2007-10-16

My Photo Blog

I'm featuring selected photos in my photo gallery on a photo blog.

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2007-07-22

FVWM-Crystal Windows Manager

I always liked to have FVWM as my window manager. However, it lacks three important features I need on my desktop:

  • Taskbar
  • Notification area (AKA system tray)
  • Application launcher

The FVWM-Crystal window manager adds exactly these features to vanilla FVWM, along with other subtle goodies all over.

Lack of desktop icons has never been a problem to me. Launchers are best left in a corner, so there is no need to "show desktop" or "hide windows" in order to use icons.

Another nice thing about FVWM-Crystal is the ability to start a terminal just by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop. Even blank areas between launcher, workarea switcher and notification area would do, so there is no need to resize a maximized window to do this. Another nice thing is the ability to start a small terminal by pressing Alt + grave(`).

I know several users who have switched to FWVM-Crystal and are happy. :-)

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2007-05-29

Unicode and Sinhala Alphabet

There is a great deal of similarity between Sinhala Unicode (~ SLS 1134) and Sinhala Hodiya (alphabet).

Sidath Sangarawa, one of the oldest texts on Sinhala grammar written over 2000 years ago, lists 10 vowels and 20 consonants (see footnote 1), but the book also uses two unlisted vowels ඇ and ඈ (see footnote 2).

Sanskrit influence increased the number of characters to over 50.

Actual number of shapes, known as "glyphs" in modern typographic terminology, needed to write in Sinhala is in the range of thousands, due to derived and joint forms of basic characters.

Listing all these thousands of glyphs was never a popular practice. Students learn basic characters and modifiers, and common sense takes care of generating the thousands of other shapes. For example, after learning "ispilla", you can add it to basic consonants and generate all the "i" forms such as "ki", "gi", "ji" etc.

Hodiya doesn't have any of these extra characters such as "ki" or "du". Hodiya doesn't have rakaransaya nor yansaya. But nobody complained. Everybody knew, and still know, that the Hodiya is only a basic guide to generate more complex glypls.

However, this didn't work when Sinhala texts started to be printed on printing machines. These machines don't have brains and couldn't learn how to "generate". Therefore every possible glyph had to be given.

Walk into an old press to see a large "matrix" or such glyphs.

Then came the age of computer based typography. Computers can be taught to do things, and that is exactly how standards like Unicode and SLS 1134 generate shapes. We can teach computers to generate thousands of glyphs using less than a hundred of basic shapes. For example, we can generate "du" by adding "da" and "papilla", so a seperate "du" is not necessary.

How about "yansaya" and "rakaransaya"? They are generated by sequences including the zero-width joiner (ZWJ). For example, "pra" is represented as "pa", "hal kireema", ZWJ and "ra". ZWJ also is used to represent joint and touching letters.

Gone are the days of brainless matrix-based printing machines.

We need two things to view Sinhala on a computer. A font containing Sinhala glyphs, and the computer programs should knows how to generate glyphs using sequences of basic characters. Let me explain using an example.

Step 0. Here is how a sample web page looks on a browser when it cannot find a Sinhala Unicode font. The "boxes" indicate unavailable character numbers:

Step 1. After installing a font, the browser will show some Sinhala, but if it hasn't "learned" how to generate glyphs, only basic characters and modifiers are shown independently:

Step 2. Now I have enabled the "shaper" in the browser, which is the part that knows how to generate Sinhala glyphs using basic characters:

All is well!

So where exactly is the similarity?

Students learn less than 100 basic characters in the alphabet and modifiers, and use their brains with some support from teachers to generate the rest of the 1000+ shapes.

Computers can be programmed - and some computers have already been programmed - to generate 1000+ Sinhala glyphs using less than 100 basic shapes in Sinhala Unicode / SLS 1134 standard.

As the standard is platform independent, we use it to communicate with people using diverse platforms in the Sinhala Unicode Group among others.

Footnote 1. පණකුරු පසෙක් එද ලුහු ගුරු බෙයින් දසවේ, ගතකුරුද වේ විස්සෙක්, වහරට යුහු හෙළ බස

Footnote 2. Notice the use of ඇ and ඈ, both independently and in consonants: පසැස් ඈ සරලොප් නැතද සර ගතට පැමිණවූ බැවින් සර සඳ නම්.

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2007-05-25

Ages of life

While chilling out at home a few weeks ago, a colorful "Dothulu" tree caught my eye. After clicking some photographs I totally forgot about it.

When I later checked the photos on a PC, the tree turned out to contain five different types of seeds at five different stages of life! Six if you count the one inside the next branch about to come out.

Manifestations of impermanence are everywhere, but I find this one fascinating, because it fitted into just one colorful photograph.

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2007-05-23

Orbitrek vs Orbitrak

Recently I wanted to buy an aerobic exercising machine.

After doing a lot of research on the Internet and reading user reviews, I finally settled to buy an Orbitrek Platinum. One of the key decision factors was that it's yet another implementation of well known Ellipical Trainer.

The original Orbitrek had some scary reviews: that it is falling apart. Probably this may be due to poor assembling, but still good enough reason for me to be doubtful. However the newer version known as the Orbitrek Platinum, which also has been around for a while, didn't seem to have this problem and the reviews were good.

So here I am, looking around to buy an Orbitrek Platinum.

First I went to Teleseen Marketing in Majestic City. They were offering the Orbitrek Platinum, but the old one was also available. Then I checked with Himalayas, which was only a few blocks away on the same floor, and to my surprise they also were offering both the old one and the Platinum, but the price of the latter was several thousand rupees lower (about 60% of the one at Teleseen)!

The cheaper one at Himalayas didn't have any reference to "Thane", the company that made the Orbitrek. By some luck I happened to notice a subtle difference. It was not Orbitrek, but "Orbitrak"!

I didn't buy either and did some more research to find out that the "Orbitrek" is the real one and "Orbitrak" was probably a fake.

So I went ahead and bought the Orbitrek Platinum from Teleseen.

Later I noticed so many advertisements and signboards selling the "Orbitrak"!!!

If cost was a problem to buy the "real" product, and if I have a choice between a fake product and a lower quality product, I would go for the latter. Why? Because the fake product developers try to get the looks right to match the real one without much attention to the inner workings, while the low quality product may have done some research to get the inner workings right.

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2007-05-16

FWDC web site goes mobile

Finally managed to get the mobile version of our Four Wheel Drive Club (FWDC) web site done. The mobile site, m.4x4.lk, has a very lightweight theme, smaller thumbnails, and most external links point to mobile versions of relevant sites.

The difference is best seen by comparing similar pages on the two sites. E.g.: www.4x4.lk/node/29 and m.4x4.lk/node/29.

We would like the new site to be tested on as many mobile devices as possible. Please send your feedback to info@4x4.lk. Thanks in advance!

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2007-04-24

Missing the point

Ian Chappel and Arjuna Ranatunga, along with many other media, have expressed their concern about the Sri Lankan team resting some key bowlers during the World Cup super-eight match against Australia. But they are missing the key point: Sri Lanka rested some key bowlers. But the team lost mainly due to not-so-good batting. And every critic/pundit seem to miss this simple point! So even if Vaas and Muralitharan were playing, will it have helped Sri Lanka to change their score on the board? Not likely. By the way, here is one great answer by Sangakkara.

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