A tale from the Oracle’s mouth; All about animation; What’s wrong with your network?; Security – nothing absolute about it

Books2Byte – November 2003 


A tale from the Oracle’s mouth

D. Murali

When a man at the top of a global IT giant shares his thoughts, it’s worth listening. Here’s more on it.


WHAT do you get when the political editor of The Economistsits down to write a book to reveal the truth about the man at the top of a global IT giant, and the literary agent gives a twist to the formal collaboration agreement between the author and the tycoon, according to which, the businessman would have a kind of right of reply or commentary within the book to express a counterpoint to any of the author’s conclusions that he disagreed with or to amplify things that he thought important, and neither of the two would be able to alter the words of the other? A “unique form of joint copyright,” says the author’s note in the book Softwar, `an intimate portrait of Larry Ellison (LE) and Oracle’ by Matthew Symonds, with commentary by LE that appears as italicised footnotes marked `LE writes’. While Symonds chronicles the story, what stands out is the LE-speak. One such is about Larry’s 80-20 rule: “A project aiming for 100 per cent of the benefits will never finish. But if you go for 80 per cent, you can get it done in six to nine months. The last 20 per cent can cost you tenfold.” Read on:

  • People reflexively resist change. Change requires people to rethink the way they work and the way they are organised. When people write down their current processes and the reasons why those processes cannot be simplified, it forces them to carefully and methodically rethink their business. This usually results in business processes being changed, as opposed to software. Simplified, modernised business processes are at least as important as good business software in delivering efficiencies to the enterprise. (LE)
  • Just being successful isn’t enough. There has to be something more to play for, a reason to keep challenging oneself and others. When you have more money than you could spend in a thousand years, the stakes have to be big enough to get you into the office each day or at least most days.
  • IBM does software product integration with a lot of labour for a lot of money. Low-cost software integration is still beyond the state of the art. (LE)
  • Microsoft killed Be Inc and NIC like a rogue rhinoceros trampling a couple of disoriented field mice. But the Linux-on-the-desktop idea lives on. If anything breaks Microsoft’s monopoly, it will be a desktop version of Linux. The ingredient still missing is a replacement for Microsoft Office. Once the open-source version of StarOffice matures a bit, Microsoft might actually have to compete for business. Watch what is going on in India and China for early signs of cracks in Microsoft’s desktop monopoly. (LE)
  • Quark Biotech Inc (QBI) is an Israeli company of which Ellison owns 70 per cent. Quark has fewer than 300 people on its payroll, but about 130 of its employees have a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology, gene discovery, signal transduction, pathology, chemistry, or medicinal chemistry. In addition, it employs more than 50 specialists in DNA and protein analysis, algorithm development, programming, and statistics in what it calls its Bioinformatics Group. Ellison has constantly reiterated that biomedicine will be his second career. It’s consistent with his belief that the computer industry is maturing and consolidating.

A book for those who are waging the survival war and who want to play it hard.

Broader the better


BANDWIDTH is like the parking slot or the highway. It is never enough and one craves for more. There is a continual seeking for broader bandwidth, as much as body-builders keep measuring their biceps. And if you want to know what broadband is, here is `the father of cable modem’ Rouzbeh Yassini to tell you the story in Planet Broadband, a publication of Cisco Press. “Broadband is the fastest-growing consumer media since the VCR,” states the back-cover. “It is a lightning-fast, always-on connection to a world of digitised media content.” The intro proclaims broadband as the fastest-growing communications technology since the cellular telephone. This is a book for “the curious, active participants in the new information-age economy.” They could be filmmakers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs or educators, says the author. Now, a few strands of the band:

  • Communication technologies that change the character of daily life tend to come at us not in one fell swoop, but from the periphery, gaining momentum and eventually achieving a sort of critical penetration.
  • The world’s broadband leader, measured by the percentage of residents who use broadband, is South Korea. There, close to 10 million households – 70 per cent of the nation’s residences – are connected to broadband networks delivering data rates of 8 Mbps.
  • A broadband network has one purpose: to move massive amounts of information, swiftly and reliably, from one place to another, making the information available anywhere and at any time. The bigger the information, the better suited it is for broadband versus narrowband networks.
  • Efforts are under way to develop true symmetrical broadband-via-satellite, using high-powered satellites known as Ka-band satellites, but likely won’t be commercial force until at least 2005. Meanwhile, only a small fraction of the 45 to 50 million residential broadband households in the world receives service from satellite.
  • Futurists believe the ultimate broadband delivery scheme could be something called a passive optical network (PON), or, in modern industry lingo, a `fibre-to-the-curb’ or `fibre-to-the-home’ network. PONs are usually presented to the world as supercharged broadband networks, capable of downstream rates of 600 Mbps or more, and upstream rates of 155 Mbps – speeds that dwarf today’s cable and DSL access network performance, and are heralded as delivering improved security and reliability.

A handy book that goes beyond techies’ jargon to talk about why broadband is important to everybody.

