Sunday, November 30, 2008

How the Widget stole your privacy

So many bloggers are using it, including me (depending on when you are reading this). The widget in question here is FEEDJIT. Not the harmless one below my Followers list, but the one further down the rightmost column below the Blog Networks Badge. While some feel it's a fast way to get them to leave your blog, others see it as an infringement of their privacy. In case you still haven't noticed, FEEDJIT shows YOUR location (City), and the address of the page where you clicked on my Blog's Link. If you click on 'Watch in Real-Time', you'll see your as well as the previous 50 visitors' location, Browser (Name and version), Operating System (Name and version), the precise URL of the page from which they arrived on my page (and precisely which one), and the exact time when they did so. You can also see at what point of time they clicked on which of the links present on my page. And, in case they arrived via a search engine, it'll also tell you the query searched. Sample this:

As you can see, a certain user from Delhi, using IE 7.0 on his Windows-XP landed on my blog when wanting to see Rape Videos. I don't know who he is, but I am pretty sure this is not the kind of information he had wanted to give out in the open. While it is alright for me as a blog administrator to have access to all this data (which I could have had anyways through SiteMeter or Google Analytics, and which I can use to improve my website), it doesn't make sense exposing all these to any random net-surfer.

This may not seem that offensive initially, but consider this. A certain friend of mine lives in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, and most other friends of mine know about her. The time when she visits my blog, how much time she spends surfing it, which links does she exit from, is all visible to my friends, since I do not have many readers from Srinagar, and not many Linux users amongst them as well. She wants to remove her traces from the Widget, but surely wouldn't dream that she'd have to click on "Watch in Real-Time" first, from where she'll get an option to remove her IP. And by the way, she has to do that every time she visits my blog. Supposedly, FEEDJIT also has an option to ignore all future visits from being recorded, but fnding the "ignore my browser" button is more difficult than finding Sudan on a World Map. Besides, this works one-site-at-a-time, so you have to activate this cookie every time you visit a new FEEDJIT-enabled site. And in case you clean your cookies often, you're back to square one each time.

In case you are wondering why I've put FEEDJIT at all, or why I posted this all of a sudden, it's actually because recently a friend told me he prefers reading my blog feeds rather than visit it due to the presence of this widget. As I found out, there were indeed many annoyed by this widget and uncomfortable with it's presence on any website, especially blogs.

While the opting out option is practically invisible, would it matter even if it was visible? Would you have clicked if there were an opt-in option instead of opt-out? I would let FEEDJIT remain there for a week more from now for you to see before removing it. Comments and views are welcome.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008



Every language has a few words that are its own, that other languages just have no equivalent for. There's Bakku-shan, for instance, which is Japanese for a woman who "seems pretty when seen from behind but not from the front." There's Drachenfutter, which is German for "dragon fodder" when translated literally, but means "the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives." And then there's Peace... not [only] the English word, but rather its usage in IIT-Kgp's lingo...And I'm not talking about that brief interlude between wars, during which the prudent study the lessons of the last war and prepare for the next one, though it may be related.

I use the term very freely, so much so that it has become my catchphrase. Peace is a philosophy, a way of life, or rather, an ideal way of living a life. It can be described as living without worrying, with comfort of mind, living in the present, without crying over the past or cribbing about the future. True peace can only come with deep knowledge and understanding about oneself, to keep oneself strong in the face of discord or stress. Whether you call it Peace of mind, serenity, calmness, or simply, Peace, it is the ultimate path (or rather, the ulti path, as Kgpians wud say) to bliss and happiness. It is not wrong to think, or even to think a lot. In fact, thought is usually an unknown territory for most people, due to which many claim to be lost in it. It's just about thinking positively, cause 'freaking out' doesn't really count as thinking. Worrying gets you nowhere.

