General Archives

February 5, 2003

Converting MS-WORD file to PDF

This simple process may be obvious to some people, but was eureka for me:

1. Open MS-Office document. Click File --> Print. Select a PostScript
printer (look for PS in printer name). Enable "Print to file". Click "OK".
Specify filename as .prn. Save.

2. Open .prn in GSView. Click File --> Convert. Select pdfwrite
device (default). Click OK. Specify PDF filename.

That is it! You get a PDF file.

You can download GSView free of cost from

There are other (expensive) options:

1. Subscribe to Adobe's online service ( $9.99 per month or $99.99 per
2. Buy Adobe Acrobat ( $249 per seat ) or Adobe Distiller Server ( $5000.00
for 100 users )

open source is great!!

April 5, 2003

Improving on WORD to PDF coversion

Few weeks ago I made an entry on converting WORD (or any other proprietary format) to PDF using opensource tools. This worked but was quite time-consuming, especially if you wanted to convert multiple documents. Another drawback was that you needed a PostScript printer (an implicit assumption).

Yesterday, while trying to convert a PPT slideset to PDF, I discovered a simpler method. The two steps (i)genrate a PS file (.PRN Printer file for PostScript printer); and (ii)convert the PS file to PDF; are still there but the second step can be greatly simplified by using commandline utlity ps2pdf of GhostScript (I used GS8.00). It cuts a good number of mouse-clicks and significantly reduces the conversion time. In addition, you can use this command in a script, furhter simplifying the process.

The first step in the original entry assumed that you have a PS printer. While working on an offline laptop running Windows2000, I discovered that you can "Add a Printer" with "FILE:" as the output port! So, you don't really need a PS printer. Here are the detailed steps:
1. Goto Start --> Settings --> Printers. Click on "Add Printer".
2. On "Local or Network Printer" screen, Select Local Printer and uncheck "automatic detection and plug&play printer.
3. On "Select the Printer Port" screen, Select "FILE: Print to File".
4. In Manufacturers dropdown list, choose "HP", in Printers dropdown list, choose "HP Deskjet 1200C/PS". Other combinations including a PS printer should also work.
5. Select default/obvious values for other screens.

You are now ready to go!

May 11, 2003

The death of brick-n-Mortar bookstore

First it was Computer Literacy at North First and Trimble, then the Computer Literacy on Lawrence and then the Stacy on Stevens Creek ...
These are the bookstores I used to frequent but are no longer around. The only one left is the Digital Guru on Lawrence and I wonder how long can it survive!!
I understand the economics behind it. The online bookstores provide much deeper discounts and hence drive away the buyers from real bookstores. Take this case -- Today morning I bought the "Red Hat Linux 8 Bible" at Digital Guru (Mainly because it had Red Hat 8 installation CDs which I was looking for and I didn't want to wait for 3-4 days that an online order would have taken) for 46 dollars, at 15% discount on printed price of 49.99 (the difference is accounted by the state sales tax of 8.25%). In a normal case, I would have looked at the book in the bookstore, would have made the decision to buy, come back home, go online, look for best price at either BookPool or Amazon and then place the order. How much would have I saved -- $11 at Amazon, or $18.75 at BookPool, assuming that I would have bought a couple of more books and would have got free shipping.
These are substantial savings by any means.
Of course, the downside is that I may not have this luxury for very long !!

Windows 2003 or Red Hat Linux 8?

I had been thinking of installing a new OS on one of my W2K boxes that had become inactive after being hit by slammer a couple of months ago. SO when the latest issue of Dr. Dobbs' Journal brough a "Windows 2003 Evaluation CD", I thought this was an ideal opportunity to learn about a new OS and get my box back.

However, I was disappointed by "Windows 2003 Evaluation CD" -- first, I couldn't boot my machine from the CD. Apparently the eval. CD is not bootable. After booting W2K (after unplugging the network connection) and 3-4 reboots, I was able to install Windows 2003. However, this was the second OS on the same box. I couldn't find a way to overwrite or delete the exsting installation ....

The other thing that annoyed me was W2003 wanted me to register the OS within next 14 days. I have avoided creating a MS-Passport account so far and was in no mood to oblige now for an experience that was less than pleasing.

And so, today morning I bought Red Had Linux 8, along with 3 installation CDs and installed RedHat Linux 8 on my box. Installation was smooth and much faster. No need for multiple reboots!!

May 28, 2003

Resizing Windows screen capture image

This is something I am not able to explain -- when I do a screen capture of an UI element on my Windows box (Alt-PrintScreen), paste that on a Visio diagram and then do a resize (mostly reduce size) then the resulting picture comes our real lousy on printer.
However, if I paste the image on a WORD document, do a resize there and then copy the resized image to Visio then the quality is much better.
So, I have found asolution to my problem. Just don't know why it happens the way it happens.

June 5, 2003

IT Still Matters

An article titled "IT Doesn't Matter" by Nicholas G. Carr published in May 2003 issue of venerable Harvard Business Review, announcing the elevation of IT into a mature infrastructure, in the same league as rail-road, electricity and hence incapable of providing any strategic advantage, seems to have generated good amount of controlversy. Fortune columnist David Kirkpatrick wrote in his column Stupid-Journal Alert: Why HBR's View of Tech Is Dangerous: "One of the article's most glaring flaws is its complete disregard for the centrality of software." Pete Delisi wrote in SOUND OFF column of CIO magazine: "What I believe he misses is that IT is not only a transport technology, as are all the other technologies he compares it to. IT is also a "processing" technology capable of doing more than carrying electronic signals or goods, which basically arrive at their destination without major value being added by the technology in the transport process."

The HBR article defines IT (Information Technology -- if you are still wondering) as the technologies used for processing, storing, and transporting information in digital form. But still uses specific embodiments of IT such as number of hosts connected to the Internet as an indicator of IT's overall maturation. Conclusions drawn from state of a specific IT segment cannot be applied to the the whole of IT. I agree that the Internet itself may be in a fairly advanced stage of development. But then, the Internet, however important, is just a segment of IT and cannot be equated with IT. IT is much broader and has seen evolution of many such segments: Transaction Processing, Personal Computing, Desk Top Publishing, Multi-Media and so on. The Internet is only one among many manifestations of IT.