Murderous machines


EVEN as Bush keeps chasing Osama and smoking Saddam out, move on to Dune, a science fiction by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. “Earth is a radioactive ruin,” proclaims the back cover. Dangerously, four of the `murderous machines with human brains and human cunning’ are alive and they seek `a new way to challenge both humans and computers’. Now, it is not Osama, but Omnius – the universal computer mind – that is still wielding most of its power. Where is action? In a humble laboratory on the planet Poritrin where `the mathematical genius Norma Cenva is perfecting a theory that will utterly transform the rules of space travel’. Read on:

  • “As thinking machines, we have alternatives the humans do not,” said Omnius. “Our bodies can adopt to environments lethal to biological life forms. If I simply abandon the hrethgir-infested planets, I can exploit the numerous airless moons and rocky planets. Thinking machines will thrive there and expand the Synchronized Worlds without further inconvenience.”
  • The robot Erasmus maintained a complete record of every conversation he ever had. Omnius kept his own files, including conversations between the two of them, but Erasmus suspected the records would not match in every details. The autonomous robot preferred to let his own thoughts grow and evolve, rather than receive a steady stream of updates from Omnius. Like the evermind, he is an evolving thinking machine – and like Omnius, he had his own agenda.
  • The engineering team remained on Caladan for more than four months, excavating a new base on the uninhabited, windswept headlands several hours by methcar north of the fishing village. The position was best for uplink to the new network of surveillance and communications satellites in orbit.
  • The battlefield surgeon peered into one of the nearest tanks that contained a dozen eyeballs floating together like a cluster of grapes, each one staring out at him. Optic nerves and blood vessels were connected to a central nutrient bulb. “We make them blood-neutral,” Rekur Van said. “We have spleens, livers, kidneys, everything vital. Our larger tanks can even grow sheets of fresh skin.”

Organ trees rotated to align themselves with the direct sunlight.

  • The neo-cymek genius entered the appropriate high-level access codes, and the unsuspecting thinking machines accepted the burst.

The entire fleet of machine warships and robots swallowed the programming re-write like a deadly poison pill. In a chain reaction, one by one, the robot vessels shut down over Bela Tegeuse, like lights blinking off in a large city. A bloodless coup.

Pack a Dune in your holiday trip.

Books courtesy: Landmark http://www.landmarkonthenet.com

Wednesday, Nov 05, 2003



All about animation

D. Murali

It’s easy to make light of the art of animation. Here’s more insight on what makes it effective.


THINK of `a wonderful and magical place in which all things are possible’. No, not dreams or heaven, but 3D animation is what Patrik Beck talks about in LightWave: A Professional Guide. The author compares the field to a theatrical stage because “you are duplicating the outside world, presenting things more in the way they are perceived than the way they actually are”. But what is LightWave? It is a software for print-graphics, game development, architecture, visualisation, broadcast film and visual FX. And Beck introduces readers to LightWave’s lingo with the analogy: “If 3D animation is like a stage play, the Scene file is the script. Layout has objects, lights, and cameras.” The preface speaks of the importance of getting a hang of the nuts and bolts of the software: “Mastering any form of artistic expression requires learning the basic mechanical skills of the medium – this is true whether you are using a chisel, a paint brush, or a computer mouse. Although there may seem to be a huge difference between a sphere in a box and a dinosaur in the jungle, the same skills are required to manipulate them.” Here are a few frames from the book:

  • If all we had to animate with were keyframes, all computer animation would look very mechanical. All the objects would appear to be bolted together and could only move, rotate, and change in size. Not everything moves like a machine, however. We need the ability to stretch and bend. We want characters with big rubbery faces, and sails that billow in the wind. To get this kind of organic shape changing, we need ways to animate the very shape of the objects. We need ways to pull, twist, and stretch the points.
  • The two biggest issues you face in deciding in which image format to save the rendered frames is whether compression can be used and if the file should have an imbedded Alpha channel. One image format saving option, JPEG, is referred to as having a `lossy’ compression format. When an image is saved in a JPEG format, the compression algorithm throws away data that it deems unnecessary. The degrading property of the JPEG process is additive. One level of JPEG compression is pretty safe, but loading the image and saving it repeatedly will multiply the artefacts created by the JPEG process.
  • There are two types of shadows in LightWave, Ray Trace shadows and Shadow Map shadows. The former is a very accurate, if severe, shadow. To get a softer edge to a ray traced shadow you must use Linear or Area type lights. Shadow Map shadows are only available with Spot lights. While a Ray Trace shadow literally traces the path of a ray of light, a Shadow Map shadow approximates what a shadow should be based on the basic geometry of the object. Shadows can be set independently for each light.
  • `Caustics’ is an unfamiliar word for something everybody knows. The term describes the spots and ripples of light that happen when the ray of light is reflected or focused. A caustic is the light passing through a wine glass to make a herring bone pattern on the table, the ripples of light that appear on the bottom of water filled pool, and even the light bounce of a flashlight beam hitting a mirror.
  • There are certain real world elements that are problematic for 3D animation. If the entire world was made up of shiny mirrored balls and checkerboard planes we would be pretty well set, but luckily we have a world made up of endless complexity and limitless detail. Something as simple as a strand of hair is a complex problem.

