I've had a lot of stick about this with my (mainly western) friends - The Swastiska. Made popular by its association with Hitler's nazism and racism. Which always made me want to shrivel up and implode, since that symbol of hatred was ever present in innocuous little forms in my house all year-round.

Of course, these were the days before The Internet and its panacea, Google. Days which relied upon a person's ability to recount facts, formulate coherent sentences, or at worst, produce a ratty, ear-marked booked from the family's heirloom collection, to back the argument. Or as was usually the case, timely employment of the vocal chords for maximum output.

Those were the days. But, the argument can now be won over, with many a sources produced as evidence, and numerous cross-references. It all started with the rather ignoble act of another British royal family member, the charming Prince Harry wearing a
Nazi costume to a fancy party. While one could spend an entire day listing the subsequent events - from the usual (Tory leaders demanding apology) to the attention-hungry, to the unexpected EU calls for ban on Nazi symbols.

But I digress. Back to Swatiska and its origins.

The swastika is a cross with its arms 90° to either right or left. It is usually oriented horizontally or at a 45° angle. Its Indian form typically features a dot in each quadrant (as shown in the figure to the right).

The word swastika is derived from the Sanskrit svastika, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of su-, meaning "good, well" and asti a verbal abstract to the root as "to be"; svasti thus means "well-being". The suffix -ka forms a diminutive, and svastika might thus be translated literally as "little thing associated with well-being", corresponding roughly to "lucky charm".

The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years. Artifacts such as pottery and coins from ancient Troy show that the swastika was a commonly used symbol as far back as 1000 BCE.

In my house, Swastika was drawn clockwise on all auspicious occasions, where the clockwise arms signified Brahma, The Creator. When drawn in anti-clockwise directions (not usually in homes, if I remember correctly), it signified the involution of the universe (nivrutti). The clockwise Swastiska is also seen as pointing in all four directions, stabilising the energy fields where its drawn, and providing a sense of peace. It also a good-luck symbol. It is used in all Hindu yantras and religious designs. It can be seen on the sides of temples and on religious scripture to gift items and letterhead in India. The swastika is considered extremely holy and auspicious by all Hindus.

So how did this good-luck totem, this innocuous symbol of well-being become so firmly rooted in Nazism?

Well, the simplest explanation is that the Nazi use was linked to the belief in the Aryan cultural descent of the German people. They considered the early Aryans of India, to be the prototypical white invaders and hijacked the sign as a symbol of the Aryan master race. Thus, they saw fit to co-opt the sign as a symbol of the Aryan master race.

Bet my mom had no idea that the little figure she drew so many times would come to symbolize so much racial hatred, and human extremity.

Airbus A380

It is rather ironic, and perhaps a sign of times, that a new passenger aircraft has been launched favouring the masses, when the one favouring technology and human excellence had to be taken off the skies.

Below are the specifications for this monstrosity that shall soon be let loose upon humanity.
  • Length: 73m
  • Wingspan: 79.8m
  • Height: 24.1m
  • Typical capacity: 555
  • Max capacity: 840
  • Engines: 4
  • Cruising speed: 0.85 mach
Airbus A380, a twin-deck aircraft can carry about 555 people - more than the Boeing 747 jumbo built by Airbus' main competitor. It is already praised as "crowning achievement of a human and industrial adventure", and has been described as a "European success".

If it's big, it must be good. It is the era of super-sizing, of oversized humans, and never-before obesity rates. It is an invention with an eye towards the bottom line, never mind that the A380 is almost $2bn over budget. It is a plane that needs a new factory: 490 metres long, 250 metres wide and 46 metres tall. It is a plane that warrants changes to airports. In fact, Heathrow is already undergoing modifications to accommodate this new flying monster - a pier at Terminal 3 will be demolished to make more space for the massive wingspan of the plane.

As usual, Europeans are quick to pounce on it as a testimony to "old Europe". The launch was, for Noel Forgeard, Chief Executive Airbus, a moment to behold, and not to be modest: "Under the name Airbus, Europe has written one of its most beautiful pages of its history". Yeah, maybe there 's Hitler in the making as well somewhere.

For consumers, it maps out the future of air travel, or at least the version touted by Airbus. But amidst the backslapping corporate executives, lets not forget that without government assistance, the A380 would probably never have been built. Billions of euros have been handed over in "launch aid loans" in recent years - under generous repayment terms - to assist Airbus's development of the A380. Airbus has downplayed the cost of the project despite the fact it could run as much as 1.5bn euros over budget. "That sounds quite a lot of money until you realise you are dealing with a programme which is about 11bn euros," commercial director John Leahy told the BBC.

