Software I currently use

Every few years, I review the software I use. Here are some of my earlier lists.

Right now, among browsers, Chrome is my primary browser. What’s interesting is that IE 11 has overtaken Firefox in terms of usage. That’s partly because we’re working with Microsoft a lot, but also because Firefox has a number of weird bugs like IE6 used to have, and is slowly lagging in the race.

Next to browsers, I spend most of my time on the command prompt. I use Console2 for tabbed console windows. Given the number of command prompts I open, this is often necessary. I use bash in Cygwin as the default shell. Haven’t had the need for PowerShell.

The only text editor I use is Sublime Text 3. This is the only text editor I’ve used for the last 3 years. The only plugin I use is PlainTasks which I use as my todo list. I write my blog posts in Windows Live Writer, which makes blogging offline quite painless.

For image editing, I use PicPick to capture screens and basic editing. Since I haven’t upgraded to Windows 8, I don’t have the snipping tool. But PicPick also lets me pick colors from the screen, which is pretty useful when copying designs. For slightly more serious editing like changing colours, adding annotations, etc., I use Paint.NET. It’s close enough to Photoshop for most practical uses. On rare occasions, I’ve needed to power of GIMP – especially to remove background on images. But when even this fails me, it’s ImageMagick to the rescue, with inscrutable command line options that can morph Obama into Osama. If I want to edit icon files (to create favicons, for example), I use IcoFX. For vector graphics, I use InkScape, which has a steep learning curve but doesn’t seem to have a good free alternative. To edit shapefiles, I use QGIS, and Shape Viewer to view them.

For music and movies, I’ve kept it simple: I use VLC. It lets me stream on to my iPad. I can also watch/stream movies as they are being downloaded via μTorrent – which is probably the coolest feature feature of any torrent client. I store all my music in one large folder, and keep .m3u playlists. These are rsynced periodically into my Android phone.

For audio editing, Audacity remains my best bet. However, for video editing, my needs have changed. It’s usually screen-recordings I need to create, so I don’t use VirtualDub much. I’ve moved from CamStudio to Microsoft Expression Encoder Screen Capture (long name for a rather nice piece of software that works reasonably well.)

To read books, I’ve started using Calibre, simply because it can read both ePub and .mobi formats. Since then, I’ve been using Kindle less. I continue to use my old copy of Microsoft Reader, even though the product is dead, because I have a lot of .lit files. (That’s one of the advantages of software over online services. Even if they pull the plug, you can use an old copy of the software. And it works!) To read PDF files, I use Foxit PDF Reader. On the extremely rare occasion that I need to print PDF files from a software that does not support PDF printing, I use CutePDF Writer.

For file sharing, I use Dropbox for files. It’s simple, popular and just works. I tried BitTorrent Sync as a peer-to-peer alternative to Dropbox, but the interface has a long way to go before it’s usable. I do hope something emerges. For screen sharing, I use TeamViewer (which is fast) or join.me (which doesn’t require a client). Though I use Skype for calls, I don’t find its screen-sharing fast enough.

I play around with data a lot. This is mostly done in Python, for which I use Continuum’s Anaconda builds – they have most of the useful packages built-in. When I need to scrape Javascript-based websites, I try CasperJS on top of PhantomJS. This is particularly handy for the several ASPX based Government websites. I also have node.js installed, but don’t really use it much.

I use RStudio as my R IDE. I’m experimenting with Tabula to see if it’s practical to extract PDF tables with it, but my current preference is to use xpdf to convert PDF to text and then process it. For data cleansing, there’s only one tool that I know that’s effective: Open Refine. For network visualisations, I use Gephi, though NodeXL can do a small but useful subset of that within Excel.

For compression, I use 7-zip. The 7z format provides the best compression across most file types that I’ve seen, but even if you want to use ZIP files, 7-zip creates smaller ZIP files. For image compression, I use kraken.io, which offers the best compression I’ve seen. On the desktop, TruePNG and jpegoptim do the trick.

There are several small utilities I use. WinDirStat tells me how my hard disk space is used up, helping clean drives and Dropbox folders. ClipX lets you copy and keep multiple items in the clipboard. Restoration can undelete even permanently deleted files. Truecrypt keeps files encrypted. Putty lets you connect via SSH if you don’t have cygwin. But the mother of all tools is AutoHotkey, which I use for everything ranging from typing my signature to resizing windows to storing our conference bridge numbers.

