Royale with Cheese and a quick tour of the Tarantino Universes

Quentin Tarantino needs little introduction. Or maybe he does. For those who need it, he is an American filmmaker widely known for making gory movies with non-linear story-lines. I am writing about him and his movies because I happen to be an admirer of his works and the flashy set-pieces, the stylized charisma of his dialogue, and his narrative structure appeal to me in a very positive manner.

Many critics believe that his movies are more of violence than of substance. However, he has never failed to amaze me with his movies. The colors he uses, the ‘in your face’ attitude of his characters and excellent casting. He makes the kind of movies which gets common people like me, who don’t know much about movie-making and may not enjoy the most tasteful of the movies, appreciate the beauty of movie-making. I remember one comment from some post on r/movies that I read at some point, which I, however, could not locate again to quote. The OP had rightly commented that watching Tarantino’s movies is like reading Stephen King. It might not be the most tasteful literature but once you tackle an 800-page book and realize it’s not as long as you thought it would be, it means you enjoyed it. I see Tarantino the same way. You see his films for the first time and it’s apparent that filmmaking is indeed an art that you have never realized before, especially if you’re exposed at this impressionable age.

I recall that the first Tarantino movie that I watched was Django Unchained and recently realized that I have forgotten most parts of it. But I strongly recall that it was an awesome movie with the kind of violence that I had never seen earlier.

One thing I particularly adore about his movies is the way he portrays bad people with high morals and beautiful portrayal of violence. His movies are always laid on the preset of revenge, vengeance, and betrayal. And, why not? The desire for revenge is perhaps the most knee-jerk of all reactions that keep you engaged because you are not satisfied until the revenge is taken. All Tarantino seems to be doing is whetting our appetite for bloodlust and then satisfying it within the course of the film and he does that beautifully.

Although the impression of his movies, that I myself had, was much of the kind of movies where there is just violence and vengeance; the elements which I did not realize at that time were the high morals and style. This realization came a bit late when I was already in college and finally watched Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Kill Bill. The sheer quest, struggle, and methods of assassination make most scenes worth it. There is always a strong emotion working in the foreground, driven primarily by vengeance which turns into a blend of vengeance and morals by the end. Let’s talk about a particular scene from Pulp Fiction.

Jules: You read the Bible, Brett?

Brett: [gasping for breath] Yes…!

Jules: Well, there’s this passage I’ve got memorized, it sorta fits the occasion. Ezekiel 25:17? “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. [begins pacing about the room] And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord… [pulls out his gun and aims at Brett] …when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

[Brett shrieks in horror as Jules and Vincent shoot him repeatedly]
[Later, on Ezekiel 25:17]

Jules: I been saying that shit for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a ************ before I popped a cap in his face. But I saw some shit this morning made me think twice. See, now I’m thinking, maybe it means you’re the evil man, and I’m the righteous man and Mr. 9 Millimeter here? He’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. Now I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is…you’re the weak, and I am the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

This tells us that though Jules used to be a gangster and killed people for money, he was desperately trying to be a good man as well. This prompts me to conclude that though his characters indulge in extreme violence, they are people with high morals and a good sense of responsibility too. Remember the part from Kill Bill where Beatrix Kiddo kills Vernita in front of her daughter? She does tell the little girl, “When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.”

Jackie Brown and Death Proof are probably the most un-tarantino movies in the list of his famous 8 movies. Despite the general environment in these movies is quite similar to the rest of them, the elements and the characters are not as vivid. The way he uses violence as a color in his movies is certainly not as vibrant and as righteous in these movies. Tarantino claims that Death Proof is the worst film he has made. He may not be absolutely right or wrong, but definitely, these are the ones which certainly fall at the bottom of the totem pole of the 8 of his finest works.

However, I gather from the internet that Jackie Brown is the favorite Tarantino film amongst people who don’t really appreciate what Tarantino does. It’s the least Tarantinian of his films to date. On the other hand, the film that best expresses who Tarantino is, would probably be Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction.

The Hateful Eight, the most recent of them all, is widely known to be the most boring of the eight. The internet houses many people who say that they could not even survive the first half of the movie, I beg to differ. I agree with the feeling that the movie is not a catchy in the beginning but again, the cast is excellent, which makes the age-old practice of having bounty hunters in a country-themed film, new(er). I do not want to spoil much for the people who haven’t seen it yet. But yeah, the bounty hunter and the gangster lady, who is held captive by that bounty hunter is amazing. I remember that scene when Samuel Jackson had just met the duo and the three were traveling in a chariot to the Red Rock and then the lady said something unwelcome making the bounty hunter furious. He smacked the lady on the face with his stick. And she, not quite surprisingly, smiles, looks directly in the eyes of Samuel Jackson, licks her lips as blood comes out of them in a very appealing manner and act like she did it on purpose, while ‘Apple Blossom’ plays in the background. That scene was remarkable. Also, the movie does get intense and naturally, interesting, towards the end. So if you are planning to watch it anytime soon, do not lose patience, there’ll be stuff to come.

To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.

-Tarantino

Another aspect of his movies is the great music he uses, especially for the opening sequences. To some directors, the music heard in their films seems as (or more) important than the images seen or the dialogue spoken. I, despite being a person who is not too much into music, would blatantly disregard a Reservoir Dogs without “Stuck in the Middle with You” or a Pulp Fiction without “Misirlou”. The movies won’t be the same without the opening credits music.

He has this practice of using relatively unheard songs which already exist, at the right place. I happen to have a particular liking for ‘My baby shot me down’ by Nancy Sinatra, which got featured in Kill Bill in a very apt manner. Thanks to David Guetta, the composition is much more popular now. I feel bad for the people who say that this mix of Guetta’s is one of their favorite few but are unaware that this was used in Kill Bill.

There are two sides to every coin. Critics believe that his movies have a very simplistic world view and they do not challenge his audience morally, politically or intellectually.

