Monday, April 13, 2009

Ubuntu Notification Script for Amarok 1.4

More Update: A more polished script is now available here.

There are several updated versions of the script now available. Please see the comments for details. Also, the music applet on gnome provides similar functionality. On Ubuntu, do 'sudo apt-get install music-applet'. Then add the music applet to your gnome panel. Configure and enjoy! :) In case you don't want an extra applet on your panel, feel free to use the below given scripts.

Ubuntu Jaunty is going to come with a unified notification system. I use gnome these days, but can't live without amarok. However, it bugged me that amarok 1.4 does not comply with the Ubuntu notification system. So I wrote a small python script for it. This works only for amarok 1.4 and Ubuntu Jaunty. Screenshot attached.

How to Install
In amarok 1.4 click Tools -> Script Manager -> Install Scripts. Open file track_notify.amarokscript.tar. Run script once it's installed.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

What is the Grand Canyon Good for?

Some days ago, a friend of mine, posted this link. Apparently some folks over at NASA have calculated the square root of 2 to 10 million digits. My immediate reaction of seeing this was:

Things like this make me ask -- Why do it? Just so you can?

To this, another friend responded:

@Vinod: Sorry, just can't resist quoting this joke:

A math professor, a native Texan, was asked by one of his students: "What is mathematics good for?"
He replied: "This question makes me sick! If you show someone the Grand Canyon for the first time, and he asks you `What's it good for?' What would you do? Well, you kick that guy off the cliff!"

I still can't figure out what is the maths equivalent of kicking someone into the Grand Canyon, though ...

Frankly, I'm not satisfied with this response. Now, do not get me wrong. I do understand aesthetic beauty. I find encounters with naturescapes like the Grand Canyon to be very emotionally moving experiences. I also (sometimes) find encounters with scientific beauty to be emotionally moving. I myself have spend may idle hours trying to calculate prime numbers or the fibonacci series on my computer. And yet, I cannot help but wonder -- why calculate sqrt(2) to 10 million digits? Or, why visit the Grand Canyon?

The simplest answer is -- to feel the way it makes me feel. And I would have no problems with that answer either. However, it would make me wonder even further. Why do these things make me feel how I feel?

What really is special about the Grand Canyon? What do I mean when I say it is beautiful? I don't think a single answer exists but let me make a few guesses.

People find the Grand Canyon beautiful because it is big. Being big is one definition of being beautiful. The oceans are beautiful because they're big. The mountains are beautiful because they're big. Space is beautiful because it is bigger than anything we've ever known.

Being big is related to two inter-related concepts -- control and knowledge. If something is big, chances are that we have little control over it. Bridging the Grand Canyon? Perhaps impossible. Crossing the ocean? Rather difficult. Surviving in space? Requires billions of dollars.

If something is big, chances are that it contains something that we don't yet know about. Something that we can use to our advantage. Exploring the oceans let some people to discover other people and lands. We are yet speculating about the benefits that space exploration might bring us.

As a culture we've learned that anything that is big is most likely unexplored and uncontrolled. If we can learn more about it and learn to control it, we might end up with more resources to make our life better.

I think that is the charm big, unexplored terrains hold for us. I think that's why we find them fascinating and intriguing. That's what the Grand Canyon is good for.

Of course, this does not mean that every time I look at the Grand Canyon this is what I'm thinking about. I have internalized the concept to a degree that I can forget all about the benefits of encountering an unexplored terrain and concentrate just on the 'beauty' of it. Which is absolutely fine with me. But I do like to think further and find out what that beauty means.

Which is why I do not like it when specialists in pure sciences brush off questions like -- why do you do it? I think it is important to understand why we do pure science and pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake and derive pleasure in certain things. All sorts of beauty and aesthetic appreciation has underlying meaning which I think is important to unearth.