I’ve a number of web servers on my system. I use XAMPP for Apache, MySQL and PHP, but also have nginx handy. But the simplest, easiest and smallest web server is perhaps Mongoose. Just run it in any folder to start a web server. python -mSimpleHTTPServer does the same for developers. I also have Fiddler installed as a proxy – partly to monitor what URLs my applications access, and partly to simulate slow speed connections for the web apps I build. Apart from MySQL in XAMPP, I have a few databases installed: SQL Server, SQLite and SQLite Studio to read the sqlite3 files.

      Of course, some of my apps apps have moved online, and my earlier post on the A-Z of my browsing history covers that. But there are a few applications that I’ve hosted which I must talk about. WordPress, which this blog runs on, is the primary one on the list. I also use gitlab as an internal alternative to Github, slideshare.net to share slides, and etherpad.mozilla.org to chat / collaborate on code. But the application that I spend the most time on is selfoss – an RSS reader, my replacement for the late beloved Google Reader.

A-Z of my browsing history

When you start typing in the address bar, Chrome suggests a link to visit, based on frecency. What do my recommendations look like?

  • A is for airtel.in/smartbyte-s/page.html – the page where you can check your bandwidth usage. I used to check it infrequently until I upgraded to a 125GB connection. Now I check it every few days and feel miserable that I’ve nowhere near used up my quota. This has coerced me to watch many Telugu movies, of which I don’t understand a word.
  • B is for blog.gramener.com – I blog there on data stories. The last month or so has been fairly active thanks to the elections.
  • C is for calendar.google.com – which has become primarily a shared calendar. It was always indispensible to manage my time. Now it helps my colleagues pick when to call me. Right now, my calendar has events booked about two months in advance.
  • D is for docs.google.com – for effectively one single purpose: shared spreadsheets. This is such a common and powerful use case, and I’m surprised it hasn’t become much easier to use.
  • E is for epaper.timesofindia.com – some of our content has been published by The Economic Times, and I keep doing ego-searches in the print edition. But close behind is eci.nic.in which I’ve been scraping a lot, and election-results.ibnlive.in.com which we created for CNN-IBN.
  • F is for flipkart.com – not facebook.com. I’m not often on Facebook.
  • G is for gramener.com. Naturally. (It’s not surprising that it’s not google.com: I search directly from the address bar.)
  • H is for handsontable.com – a library that I’ve been using a lot recently, followed by html5please.com that tells me which HTML5 features are ready for use.
  • I is for ibn.gramener.com – another property we created, but it only just beats irctc.co.in.
  • J is for join.me – a clean way to share your screen without the audience having to install anything (though you the sharer do have to install the software.)
  • K is for kraken.io – an amazingly efficient image compressor. As you might have guessed, I lead a strange life.
  • L is for learn.gramener.com – our Intranet. Sorry, you can’t access this one.
  • M is for mail.google.com. I’ll probably be moving away from gmail as a backend this weekend to Mail-in-a-box, though. Google’s pulling the plug on Google Reader has shaken my faith.
  • N is for news.ycombinator.com. When I’m bored and want to watch something while I have dinner, I don’t open YouTube. I open Hacker News.
  • O is for odc.datameet.org – the Open Data Camp. I’m quite into open data.
  • P is for pay.airtel.com, but if you ignore the number of bills I pay, it would be pandas.pydata.org, the home page of a remarkable data processing library.
  • Q is for quirksmode.org, PPK’s remarkable browser-compatibility guide
  • R is for reader.s-anand.net, my self-hosted RSS reader. It used to be reader.google.com, but Google let me down there.
  • S is for s-anand.net – this blog.
  • T is for twitter.com. Unlike Facebook, I don’t dislike Twitter so much.
  • U is for underscorejs.org. Clearly I need to get a life.
  • V is for visualizing.org. They have a number of interesting data visualisations.
  • W is for webpagetest.org – it helps measure the speed of web pages.
  • X is for xem.github.io. I’ve probably visited this page once, but it’s the only one in my recent history that starts with X
  • Y is for youtube.com. I lied. I spend an order of magnitude more time watching Telugu movies on YouTube than on Hacker News.
  • Z is for zoemob.com. Again, a page I visited only once, but there’s nothing else in Z at the moment.

Software for my new laptop 2

Time for a new laptop, and to replace software. Here’s my new list.

