A Philistine Watches "2001: A Space Odyssey"
We watched Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" yesterday. I was terribly disappointed by this movie: most of the scenes were excruciatingly long, the music (when it was present) seemed mostly arbitrary for the scene in question, the "star gate" scene seemed amateurish and long (and looked as if it was designed to induce a headache), the actors were mostly expressionless, etc. On the positive side, I admired the special effects (awesome for 1968) and was pleased to see how they were shown in a matter-of-fact manner instead of the in-your-face style so common these days. I also like the main music score that was composed for this movie and which is the recurring theme throughout the movie.
The painfully long shots reminded me of the "art movies" we had to see in our childhood. At that time, the state television channel Doordarshan (literally "tele vision" in Hindi) was the only thing we could watch on TV. They used to show a movie every Sunday afternoon in one of the regional Indian languages. Being a Malayalee family, we used to watch every such Malayalam movie out of sheer loyalty. Unfortunately for us, Malayalam (like Bangla, but unlike other languages like Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, etc.) seemed to be blessed by a lot of award-winning directors who insisted on making "meaningful cinema" which was anything but meaningful to the vast majority of the population. It was very painful to sit through such movies.
I still remember a particularly painful scene from one such movie (whose name I cannot recall). The first shot shows an empty and untarred village road receding into the distance. After quite a while you notice a small speck on the horizon, very slowly increasing in size, until you can make out that it is a man on a bicycle slowly approaching your viewpoint. He finally passes your viewpoint after about five long and painful minutes. The next shot shifts the viewpoint so that now you see the same cyclist slowly pedal his way through the same road away from you till he again becomes a small speck on the horizon and till you admire the empty road for quite a while again. This shot lasts another five painful minutes. This scene makes you wonder what the point of the director was. Was it to drain all remaining enthusiasm for the movie from the viewer so that he does not apply much thought to the rest of the movie? Was it to filter the true admirer of meaningful cinema, who is masochistic enough to sit through such scenes, from the wannabes? Was it simply to fill up an extra reel of celluloid? Needless to say, after about 10 or 15 of such movies, our family lost all enthusiasm to watch Malayalam movies aired by Doordarshan. Only the advent of cable television brought relief and the ability to watch normal Malayalam cinema on TV.
Back to "2001: A Space Odyssey". In a couple of shots, there is this chorus of male noises in the background that has been warped to sound somewhat like the collective humming of a swarm of bees. That bit is rather painful on the ear as is the very shrill noise emitted by the black monolith on the moon when it is unearthed by humans. I personally also found some bits of well-known western classical music compositions a bit weird and out-of-place for the respective scenes.
The point of this long rant is that I believe that Kubrick could have so easily made this movie much shorter, much more bearable and much more accessible without losing anything of the story. Such a disappointment.
I was bitten by this problem when I tried to extract an archive created on my home PC using GNU tar 1.15.1 on Linux on different systems elsewhere. It seems that the "v7" format is the most portable at the moment, though it has severe problems with long file names and large files. My project does not have long file names or huge files, so I can use this format for the time being to avoid these problems. The long-term solution however is to encourage everyone to use a tar programme that can handle the far better POSIX-2001 format.
The main problem is not only that interval arithmetic is at least twice as slow as ordinary computer arithmetic, but also that the margins of error keep increasing over successive computations. Of course, this margin of error is anyway there in your computations whether you use interval arithmetic or not - at least now you have your "known unknowns" - but we humans normally do not like to face it. There are other problems too, including the difficulty of division when an interval contains the number 0, the non-distributive nature of computations, the necessity to anyway deal with floating-point precision and rounding errors when the endpoints of intervals are expressed as floating-point numbers, etc.
Despite all these problems, interval arithmetic might still be our best bet in attempting to perform meaningful computations on computers. Interestingly, Knuth also expresses a similar view in TAOCP Volume II ("Seminumerical Algorithms"), but sadly does not expand much on this topic.
The presentation was enlightening in several ways. Some interesting tidbits included:
It is also heartening to know that Blender 3D is getting better and better, especially for character animation, and we can actually do some of this stuff at home. Synfig, a 2D vector animation tool, also became Free recently though I do not know how good it is.
The first computer I worked on was the SCL Unicorn which was a clone of the BBC Micro Model B. This was a microcomputer based on the 6502 microprocessor and came with the OS and an interpreter for BASIC on ROM and 32KB of RAM.
Unfortunately, compiler vendors do not seem too eager to support all the features in C99 even after a better part of a decade after the standard was released! Microsoft is surely not in a hurry to support C99 and GCC and glibc are still not completely there yet. A sad state of affairs. Either the standards committee was eager to get new features into C without a buy-in from the compiler vendors or the C coders have been a little underwhelmed with these features and hence have not been pushing for support for them in their compilers.
IITs All About
Someone has uploaded CBS's "60 Minutes" feature on the IITs to Google Video (thanks to Arpana for pointing me to this). There is a lot of truth accompanied by the usual hyperbole in this video with unfortunately some of the interviewed students also playing along. For instance, not everyone likes to stay up all night preparing for examinations, that too accompanied by a doting tea-making mother. Certainly not everyone has their entire family dropping them off at the examination centre and has them hanging around for the entire duration of the examination. "Puh-sycho!" It is also too much of a stretch to put the IITs above MIT, Princeton, CMU, etc. - they are each good and bad in their own ways.
For the IIT Kanpur junta, someone else has also uploaded the musical production targetted at nostalgic alumni "Din Bhar" to Google Video. You must see this at least once.
In other news, GCC's SVN repository is also available for read-only access via HTTP for those who are stuck behind corporate firewalls and want access to the latest sources without having to download weekly snapshots. Of course, this is slower than the SVN protocol and might also be pulled off if it contributes too much to the load on the server.
New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.
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If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!