In my opinion, this is the biggest flaw of the HBR article -- It takes a fairly narrow view of IT. It may be okay to compare the Internet with Railroad but it is not fair to compare IT with Railroad. Comparison with the general category of Trasnportation would be more appropriate. Maturing of Railroad did not preclude aviation based transport or even the network of highways for the ground transportation!

June 12, 2003

Adding Line Numbers to a PDF generated from XML

It is convenient, especially for specification documents, to have linenumbers in the left-margin. Though easy to do in MS-WORD, I could find no straight-forward way to add line numbers for XML generated spec. docs.

SO I decided to try-out a combination. And it works great. Here are the steps.

  1. Generate HTML from your XML input.

  2. Open the HTML document in MS-WORD.

  3. Select "View" --> "Print Layout"

  4. Select "File" --> "Page Setup" --> "Layout"

  5. Click on "Line Numbers" button.

  6. Enable "Add Line numbering". Select appropriate options. It is possible to have line numbers on specific portions of the document.

  7. Click on "OK" on all active panels.

  8. Convert the MS-WORD file to PDF

That's it.

August 31, 2003

Impressions: India trip

We (I, Veena, Akriti and Unnati) spent most of August in India, enjoying vacation from work and other professional activities. We shopped, spent time together, roamed-around and visited family members, relatives and friends at Patna and Bangalore. Some impressions, in no particular order:

  1. [PATNA] ATM and Banking: There were hardly any ATMs and personalized bank branches in Patna at the time of my last visit. This time, it was different. There were SBI ATMs everywhere and these were in heavy demand. Though, SBI ATMs didn't accept my WellsFargo ATM card. However, simple query at a personal banking branch of SBI directed me to ICICI bank ATM next door, where my card worked without any problems, dispensing crisp 500 Rs. notes. On top, the exchange rate was better than what I would have got from Thomas Cook by selling dollar notes. I was impressed. My credit cards also worked, but these purchases in most stores (whereever available) incurred an extra 3%.
  2. [PATNA] Electrical appliances and Japanese brands: Need a Refrigerator? -- buy Samsung. Need a TV? -- buy Sony. Need an Airconditioner? -- buy Hitachi. Indian brands, such as VOLTAS and GODREJ, were nowhere to be seen.
  3. [PATNA, BANGALORE] Internet Access: I had real tough time getting onto the Internet and do something useful. Cyber cafes at Patna consisted of tiny (and hot!) cabins with very small monitors running an obsolete version of IE (which was not able to access my Inboxes at -- I believe the problem was that it required 128 bit SSL connections!). I was later told that these cabins are used more as real chat rooms by willing friends of opposite sexes than virtual chat rooms.

    I upgraded the browser of the computer at my in-laws place but the connection was very slow most of the time.

    Bangalore was much better. Still I spent most of my time staring at browser status line counting how many more items were yet to be downloaded.

  4. [PATNA] Great family reunion: It was a great to actually have all surviving members of 4 generations together at one place, starting with my maternal grand-ma, the only surviving member of that generation, my parents, all my siblings and their spouses and their children. In fact, I met some of the members for the first time during this trip.
  5. [PATNA, BANGALORE] Weather: Initial few days at Patna were very hot. Unnati got boils all over her body. We spent a night at my sister's place (which had an AC room) and a couple of nights at my in-laws place (which also had an AC room). In the meanwhile, I got a Hitachi AC installed at our room. Though by that time the weather had changed and we didn't really need the AC. Bangalore was a welcome change with much more acceptable temperature.
  6. [PATNA] The booming kidnapping industry: Law and order situation was never great in Bihar but recent years seem to see the worst. Many news reports of kidnapped people returning home during my brief stay without the kidnappers actually being caught. Sure sign that kidnappers got the ransom they asked for. Well-off people (doctors, business men, ...) seem to live in constant fear.
  7. [BANGALORE] The FM Radio: This has really caught on with Bangloreans. You listen to it not only in cars but also at public places. The voice was clear and tone very friendly. I also liked their choice of songs.
  8. [BANGALORE] Traffic lights with a timer: I really liked this. You are at a red light waiting to move but with no idea how long you may have to wait. But worry not. There is a light post with a timer just next to the red light, showing how many more minutes to go before the red light turns into amber and then into green. Though it is another matter that if the junction is being redone to give way for a fly-over then you may have to wait for two-three cycles of traffic light.
  9. [BANGALORE] Deserted Parks: One thing that really confounded me was that there were hardly any people in the public parks. We (I and Srinivasu) went to Cubbon park with Akriti, Unnati, Soumaya and Pawan on a Saturday evening and it was almost empty. Another day, we went to the FUN WORLD (Palace grounds) and we first though it must be closed as there were hardly any people and most of the rides were not running.
  10. Books: I find vacation time best for reading non-professional literature. Low cost Indian editions also help. So I purchased and read some of the titles from my wish list: Who moved my cheese?, Rich Dad Poor Dad and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The last one had some good insights. In fact, I was beginning to think that everything that Veena didn't like, she blamed on me. So, I should actually credit this book for better understanding among us.
  11. [PATNA, BANGALORE] Meeting Friends: This was the high point of our stay at Bangalore. At Patna, I could meet only one friend: Dr. Diwakar Teajaswi, a school time friend. At Bangalore, I met Srinivasu (& Laxmi, Pawan, Soumaya), Sanjay Tambwekar (& Subhangi and their son), Vibha and MD Ramaswamy, Balki, Rajnish (and family), Gautam (and family), Ravi Trivedi, Pankaj Kothari, Murali and spoke to Subrata, Nimish, Mahadevan, John Serrao, Ash T., Vinaya, RK Mishra (who actually thought that I have been laid off and returned to Bangalore for good) and many others. Most of them are doing very well professionally.

All in all, we all had a great time in India.