A lot has changed in the last 5 years. Mainly, I use the browser, cygwin and Portable Apps a lot more. (The last is to escape jailers, not registry bloat.)

Media

  • Chrome [new]: For browsing and development. Fast, light, and stays out of the way.
  • Firefox: I keep it just for printing. Chrome sucks at printing.
  • Media Player Classic: Nothing against it, but I decided to stick to just one app, which is…
  • VLC: Continues to be the best media player, IMHO.
  • WinAmp: I just manage my playlists as M3U files, using Python programs.
  • Audacity: Still the easiest way to record audio.
  • Camstudio: The simplest free portable screen capture software I know.
  • PicPick [new]: Lightweight, powerful screenshot grabber
  • VirtualDub: Not the simplest, but still good for what I need: cropping and joining video.
  • MediaCoder [new]: Good for video/audio conversions. Maybe I’ll install this later.
  • Foxit Reader: The simples free portable PDF reader I know, better than…
  • NitroPDF Reader [new]: … which is good for Printing PDFs – better than…
  • Primo PDF: … which has trouble on rare occasions.
  • Microsoft Reader: I have a lot of ebooks in .LIT.
  • Kindle for PC [new]: I don’t own a Kindle, but I’ve bought a few ebooks.
  • Paint.NET: Good enough for cropping and adjusting colours on images.
  • Windows Live Writer [new]: The best way to write this blog WYSIWYG
  • Inkscape [new]: I occasionally edit vector graphics.
  • Google Earth. Google Maps is good enough.
  • ImgBurn: I no longer use CDs/DVDs. Just flash drives and external hard disks.
  • Picasa: I’ve stopped browsing pictures. No time.

Sharing

  • Dropbox [new]: Simplest way of sharing files.
  • Skype: I use it more than my phone.
  • Google Talk: For those friends who have chat enabled on Gmail.
  • TeamViewer [new]: Pretty efficient screen sharing. Works better than Skype, I think.
  • Google Calendar Sync: To keep Outlook in sync with Google Calendar.

Utilities

  • 7-Zip [new]: Covers all compressed formats, and has the best compression ratio.
  • WinRAR: 7-Zip has it covered.
  • AutoHotKey [new]: Shockingly powerful macro functionality. Shockingly underused.
  • Clip [new]: Command line clipboard. dir | clip copies the directory to the clipboard.
  • ClipX [new]: Stores multiple clipboard entries and history. Invaluable.
  • DiskTT [new]: I’m paranoid about disk speed. I keep measuring it.
  • WinDirStat [new]: Best way to find what’s taking up space on disk.
  • ProcessExplorer [new]: Just in case Task Manager doesn’t show you everything.
  • Google Desktop: Well, it’s dead.
  • mDesktop [new]: A Virtual Desktop Manager (multiple screens) for Windows 7.
  • PowerToys: doesn’t work on Windows 7, but I got X-Mouse working.
  • Teracopy: I don’t worry too much about copying files any more. Maybe later.
  • Junction Link Magic [new]: To map folders. But I now use Cygwin, and symlinks rock.
  • uTorrent [new]: For bittorrent.
  • ntlmaps [new]: proxies requiring a password to a proxy not requiring a password
  • Putty [new]: SSH for Windows, but can also act as an SSH tunnel
  • TrueCrypt [new]: To securely back up my bank details on the cloud.

Development

Data Visualisation

  • R [new]. The God of all statistical packages. Install reshape and ggplot2.
  • Gephi [new]: Does network visualisations quite well. 
  • GraphViz [new]: Does network visualisations not quite as well.
  • Google Refine [new]: Helps clean up messy data.
  • qhull [new]: For voronoi treemaps. Don’t ask.
  • wkhtml2pdf [new]: To print web pages as PDF.

What am I missing that you really like?

Software update

Time for the annual update on software I use. This time, I’ve got Wakoopa to help me with the relative usage as well. Here’s the top 100 software / web apps I’ve used recently, and how long I spent on them.

