A rails iPhone webapp

I now run rtorrent as my torrent client of choice on my tonido plug. I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially in conjunction with rutorrent webUI.

One of the problems I had was that rtorrent is so efficient in using the bandwidth that it makes browsing very sluggish. Whenever I wanted to use the internet for something else, I used to ssh into the box and terminate the rtorrent process or at least throttle it from the webUI. However, my father also uses the internet connection and I needed a much simpler way to control how much of the bandwidth rtorrent uses.

One way could me using rutorrent and cutting it down to just barebones. However this solution seemed inelegant. rtorrent has an excellent XML-RPC implementation to control most of its actions. In fact, rutorrent uses this to control rtorrent. So, I thought why not use Rails to write a small webapp for iPhone to use XML RPC and do basic throttling and status reporting? Rails was probably too much for this application. Especially given that I didn’t need a database. Perhaps something like sinatra should’ve sufficed. However, it turned out to be exceedingly simple to write it in rails and I did so anyway.

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How to install deluge headless on the Tonidoplug

First boot the TonidoPlug from an external hard drive, follow the directions here: http://tonidouser.com/doku.php?id=advanceduses:usbboot.

I had trouble doing it, it turns out my USB hub was faulty and wasn’t letting the TonidoPlug detect the hard disk at boot time. I changed it and this works like a charm.

Now you are freed from the crippling limit of the 512MB internal flash, assuming you’ve booted off a nice big hard drive.

ssh into the plug. The default password is nosoup4u for the user root. It’s recommended you change it as soon as you log in.

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Plugged in and customized

I received my TonidoPlug after a 6 week wait post placing order. Tonidoplug is a low cost : 100$ + 30$ shipping to India + 560INR in duties, low power: of the order of 5W computer that runs Ubuntu. The first thing I set up on the plug was a static dhcp server. I wanted each device to have a fixed IP address that was centrally managed. The Tonido software that comes built-in with the plug computer sadly lacks a DHCP server module.

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Podcast advertising: a listener’s perspective

I have a 2.5 hour commute to work every day. Hence I listen to a lot of podcasts in various genres including news, science, technology, business, fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, horror) and comedy. I’ve seen various forms of advertising on these podcasts. I’d like to elucidate a few points to podcasting advertisers out there, based on my analysis of the ads I have heard:

  1. Know your audience: This goes almost without saying. I do mention it because some advertisements I’ve heard seem to miss this basic point. If your podcast has a largely international appeal, for example, an advertising pitch that highlights “all American” as the potential benefit of consuming the product is missing the point.
  2. Know how your audience listens to your podcast: While the podcast format derives a large part of its popularity due to the freedom it affords users in terms of how and when they listen to your podcast, a quick survey might give you an overall picture of consumption milieu. This could give you crucial insights into what kind of products that you can effectively advertise. One fiction podcast, for example, realized that a large portion of its audience listens to its podcast at bedtime and made a concerted pitch to sell fuzzy headphones that you can wear when you sleep.
  3. Keep the advertisement relevant to your podcast and, if possible, to the particular episode: While this seems very basic too, I’ve seen many business podcasts miss this! An automobile advertisement that talks about style and comfort is not exactly the thing you would like to sell in a podcast that is talking about green-tech or clean-tech.
  4. Know just-tolerable-length: Remember, most of your audience is listening to your podcast on an audio player that can easily skip ahead. If you make a advertisement small, then there is a good chance that the annoyance of skipping ahead is greater than having to listen to the ad itself. If you make it too small, your advertisement may not be effective. The key is to realize how small, exactly your pitch must be. The exact length that an ad should be is what I call just tolerable length.1 This is going to depend a lot on the factors I’ve listed above. If your advertisement is relevant, humorous or informative, people may be willing to spend more time listening to it than otherwise.

