The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

Mail to the Boar

A letter arrived by email today addressed to "Dear Advisory Boar" and asking for advice about working a freelance job while learning how to program.

The boar felt oddly pleased, and duly rendered the advice sought.

How much is IIPM paying The Hindu?

Today's The Hindu—not for the first time—had an extra front page devoted to an advertisement from IIPM, complete with gushing top-half copy masquerading as news reporting. Over the past year or so, Arindam Chaudhuri's snake-oil salesman grin has been a frequent visitor to the back page of The Hindu, and many an innocent exclamation mark has been sacrificed to extol the virtues of IIPM. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of money that must change hands for this kind of coverage.

I'm not sure if it's more depressing that IIPM has accumulated such vast quantities of money by selling snake-oil, or that The Hindu is happy to soak it up and print acres of whatever drivel is sent its way.

(For those who are wondering, IIPM is the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, an unaccredited business school that is in the habit of suing anyone who points out that their advertisements are full of lies.)

Dealing with messy data: Google refine

Recently at work, I needed to import a substantial quantity of data from some spreadsheets into an SQL database. Due to multiple maintainers and changing needs, the spreadsheets were a mess of special cases, shorthand notation, and minor errors. I gave up on importing them as-is, and asked for the relevant data to be extracted into a format I defined. Writing a converter for the latter was much easier (although errors kept cropping up even in the new spreadsheet).

Today I read about Google Refine, a program dedicated to dealing with messy data. The video demonstrations on the project page show off some useful capabilities, such as grouping together and canonicalising values from a column in a few steps, scaling numeric values, and rearranging the data in various ways.

Refine is a Java program that you install and interact with using a web browser. I've never used such a program, and I suspect it may be painful to install, but I'm going to try it if any more spreadsheets appear on the horizon.

Update 2020-03-23: Google Refine was renamed again and is now known as OpenRefine.

Airtel's Fair Usage Policy

Airtel's unlimited data plans have a “very generous” limit — Sorry, I mean “fair usage level”.

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No more Sai Baba

I can understand wanting to make sure that Sai Baba Mark II was actually dead, and not just setting the stage for a miraculous resurrection, but I think it was in poor taste for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to do it personally.

A little more legroom

Regular airline seats are so cramped that I am relieved that I can now pay extra for an exit row seat.

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Goodbye to fugue

My old server,, is no more. After five years of sterling service, it has been retired and replaced with one of Hetzner's new entry-level root servers (with sixteen times the RAM and a very much faster CPU). It took me a long time to migrate the services across, but everything works now.

The new server is named

Escaping from Delhi this October

For many months, we have been planning to be away from Delhi during the Commonwealth Games 2010 (October 3–14). Thanks to extra school holidays and invitations from friends, we're spending 25 days in Karnataka. I'm looking forward to this holiday very much.

Switching from RSS to Atom

I switched the format of the feed for posts on this web site.

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No visa required?

The Economist says that as of August 2010, Indian citizens can visit (approximately) 50 "countries and territories" without a visa.

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