  1. Gmail 186361 seconds
  2. Notepad++ 130641 seconds
  3. Google Chrome 79879 seconds
  4. GitHub 43780 seconds
  5. Windows Command Prompt 40967 seconds
  6. Microsoft Excel 32578 seconds
  7. Microsoft Word 27067 seconds
  8. Microsoft PowerPoint 27059 seconds
  9. Windows Explorer 20902 seconds
  10. Google Docs 17989 seconds
  11. Foxit Reader 17001 seconds
  12. Microsoft Outlook 15855 seconds
  13. Internet Explorer 15830 seconds
  14. Google Search 15616 seconds
  15. Skype 14423 seconds
  16. Media Player Classic 14159 seconds
  17. Google Groups 7061 seconds
  18. Google Calendar 5531 seconds
  19. Wesabe 2814 seconds
  20. Google Analytics 2665 seconds
  21. TeamViewer 1985 seconds
  22. RGui 1875 seconds
  23. LinkedIn 1528 seconds
  24. YouTube 1400 seconds
  25. Stack Overflow 1167 seconds
  26. Acrobat Connect 964 seconds
  27. Kongregate 914 seconds
  28. HTML Help 871 seconds
  29. PicPick 790 seconds
  30. Zoundry Raven 684 seconds
  31. Mockingbird 657 seconds
  32. Twitter 655 seconds
  33. iStockphoto 590 seconds
  34. 7-Zip 584 seconds
  35. Buzznet 552 seconds
  36. Inkscape 516 seconds
  37. Bitbucket 499 seconds
  38. Microsoft Visio 496 seconds
  39. Paint.NET 474 seconds
  40. IrfanView 461 seconds
  41. Tableau Public 436 seconds
  42. µTorrent 435 seconds
  43. HandBrake 422 seconds
  44. Check Point Endpoint Security 411 seconds
  45. Windows Task Manager 385 seconds
  46. Microsoft Project 372 seconds
  47. IETester 347 seconds
  48. Google Maps 340 seconds
  49. eBay 310 seconds
  50. Spokn 270 seconds
  51. Firefox 269 seconds
  52. Google Calendar Sync 259 seconds
  53. Windows Calculator 247 seconds
  54. PayPal 246 seconds
  55. JsonView 220 seconds
  56. Windows Live Writer 184 seconds
  57. Junction Link Magic 152 seconds
  58. WinDirStat 142 seconds
  59. Kindle 139 seconds
  60. XAMPP 127 seconds
  61. Wakoopa 105 seconds
  62. Dropbox 100 seconds
  63. Office Help Viewer 99 seconds
  64. PrimoPDF 94 seconds
  65. PuTTY 84 seconds
  66. Python 80 seconds
  67. Flavors.me 75 seconds
  68. Google Sites 71 seconds
  69. Process Explorer 70 seconds
  70. Windows Volume Control 63 seconds
  71. Wikipedia 58 seconds
  72. Nitro PDF Reader 57 seconds
  73. Management Console 47 seconds
  74. PythonWin 45 seconds
  75. Windows Based Script Host 45 seconds
  76. WinDiff 45 seconds
  77. VLC Media Player 39 seconds
  78. ClipX 35 seconds
  79. Windows Installer 35 seconds
  80. The Internet Movie Database 32 seconds
  81. ImageShack 31 seconds
  82. WordPad 25 seconds
  83. TeraCopy 22 seconds
  84. Skype Portable 22 seconds
  85. Picasa Web Albums 20 seconds
  86. Syncplicity 17 seconds
  87. Google Reader 16 seconds
  88. Google Talk 15 seconds
  89. VirtualDub 12 seconds
  90. Adobe Manager 10 seconds
  91. FreeCall 10 seconds
  92. Notepad 8 seconds
  93. Codebase 5 seconds
  94. eTrust ITM 5 seconds
  95. Google Checkout 5 seconds
  96. GDI++ Tray Notifier 5 seconds
  97. ImgBurn 2 seconds
  98. Virtual Desktop Manager 2 seconds
  99. Tesseract201 2 seconds
  100. TortoiseHg 0 seconds

Portable Apps

I’m totally hooked to portable apps now. You don’t need admin rights to install them. You can run them off a USB stick. They won’t make your machine slower. All the reasons not to install an application vanish.

PortableApps.com is a good starting point. For what it’s worth, here are my portable apps by category (most used on top).

Platforms

  • Firefox. If you’re using IE6, please die. Lack of admin access is no longer an excuse.
  • Cygwin brings you UNIX commands to Windows.
  • Portable Ubuntu run Ubuntu as a window in Windows.

