Author Archive

Its a year for world championships!

September 29, 2007 Leave a comment

After 20/20, this one.

Vishy won the FIDE World Chess Championship! Congratulations!

Categories: chess

The morning after

September 25, 2007 Leave a comment

Knock Knock

Who’s there?


Misbah who?

Mis bah five runs.


Categories: cricket

Want a good Lisp tutorial?

September 21, 2007 Leave a comment

Here is a great Lisp tutorial.

I first heard of Lisp in my programming languages class, but never paid much attention to it. Well, you could still pass that exam if you never learned a thing about Lisp (or any of the programming languages “taught” there), so I never bothered. Later when I started reading blogs and technical articles, I started hearing more about Lisp.

My first attempt at learning Lisp was from David S. Touretzky’s online book Common Lisp: A Gentle Introduction to Symbolic Computation. The book did not interest me and I never completed it. Later that year, I spotted Stephen Slade’s Object-Oriented Common LISP at Gangaram’s and bought it. That book went way above my head and I still did not get Lisp.

It was in late 2004 that I heard of Peter Seibel’s Practical Common Lisp. Peter was in the process of writing the books and he had put the content on the web. I started reading the online copy of the book but without much hope. I was pleasantly surprised! The book was actually a very good read and all those parenthesis started to make sense finally. Later when I ran into difficulties with a few examples in the book, I wrote to Peter. He was kind enough to reply and make minor fixes to the code in the book.

I still haven’t programmed much in Lisp besides a few toy programs. But I understand why people rave so much about Lisp – and I am grateful to Peter Seibel for opening my eyes. So when he made this request, I thought I owed it to him.

PS: Someone, I can’t remember who, borrowed the Slade book from me in 2004 and never returned it. If anyone reading this have it, please drop me a note. :-)

Categories: books, tech

It is tough to be a bowler

September 19, 2007 Leave a comment

I expect this feat to be repeated many more times in 20/20 if the format ever catches on. I wish some minor modifications were made to the rules so that we have at least a semblance of an even contest.

Nonetheless, congratulations to Yuvi!

Categories: cricket

The Curse Of The FNU

September 17, 2007 388 comments

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
–From Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I recently relocated from Tavant’s Bangalore office to the US one. I work in the San Francisco Bay Area on an H-1B visa. One of the first pieces of paperwork one needs to get done here in the US is to get a Social Security Number (SSN). My application for an SSN was rejected twice before it was eventually accepted – this post describes how I got it fixed.

On my Indian passport my name is listed as:

Given Name : Binil David Thomas
Surname :

Yes, the geniuses at Cochin passport office left the surname field blank! From the US Consulate, Chennai website (emphasis mine):

To process your visa cases efficiently, we recommend your surname and the given name written separately on the first page (the biographic data page) of your passport.

Surname (last name): Wesley
Given name (first name): John Edward

Once your visa is approved, the immigrant and the nonimmigrant visas will be printed as your name appears in your passport. If you do not have a surname listed separately, your entire name will be printed on the surname field of the visa. Your first name will be printed as “FNU” (first name unknown), per U.S. visa regulations.

By having “FNU” listed as your given name on your visa, you may have difficulty obtaining a driver’s license and social security card in the United States.

I did not notice this website before I went to get my visa stamped on my passport. Thus my name on the passport was listed as:

First Name : FNU
Last Name : Binil David Thomas

I am assuming that many databases might have the LASTNAME as a NON-NULL column, hence this weird formation “FNU BINIL DAVID THOMAS”. When I entered USA, being the dutiful gentleman that I am, I wrote my name on my I-94 exactly as it was in my visa.

My first application to get an SSN was rejected on the basis that the name on my passport (BINIL DAVID THOMAS) and the name on my I94 (FNU BINIL DAVID THOMAS) do not match up. I was asked to get an observation added by Indian authorities to my passport listing my name correctly. I went to San Francisco consulate, filled out the miscellaneous form (pdf), paid $10, and got a note added on my passport. The process was very straightforward and I am told (see map_boiler’s post at 07-25-2007, 11:08 AM) that there are mail-in procedures too. Here is the net result (click to enlarge):

Passport annotation

Armed with this note on my passport, I applied for an SSN again. This time the officer was willing to accept my application, but when she checked my immigration records my name there was listed as:

First Name: Olena
Last Name : Binil David Thomas

‘Olena’ is definitely not my name and nobody in my family is named so. :-) This I think was a genuine clerical or software error!