Maybe, just maybe it will make flights cheaper.
Think more than 500 sweaty, overweight, smelly, foul mouthed, bad tempered, harrased and dehydrated passengers around you. Think of interminable queues at baggage collection, and absolute chaos when several flights land at the same time, and you get the idea. As more and more people fly, and the number of planes in the sky increases, surely customers will want more comfort. But then, that's the mantra for Boeing's dream liner.


Hindi music and DVD websites

It's always a pain finding a decent hindi radio station, among the hive of bhangra spewing bollywood/asian "transition" stations, which play pretty much the same music.

This page lists such resources, along with websites that stock hindi DVDs not just from the current releases, but the real stuff of the past
  • Radio stations
    • DeSi-RaDiO (Listen now!)- plays indian/pakistani songs. This is one of the better sites, with capability to search and request songs, view playlist and provides a list of newly added songs and albums. Since the model is request-queue, you may not always like the song.
    • Radio Bollywood mantra - as the name suggets it caters, mostly, the latest stuff that bollywood spews out. Its not always to my liking, but I'm sure there must be some who fancy it. Winamp, Real, Windows Media
    • Ishara.net - Not sure if it belongs to this category, but last I checked it had streaming videos of bollywood songs. Not a very well designed website though
    • Radio Syberdentist - Yes, that's how it spelt. He calls his radio statio "Arrhythmia", and has about 3500 songs. The playlist repeats itself after about 4 hours, but there is some very likeable stuff there. I am not particulary impressed with the music quality, but then he's managing the station on his own. You can listen on modem quality (24 kpbs) or "broadband" (48 kbps)
    • Radio Sur - there's some good stuff here. You can email to request songs.
    • Radioteentaal - I looks that it's still under construction, but if you can look past the gaudy colours, you might find good quality music on here. Serves different bandwidths for Real, WinAmp, Windows Media and QuickTime, but sadly, you'd find the scratch DJ in odd places. Besides, the songs seem strangely remixed, so probably not for connossieurs.
    • A1 SmashHits Radio - Not really my type, since it requires you to have a specific plugin than let you listen to a shoutcast stream, but it offers the capability to listen by genre, actor/actresses and even music director.
    • Music India Online - Similar to A1 SmashHits, with a better collection. Again, requires a specific plugin to listen, but has less pop-ups
    • Raaga - Probably the best among websites that provide a choice of genres. A useable interface (a first for Indian websites!)
  • DVD
    • Play - As much as I'm angry at play for a meagre stock of hindi (or bollywood) movies, it probably has the biggest collection for any website that I've come across so far. Lets not forget the quality of service, and free delivery!
    • Tesco - Just another option, I don't think much of the collection, and its more expensive than Play anyway.
    • ChoicesDirect - poor man's DVD collection. Not sure why anyone would want to go here, but it's there.
    • BollywoodDVDs - They need to work a lot on their website, but it seems to have a collection that rivals Play. They stock Jaane Bhi Do Yaroo hehe! Course Play.com beats them in most comparisons, but you'll find a lot of stuff here that Play doesn't have. There's free UK delivery as well!

More webcams on google

No, not the naughty kinds

Following my earlier post on this, I fiddled around with documents types and found some more interesting stuff on Google. Here's another query that gives you URL to webcams online.

Voila! The results are even better this time! Not only are there cams available for public viewing, but there are cams that you can pan and rotate, and even with sound! :
  • This one seems to be opposite to a car park, which you can zoom and rotate. You can change resolution
  • (Apparently) vet hospital - I could see a cat lying with one of those protective cones around its neck, and there were machinery bleeps on regular intervals that was probably monitoring its health closely. In the background I could hear footsteps, the kinds that are produced by high heels against hard surface. Nurses maybe? And occasionally, you can hear them talk and giggle. Either the cam is configured to rotate on itself, or maybe someone else was messing with it the same time as me :p Wait! There are two cats, and some woman's slippers there as well. Freaky...
  • This one says Carthage Square. The very first hit for "Carthage Square" reveals a weather cam on Carthage Square, in Carthage, Illinois. From the website: "..showing the area around the Hancock County Courthouse and the weather in Carthage. It is taken from the Station House Restaurant (thanks, Randy!) on the south side of the square, generally looking to the North.."
  • This one is from Cal Poly State University, CA, in some "hangar". You'll know what I mean
  • If you are into flowers and outdoors, here's just the cam for you :)
  • This perhaps is the one with most activity, in Minoshima, Japan. Any guesses to what it monitors? You can see ppl crossing streets, biking, and if you are sharp enough, you can spot registration plates of the cars passing by :-)
  • This monitors, what I think, a server room. The light were switched off when I was messing about with it, but you may have better luck!