Tiny utilities

  • GDI++ replaces the Windows font engine with a Mac-line rendering. Looks cool.
  • Clip is a command line tool that copies to clipboard. “dir | clip” copies the file listing to the clipboard. Outrageously useful.
  • PicPick takes screenshots of the screen, windows, regions, whatever. And you can edit them too.
  • uTorrent downloads torrents.
  • WinDiff compares two files and tells you the difference.
  • AlwaysOnTopMaker makes any window stay on top of other windows.
  • DiskTT tells you your hard disk (or USB stick) speed.
  • WinHTTrack downloads websites.
  • AllChars lets you type special characters like ½ by type Alt-1-2 or “ by Alt-`-`. It’s shockingly intuitive.
  • Restoration lets you undelete permanently deleted files.
  • Windirstat tells you what’s taking up space on your disk.
  • Sysinternals is a bunch of system monitoring utilities.
  • Virtual CD-ROM mounts .ISO files. You can use .ISO files without burning them.
  • Autostitch stitches together photos to create panoramas.

Media

  • VLC plays any audio or video file.
  • TightVNC lets you log into other machines like a remote desktop./li>
  • Audacity lets you record and edit audio.
  • CamStudio lets you record video (screen capture).
  • VirtualDub lets you edit video.
  • MediaCoder converts audio and video from any format to another.
  • GIMP is like Photoshop. You can edit pictures.
  • Inkscape lets you edit vector graphics.

Servers

  • XAMPP installs Apache, MySQL, PHP and Perl at one shot.
  • App Engine is Google’s freemium platform for app hosting.
  • Persevere is a RESTful JSON app server that runs on Java.
  • Tomcat is a JSP server.
  • nginx is a fast web server
  • CouchDB is a RESTful JSON app server that runs on Erlang.

Development tools

Let me repeat:

  1. You don’t need admin rights to install these.
  2. You can run them off a USB stick.
  3. They won’t make your machine slower.

There’s really no reason whatsoever not to have them on a USB stick at least. They’re cheap.

VoIP rates

While hunting for a VoIP service to call India, I found a fair variety of services that I’m sharing below.

FreeCall appears the cheapest when calling India, at 2.5¢ per minute to a land line. I’m listing the rate from London to Chennai below. I’m not sure of the difference in voice quality between these. The only one I’ve tried is VoIPDiscount, which is not too bad. As a benchmark, remember that Reliance offers a calling card at around 7.3¢ per minute.

(Incidentally, if you wanted to call the US/UK, there’s no reason why you should use your phone. Calls to the US, the UK and parts of Europe are free with most of these services.)

2.5¢/min freecall
3.3¢/min calleasy
3.3¢/min webcalldirect
3.9¢/min net2phone
4.2¢/min smsdiscount
5.0¢/min internetcalls
5.0¢/min nonoh
5.0¢/min voipdiscount
5.0¢/min voipwise
5.5¢/min freshtel.net
5.9¢/min pc-telephone
6.0¢/min mywebcalls
6.7¢/min 12voip
6.7¢/min justvoip
6.7¢/min poivy
6.7¢/min sparvoip
6.8¢/min gtalk2voip
7.1¢/min vbuzzer
7.5¢/min webphone
7.9¢/min yahoo
8.0¢/min click4
8.0¢/min callserve
8.0¢/min hotfoon
8.2¢/min blasterphone.net
8.4¢/min netappel
8.4¢/min sipdiscount
8.4¢/min voipbuster
9.1¢/min voipstunt
9.9¢/min iconnecthere
9.9¢/min lowratevoip
10.0¢/min phoneopia
10.6¢/min skype
11.4¢/min sipnet
11.6¢/min voipcheap
13.8¢/min wengophone
14.6¢/min gizmo5
16.1¢/min peneo
19.9¢/min voipbusterpro

A busy break from blogging

Between July 17th and August 22nd, I saw 57 movies and read 7 books. There were Saturdays when I watched four movies back-to-back. (I tried five. Couldn’t stay awake.) Amidst this, I also cooked, cleaned, shopped… and went to office. (Oh yes, I was working 10 hours a day.) And managed to build some interesting sites which I’ll release in a while.

But first, let me share the books with you.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I wasn’t planning to buy it. I figured I’d just wait for the soft copy. On 21st July at 8am, I went shopping to the local Sainsbury’s to get groceries for my pre-movie cooking. I didn’t know that was the release date. And there it was. In a huge stack. 50% discount. Should I? Shouldn’t I? After finishing the rest of my shopping, and having deeply analysed the cost-benefit and ROI, I figured: if I didn’t buy it now, someone else might tell me the answers!