To get it corrected, I contacted the US Citizenship & Immigration Services(USCIS) office on the phone. They instructed me to take an appointment with USCIS San Francisco office and speak to an immigration officer. I explained my case to an immigration officer. She checked my petition papers and recommended my case to a Customs & Border Protection CBP officer located in the same building. The CBP officer issued me a new I-94 with my name as:

First Name: Binil David
Last Name : Thomas

Corrected I-94

So, now both my passport and my I-94 had the same name and in the right form! I applied for SSN again with the corrected I-94 with Binil as my first name, David as my middle name and Thomas as my surname – and this time my application was accepted. :-)

Update Sep 13 2012: This post was written 5 years ago. I suspect that most of the information in the post is outdated. The comments still have useful information. I no longer keep track of the FNU issue, so I am disabling further comments on this post. Thanks for reading!

Categories: tavant, usa

Formatting source in blogs hosted on WordPress

September 6, 2007 3 comments

I sometimes post snippets of code on this blog. I have been searching for a way to provide proper syntax highlighting for the code I post here. There are many wordpress plugins which provide proper syntax highlighting, but since I use the hosted WordPress service, I cannot use any of those. GNU Sourcehighlight is the standard program people use of generating source highlighting, but for some strange reason I could not get that to compile on my iBook.

While looking for alternatives on the web, I noticed a package called Highlight. Highlight can generate syntax highlighted HTML files from program source files. It supports over 120 programming languages! I tried it few months ago, but soon ran into a limitation. Highlight output uses CSS classes and style definitions; to make it convenient to post code here, I needed a package that generated inline CSS styles.

I wrote to André Simon, the author of Highlight, requesting this feature. Today I got an email from André informing me that the new 2.6.3 release of Highlight has an option to generate inline css! I tried it out and it works well.

$  highlight -i -o HelloWorld.html --inline-css

And here is the snippet Highlight generated for me:

public class HelloWorld {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
         System.out.println("Hello, World");

Thanks and congratulations to André Simon!

Categories: blog, tech, wordpress

Robbing Peter to pay Paul?

July 6, 2007 Leave a comment

Well, not really, but close.

Symantec has observed an interesting trend in the world of Internet-based credit card fraud: fraudsters are donating money to charity.


Carders attempting to verify that a stolen credit card is legitimate and active have begun donating money to charity. By attempting to pay small amounts of money to various charities, including well known charities such as the Red Cross, carders can determine if a stolen credit card is valid depending on the success or failure of the transaction.

Categories: industry

Remembering our heroes

July 6, 2007 Leave a comment

Dilip Sardesai passed away at 66.

May his soul rest in peace.

I never saw much of Sardesai’s game – the only time I remember seeing a television footage of him was The Oval test of 1971. Most of the things I know of him are from reading Raju Bharatan’s columns in The Hindu. I also remember reading a Wadekar interview where he talks highly of Sardesai’s Carribean 1971 innings’. Of course, any fan of Gavaskar’s would know “the other guy” who amassed runs in Sunny’s debut tour.

Harsha Bhogle writes in his column:

As we bowed in homage to Dilip Sardesai, those dancing feet now static, Nari Contractor said to me “Have you noticed how many current Mumbai players are here?” I wish he had never said that for the heart was already heavy. There were none.

One generation not only provides inspiration, and a legacy, for another; it gives birth either to confidence, or only sometimes, to despair. Till 1971, we did not believe that England could be beaten in England, till 1959, we did not believe Australia could be beaten, till 1968 nobody thought India could win a test series overseas. But that generation had belief instilled in it by the deeds of Mankad and Umrigar who doubtlessly doubtlessly were inspired by Merchant and Nayudu. It was thus that a Gavaskar arrived, his desire for excellence fuelled by the deeds of his uncle’s generation and it was thence, that a Kapil Dev came.

Elsewhere, Mukul Keshavan argues that our cricket reporting is to be blamed:

Not giving a ‘lesser’ player credit where he has earned it is the flip side of our hero-obsession. When we neglect Sardesai’s role in that watershed series or Chetan Sharma’s inspired bowling in 1986, we don’t merely do them an injustice, we misread our past and we devalue our victories. India hasn’t won often enough for us to be careless with our triumphs: we need to attend to them and to pay our dues to the men who made them possible, men like Chetan Sharma and Dilip Narayan Sardesai.

Prem Panicker notes an interesting anecdote on Sardesai:

That was also when he launched into a diatribe against famous fathers seeking to pitch-fork their sons onto the big stage. What about your son Rajdeep, I asked him. Ever regretted that he did not grow into a cricketer? No, was the immediate response—the boy can’t play, he would have embarrassed me!

Categories: cricket

Yet Another Certification

July 4, 2007 Leave a comment

This time from Raganwald. Of course, we might soon see training centers in Hyderabad. :-)

Categories: links, software, tech

Hiding Money From Burglars

July 4, 2007 Leave a comment

Dave offers advice to hide money from burglars:

Your best strategy, then, is to actually leave some money in obvious places for the burglar to quickly find (the same applies if you keep all your money in the bank). This can not only save your other stash of money, but may actually keep the burglar from destroying your place as he looks for where you have hidden your money.


Categories: links

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