Most of these ask you to install the Panasonic Camera Control OCX, which I was initially hesitant to install, but I took the plunge on my old PC, and ran the AV on it, without any problems. Further, most of these cams are in Japan and America, and some in Germany.

I must have broken so many laws tonight...


Publicly accessible online webcams

I'll never tire of being amazed at the kind of stuff that I find on Google.

Here's a Google query that retrieves a list of online web-cams - some of which are probably not meant to be publicly accessible. For example:
Most of the cams have pretty boring stuff on them, like this gas station, or this university campus. I'm sure if I trawl through enough links, I can find some of the naughty ones heh, heh, but haven't got the time right now, unfortunately :-/.

If you'd like to find out where they are, you take have a good guess after you've entered the cam's domain name or IP into whois.


"Extremely critical" IE6/SP2 Exploit Found

Another day, and brings another not-so-cheerful news...

Secunia is reporting three vulnerabilities in IE6 running on XP SP2. Any of these, in combination with an inappropriate behaviour where the ActiveX Data Object (ADO) model can write arbitrary files, can be exploited to compromise a user's system. Moreover, the vulnerability can be used to delete files from the user's system
  1. Insufficient validation of drag and drop events from the "Internet" zone to local resources for valid images or media files with embedded HTML code. This can be exploited by e.g. a malicious web site to plant arbitrary HTML documents on a user's system, which may allow execution of arbitrary script code in the "Local Computer" zone
  2. A security site / zone restriction error, where an embedded HTML Help control on e.g. a malicious web site references a specially crafted index (.hhk) file, can execute local HTML documents or inject arbitrary script code in context of a previous loaded document using a malicious javascript URI handler.
  3. security site / zone restriction error in the handling of the "Related Topics" command in an embedded HTML Help control can be exploited by e.g. a malicious website to execute arbitrary script code in the context of arbitrary sites or zones

Secunia has constructed a test, which can be used to check if your browser is affected by this issue:http://secunia.com/internet_explorer_command_execution_vulnerability_test/

Basically, this test uses the ntshared.chm MS-HTML help file, via ActiveX, to call this script [secunia.com], which, in turn, starts a new IE which goes to this site [secunia.com]. What's scary is this test script page from Secunia doesn't say what the test will do on your machine! All it says is "The test requires that you have Windows installed in 'c:/windows/"

Yet another reason to move to Firefox


Real life newspaper Ad

Authenticity doubtful, but funny nevertheless ---

The following is an ad from a real-life newspaper, which appeared four days ina row - the last three hopelessly trying to correct the first day's mistake.

MONDAY: For sale: R.D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Phone 948-0707after 7 PM. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who lives with him cheap.

TUESDAY: Notice: We regret having erred in R.D. Jones' ad yesterday. It shouldhave read "One sewing machine for sale cheap. Phone 948-0707 and ask for Mrs.Kelly, who lives with him after 7 P.M."

WEDNESDAY: Notice: R.D. Jones has informed us that he has received severalannoying telephone calls because of the error we made in the classified adyesterday. The ad stands correct as follows: "For sale -- R.D. Jones has onesewing machine for sale. Cheap. Phone 948-0707 after 7 PM. and ask for Mrs.Kelly who loves with him.

THURSDAY: Notice: "I, R.D. Jones, have no sewing machine for sale. I smashed it.Don't call 948-0707 as I have had the phone disconnected. I haven't beencarrying on with Mrs. Kelly. Until yesterday she was my housekeeper but she quit"

Microsoft Anti-spyware

Is this a new approach for thwarting bugs, malicious and unwanted programs, or is it a dubious attempt for revenue generation from an industry it helped to create?

It's nice to see the software giant attack the persistent problem head-on, rather than incomplete and inappropriate response (including XP SP2, which is more or less a bunch of "hotfixes" bundled together). The Anti-spyware program, available for download from www.microsoft.com, in typical MS fashion, is a beta, keeping alive the Microsoft tradition of using end-users as testers. Not only that, but this beta release has the name of the company the software was acquired from all over it (GIANT software). Looks like MS was in such a hurry to appease the users that had been swaying towards the unspeakable, ever since CERT recommended using Firefox over IE.