So, while I agree that there’s something missing in Tarantino, I think that void is just part of who he is an artist. While critics see him as a talented artist who’s selling out to a certain extent, making unchallenging films to get better results at the box office, I think Tarantino’s newer films better reflect his worldview – which (to my frustration) happens to be an unchallenging one. By having such cinematic moments a movie, one is truly able to just sit back and have fun exploring the what if’s of the lifestyles and worlds they dream about while also having a real world application of them. Maybe if filmmakers understood that audiences want to just have fun watching a film then there would be more cinematic films in the world.

Note: with inputs from

https://m.reddit.com/r/movies/comments/4phegv/quentin_tarantino_discussion/

Baru: PM was like Bheeshma in Mahabharata not Dhritarashtra

The back cover of The Accidental Prime Minister by Sanjaya Baru says:

baru

‘You see, you must understand one thing. I have come to terms with this. There cannot be two centres of power.’ – Manmohan Singh

After reading the entire book, I found the following in the last chapter of the book.

‘You see, you must understand one thing. I have come to terms with this.  There cannot be two centres of power. That creates confusion. I have to  accept that the party president is the centre of power. The government is answerable to the party.’

On the face of it, the book does not contain anything new. It is common knowledge that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was almost subservient to the Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

baru2To be honest when I first set my hands on the book, I was simply looking to reaffirm the popular belief that the former Prime Minister must be a very expressionless person who rightly deserves the derision he elicits from all quarters. If you have the same intention, prepare to be disappointed, because more than portraying him as a feelingless, soundless, immoral, expressionless and a robotic person (the writer does spend some time highlighting these attributes although not in very harsh words), Baru portrays him as a person who is one of the most deserving Prime  Ministers India has ever had but like a mythological tragic hero, who is very much embroiled in his own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong and in  the process, not only totally destroys his reputation but also undermines the authority of the highest institution of the country in its most extreme sense.

Some would believe it is quite late to give a review of the book, but better late than never, the blog prompts me to express my thoughts on it, which I have been formulating since more than a week now. People generally be like, “Who  can afford to not read the biggest publishing phenomenon in India in  the last decade? As if that is not enough, who can afford to not read  the first of a whole genre of books that has not till now existed in India i.e. people who work with powerful politicians and then talk about  it?”. This expression indeed is quite justified in itself. I was curious to read this book, but my excuse to you all would be that I was waiting for an aromatic hard bound copy of the book to be curated in my college library, which arrived last autumn and was either reserved or issued ever since.

As I read on the internet, Baru’s decision to disclose whatever he was privy  to, in confidence in the halls of the PMO, is  controversial. Many, including the former PM’s daughter, believe that Baru should have let Singh’s term expire, before releasing the book. But maybe commercial compulsions prompted the publisher Penguin to release the book at the height of the election heat.

Amongst many interesting things, one thing that is definitely established is that the dual-centre of power theory did not work as well as the Congress Party would like the Indian masses to believe.

“Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had regular   meetings with Mrs Gandhi, and sought her instructions on important  files to be signed by the PM.”

When Sonia Gandhi, in an extraordinary show of selflessness, did not accept the PM’s post after the Congress’ astounding victory in 2004, though some saw it as a supreme sacrifice, many people suspected that it was because she wanted power without the accompanying responsibility. This book proves it beyond doubt. For the PMO to be sending files to her for ‘instructions’ makes me feel embarrassed and angry at the way this august office has been insulted during the last ten years.

The other significant aspect that was brought out was the way the ministers in the cabinet treated the PM. Pranab Mukherjee, in his stint as External Affairs minister did not brief the PM after important meetings with foreign dignitaries. The PM had no clue on what was happening in such an important ministry! Important portfolio allocations were done without even consulting him.

Many other such instances have been documented in the book which leave  us bewildered at the way our Government has been functioning all these  years.

Manmohan Singh’s critics, both in media and in opposition parties, I think, jumped the bar when they poked fun at him conveniently assuming that lots of juicy details were contained within the book. Even his daughters who blamed Baru for breaking the trust that their father had  put in him hadn’t, I suppose, read the book when they made those statements. Once you have read the book, it seems as if Manmohan Singh himself had wanted this book to be written. The book in no way disparages him. Yes, it does show him a willing puppet of Sonia Gandhi  in total exasperated cluelessness but in no way it depicts him as a person who deserves no sympathy.

Baru remained the Prime Minister’s media adviser from 2004 till 2008  and this is the period that is mostly covered in the book.

Another major element of his personality that was brought out in this book was that no matter what his colleagues do,  he would remain un-tarred.

‘Active morality for himself, but passive morality for others’
Manmohan turned a blind eye to corruption by his colleagues

Dr  Singh’s general attitude towards corruption in public life, which he  adopted through his career in government, seemed to me to be that he  would himself maintain the highest standards of probity in public life,  but would not impose this on others. In other words, he was himself  incorruptible, and also ensured that no one in his immediate family ever  did anything wrong, but he did not feel answerable for the  misdemeanours of his colleagues and subordinates. In this instance, he  felt even less because he was not the political authority that had  appointed them to these ministerial positions. In practice, this meant  that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers. He expected  the Congress party leadership to deal with the black sheep in his  government, just as he expected the allies to deal with their black  sheep. While his conscience was always clear with respect to his own  conduct, he believed everyone had to deal with their own conscience.

This could be seen from two lenses. It could be seen as an ‘I should not be worried about others’ attitude, which is justified in a sense in the modern world. But many feel that, this was perhaps one of his greatest fatal mistakes. You cannot remain in a mud pool and come out clean. As the Prime  Minister of the country it’s your responsibility to see that your  colleagues don’t take advantage of their position and indulge in corrupt  practices. His entire fortress of uprightness and principles collapses  in one blow under the light of the facts that he stood witness to the  massive plunder of the country assuming that things are going to remain  fine as long as he remains clean. What sort of PM did he think he was?  What good does your integrity do when your entire team is corrupt? This  is beyond a reasonable person’s comprehension. This is how he could  explain the 2G scam, the Coalgate scam, the spectrum allocation spam,  the Commonwealth Games scam and such. Coalition dharma in order to keep  his party in power for him came before the country. Baru compares him to  the mythical Bhishma. Bhishma was the right person on the wrong side.  He even bore witness to Draupadi’s disrobing in the court just because  his dharma didn’t allow him to speak up. In the same manner, Manmohan  Singh kept quiet while his country was being disrobed by her own men and women.