September 18, 2003

Data synchronization problems at

Like many other first time authors, I got addicted to checking the sales rank of J2EE Security for Servlets, EJBs and Web Services at least once a day, after its publication last week.

The first time I looked at on Sep. 11, the rank was 1,353,488. It stayed there for few days and then moved down to 1,267,672 on Sep. 15. I felt good -- at least the book was moving. But then the next day, it suddenly dropped down (for good) to 99,326. I was overjoyed, for my author friends tell me that a rank below 100,000 is quite good for a technical book. I actually called up Veena and sent mail to my editor and few friends.

SO it was bit of an anti-climax when next day I found the rank to be 1,267,672. It stayed there till today morning. But when I checked it in the evening, I was bit surprized (in a good way) to find the rank to be 84,358.

But how do we explain this sudden jumps? Is it becuase the sales are taking place in spurts? Or is it because Amazon's calculations get swayed too much by slaes last hour? Or is it just that all servers are not synchronized?

October 12, 2003

A note of thanks to my real estate agent

Though it is well-established that you need an experienced agent to walk you through the messy and complicated process of acquiring a home, what you may not know is that working with a good agent can make a big difference in the overall experience. Luckily for me, I had the pleasure of working with Rick Owen ( ) in selecting our dream home and completing the purchase. His charming smile, time punctuality, eagerness to work odd-hours, take-your-time attitude and 24x7 availability made the whole process a very welcome experience.

October 18, 2003

Hey Pankaj, How is your book doing?

Lately, I have been hearing this question a lot. Almost as often as "how are you?".

For quite some time, I had no concrete answer. My publisher would tell me actual sale numbers only at the close of the quarter. And even then, I will have no way to know whether the numbers are good or bad. Also, I will have no idea of the trend. Did all the books got sold in first few days? last few days? is the rate improving or what?

I could watch sales rank of my book several times a day, which I did, and get some idea. It is still too much work explaining this to a casual questioner. (Well, most of those who ask this don't expect a serious answer, but some do!)

For those few, I do have some answer now -- thanks to this excellent service. I, and even you, can watch how the sales rank of my book has moved in last few days/weeks/months by watching this graph. It is quite positive so far, as you can see. However, the present trend is no gurantee that it would remain so forever.
Deciphering sales rank and translating that into actual no. of copies sold is a black art and has received a good amont of scrutiny. If you are really interested, read this eye-opener.

You can also compare sales rtank of two books to get an idea of the relative performance. Based on my own observations on a handful of computer books and other online research, I can say that the rank tends to fluctuate widely for newer or less-successful titles. It is quite common for a new title to fluctuate between X and Y where X is less than 10,000 and Y is around 100,000. With time, Y tends to drift lower and come closer to 10,000, at least for moderately successful books. But the author and publisher don't make much money unless the book remains below 10,000 for a sustained period of time.

November 12, 2003

Spam filters don't work

This may be too drastic a conclusion -- but my first and only experience with a SPAM filter was a disaster. I installed an eval. copy of the IHateSpam and was quite pleased with the way it integrated with my Outlook client.

However, after a week of using it, I found myself spending more time with junk mail. To its credit, IHateSpam identified around 80% of the mail correctly but the remaining 20% gave me more headache. I found myself spending way too much time rummaging the Quarantine folder for legitimate mail -- more than it took me to delete SPAM manually.

Luckily, I was able to cleanly uninstall IHateSpam!

January 1, 2004

Year 2003 in perspective

Following the tradition started last year, here are my personal hi-lites and lo-lites for the year 2003:

  1. My first and the only book, J2EE Security for Servlets, EJB and Web Services was published in the month of September. Subsequently, it was reported at, excerpted at, promoted at and, as a surprise Christmas gift, was reviewed at Authoring the book turned out to be quite an experience: besides providing the statisfaction of creating something tangible, it created an opportunity to savor the unique, author-only post-publication experience: daily (sometime, hourly) monitoring of sales rank, fretting over negative (and, of-course incorrect!) reviews, interactions with other authors and promotion through forum postings! The latest was the pleasure of being shown the low-cost Indian edition of the book by a colleague who bought it in India for Rs. 295/- and being requested to sign it.

  2. Most of the work that I do at HP is company confidential and I rarely get a chance to talk about those in these pages. However, WSMF, a set of specifications for Management USING and OF web services, was published by HP and contributed to WSDM-TC of OASIS. I was closely involved in this effort as program manager and also contributed as a co-author.

  3. After a long gap of almost three years, we visited India during the month of August. This was remarkable in many ways -- for the first time, all members of the extended family got together; I was off from company e-mail for a full one month; and we stayed at a hotel in Bangalore for one full week doing nothing but meeting old friends, shopping and roaming around.

  4. At the year end, we finally summoned the courage and bought a house in the Silicon Valley at a price which I still consider quite inflated (that is why this item will appear under LO-LITES as well). We moved-in just a week ago and are still in the process of unpacking and settling-down. The good thing about owning a house is that now Akriti and Unnati can do as much jumping around as they want. It has also reduced my commute to work from already low of 5 minutes to 3 minutes!


  1. The workplace restructuring/downsizing continued at HP and my organization was lighter by almost 20% by the year-end. The notification day came just after a couple of months of closing the house escrow and caused me and Veena a great deal of financial anxiety.

  2. Veena had a foot-fracture which made her near-immobile for more than three weeks. This caused us to suspend Akriti's birthday celebration and postpone our India trip by 3 weeks.

  3. We couldn't get Unnati admitted to the Parents' Participating school where Akriti had gone during her play-school days.

  4. We moved from a very comfortable and affordable apartment to our own house with significantly higher monthly fixed payments (mortgage + property tax + insurance + enrgy).

January 25, 2004

Good reasons to write a book

Chris Anderson of Microsoft concludes in weblog that writing a book is a lose-lose proposition. Towards this he gives a number of plausible reasons to write a book, analyses them and arrives at the conclusion that writing a book is not worth the effort.

I disagree. He doesn't list one item that was the driving force for me to author my only book. And that is: Self-education.