The other fears are along the line of updates. While the product is currently beta and the updates are free, what would happen once the bugs are eased off and enough data is gathered by MS (along with time) to plug the holes and the vulnerabilities this anti-spyware itself may contain?

Cure vs Protection?

Typically, MS has always been slow in responding to security and vulnerability fears, despite its claim to put security foremost in its priorities. Since it cannot do much about the current code base (other than push hotfixes as vulnerabilities are discovered), and Windows Longhorn doesn't seem to be anywhere on the horizon, MS has used its enormous resources to side-step the real issue - the numerous bugs and vulnerabilities that exist in the platform.

Further, such tools can only provide a cure once a security vulnerability or exploit is discovered. The updates or pattern files (or sig files) shall be pushed to end-users via Windows updates, and this product merely consolidates the several hotfixes that MS has released over the last year thattargeting a single virus, worm or variants, including Blaster, Mydoom and Download.Ject. In this context, this tool isn't any different than the already available tools such as Adaware or HiJackThis.

Incidentally, this announcement also takes the sheen of the fledgling anti-virus industry that Microsoft helped create. Symantec shares have dropped by six percent and McAfee were down by around four percent yesterday as Microsoft's news was announced. While Microsoft's free software is not an immediate threat, there is the fear that Vole will use its size and influence to expand into markets now dominated by those companies.


Silent remembrance

There was a 3 minute silence observed today to remember the 150,000 killed by tsunami in SE Asia.

Stock exchanges stopped trading, cars remained motionless in the streets of Stockholm, and mourners stood shoulder to shoulder in Paris. Flags flew at halfmast in UK, and even the royal household observed the silence.

As always, there were a few voices of disquiet. Why silence? What does observing silence achieve? Isn't observing silence just a symbolic show of sympathy? Isn't bringing everything to a stand-still adding further to the economic losses incurred in the tragedy? Some have even gone as far as questioning the length of silence - why a 3 minute silence for people in a remote part of the world, when there is only a 2 minute silence observed in the memory of hundreds of thousands who lost their lives in World War II?

So why do we really observe silence? What does it achieve? How did the tradition start?

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 the guns of Europe fell silent. After four years of the most bitter and devastating fighting, The Great War was finally over. The Armistice was signed at 5am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France on November 11, 1918. Six hours later, at 11am, the war ended.

The first Remembrance Day was conducted in 1919 throughout Britain and the Commonwealth. Originally called Armistice Day, it commemorated the end of hostilities the previous year. It came to symbolise the end of the war and provide an opportunity to remember those who had died.

However, after World War II, the Armistice day became Remembrance Day to include all thosw who had fallen in the two World Wars, and later conflicts.

It seems the idea of observing a respectful silence was proposed in 1919 by Edward George Hooney, an Australian journalist, which was subsequently brought to the attention of King George V, who then issued a proclamation calling for a two-minute silence:

All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.
So there's the history. I guess two minute was just about the right duration - one would have been too less, since the masses wouldnt really have stopped fidgeting before the interval was over, and more than two would have been too many. Anything more and it would probably be a logistics nightmare - schedules might need to be altered, new accommodations may have to be made, and of course, the fidgety masses may not be able to observe silence for long.

However, this symbolism doesn't just stem or end here. Followers of the Jain faith around the world follow Paryushan, an eight day period of study, fasting and introspection, in a call for forgiveness. More than a symbolic silence, this period is devoted by followers of the faith to get rid of the un-necessary baggage that we gather in the busy worldly lives. Paryushan is a time to clear that clutter and make a bonfire to burn that junk, that rubbish, which is corrupting our minds, lives and relationships”. While there is no set ritual or service, followers will pray, read scripture and attend Jain lectures. This process of introspection leads practitioners to a spiritual place where forgiveness can come.

Now, that is an idea I can subscribe to. Conscious self-reflection with an intent to heal, mend, to include, to embrace, to settle disputes and to unite with everyone with no exception is true remembrance with silence. Symbolism, in this context, provides but a novelty break at best.


Gmail invite

OK, here's the deal.

After giving away all the invites that I had so far, I still have 10 remaining.

I'd hate to see them go waste, so I'm offering those to anyone who wants them.

Please leave your first name, last name and email address as a comment to this post, and I'll send you an invite.

EDIT Jan 20, 2005: 4 invites remaining