50% of the book talks about the various political intrigues that took  place during the nuclear negotiations and talks. The survival of UPA-1  depended on the communists’ support. Whereas people like Sitaram Yechuri  and Harkishan Singh Surjeet supported the PM, Prakash Karat who  succeeded Surjeet had his own axe to grind. Due to infighting within the  Communist Party, he created all sorts of hurdles and practically  sabotaged the entire deal. The CPM and the CP(I)M withdrew support over  the issue and fortunately for Manmohan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav came  to his rescue.

Even the Congress high command wasn’t very happy about the deal  because it meant getting closer to the USA which would mean antagonizing  the Muslim vote bank that was deemed to be highly against any sort of  collaboration with America. So even if the deal was for the benefit of  the country, it didn’t suit the Congress high command politically and  hence all sort of pressure was put on Manmohan Singh to cancel it.

This was perhaps the only time when Manmohan Singh put his foot down  and insisted on going ahead with the deal. The government almost fell.
When the UPA came back to power in 2009 it was solely due to Manmohan  Singh, according to Baru. It was his policies, his better handling of  the economy and the external affairs that won the coalition its second  term. Contrary to the popular belief, the Congress party wasn’t  expecting to come back to power. The strategy before the election was,  if they want, the entire credit would go to the leadership and dynamism of Rahul Gandhi, and if the lost, all the blame would be put on the anti-poor and America-favoring Manmohan Singh.

The book makes an engaging reading despite lots of policy related descriptions  and bureaucratic jargon. It gives you a deep insight into the complex  character that Manmohan Singh is. In his public appearances he might  appear almost dead, but in his day-to-day dealings and with his dealings  with other statesmen of the world, he was quite communicative,  receptive and presentable. This book will change the way you think of  Manmohan Singh, although you may end up disliking him more because he  could have done so much better. Who cares how history will judge him?  What matters is, how the present generation judges him, based on social media puns and memes, or this book.

To  those of us who have no inkling of what happens in the top corridors of  government, how power is viewed from within, how decisions are taken,  how human ambition meets the most important issues that face the  country, this book is quite a revelation. It appears matter-of-fact.  ‘Look, this is how it is’, kind of things.

That top decisions  are never about morality or rightness, but they are the output of a few humans jostling for power and limelight, is another thing worth seeing.

We need to see more such books about the Indian political scene, some sort of a factual insider view.

What a moment of triumph this must have been for Baru! Having influenced such a historic event, he certainly deserves to bask in its glory.

‘Who are the wise men around whom I can turn to for advice?’ – Manmohan

This phrase comes quite often in the  book and shows that Manmohan, being the economic stalwart that he was, never shied away from seeking counsel.

FootNote:
All the views mentioned above are the author’s personal takes on the book, and have been written in no way to offend, demean or influence the thinking of any reader whosoever. I kindly request you to consider the blog post in good spirit and appreciate the plurality of opinions.

Moving from Android to iOS

So I recently switched from Android to iOS, and the change has been catastrophic. I knew before getting the phone that iOS is supposed to be beauty without brains…But as I got around to reading about it and using it, I realized its popularity isn’t entirely unreasonable after all. The title of this article was originally going to be ‘Why iPhones are <bad word here> piece of <bad word here>’, but now, after reading about it a bit and gaining more hands-on experience on the phone, I had to modify the title to a rather neutral one.

The most common problem that users have with iOS is that you cannot customize it to suit your needs. Although one can introduce customizability into iOS by jailbreaking it (which is equivalent to rooting an Android in some sense), it does not offer you as much freedom as Android. In this article, I’m going to talk about the un-jailbroken iOS, since that is how I’ve used it.

One of the bigger problems that I see with iOS is that it lacks deep Google integration. Call it fortunate or unfortunate, this big (friendly) giant has become an integral part of our lives. However, it is not ingrained in iOS the way it is in Android.

The stock apps that they provide with iOS are pathetic. The stock clock app doesn’t have an option to disable an upcoming alarm, while Android’s provides an option to disable it 2 hour prior. Also, who uses Apple Maps when you have Google Maps. For those of you who haven’t used Apple Maps, I tell you, it’s bad and lacks detailing when it comes to India.

Also, most of you will be well aware that iOS is not really customizable. I was about to write ‘not at all’ customizable, but then I thought that iOS does allow you to change that wallpaper. Sigh! This is a very well known issue, that you can’t install launchers and stuff like that easily. I personally don’t think that it is as big a problem as it is posed on the internet.

At the same time, customizability of iOS is way more advanced than android when it comes to giving or denying resources to particular apps, which came quite late in android, if at all it has come for all devices. So in iOS, you need not accept what permissions an app requires while downloading it from the app store. You can download it anyway and then give, deny or revoke permissions to contacts, camera, background app refresh, etc.

The performance is smooth. Smooth as butter. Maybe that phrase doesn’t make sense in this language but what I intend to convey is makkhan performance hai. Never have I seen this phone going haywire just because I accidentally opened camera and phone together unlike my previous Motorola. The reason is obvious. No, not more RAM. On the contrary iPhone 6S has a pitiable 1GB of RAM, whereas good Android handsets boast of 2-3 GB of main memory. However, it is little known that more RAM isn’t synonymous with better performance. The reason, actually, is in the way they handle apps. Android apps are “forced” to use Java, and need all the extra RAM to do something called garbage collection. Most android developers essentially, quite unwillingly, boil down to Java coders with an added skill of web technologies.

 As for iOS? The operating system doesn’t need all the extra memory associated with Java and Android, since it was designed to avoid this sort of garbage collection from scratch. It only needs the memory it is actually using.