I don't mean to say that one should write a book to learn about a topic. But if you like and care about a topic and want to do some advanced research around it, then writing a book is a perfect way to do so. There may be others -- like reading good books or getting involved in a development project or joining a formal education/research program -- but nothing is as satisfying and cost effective as signing up to write a book.

Added with other worth-while objectives (and the weight for each objective could differ from inidividual to individual), Writing a book could be a a justifiable commitment.

February 1, 2004

A key difference between FOSS and Proprietary Development

When you need a special feature in a FOSS (Free/Open Source Software), you simply go ahead, make the change and submit your changes as a "patch". If your change is meaningful and should become part of the FOSS, it would most likely be accepted. Otherwise, you have the change in your local tree. The important thing is that you get the feature you wanted.

In a proprietary development environment, you do not have this luxury even if you are part of the same company that has developed the software that you want changed. This is how I have seen it working: you make a request to the team responsible for the software. If you are lucky, they will agree with your requirement and add it to their roadmap. Depending on many factors, you may get the feature implemented within few months to few years. But this is no good, for your deadline was much earlier!

April 12, 2004

Will Google redefine Email with its Gmail?

Since the initial press release (which, frankly, seemed like an April Fool joke) announcing Google's Gmail, a lot has been said about it: the usual privacy concerns, the massive and not easily replicable distributed computing infrastructure that Google might have built, Forbes review predicting demise of hotmail and others, and so on.

However, all these analyses are missing an important angle: With Google's tremendous storage capacity and computing power, it would be able to do the same with Email that it has been able to do with Web pages. I am referring to its pagerank based analysis and categorization of the web pages, which simply exploits the fact that hyper-linked web pages have an inherent structure and this structure conveys something important about each page.

Now think about individual email messages -- each email message also has an inherent structure: who sent it? to whom? when was it sent? was it a response to another message? how did the communication evolve? Analysis of a very large number of email messages can yield some very interesting facts about individuals, their relationships with others, opinons, tastes etc. Combine these with an engine that builds personalization profiles based on other factors (such as search phrases and click-behavior on returned results) and what you have is a very powerful and adaptive personalization scheme. This can certainly be used for a number of consumer services or enhanced options for existing services, besides very targetted and focussed ads.

The pattern of email communication could have other uses -- think of social networks being promoted by likes of LinkedIn and Google's own orkut. The combination could be much more powerful, intelligent and perhaps significantly more useful to the consumers of these services!

All this will certainly redefine the very meaning of Email. No wonder Google invented a new word to describe this service: Gmail.

April 26, 2004

incredibly shrinking PC prices

In late 1998, just after moving to US, I bought a home PC, a Compaq Presario 5170, for more than $1,500.00. It was a modest configuration: 350 MHz Pentium II, 128MB RAM, 10GB hard disk, a CD ROM drive, a ZIP drive, Windows98 and a CRT monitor. Now that I recall, the smooth Circuit-City sales guy also sold me a store warranty program for more than $200.00, which, I could never use. Not that there was no need -- (a) after a couple of years of use, the power supply failed on a weekend and I found it easier to simply buy a replacement from Frys (than waiting for a weekday to contact the customer service); (b) few monthes later, the monitor konked off and I was told by the customer service that the monitor was not covered (I didn't read the fine print at the time of buying the warranty -- my mistake!); (c) After four years of use, the machine stopped booting. The warranty had expired by now, so I just did some trouble shooting of my own and got it working by adding a PCI based IDE controller.

But I am digressing from my main point.

During the winter of year 2000, I decided acquire a second PC by assembling a PC on my own -- partly to save few bucks and partly to go through the experience of doing something that I always wanted to but had never done. All in all, it was a humbling expereince -- after spending close to $800.00 and making numerous trips to Frys, I was able to create the machine I am using right now to type-in this blog entry. Its capabilities dwarfed my earlier acquisition: 900MHz AMD Athlon, 1GB RAM, 20GB hard disk (which I upgraded a number of times in coming years, the current one being a 100GB monster!), a CD-RW drive, and so on. Though somewaht unstable at times, it has served me quite well so far -- enduring all my h/w upgrade experiments and still humming along!

So, last weekend when my Compaq Presario, now primarily used by my 7 year old daughter whose collection of CD games need Windows98, broke down, and I couldn't fix it after a day of trial-and-error replacements, I headed to the local Frys for buying a new machine. And what did I buy? A GQ machine for $349.00 ( $378.00 with taxes): 2400 AMD Athlon (~2GHz), 256MB DDR RAM, 40GB hard disk, CD-RW, DVD ROM with Windows XP Home Edition. A far superior machine than anything I owned earlier!

In nutshell, I have been buying more and more powerful machines for less and less money. I realize that this is a well known (and well publicized) trend. But that doesn't diminish the feeling of getting yours money worth.

July 2, 2004

Excellent customer service from

It is rare to encounter a customer service that WOWs you ... So, when I did encounter one I decided to write about it.

I buy a lot of computer related technical books and have found that usually you get a better price at than others such as Amazon or BarnesAndNobles. They are usually quite trustworthy regarding ontime delivery but my last order, worth more than $100, made me wait for more than three weeks. As I didn't need these books urgently, I availed their free shipping service through US Postal Service. But the books didn't arrive within the stipulated 15 working days. So, I emailed them about it (BTW, this is the only customer service channel they have). Within few hours, I had a friendly response that they will investigate the earlier shipment and in the meanwhile, are making a new shipment through UPS one-day delivery.

Sure enough, I received all the books the very next day, delivered by UPS.

October 23, 2004

A solution to the US medicare problems

I was not at all surprised by the Slashdot story on medicare outsourcing to India.

Since relocating to US from India in 1998, I have always wondered about the astronomical cost difference of medical care between these two countries. To get an idea of this cost difference, let me cite an example from my own personal experience. My older daughter was born in a posh hospital of Bangalore and the total medical bill was less than Rs. 20,000/- (approximately $500.00). Just after four years, the younger one was born in a not-so-posh US hospital with a medical bill in excess of $13,000.00. Even if we account for inflation in the intervening 4 years, the difference is more than 20 times. This is the same multiple reported in the Slashdot story.