Was Snape evil? I couldn’t believe that. Not after Dumbledore’s implicit trust. Besides, I re-read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and if Dumbledore was dismissing Harry’s explicit warnings about Snape, he had to know something more. Anyway, what was the significance of Dumbledore’s last words? "Severus… please…" Please what? Dumbledore begging for death seemed more likely than Dumbledore begging for life. I had to know.

Who dies? Voldemort, of course. But who else? It couldn’t be Harry, unless J K Rowling was looking to make herself one of the most hated novelists. Yet, it seems so… possible. Harry dying to take Voldemort out. Naah, can’t be. Not Ron or Hermione either. Same reason. One of the other Weasleys? Maybe. Plenty of them anyway. Hopefully Percy. Hargrid? Possible. Lupin? The last of Harry’s father’s friends?

And all the minor questions: What’s the significance of Harry’s eyes? What does Wormtail do to help Harry? What’s the significance of Voldemort having used Harry’s blood to resurrect himself? etc. etc.

So I bought it.

But didn’t start reading.

I knew that if I picked it up, I wouldn’t put it down. It was time to cook. And watch movies.

By 4:00pm, after three movies, I couldn’t stand it any more. So I picked it up. Read until 2:00am. Picked it up again on Sunday at 9:00am, and starved until 11:00am until I finished it.

Whew! What a book. Definitely the raciest of the lot. My earlier favourite in the series was The Prisoner of Azkaban, though The Half-Blood Prince came close. But this one beats them all. Resolves most of the mysteries till date, too. As Stephen King says in his review of Harry Potter, but by the time she penned the final line of Deathly Hallows, she had become one of the finer stylists in her native country.

How to be Good

And then there was Nick Hornby’s book. I’d seen a couple of his movies: About a Boy and High Fidelity. They were interesting, and I’d heard the books were good. Figured I’d pick one up.

And it was hilarious!

How to be Good is the funniest book I’ve read since Five Point Someone and The Inscrutable Americans. Most of my colleagues kept wondering what I was laughing out so loudly about.

This is the story. The author is a doctor and a good wife. “Gooder” than her husband, certainly, and that makes her feel good. Until he has suddently becomes GOOD. Truly good. Saint-like. And then she can’t stand him any more. The story is in first person, so you can see her thoughts almost verbatim. (See thoughts verbatim? Well, whatever the phrase is.)

The Runaway Jury

I had just seen the movie Runaway Jury, so I had to re-read it immediately. The movie was surprisingly good, though. Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, John Cusack and Rachel Weisz. Many changes from the book, but didn’t detract from the experience.

Batman Year One, The Dark Knight Returns and Understanding Comics

I saw 300. WOW! Brilliant. One of the greatest visual experiences ever. Possibly better than V for Vendetta and certainly better than Sin City — both of which I thought had incredible visuals. The colours, the texture, the contrast, the surrealism — whew!

That’s when it hit me. Three of the best movies I’ve seen recently were based on graphic novels (comics). Two by Frank Miller. Maybe I should explore this a little more.

I got myself Batman Year One — and that’s when I realised where Batman Begins got its inspiration from. The graphics were pretty old style, but the story, incredible. Then I picked up The Dark Knight Returns. Now THAT is phenomenal graphics. And what a story! Christopher Nolan‘s next movie is slated to be The Dark Knight. Really looking forward to that.

With all this, I ended up reading a bunch of new Superman comics as well (but they were lousy, so I won’t mention anything), and in the meanwhile, heard about Scott McCloud‘s comic book on comics — Understanding Comics. Like I said, it’s a comic book, but non-fiction. It’s about the history and art of comics. Very nice reading, and quite insightful too. I think every visual designer should take a look at it.

Pro Javascript Techniques

I’d been reading up a lot of Javascript recently — learning mostly from Douglas Crockford, Peter Paul-Koch, Dean Edwards, and John Resig. So when I realised John had a book, I had to read it. Douglas Crockford recommends JavaScript: The Definitive Guide (5th Edition) as the least bad among many bad books. I read it. Sorry, but it was quite a bore. Pro Javascript Techniques on the other hand, is gripping. Dives right into modern techniques, writing style, and is filled with practical advice. How wonderful.


So anyway, that’s what my month’s been like. Well worth the break from blogging, I think. (And I haven’t even told you about the movies or sites yet! Well, soon.)