 To those of you who have not been preparing for placements (:P), garbage collection is a process that triggers the freeing of memory as and when a process is done using it. This works well on systems with a good amount of main memory. However, things start getting dicey with systems with a limited main memory like handheld mobile devices. This insensitive usage of main memory also results in battery life getting penalized too. And this is the reason Android phones tend to have much bigger batteries to attain the same amount of battery life. Contrary to popular belief, iPhones have a good battery life when compared to everyday common Android phones.

Quite like android, iOS also does like to impose restrictions on its developers. Third party developers are not allowed to do a lot of things, which do not matter a lot to me anyway. It is said that iOS is very closed when it comes to giving freedom to its developers. I, not being a mobile app developer, don’t think it’s an issue with me. Nevertheless, this comes as a big minus point for the end consumers, as ultimately it is only those apps, developed in restricted environments, that we get to use.

It is a widely known fact that good apps come first for iOS and later for Android. However, the less popular ones usually come for Android but just don’t exist for iOS. Also, there is this bad thing imposed by Apple that the App store has been regionally divided and there are separate apps in different regions. Although most apps are available in all regions, there are certain apps which you cannot install if you are registered in a particular region’s app store; and some apps come late for some regions, for instance, Pokemon go is still not there in the Indian App Store. One obvious thing that comes to mind is that you can very well change the country. But folks, there is a reason people curse iOS. As it turns out, you cannot change country without a credit card, if you’ve entered your card information in the original account that you created. If you’ve not entered your card information the first time, you can very well change country. But if you enter your card information once, it will ask you to enter a valid card information again when you try to change your country. I have not done adequate research about this observation of mine and hence I am not too sure about it as well, but mostly it’s true.

Another big problem is that apps in iOS are big. Bigger than their Android counterparts. It’s mainly because the apps have to have high-resolution images and screens which take up a lot of bytes. So you do get better-looking apps but you pay for that in terms of the app size. I must mention that Apple has a very careful app review process which usually takes about a week, while it takes about 2-3 days for Android apps. App developers argue that the amount of time it takes for Apple to review their apps is sometimes more than what they spent on developing their apps. However, Apple takes all measures required to ensure that only high-quality apps go onto the App Store. Again, not being into mobile app development, it barely affects me. I mean, I may have to wait a little longer sometimes, but that is fine with most people, I suppose when the difference is in days.

Coming to iOS’s strongest point, the UI/UX, it’s enticing. The attention to detail that has been given is noteworthy. The way the icons float on the home screen, the smooth one-hand touch mode and the uber-fast fingerprint scanner are amazing. The fingerprint scanner in iPhone is much faster than the ones introduced in the new high-end Samsung phones, without the bloated unnecessarily cute UI. It all comes with a smart virtual assistant Siri, which is more fun than Google Now and Cortana. It, however, can be a pain when it starts giving pre-defined hard-coded answers or when it doesn’t catch your words, but that happens at a lesser frequency than what I experienced with Motorola.

With the capitalistic minds that they have at Apple HQ, they do not have any external SD card slot in their devices and want you to buy space on iCloud once you run out of space. While we are at it, they use lightning pin connectors as chargers, and not the universally adopted microUSB pins. This forces me to take my charger/pin wherever I go, because one may find a microUSB easily, but not a lightning pin. Nonetheless, this pin of Apple’s is known to be very efficient and charges the phone quite fast.

Another thing that is exceedingly bad about iPhones is text editing. Text editing in an Apple device requires a doctorate and the hands of a master craftsman. Typing in the ultra-smooth keyboard poses a challenge for people like me, who have big, fat fingers. The most irritating part being that you can’t start editing a word from its middle. You have to start at one of the word’s ends. For instance, if I type ‘hippopotomanstrosesquitpeoliophobia’ instead of ‘hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia’, I will have to type the word again from the starting. Obviously, you do get autocorrect suggestions, but who has the time to look at what it suggests? While I agree many people use autocorrect very efficiently, call me old school, but I inadvertently go and edit the word manually and then realize that there was a suggestion made by autocorrect.

Moving on, sharing files used to be another problem for which iPhones have long been infamous. However, with the advent of technologies/apps like Xender and ShareIt, it has become much more convenient. However, putting in music and movies is many a times a problem with me. Being an avid Linux user, I am forced to use wine to run iTunes in order to put music and movies into my phone. And being very truthful, I don’t like wine. It’s unfortunate that they just have iTunes for Windows and Mac.

To conclude, iOS definitely gives you some reasons to love it as much as Android. Do note that I have not mentioned windows for a reason. There is Android and iOS competing at the top, there is a gap (I wonder what it is filled of), and then there is Windows. No awesome UI, no fancy features, no good apps, no high-quality hardware. Oh yes, talk about keeping stuff secure. Anyway, it has been a fun journey, exploring Android, and now iOS.

Systemd: It’s where my daemons hide

Foreword

There are times when your brain’s autopilot misfires and you suddenly find yourself reading about how cannibals eat their own babies. So one such thing happened and this article was written. So, do not think of this article as a tutorial or a man-page. This article just discusses the power of Systemd as an init system and primarily focuses on putting forward the most important and heavily used aspects of managing services in an operating system. You are strongly encouraged to read Chapter 8 of Redhat System Administrator’s Guide if you would prefer a complete hard-core technical tutorial. Let’s get started.

An Init System, eh?

First things first. Systemd is basically a new init system. So before understanding systemd, it is of paramount importance that there is no confusion about what an init system is. I am sure many of you would be aware of what init systems are, but for the rest of us, let’s go through the basics quickly.

First of all, do me a favor and run this command in your Linux terminal.

ps -e

Now, the first process that you see would be a process called systemd, or init. An init system is the first process that your kernel starts upon being loaded by the bootloader when your system starts, and naturally, gets a PID 1.

You can also see the whole process tree with this command

pstree

You will see init or systemd as the root process. If you don’t, you are in serious trouble, pal.

The role of an init system is not very well defined, and depends heavily on the very init system you are using. However, there are certain things that an init system must do. This includes starting, stopping and restarting essential services like the networking service to start listening to a particular port.