How does this compare with difference in cost of living? Per my personal experience, this difference is roughly 4-5 times. The US apartment I was renting in year 1998-2003 was $1500.00 per month. I would have got a similar apartment in Bangalore for $300.00 per month. Same was true for my salary. Haven't kept track of the current costs but dodn't expect the difference multiple to be much different.

So what explains this difference? Few good answer comes from the notes of an emergency physician. I particularly agree with the point that the spreading of the cost through insurance companies has skewed the natural market forces with no incentive for patients to go for the best quality at the least price. Afterall, the $13,000.00 medical bill for the birth of my younger daughter was paid by the insurance company, not me. In absence of any real competition, the providers simply don't innovate to bring down the cost. The same point was brought out by Michael Porter in his HBR article on Fixing Competition in U.S. Health Care.

Let us hope that competition from Indian hospitals, hopefully aided by US healthcare insurance companies (think of policies with lower premiums but with provision for certain kind of treatments being done in Inida), would eventually bring down the US medicare costs and be a viable solution to the nation's ballooning medicare problem. I can almost "see" the value chain: a new breed of insurance companies selling policies with low premiums (and hence snatching marketshare from established ones); dispatch agencies specializing in doing the paper work and taking care of local logistics; airlines with specially designed aircrafts and other services for transporting patients and Indian agencies and hospitals specializing in medical care of out-of-country patients.

I believe this will be good thing to happen. Seniors will be able to get timely medical service and the younger generation will have to pay less for care of elderly.

November 19, 2004

I am a HP blogger now

Check it out at App Manageability blog.

I will continue to blog at this weblog on topics other than manageability.

November 20, 2004

Are flexible systems always more complex?

On face of it, the statement that felxibility results in complexity is almost an expression of commonsense -- similar to the assertion that more secure systems are less usable. Afterall, any activity undertaken to make a system more flexible, such as, adding more options, supporting additional configurations, introducing hooks for extensibility etc., will inevitably introduce complexity.

But, is it really true that more secure systems less usable? An obvious justification would be that if it was not so, then why would companies (like MS)sacrifice security in favour of ease of use. Or, is the real truth, like most things in life, less clear? Constantin Rozinov's paper Are Usability and Security two opposing directions in computer systems [PDF] examines this question with a number of real life examples and comes to the conclusion that it is possible to grow security and usability of a system at the same time. It requires more forethought and a different approach to design and construction (than adding security to an existing insecure system), but is doable.

So, when this issue of designing more flexible systems without introducing additional complexity came up during one of our team meetings, I started thinking about examples and counter-examples.

Here are some of the supporting ones I came up with:

  1. A general purpose computer (say, a PC) versus a specialized device (say, a TV set): A PC, capable of doing many different kinds of tasks, is undoubtedly more flexible and complex than a TV, which can be used for a fairly limited set of activities.

  2. Perl versus JavaScript: I don't have to argue that Perl is flexible. With Perl, you can do almost anything that you can do in C (though you may not like to!). However, the price of the power is signficant complexity. It is not unheard of, even for expert Perl programmers, that understanding even your own code could be hard. In compariosn, JavaScript, another scripting language, is much simpler. Of course, it does limit you in what you can do with it!
  3. Unix versus DOS: This comparison may not make sense in year 2004 but go back into the past by 10 years and then compare these two dominant Operating Systems. Unix was (is) very flexible (and complex) compared to DOS.

  4. Emacs versus vi: I have never used Emacs myself but based on whatever I have heard and read, it is a safe bet to say that the former is much more flexible than the later. It also is much more complex, at least to someone who doesn't know either of these editing environments.

Do these examples conclusively determine that flexible systems are always more comlex? Well, examples can never be proofs, but they do throw some light on potential linkage.

I also tried to come up with some counter-examples and was pleasantly surprized to come up with an equal number of those:

  1. Command shell versus GUI: A command shell may be more difficult to learn and use (than a GUI), but as far as the internal complexity is concerned, there cannot be any doubt that the former is much simpler. At the same time, it lets you do things that simply may not be possible with a GUI.
  2. XML versus ASN.1: With so many XML related specifications coming out almost every day, it may be hard to say that XML is simple. But then, most of these are languages making use of XML and are proof of the fact that XML is flexible. ASN.1, in contrast, never found applicability outside a limited domain consisting of SNMP, PKCS, RPC, CORBA and so on. Those who have worked with both these technolgoies to specify information schema and formatting, would agree that ASN.1 is much more complex to learn, use, implement and debug.

  3. HTTP versus FTP: Now, some people may argue that it is not fair to compare HTTP with FTP, but if you look at their guts, these two protocols are not all that different in their intent -- both allow exchange of data, both run on top of TCP/IP, both require two ends to be active at the same time, both have very similar primitives and so on. Still, HTTP is much simpler and flexible than FTP.

  4. Internet versus POTS (Plain Old Telephone Systems): My last example is the most telling one: Intenet, the global network of millions of computers connected together using open protocols, does things (like moving information from one point to another) which are very simlar to what POTS, a complex switching and communication systems built on many proprietary technologies, does. Still, the Internet is infinitely more flexible than POTS.

An interesting aspect of these counter-examples, with the exception of Command Shell and GUI, is that the simpler and more flexible system grew to solve newer problems and at times, out of frustration with the existing and inflexible system. This didn't happen as a result of minor tinkering or addition of newer capabilities into the existing system. The simpler and more flexible systems were designed from ground up, using entirely different principles. And may be, herein, lies the lesson: if your goal is to increase flexibility without introducing additional complexity, then look at a different way to solve the same problem!

December 31, 2004

No sound in ImageMixer -- Google comes to rescue

I was having trouble capturing video from my Sony DCR-TRV350 Handycam using PIXELA ImageMixer software (comes bundled with the Handycam) on a Windows XP box. I could see the video in motion but there was no sound. First I suspected the connection between speakers and the computer but this was not a problem as I could play the sound samples from ImageMixer without any problem.