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  1. This is inspired by a consumer behaviour concept called just noticeable difference or JND. Just Noticeable Difference is the minimal apparent difference between two products as observed by the consumer. Otherwise we can say -“The just noticeable difference (JND) is the smallest difference in intensity between two stimuli that a person can detect.” []

Outsourced telecom management: new paradigm?

Telecommunications products and services are getting more complex every day. Therefore, it is not surprising that the problems faced by telecom customers is increasing as well. If you have ever called up a telco call center when faced with a complex technical problem, you will very well appreciate the horror of the situation.

In most companies, the IT department also handles telcom assets.  I also see that most big companies tend to outsource their IT needs. These companies also usually have water-tight SLAs1 with their service providers. Hence outsourcing merely their telecommunications requirements may not make sense for such companies.

For smaller and medium sized companies, however, outsourcing IT may not be feasible or even necessary. In such situations, does it make sense to outsource the telecom management? Telecom asset management can be a chore for most companies (unless they are service providers). This is not just due to plethora of devices a mid size company would need to service their telecom needs, but also due to the pain of having to keep the devices updated (having to deal software versions of various devices etc.). Given these factors an intermediary like an outsourced telecom management firm akin to outsourced IT firm may be of some value.

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  1. Service level agreements []

Patterns & Superstitions

The idea for this essay came to me when a friend of mine related a funny incident to me. He was trying to teach an elderly person how to use the internet to see news videos. My friend directed the elderly gentleman to the BBC website. Then he asked him to click on a link to a video (which, by the way, said “click here”). The video window appeared. Then the “loading” graphics, which looks like something like this, appeared on screen. The elderly gentleman assumed that, since he had to click on the icon that said “click here”, he is supposed to move the mouse pointer along with the revolving graphics for the video to load. So he did that, and coincidently, whenever he tried doing so and stopped, the buffer would fill up and the video would play!

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We are like that only

I guess adding “only” for emphasis is part of Indian English. I think we have this emphasis adding words in all Indian languages. Hence it probably is part of the way we think.

Are you coming to the class?
Yeah! I am going there only!

Where do you get this biscuit?
In the same shop only!

Is there any other way to express the same emphasis in English? Or is it like this only?

Busy-ness

Came across this wonderful passage recently when I was reading about Gandhiji.

Gandhi was sworn to punctuality, and his life was governed by the watch to an unusual degree; though it should at once be added that despite keeping to a meticulous schedule for much of his life, Gandhi’s conception of time was never such that it did not allow him to make time for anyone, howsoever high or lowly, who should choose to enter into his life or make demands upon him. That pernicious word ‘busy’,1 with which we all excuse ourselves from the common obligations of humanity, and the onerous company of unwanted relatives, acquaintances, and others who seek to intrude uponour time, was surely no part of Gandhi’s lexicon.23

I guess there is a logical reason for this, notwithstanding the humanitarian one. It is that if you live by your plan, you close your mind to new experiences and in a way to life.

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  1. Emphasis mine []
  2. Emphasis mine []
  3. From ‘Hey Ram’: The Politics of Gandhi’s Last Words, Vinay Lal, Published in Humanscape 8, no. 1 (January 2001):34-38. []

Is homo economicus happy?

Economics is a fascinating subject. The so called dismal science1 has over the years come up with several models and theories that explain “the economy”. At the base of this magnificent edifice, however, lie some shaky assumptions.

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  1. Carlyle and the Racist Origins of the Idea that Economics was “the Dismal Science”, Gavin Kennedy, Professor Emeritus, Heriot-Watt University []

The stupidity of India’s carbon policy

India recently re-affirmed it’s stance on climate change when external affairs minister S M Krishna addressed a round table at the climate change summit organized by the UN. The minister said that India’s carbon emissions will never exceed that of the developed countries in per-capita terms. He also slammed the west for leading “unsustainable lifestyles” that caused the problem.1

In simple terms, India’s stance is “climate change? Ain’t my problem!”.

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  1. India asks developed nations to change their lifestyle, Business Standard, Thursday, Sep 24, 2009 []