Moreover, now that they are assigned PID 1, their responsibility also increases. Kernels make the process at PID 1 immediately adopt all orphaned processes. So the init system adopts all the orphaned processes.

A wise man once said, Jiska koi nahi, uska init

Of all the functionalities that an init system provides, the functionality which happens to be of utmost importance to users happens to be the way an init system allows a user to view the status of services, and restart the service whenever (s)he wishes to.

The two most popularly used init systems are SysV init and systemd. Another init system, called Upstart is used in some Ubuntu versions including the popular 14.04, which is quite like SysV init and for the sake of clarity, I am going to refer to both of them as SysV init in this article.

Let’s make an attempt to understand how the two are different.

Systemd vs SysV init

Although it has been long in debate that whether or not SysV init should be replaced with the newer systemd, no definite conclusions have been reached. However, the general trend is that more in-action distro maintainers like those of ArchLinux, and Redhat had readily adopted systemd and are now debating whether or not it pull it down, while the relatively playing-it-safe ones like those of Ubuntu took a long time to decide but have finally rolled out full-on systemd with their 16.04. This also means that Ubuntu 14.04 derivatives like Elementary Freya still use the older versions. However, Ubuntu 15.* series provides an option to switch between Upstart and Systemd as the init system.

System V init was developed in 1982 with its contemporary computing situation, using the features provided by a UNIX system in 1982. Obviously, it has undergone improvements since then. In contrast, systemd was developed by a Redhat maintainer as a hobby some 30 years later, to address the situation 30 years later, and using the features provided by a UNIX system some 30 years later, which clearly were not available in 1982. No one can say newer means better, but let us look into how it affects us.

systemd is a much bigger software suite and provides many more functionalities as opposed to SysV init, which apparently has been one of the strongest points of its haters that it is bulky. But as bulkier as it gets, it now delivers as many more services like the journald daemon which is an event-logging system and happens to be very useful in zeroing down code leakages. It now, as an init system, also manages virtual device files when they are hot-plugged.

Whether all of that makes sense to you or not, it doesn’t matter, but one difference that you are going to see while moving from SysV init to systemd is that your system will boot slightly faster.

The simple reason behind systemd being faster is parallelization of a lot of tasks, exploiting the powers of a modern-day computing system (well, a computer). Although systemd was not designed for speed but for getting the things done neatly which in turn avoids all the unnecessary delay.

In essence, systemd is basically a modern-day foster of your processes who also extends nanny services to you.

Managing services with systemctl

Before we dirty our hands by handling services with systemd, it must be noted that systemd is backward compatible with SysV init and Upstart, so you can try it out by installing it on any Linux that uses SysV init or Upstart (leaving apart certain adamant Ubuntu versions).

Let’s start with a plain ‘systemctl’ command without any options.

systemctl

When we use systemd, our target is usually a unit, which is basically a resource you have on your computer; be it a service, or a device, or a socket, or possibly something else. These units are defined in special files called unit files. The type can be inferred from the file’s suffix. For instance, service files have names of the type *.service.

Now that we know about what kind of files we will be dealing with, let’s get started and learn about monitoring and controlling services. I am going to use the getty@tty5 service to play around with, since I generally do not use it as much and playing with it is mostly harmless. Feel free to replace it with the service of your choice, but make sure you know what that service does. As far as tty5 is concerned, it is the fifth terminal session in a Linux operating environment. A typical Linux distribution by default runs 7 terminal sessions (tty1 through tty7) and the desktop environment (the GUI of your OS) typically runs on tty7.
To scroll through them, just try pressing Ctrl+Alt+(Fn)+<F1 to F7>.

To keep a tab on the results of what we are doing, an essential systemd option is the status option

systemctl status getty@tty5.service

This will give you an overview of the current health of a service. Mostly you will see that the service is loaded but inactive, unless you have been using tty5 previously. Let’s start the service and check again.

As simple as it can be, to start a service, we just write

systemctl start getty@tty5.service

You may also choose to omit the .service suffix. systemd is smart enough to add that on its own.
This works, just as well.

systemctl start getty@tty5

Now try checking the status again. Since we just have to see whether the service was activated or not, you can just check that by doing

systemctl is-active getty@tty5

Obviously, you can also check the way we did previously with status as we did previously.

Let’s not waste too much time on trivial commands and get it straight. The following two are pretty well self-explanatory. They do just what you are thinking what they do.

systemctl stop getty@tty5
systemctl restart getty@tty5

However, a point of caution here. Realize that restarting stops the service and starts it again. However, if that is not necessarily required (as will usually be the case), you can use

systemctl reload <service_name>

Reloading is basically telling a service to keep running, but just re-read the configuration files.

Also, if you are not sure whether or not a restart is required, just key in

systemctl reload-or-restart <service_name>

Gotcha! Systemctl got your back.

But, you know what? Starting and stopping services is boring. If you have been using Linux as your primary operating environment, then you must have done so while following instructions from some internet forum after breaking some part of your system.

Shout out to the Ubuntu people who have broken their Unity and have done all this for their lightdm or networking services!

Things get interesting with automation. Think about auto-starting services. Once you start writing your own services, sky is the limit. You can put your services on autostart at boot time, by simply doing

systemctl enable <service_name>

In a nutshell, it creates a symlink from the service file to the location where systemd looks for service files to start at boot time.

Take a moment and realize the difference between enable and start. start, well it just starts the unit then and there; while enable will anchor the specified unit file to a relevant place so that it automatically starts on boot or when relevant hardware is hot-plugged (depending on the contents of the unit file). enable does not start a service at that time, though.

While we are at it, you can disable a service using

systemctl disable <service_name>

Pro Tip: Try looking for enabled services and disable unwanted services (after reading about them) for faster boot times.