Googling for No sound in ImageMixer (the very first try) produced this page, which had the right answer. The default setting for Sound Device (to see the settings, click on Preferences icon at the top-right corner of the screen -- a circle with wrench image in it) is Sony Digital Imaging Audio, which is not the right one for USB Connection. You need to select USB Audio Device.

Another instance of non-obvious defaults!

January 1, 2005

Holiday Project#1 -- From Camcorder to DVD

For quite some time, I have been thinking of burning DVDs of my copious camcorder recordings of past several years, spanning more than 20 or so Hi8/Digital8 tapes. But given that my home PC didn't have a DVD writer and my knowledge of video capture/editing/burning technologies is rather limited, it remained just an idea. So, last week when I had a week long shutdown at the workplace, I decided to take the plunge and actually do what I had in mind for so long.

Getting Ready

The first step was to buy a brand new PC with somewhat respectable capabilties. Well, I shouldn't give the impression that burning DVDs was the only reason for this purchase. My existing box, a self-assembled system running Windows 2000 with AMD Athlon 900MHz dating back to Dec. 2000, had started giving me intermittent freeze-up problem which I couldn't fix either by reinstalling the software or even changing the hard disk. In a way, I was just looking a for a good pretext to get another, state-of-the-art system, and now I had that.

So, I made few rounds of local Frys and ended up buying a mid-range Compaq Presario system -- a fine box with following specs: Intel Pentium 4 Processor 515, 2.93GHz, 512MB RAM, 160GB Hard Drive, 8X DVD+/-RW and 48X CD-Rom Drives, Windows XP Home Edition. Ofcourse buying the system was the easy part. Setting it up with all my favorite software took almost a day.

Connecting Camcorder to the PC

The next step was to install the imaging software that came with my Sony Digital Handycam -- a Digital 8, DCR TRV350. This software included a Sony USB driver and PIXELA ImageMixer, Ver. 1.5, package. Both installations went through without any glitch. I connected the camcorder to the PC with USB cable and was overjoyed to see the video within a ImageMixer window.


But, wait. There was something wrong. Though I could see the picture in motion, I heard nothing. There was no sound!

With a bit of googling and some luck, I solved this problem by setting the right preference in ImageMixer.


I could now capture both video and audio, but could not burn them onto a DVD! It dawned on me that the ImageMixer software would allow me to create a Video CD but not a DVD! Not good. Afterall, I have a DVD player that I use with my TV, not a Video CD player (does anyone use Video CDs these days?!). Even the recoring software that came with the new PC, Sonic RecordNow!, didn't include DVD burning software (well, the documentation does mention that it will sense either myDVD or DVDIt installation and use that for video projects).

So, I made another trip to the local Frys in search of DVD burning software and bought Roxio Easy CD and DVD Burning for $29.99. The feature that got me sold was: takes footage from a DV camcorder directly to a DVD with just two clicks.

To my surprize, I ran into the same problem with Roxio that I had with ImageMixer -- I could see the video on monitor but no sound.


I suspected the same audio setting problem -- and sure enough, the settings screen confirmed my suspicion.


But there was a crucial difference -- unlike ImageMixer, the Roxio Advanced Settings window will simply not let me select USB Audio Device as Audio Source!
I also found that others had similar problems. In fact, after reading this thread, I tried connecting audio/video output of the camcorder to the audio input of the PC using the same cable that I use to play the tapes on TV. And lo, I actually got the audio. But the quality was terrible and so, I decided not to go this route.

Another difference that I observed was that with Roxio I couldn't control the camcorder tape (rewind, forward, play, stop etc.) from within the software (I had to use the camcorder controls) which I could do with ImageMixer.

A Solution

After more than a day of trying, here I was -- I could use ImageMixer to capture but not burn and Roxio to burn but not capture. So, I decided to try out the combination -- use ImageMixer to capture and Roxio to burn.

The End Result
This approach actually worked, almost. I could save the video clips captured by ImageMixer to files and then import the files into Roxio to create a movie and then burn that into a DVD. However, there were problems:

  1. filesize problem: ImageMixer could save video clips as either AVI or MPEG-1 files. As I found the quality of MPEG-1 files rather poor, I decided to use AVI files. But these files were huge. A 10 minute video clip occupied more than 4 GB and the ImageMixer (incorrectly) reported that the HDD was full. Strangely, even 10 minutes of MPEG-1 capture produced the same error, although the resulting filesize was less than 500MB. I could get around this problem by capturing a 60 minute tape into 6 video clips, but it would be too much work if I had to do this for all my recordings.

  2. Case problem with filename extension: ImageMixer saves AVI files with filename extension as ".AVI", such as Cap0001.AVI (notice the upper case), but Roxio software didn't recognize this extension (it recognized lower case extension ".avi"). I had to go to command shell and rename all the filenames, one by one.

  3. quality problems: While importing the file in Roxio, I was greeted by the following message:


    It appears that the Frame Size of 320x240 and Audio Bitrate of 1411200 are not okay. But I do not know what to do about these. So, I went ahead and imported the files anyway. Rest of the steps, though bit slow (the conversion to DVD format and actual burning took more than a couple of hours), went fine. However, when I actually inserted the DVD into the DVD player and watched it, the picture quality, though not too bad, was not as good as what I could get by directly connecting the camcorder to the TV.

This is where I am right now -- with a transfer process that is not acceptable to me: takes too much time and effort and the end result is less than satisfactory. I wish I had a standalone DVD recorder that could take video/audio feed directly from my camcorder and burn DVD without going through the PC and all the complicated software.

January 2, 2005

Holiday Project#2 -- Changing Web Hosting Company

Hard to believe but it is true: I am still paying $14.95 per month, the amount I agreed to pay more than three years ago, to host my homepage at and do not have access to any of the advanced goodies, such as shell access, hundreds of MBs of storage space etc., that now-a-days is available for much less. To top it, I host another site with a different web hosting company, forking out another $30.00 per month. Though, this one offers many high-end capabilities in ample qunatities -- in fact, enough to satisfy the current needs of both the sites combined and then some.

