people fall into his gory traps, and people are also cheering when they watch a man being amputated with a hunting knife in The Ruins.

What's so funny about these scenes? I watched carefully to make sure there weren't any hidden directorial tricks involved -- some sort of comic undertone or the likes. Were the actors smirking when they were performing these horrifying scenes? Did the background music turn funny? Were the victims in these movies acting in a comic manner?

No. Nothing, nil, nada. All these extremely repulsive and horrifying scenes weren't meant to be funny. They were meant to be scary, but most people laugh at them. I look at the gleaming faces in the dark -- teenagers, middle aged people, single moms, kids, seniors. Why?

And, from a critical point of view, how successful are these scenes really as artistic devices/constructions? Is the audience really laughing at the scenes or the artists involved?

According to a Science Daily article, researchers at Berkeley have concluded that people love horror movies for the simple reason that they enjoy being scared. The audience perceives that there is no real threat, and even the acting which is meant to evoke feelings of trauma and shock is, bluntly put, an articulate hoax, and therefore enjoy them.

But it still doesn't explain anything beyond the surface layer. A hundred years back, Dracula in a silent movie would absolutely terrify the living shit out of anybody. When did we change? Have we gotten so used to movies, that we unconsciously refuse to immerse in it, but still appreciate it to satisfy a primal instinct deep inside our genes?

We're laughing at something scary because we know it's not real. But violent movies do breed violent acts. What is real, then? And -- how will violence be portrayed in future?

Suddenly, I'm very genuinely scared.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Original 'last lecture'

I know, I already have a post on Randy Pausch's talk on Oprah. This is the original 'last lecture' series at Carnegie Mellon, immortalized by Dr Pausch's brilliant speech. It's pretty long (1 hour 44 minutes, includes other speakers), but is certainly unmissable stuff: guaranteed to make your day shine through all your black clouds. In case you want to send this link to your loved ones, use the envelope icon below (on the line that starts with 'Posted by'). Spreading hope is, after all, no mean task.