One of the most useful functionalities that systemctl provides is that you can view failed services. This helps in finding root causes of mysterious problems.

systemctl --failed

You guys know of those times when something starts working again after a simple restart? Well, that is many times, because some service would have failed and when you restart, your system starts all the services again. So the next time something stops working suddenly, just quietly check for failed services and you will find your way by restarting that service, without needing to restart the entire system. The restarting feature comes quite handy when you are playing with the networking service upon tweaking your IP configurations. A lot of people will ask you to restart the computer for changes to take place, but now you know the workarounds.

Of the many functionalities that systemd provides, one of my favorites is

systemd-analyze blame

In essence, it blames different components, that are initialized while booting your system (popularly known as the userland components), for the time they took.

I think now we can move on to understanding unit files for init systems.

Systemd Unit Files

Enjoying the true power of Linux comes with the freedom to tweak programs by supplying desired parameters via configuration files (which are more lovingly called ‘the config files’). In the context of init system management, they prefer to call them unit files. Let us have a quick look at some standard unit files that are already there in our systems.

Unit files are typically placed in /usr/lib/systemd/system, where they are mostly written to by package developers, or /etc/systemd/system/, where they are written to by administrators. Admin-authored files enjoy the privilege of high precedence over package-installer written files.

More often than not, we would want to overwrite only specific directives. We do that by creating a directory named after the unit file and appending a .d to it. Within this directory, we create a file with .conf to extend or override the attributes of the main file.

If you didn’t while reading the last few paragraphs, go and have a look. You would have noticed that these unit files are of the form

unit_name.type_extension

These unit files usually assume one of these identities as type_extension’s

Unit Type Extension Description
Service unit .service A systemd service. Describes how to manage a service.
Target unit .target A group of systemd units. Provides synchronization point for other units when booting up or changing states.
Device unit .device A device file recognized by the kernel.
Socket unit .socket An inter-process communication socket. Describes a network or IPC socket that systemd uses for socket-based activation. These always have an associated .service file that is started when an activity is seen on a socket.
mount unit .mount It defines a mount point on the system to be managed by systemd.

Well, actually I cut the table short. Complete list here.

For closure, let’s take a quick look at some common unit file, say the dhcpcd service. Most of you would be aware that this service is used to procure the IP address from the DHCP server when one connects to a LAN or a Wi-Fi network.

[Unit]
Description=dhcpcd on all interfaces
Wants=network.target
Before=network.target

[Service]
Type=forking
PIDFile=/run/dhcpcd.pid
ExecStart=/usr/bin/dhcpcd -q -b
ExecStop=/usr/bin/dhcpcd -x

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

These files are very straight-forward and mostly do what you think they will do. A unit file is divided into named sections where these names are enclosed in those grumpy square brackets.
The most critical part of this service file is the ExecStart tag. It tells the init system what command/script to run when you start executing this service.

To conclude, it comes out that having a good hold over units and unit files makes system administration a lot more comfortable and fun. Systemd has a fairly simple declarative syntax which is quick and easy to follow and manipulate services. Power and freedom are best utilized when you wield them.

I would strongly recommend interested readers to do a quick go-through of Chapter 8 of Redhat System Administrator’s Guide to understand how to write their own unit files and best practices.

Do realize that if you encounter any confusion with any of these things, just RTFM and you will be back on your way. Play around. Once you are done with the man page, go and read up systemd’s Arch Wiki page for closure. Read about masking and isolating unit files, and doing power management with systemctl. And once done with that, to quote another wise man, go and watch Fight Club.

 

The Dead Pays A Visit

Being a single mom in a man’s world can be difficult at times, especially when you have a young autistic daughter who just started attending school. She lived in the rather conservative town of Cardiff. People were not nice there. Neither was she. Unbroken, she continued to live with her daughter in a rented cottage in the outskirts of the country area.

 The year was 1973. He was a rich spoilt brat. That didn’t stop her from loving him more than anything. The thought of being with him meant a lot to her; for she had no family, no friends, just some acquaintances from work who would always persecute her. She would always dream of marrying him one day and going to Galapagos together. Things were pretty well. However, there are ups and downs in every relationship. One evening, they found themselves in the middle of an argument. He wanted the two of them to move to London in his newly constructed mansion. She wanted to stay in Cardiff and pursue her job as an assistant typist in the mayor‘s office. They were both mildly inebriated. He even tried to hit her. She didn’t resist at first. Then the fight got intense. Amidst the heat of the moment, she took a kitchen knife and without thinking, slit his throat open. As the knife swiftly moved through his neck, she realized what she had done. She broke down into tears. She could not think of anything but the fact that she killed the only good thing in her life, so mindless was she with agony. She came into senses an hour later, when she found herself crying helplessly over the corpse. She was scared. However, being practical was in her genes, a trait derived from her parents, whom she never saw. She knew one thing for sure that if anyone got to know about the murder, she would be put behind the bars. She was smart. She cleverly went out in the dark and drove his car to a trench on the side of the rode and set the car ablaze.

It’s been five years now. Nobody ever got to know how it happened and she was clear of any legal consequences. But she had done one thing quite odd in faking his death. She loved him so much that she still wanted to live with him. So, she kept his body with herself. She bought some Kilz oil primer and lime from a chemist, applied it all over his body and ensured that the corpse doesn’t smell. She found it difficult to make peace with the fact that she was living with a corpse, but she eventually did.

Yesterday was a remarkable night. She had had a long day at work. She started walking down home. Her daughter was waiting for her. She was going to recite at a poetry recitation contest today. She reached home and rang the bell. There was no response. She tried again. No response still. She was used to these kinds of games. She tried calling out to her and tried opening the door again and realized that door was already open. She went in a hurry and called her daughter’s name. While she didn’t realize, she had left the door slightly open. Her daughter was nowhere to be seen. She knew exactly where she would be. She went straight to the spandrel of the staircase. There she was. All well and fit. She asked her if she has memorized the poem she wanted to recite tomorrow. She nodded. She took her to the kitchen and asked her to practice her recitation skills by reciting the poem to her while she applied some face-pack and put two slices of cucumber on her eyes and lied down on her bed. Her daughter started reciting the poem.