So, it was no brainer that I should consolidate both sites with the same web hosting company. This is exactly what I had planned to do during Christmas vacation and identified the following tasks:

  1. Create a shell account on the target server for keeping all the data and applications.

  2. Migrate Application(s): Install the latest version of MovableType, the software that powers my weblog, to the target server. I could simplify my task by copying the current application bits but then I wanted to upgrade this application for numerous other reasons anyway. Luckily, this is the only application that currently runs on the expensive site.

  3. Migrate Weblog database.

  4. Move other static content.

  5. Contact the domain name registrar to change the DNS servers for

  6. Get the DNS entries modified so that and point to the new server.

  7. Cancel the account with the existing hosting company for

Though I made good progress on installing MovableType 3.14 and migrating the data, this task is not yet complete. My initial plan was to just copy the berkley db files and regenerate weblog pages. For some strange reasons, this didn't work. First, I suspected the problem to be version mismatch for berkley db software and followed the procedure to upgrade the db files, but this didn't help. Then I tried Exporting the weblog entries from existing site and importing that into the new installation. This appeared to work but then I realized that the export doesn't work for uploaded files. So, I needed to take care of these files manually.

Moving static content also turned out to be much more work than I had anticipated. So much so that I am yet not done!

Year 2004 Roundup

The year end is usually the time to reflect back on the year gone by and make resolutions for the new year. And though I have not been making my new year resolutions public, I don't mind talking about good and not-so-good things of the previous year:

The HI-LITES of Year 2004

  1. Publications: No, I didn't write another book. Year 2004 was the year of small articles in trade journals: JMX Best Practices in JavaPro, Evolving JMX in WebServices Journal, JMX and WSDM at DRC developer's corner and few others. As you can see, I have been getting more and more engaged with my day job.

  2. HP Software Group announces its blog and I join as a blogger: Not much there yet, but keep watching ;-)

  3. Akriti's school makes us feel proud: by scoring perfect 1000 in 2004 API ranking.

  4. Delivered a product: The never ending re-orgs of past few years had deprived me of something that every engineer cherishes -- a real product delivery. But delivery of WLI-SPI changed that and allowed me to have first hand expereince with OpenView technologies and customers.

The LO-LITES of Year 2004

  1. Incomplete personal projects: I exited year 2004 with a number of home/holiday projects incomplete: (a) transferring video recordings to DVD; (b) migrating homepage to another web hosting company; (c) furnishing the home; and few others. These will probably keep me busy for other few weeks.
  2. Not-so-great performance of my book at stores: Well, I never planned to retire on royalties but was still dismayed by the meager sale figures. I guess, part of the problem is that Google has obviated the need for certain category of books and other part is that it was a one-off thing for me. Most people write books to promote their consulting or training business and people buy their books because they consider them authority on the subject. It wasn't so for me. The fact that HP bailed out from J2EE based App Servers business and I joined the OpenView group was not very helpful.
  3. The financial aspects of owning a house: Mortgage payment, property taxes, insurance, gardening, incidental expenses (first, the heating system broke down, then the geyser and we also had a couple of drainage clogging instances) kept our finances strained. And though the house is great, I wonder if it was a financially wise decision to purchase the house. The only consolation is that, as per statistics, the real estate prices still seem to be headed north.

Besides these, life continued as usual. A number of trivia worth mentioning:

  1. We visited San Diego for few days in the month of August and had a great time there. Akriti and Unnati were excited to see a real Panda in the San Diego Zoo.

  2. Our wireless home network functioned quite well most of the time and allowed Akriti and Unnati to play the neopet, barbie and numerous other games from their room without the ungainly sight of Cat5 cables. I could also use my laptop while watching TV.

  3. Unnati was so fascinated by the picture on my monitor of zooming down from sky to her school campus using a trial download of keyhole that she still asks for "the earth" whenver in my home office.

  4. With all the hype around GMail, Google Suggest and rich web applications in the technical blogsphere, I learnt enough of CSS and JavaScript to write simple utilities on my own. To complement this for writing web based apps, I also learnt a bit of Perl.

January 9, 2005

What to do when COMCAST Cable doesn't work?

Let me state upfront that I do not work for COMCAST and you are not going to learn about what to do when COMCAST Cable doesn't work for whatsoever reason. However, I do want to talk about what I did when today our TV set started showing snow instead of Zee USA. What I have to say may be obvious to you, or you may learn a few (geek?) tricks (Disclaimer: I do consider myself a geek with matters pertaining to software, but certainly not with TV and cable related hardware!).

Well, the first thing I did was something that most of us would do: give a call to the COMCAST tech. support. The guy at the other end was quite friendly. He asked me a few questions, tried a remote "reset" of the Cable box, gave instructions for a couple of trouble-shooting operations, but finally gave up, saying, "your cable box seems to have gone bad. Either schedule an appointment or exchange it at the nearest COMCAST service center". I didn't want to have anon-functional TV fro their next available day and wait during a 4 hour window, so I chose to make a trip to the service center.

But what to do about today's Astitva, which I didn't want to miss, and Kareena Kareena, which Veena didn't want to miss? Now that I had to unplug the Cable box anyway, I decided to try out a couple of experiments.

The first experiment was to connect the RF connector of the cable directly to the TV (this connection was to the Cable box earlier). To my surprise, I got video and audio in the TV and I could watch a non-premium TV channel. Perhaps this was not suprising -- afterall, there was signal in the cable (that is how the COMCAST technician was able to do a remote "reset") and not all channels are scrambled, though this is something I didn't know before. This also confirmed that there was no problem with the TV's RF reception circuitry (I knew that rest of the TV worked fine, for I could get the video and audio signals from both the VCR and the DVD Player).

Though this trick got me a functioning TV, it did little to solve my immediate problem, for Zee is a premium channel and its signals are scrambled.