However, Peace should not be confused with 'Hakuna Matata' or any of its variants. While it seems just right for the meerkat-warthog duo, this harmless Swahili phrase meaning "There are no worries", should be a good cause of worry if applied to reality. Peace is not about being lazy. Or about Procrastinating. And even not about not caring for the future. It's about not worrying about the future. It's about not caring for the options you never had, and by not cribbing about it, you can make the best of what you do have. It does not preach running away from responsibilities, but about being at ease with them, with yourself. The most successful people I know, are in a state of complete peace, or very near to it. While Timon and Pumba may have The Lion King eat bugs and turn into a hedonistic jerk, being at Peace pushes you to excellence, ensuring that of all the ups and downs in life, it is the ups that count for you. The more you crib over the downs, the more down you go.

Peace is used as a farewell greeting, an expression of delight, or as an affirmative. This is definitely not unique. While the phrase 'Peace out' is used frequently as well, it generally carries with it a negative air, the same as saying f**k off. A better example would be a greeting much of the world recognises, As-salaamu 'Aleykum ("Peace be upon you") responded with a wa `Aleykum As-Salaam (and upon you be peace). Salaam, here, stands for Peace, and also one of the 99 names of God from the Quran (Al-Salaam). Usage of the magical word, Peace, gives an immediate sense of relief and comfort to the mind, and creates a whole atmosphere of peace around it. Signing off with a Peace is as good as saying "May peace be with you", and reminds you of keeping peace in your life.

Its easy to take this in the wrong sense, which is true for pretty much every philosophy. Here at IIT-Kgp, I see people failing over half their subjects and thus prolonging their stay in the institute by years still refusing to study, since they are peace-maroo. Boozers, druggists and chain smokers, or the equally addicted counterstrike-players here become self-acclaimed peace gurus. This is as far from Peace as possible. Peace is when you perform your best under present circumstances, and have a feeling that you 'know' its going to turn out great at the end. Peace is when you look forward to giving you best. Peace is when you enjoy the little things in life, the small things. When you know that the future is going to be great, and the little pitfalls now won't spoil the big picture.

And with this, I sign off today, hopefully writing more frequently now onwards.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Guy the British celebrate their own Diwali for

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

--Traditional rhyme

The above have been taken on Fireworks Night, also called Crackers Night or Bonfire Night, of the previous years. If you still think its Diwali I’m talking about, you’re surely mistaken.

It’s Guy Fawkes Night. And no, Guido Fawkes was neither born nor martyred on this day (or night). This guy (or Guy), along with some other conspirators, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London exactly 403 years ago, which was actually an assassination attempt on King James I of England. However, he was captured possibly moments before lighting the gunpowder, finally being hanged, drawn and quartered.

This event is commemorated by lighting bonfires and fireworks in England and the Commonwealth. Effigies of Fawkes, sometimes alongwith George W Bush, Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden, known as ‘Guys’, are burnt as well. It is a matter of opinion whether it commemorates the failure and subsequent execution of the Guy, or his courage to attempt the plot. Personally, I consider Fawkes a hero, for he had the guts to stand up against the government he didn’t believe in. Guy Fawkes is omnipresent in popular culture today, whether it’s popular media (references in Charles Dickens’ to J.K.Rowling’s works, John Lennon’s song, or the Simpsons to V for Vendetta), politics, Geography (A river, a national park, islands...), and even our everyday lexicon.

November 5 usually falls within a week of Diwali and Hallowe’en(which is also associated with fireworks in some cultures). In fact, most Northern hemisphere cultures have some kind of light/fire festival around this time – there are theories that it is connected to the human desire to defy the on-rushing winter hence occurring at the autumn equinox (midway between the summer and winter solstices). So Hallowe’en, Guy Fawkes Night and Diwali probably come from the same desire to celebrate life in the darkness (as does my obsession with night-outs, but more about that later). Imagine about a 1000 years from now, somehow the 5th of November gets linked with Deepavali and it either Ravana (a south Indian Guy) or Narakasura (A north Indian Guy) or Guy Fawkes (an Irish Guy) who’s effigy gets burnt. But it is still a great excuse to scare the shit out of your neighbour’s dog!