 

“Your body filled with a dreadful chill,

Stared at your desk, and the white old quill.

Windy night, the quill moved slight,

You turned the switch, seeking ……[1] ”.

 

Suddenly her voice became hoarse and loud and the next word came out of her mouth ‘Light’. She grew suspicious and shouted his name, ‘Jeremy?’. The same manly voice continued, ‘No, mommy.’ Suddenly someone grabbed her tightly and tied her to the bed. She could not move while she was gasping for air. She was desperately throwing her arms back and forth in the quest for freeing herself and rescuing her daughter but to no avail. Suddenly the ropes loosened. She got up and removed the cloth that covered her face. She saw her daughter crying in the corner of the room. To her relief, she was safe. She was sure it was him. She was a religious person and has always believed in souls. It was his fifth death anniversary and he had come to see her. She didn’t know what he wanted. “Did he still love her? Or was he here to take his revenge? Or to take his daughter back?”, she thought to herself. She tried looking throughout the house. She checked and properly closed every door and window. She went back to her daughter, who was still crying. She took her to her bedroom and asked her to sleep. They were scared. But it had been more than 30 minutes now and they both wanted to believe that whatever that was, has gone. Her daughter was scared, and like most children do, she pointed to an old closet they had in the room and said,

 “Mommy, I think there is someone in the closet.”

Her mom would have otherwise let go of her daughter’s worry and would have instead calmed her with a bedtime story. But this time, she was scared too. She decided to go and check the closet, for her satisfaction. She stood up and inched towards the closet. She turned back at her daughter lying in her bed. She was still scared. She looked at the closet and swiftly opened it. She did not believe what she saw next. It was her daughter, all tied up, put inside the closet. The moment she saw her, her daughter whispered to her,

 “Mommy, I think there is someone on my bed.”

She turned back hastily. She saw the corpse of her daughter with a 6 inch dagger inserted inside her right on her belly button, lying on the bed. Both herself and her daughter who just came out of the closet were scared to death. What on earth was going on? She could not decide which was her real daughter and which one was not. The corpse eventually dissolved into air in a matter of seconds and the bed was clean as it was before. She had no idea what was happening. She didn’t know whether to trust the little girl who came out of the closet or not. The girl looked exactly the same as her daughter and was also scared to death. Maybe she was her real daughter, or maybe some satanic illusion. The girl did not show any signs of wanting to hurt her. But both were scared to hell. They kept staring at each other for five minutes, until she decided to boil herself some milk and try to sleep. To her, maybe it was just the stress of the work she had from her office. But she didn’t want to go there alone. So she took her daughter along. Little did she know that gas was leaking from the pipeline and as soon as she turned on the stove, the entire cottage burst into flames.

No one ever got a chance to hear or listen to what happened. No one ever got to know what happened to him, her and their daughter. All they ever got to know was they he died in a car crash, and the women, in a domestic fire accident.

 

[1] AnitaPoems – Scary Poems

On the writing style of ‘A Song Of Ice and Fire’

Before we discuss the epic fantasy novel, ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’ and its writing style, I should also probably give a little bit of context. The book series is written by George R. R. Martin and has also been been adapted into the widely appreciated HBO television series Game of Thrones, which however, still remains in my bucket list. The series has grown from a planned trilogy to seven volumes, the fifth and most recent of which, A Dance with Dragons, they say, took Martin five years to write before its publication. Internet tells me that the sixth novel, The Winds of Winter, is still being written. I would have waited on a full series review, but it will probably be ten more years before the last two novels are completed. Let’s not kid ourselves, but we both know we are going to be radically different from what we are today. Plausibly, I will be flying my private jet to Miami to sign a new business deal with a big shot corporation and might find no time to talk about this book (:D).

The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place on the fictional continents Westeros and Essos. The point of view of each chapter in the story is a limited perspective of a range of characters growing from nine, in the first novel, to thirty-one by the fifth. Three main stories interweave a dynastic war among several families for control of Westeros, the rising threat of the supernatural Others beyond Westeros’ northern border, and the ambition of Daenerys Targaryen, the deposed king’s exiled daughter, to assume the Iron Throne.

A Song of Ice and Fire received favorable critique and praise for favoring realism over magic. An assortment of disparate, subjective and sometimes inaccurate points of view confront the reader, and the reader may not safely presume that a favorite character will prevail, or even survive.

A Song of Ice and Fire follows a very distinctive style of writing. Martin uses a limited omniscient view for each chapter, meaning, we see everything in the chapter through one person’s point of view (POV), but like, over their shoulder. So although we see what really happens, but we kind of see it through that character’s biases. For instance, when an Arya chapter tells us about Septa Mordane, it’s only going to tell us what Arya knows about her: that he is annoying and makes Arya do her sewing again and again.

On top of it, instead of just giving us just one character’s POV for the whole book, Martin uses a rotating cast of character perspectives (Jon Snow, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Tyrion, Daenerys, and so on). Oh wait, I think I missed Will. Well, most of you would have forgotten this guy, but the prologue is actually told from the POV of a character named Will, but he never shows up again in this series. Martin seems to like this structure: the prologues of the rest of the books in the series are all given through one character who then doesn’t show up again.

Digging a little deeper, having all of these character points of view lets us get really get close to each of the character’s experiences. So when Eddard figures out the mystery of Cersei’s kids, we not only find out, well, the mystery of Cersei’s kids; but also, hear Eddard’s thoughts on that mystery. And because we have so many character perspectives, we can sympathize with all of them. This is what happens when you spend that much time inside someone’s head.

Another advantage of having so many character perspectives is that we get really direct contact with many different worlds. For instance, when we’re with Eddard, we see how King’s Landing really operates; when we’re with Daenerys, we see how different the Dothraki are; and when we’re with Jon Snow, we get an idea of what’s going on in the north. Who would have wanted to be narrated of Dothraki from the POV of Catelyn? The rotation of characters appears to be necessary to dissolve into the fantasy of the book. It gives you a peek into every character’s real world, which makes this series stand apart, among other fantasy fiction books.