While inspecting the Cable box, I noticed that it also has output ports for normal Video Audio 3 wire cable. This gave me an idea. Why not connect the cable to the cable box and use a Video Audio connector to connect the cable box with the TV. Afterall, there was some possibility that the problem was with the RF output of the cable box, and not with the de-scrambling circuitry. So I tried that. And, lo ... I was getting Zee programming on my TV!

January 28, 2005

Migration to new hosting server complete

I wrote about changing the web hosting company few weeks ago as one of the holiday projects. Well, this project took much longer than orginally anticipated. It was only yesterday that I changed the DNS settings at my domain name Registrar. Within hours, all new connections to were being routed to the new server.

Moving the static content was not much of a problem. It was my blog that presented real challenge. In fact, it is not done yet! I will say more about blog migration in a future entry.

Another challenge was ensuring good web traffic log analysis at the new Server. Although this hosting company gives me much better access to the server, it uses Analog for web traffic log analysis, which I found inferior to the what I had before at So, I installed AWStats-6.2. This compares quite favorably with the version of Urchin that was used by More on this comparison in a separate blog entry.

You will notice additional information on the main page and some minor changes in the site design. Hope you like the changes.

July 19, 2005

dazzled by zazzle

It is rare for me to get excited over wares peddled by online startup companies, but the zazzle story (sorry, I can't find a freely accessible online link) covered by yesterday's San Jose Mercury News got me interested -- so much so that I actually created and bought three personalized stamps.

  akriti.jpg   whole_family.jpg   unnati.jpg

I found the web based interface to upload picture files, create personalized stamps and place the order very intuitive and easy to use. The pricing is somewhat on the higher side -- I ended up paying $45.18 (S&H and taxes included) for 60 stamps with total value of $16.6 -- but not too much.

August 14, 2005

Bat-i-licious: a bat lover's blog

My former boss took the plunge and is actually now doing what she always wanted to do -- studying bat behavior. Read more about it at her Bat-i-licious BATGRRL blog.

I had read about such things, but this is the first time that someone I know has actually done this.

Such study is certainly off mainstream. In fact I first misunderstood it as some form of bio technology, and was promptly corrected by the BATGRRL.

September 27, 2005

Good career advice

Once in a while Anne Fisher has something really good to say about career planning. Her latest column on disaster-proofing your career is one such example.

In this column, she talks about three things:

  1. Figure out what the people above you really care about. Forget the vision statement and other propaganda. Instead, find the hidden agendas. Ignore what higher-ups say and watch what they do. Then do likewise.

  2. Support your boss and make him look good. Antagonizing a boss is an invitation to catastrophe.

  3. Be publicly enthusiastic about the company, what it's doing, and your role in it. Employers rarely get rid of cheerleaders. Even in a drastic layoff, their jobs are safe.

Are we missing something here. Things like showing results, working hard, etc. etc.!

October 3, 2005

I cancelled my Safari subscription

After beeing a subscriber to Safari Bookshelf for almost a year, today I cancelled my $15 a month basic subscription. Interestingly, the cancellation page asked me to select reasons for terminating the service from a list of more than twleve plausible reasons. Here is what I selected:

  1. Usage too low to justify subscription. I was hoping to reduce my yearly spending on books from more than $500.00 to around $200.00 by subscribing to this service. My annual apending on books has certainly declined, but not because I was using reading books online but because publishers were sending me free review copies after my success with publishing reviews at Slashdot.
  2. Prefer proper books to electronic versions. I ended up buying a couple of books which were available at Safari for the simple reason that reading complete books on screen turned out to be too difficult for multiple reasons -- (a) easy access to browser made it hard to not do Internet surfing while reading online books; (b) while working on a program, it was easier to reference paper books than electronic books which competed for the screen real estate with code; and (c) at times I wanted to just get away from the computer and spend time with a good book.

So, I don't think I am going to miss Safari. We will see.

February 1, 2006

What is wrong with EBAY stock price?

I was shocked to see the EBAY stock price today at my Google personalized homepage:


March 3, 2006

Experimenting with Powerline Networking

My Wi-Fi home network has been coming short in many ways: My daughter's computer next room and just 15 feet away from the wireless router drops out of the network every now and then and most of the area upstairs gets either no or very weak signal. Assuming that this is due to low strength signals from the built-in transmitters in the Linsys router, I purchased and installed an external Airlink 101 8dbi directional Antenna. This helped a bit but didn't eliminate the problem.

I would have perhaps lived with these problems but then it became a showstopper, at least in my mind, for my (future) pet home project: upgrading the laptop powering the home radio system to run MythTV near TV in the hall upstairs and providing TiVO like capability without its monthly expense.

During last few days I seriously entertained the option of running CAT5 cable all over the house and have a wired LAN. But this is no small task. Besides, I couldn't think of a way to hide the wires from sight. Almost 100% sure that Veena, my wife, wouldn't approve of wires all around the house, I finally dropped this idea.

I had almost lost the hope of a fully networked house when the idea of a powerline based home network hit me. Did some reasearch on the web and then without losing time went to the local Frys and found Netgear Wall-plugged Ethernet switches, model XS104 on the shelf. The rated bandwidth of 85Mbps seemed pretty good. So, I went ahead bought two of those.

Continue reading "Experimenting with Powerline Networking" »

April 20, 2006

My old office building being demolished for Apple's new campus

Today morning I was engulfed with fond memories of dotcom boom after reading the news about Apple building its second capus in Cupertino. The area earmarked for this campus currently houses a number of vacant HP buildings.

Area Map in the News Report Same Area in Google Maps

I had joined the promising E-speak group and started working in one of those buildings during mid-1999 and moved to another adjacent building in mid-2000 to accomodate the growth. We were even talking about moving the whole group to a different location so all of us could be under one roof. But then things didn't work out and it all came crashing down and I had to move to a different group and a different building (though, thankfully, not very far).

January 7, 2007

Wonders of keyword based advertising

Came across this page following a slashdot story on Ajax vulnerabilities. Here is a screenshot:

About General

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Pankaj Kumar's Weblog in the General category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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