Science Fiction awards

Now that I’m well on my way to watching the Top 250 movies on IMDb, I’m slowly turned my attention to fiction. My interest is mainly in the Fantasy & Science Fiction area. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any list like the IMDb Top 250, but there are a few awards that could take the place of the Oscars for books. That’s probably a good place to start.

The most popular awards in Science Fiction are the Hugo award and Nebula award, followed by the Philip K Dick award, John W. Campbell award, Arthur C Clarke award and other awards. I collated a list of all the awards (from LocusMag) into the spreadsheet below

Very few of these books have won multiple awards. None have won more than 3 on this list. Of these, only five have 3 awards:

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke American Gods by Neil Gaiman Neuromancer by William Gibson Gateway by Frederik Pohl Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

Over 20 books have won two of these awards.

Dune by Frank Herbert The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov Ringworld by Larry Niven Timescape by Gregory Benford Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman Gloriana by Michael Moorcock Fairyland by Paul J. McAuley The Forever War by Joe Haldeman Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke Doomsday Book by Connie Willis Boy's Life by Robert McCammon Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter Startide Rising by David Brin Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I haven’t read most of these books. The ones I have read are:

  1. The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov (which I loved)
  2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (which I loved)
  3. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (which was OK)
  4. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (which I didn’t like)
  5. Dune by Frank Herbert (which I didn’t like)

That’s about a 50% ratio, so I guess this list doesn’t quite very well work for me. Or at least, my taste doesn’t match the Award critics. But maybe you will find something interesting to read…

Top Tamil songs

Since I like Tamil songs and statistics so much, I did some analysis on the ~1,400 Tamil songs I’d listened to in 2006.

The trends are around the length of a typical film song are interesting. For example:

Songs have gotten longer over time. On average, a song in the 60s was 4 minutes. A song in the 2000s is 5 minutes. Each decade adds about 14 seconds to the length of a song.

Tamil songs have gotten longer over the years

But some of the old movies have pretty long songs. Thiruvilaiyadal and Vanjikkottai Vaaliban have among the longest songs on average, for example.

As a corollary, newer music directors make longer songs. While KV Mahadevan‘s songs lasted 4 minutes, Ilayaraja‘s songs lasted 4.5 minutes, and AR Rahman‘s songs last 5 minutes. Today, Ramesh Vinayagam‘s compositions are 5.5 minutes.

However, Deva seems to make longer songs than usual for a 1990s director (5.5 minutes), while Devi Sri Prasad makes shorter songs for a 200os director (4.3 minutes).


Since I rated the songs, I could also analyse my preferences. I like older songs a bit more.

I have a slight preference for older movies

My top movies list for instance, has only one movie from the 2000s, 2 from the 90s, 5 from the 80s, 1 from the 60s and 1 from the 50s.

My all-time favourite movie (for songs) is Vaidhegi Kaathirundhaal. I didn’t need the analysis to tell me that, though.

My all-time favourite music director is G Ramanathan, thanks to Uthama Puthiran, Ambikapathy, Madurai Veeran, etc. AM Raja follows, and then the great Ilayaraja. It’s interesting that AR Rahman falls below Harris Jayaraj and Deva. He also falls below MS Viswanathan, but that’s not surprising.

For quite a while, I was convinced I liked shorter songs. But surprisingly, it turns out that my preference is quite independent of the length of the song! Anyway, all time favourites short songs include:

Indhiraiyo Kaadhalan 1:02
Muthu Mazhaiye Mazhai 1:21
Yamunai Aatrile Dhalapathi 1:22
Anbana Thaayai Mahanadhi 1:34
En Azhagenna (mp3) Minsara Kanavu 1:47
Manamagale Devar Magan 2:13
Poojaikkaaga Payanangal Mudivadhillai 2:18
Suttum Vizhi Kandukonden Kandukonden 2:18
Brindavanamum Missiamma 2:48
Theerthakaraiyinile Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu 2:49

P.S.: It’s interesting that three of them have Bharathiyar songs in them.


All of this analysis was possible because I recently dumped WinAmp and moved to MediaMonkey, which lets you write your own scripts.

Try this: search for a song and listen online.

Most popular movies on IMDb

Here are the top 1000 most popular movies on the Internet Movie database, along with their ratings and number of votes. I’ve also marked whether I’ve seen them or not, as of today.

This list, incidentally, is part of my source for the post on popular lousy movies.

Here is the Excel list of Top 1000 movies on IMDb.