The way I see it, there is a major drawback to this narrative technique as well. I totally agree that Martin can’t give us the perspectives of people who are either villains or just super-secretive. That is, seeing the world through a antagonist’s eyes might make them a sympathetic character, so in order to preserve someone’s villain-ness, Martin has to hide their thoughts and feelings. After all, no one is a villain in their own mind. Jaime may be a monster when we see him on the outside, but let’s put ourselves in his shoes: maybe he does what he does for his reasons. He loves his family. Martin also can’t give us the perspectives of mysterious people (like Varys or Petyr Baelish) because that would ruin the mystery.

What makes Martin’s books special is that they take all of these typical elements – dragons, castles, etc. – and mix them up in a unique way. So, typically, we’d get a story where a knight and a wizard ride out of a castle and kill a dragon. But instead, here we get a world where there isn’t much (or any) magic and where the biggest danger isn’t a dragon but the schemes of other nobles or even a measly infection.

Unlike other fantasy stories, where people worry about dragons like The Hobbit, or people falling in love or indulging in romance like the widely talked about Potter series, people in Martin’s world worry about infection and poison, and debts that they owe (A Lannister always pays his debts).

However, it is, in some sense, like The Lord of the Rings. It’s got all the things you want in an epic fantasy novel: knights, castles, war, barbarians, strange gods, made-up languages, and even dragons. But it also has murder, conspiracy, mutilation, incest, and other kinds of daunting or let me use the word atypical or simply not-so-mainstream activities. Albeit his series finds a place in the fantasy genre, it’s also very real, and hence daunting. However, I don’t particularly remember any instance where you see any kind of foolish romance or falling-in-love deeds, which is a thumbs up.

Another thing that I particularly appreciate about this brilliantly written series is, that you’re not going to get wizards throwing magical fireballs. Most importantly, you’re certainly not going to find ‘absolutely’ evil demons fighting against ‘perfect’ heroes. Instead, what we read is a lot more like our own history: there’s a civil war, and the characters you like don’t always do the right thing (and don’t always win), and as I previously also said, it might appear to be a fantasy, but don’t flow with this assumption, it is also very real, and hence daunting.

Plurality in opinions – not per se.

Let me share an experience of mine. Yesterday, while I was going through my daily dose of current happenings via the print media (simply reading newspapers, duh!), I picked up Times of India first (albeit, not a good first choice, it was the only one available to grab at that instant) and came vis-à-vis with this article.

For those of you who don’t know about JEE Main, it is the most ubiquitous and most widely acceptable competitive exam to get admission into engineering colleges in India. Now, having given this exam two years back, this article got me interested and I read up the thing. As is evident, TOI reports that students found the paper tough.

While I continued browsing the newspaper, the article faded away to the back of my mind. I put that paper back in the stack, and while glancing other options, picked up Ahmedabad Mirror. Now comes the interesting part, I suddenly saw this.

This came to me quite surprising at first. I went back to check up with TOI, but to add to my surprise, it was still the same (after all, it wasn’t going to change! dynamic newspapers are still a concept).

So, here I was, astonished, like a barber who just read the Barber’s Paradox; to see two responsible (at least widely accepted) newspapers showcasing the same incident in a highly contrasting manner. I, at first, attributed it to the fact that people can have different opinions on the same issue. But at the same time, I wondered if the media can be so irresponsible. Okay, they many a times are, but at least not on these regards, and not so much that they will take a very niched sample for reporting the opinion of students. This thought was constantly pinging my head. I do accept that people can have opinions. In fact, every student can have her own take on the level of difficulty of the question paper. But we expect such newspapers to report the truest, or the commonest, or the most general view of an issue. They could have opted to take into consideration the view of people who are engaged in the dirty business of coaching students for these examinations. At least, they will have proper data in terms of an understanding of the level of difficulty these exams have, and have had in previous years, and thus will have a more realistic scale of judging the level of difficulty.

Not that I was all that interested in knowing about the general perception of the JEE exam (I have been through mine, and silently chuckle at myself on those days of my journey), but the inconsistency in the portrayal of a piece of information is something that totally rages my nerves in hopelessness. I consider it to be the reporter’s and the tabloid’s responsibility to take adequate sample for reporting a popular view. And if they still find inconsistency, they can opt not to report about the popular perception at all, or to mention that they found a variety of contrasting opinions.

While I was playing with this thought in my mind, I thought of checking this up online on The Hindu’s website (It’s disheartening but The Hindu reaches Ahmedabad a day late). Also, I did check up this article in today’s edition.

Here is what I read in The Hindu.

The Hindu brought out another perspective to my notion of this inconsistency, which I was attributing to plurality.

The Hindu went deeper into the matter, took the opinions more subjectively, and figured that it was the physics section that turned out to be tougher than usual and mathematics was lengthy, while the chemistry part was prettier. I found this to be a more realistic approach to reporting an issue. Digging deep into the matter is what most readers want. This reaffirmed my faith in The Hindu.

I would accept that it is just quite possible that The Hindu might also have taken a niched sample, but their subjective approach was something that definitely had an edge. I gave the undue benefit of doubt to The Hindu since this tabloid has always met my expectations in terms of content. I have been reading TOI all my life, of course alongside The Hindu, but I have figured by now that TOI is good, just for the editorial section. As far as the content is concerned, you will always find TOI giving so much space to stupid content such as personal lives of cricketers, and movie actors, or doing public opinion polls (again on a limited sample), on stupid matters.

Now, as I had gotten interested in this subject, I ended up checking all the newspapers they had on the stack for this article, and I came across a variety of opinions of this issue. Some claimed that maths was tough, while physics and chemistry was trivial, and some claimed the opposite. This truly reflects the pattern of plurality of opinions, on the plurality of journalism.

Foot-Note: This post has been written in no way to demean or favour any respectable newspaper or journalist. All the views mentioned in the article are personal takes, with my naive understanding of journalism. Kindly take this article in good spirit and humour. Also, feel free to provide your response to this article.