A book that can make one appreciate animation better.

Make your point, forcefully


YOU have a point to convey, but it may fall flat if it lacks the power. So, Microsoft comes to your rescue and you know the name of the product we are talking about – PowerPoint.

Ellen Finkelstein, a presentation guru, helps you to get your message “jump off the screen” with her book How to do everything with Microsoft PowerPoint 2003: A Beginner’s Guide. Long ago, presentations were the preserve of design professionals. As a case in empowerment, now almost anybody with very basic skills can create a slideshow in minutes. The use of presentation programs is increasing `geometrically’, notes the author in the intro. New design templates, document recovery, password protection, print preview, new animation types such as animation along a path and a timeline, multiple slide masters and so on are the added features of PowerPoint2003 that is an integral part of the XP suite. A brief slideshow:

  • One of the hallmarks of a professional presentation is consistency. The Style Checker ensures consistency of style throughout your presentation. It checks your presentation for consistency, style of sentence structure, and punctuation. However, if the Office Assistant is not on, you cannot use style checking.
  • Your main concern when editing text is clarity. Text on a slide is quite different from text in a word processing document. Bulleted text is often not in full sentences, yet it needs to be clear, nonetheless. Try reading the text on each slide aloud to see if it makes sense. When you deliver your presentation, you expand on the text and explain each item fully.
  • What if you find a graphic that is perfect in its subject but the wrong colour? The colours of a graphic should blend nicely with the colours of the rest of the slide. PowerPoint can change the colours of a vector graphic, colour by colour, giving you incredible control.
  • When you insert an object into PowerPoint, you are embedding the object. The object, while part of your presentation, retains an `awareness’ of its original application. When you double-click the object, the original application opens within PowerPoint and you use the menus and toolbars of that application to edit the object. To return to PowerPoint menus, click anywhere outside the object. Embed an object when you don’t need to update the data from the original source document. If you need to update data from its original source, you should link the object.
  • One of the best ways to prepare for a presentation is to get a good night’s sleep the night before. Feeling fresh and rested makes you feel and appear brighter, happier, and more enthusiastic. If you’re nervous, settle down just before your presentation.

If you know how to meditate, do so. If not, sit quietly for a few minutes with your eyes closed. Get up slowly and then start moving about and making preparations to gear up for the presentation.

A book of all those behind-the-slides facts.

Books courtesy: Wiley Dreamtech India P Ltdwww.wileydreamtech.com

Any survivors?


HERE is The Third World War, a terrifying novel of global conflict by Humphrey Hawksley.

The back-cover paints the gory details: “Hundreds die in the Indian Parliament in Delhi. The president of Pakistan is assassinated. A US military base is hit by a North Korean missile… No one is yet aware that the war is already unstoppable. Every decision West makes seems to lead to more conflict.” Catch up:

  • “We have just passed through the area where we are keeping eggs which carry the smallpox virus,” said the scientist. “As you know, the Americans, British and others have mass-stocked a smallpox vaccine. Once infected, a patient takes two or three days to contract the disease, and several weeks to die. Within that time, the patient can be vaccinated and make a full recovery.”
  • Guo opened the cover of the glove compartment to reveal a black box with a small screen, a keyboard and a dialling pad.

He brought out a wire, with a rubber sucker on the end, pulled it to its full length and attached it to a precise spot on the roof, from which he extracted a metal antenna which looped around on itself.

Then from inside the glove compartment, he took a box no bigger than a cigarette packet.

Inside it were layers of folded aluminium, which Guo let drop down into a flat circular shape. He attached that to the antenna on the roof, making a small satellite dish.

  • Working on the lowered lid of the toilet seat, Desai opened the laptop case and removed the computer. He unfurled a telephone cable and ran it to the socket under the desk.

While it was booting up, he drew the curtains across the window and wedged a hardback chair against the handle of the door. Before boarding the plane in Singapore, he had reformatted the computer’s hard disk and reinstalled the factory software, together with the latest AOL programme, to which he had signed up using the name and credit-card number of Ben Dutta.

  • The screen on the bottom left went blank. `Cloud cover,’ said Colchester quietly. Slowly it became grey. Then, just as more distinct contours of the Chagai Hills appeared, they vanished as quickly again. `Thermobaric explosives,’ continued Colchester.

`Pierce is carpet-bombing the place with them. It’s about as close as you can get to a nuclear attack without actually going nuclear.’

  • The satellites and radar were confused because they were not meant to follow the missile as far as this. The picture jumped and skewed.

The target coordinates flipped over like stock prices, as computer tried to calculate where the warheads might lead. Patriot missiles were fired. One hit its target. One North Korean missile remained in flight.

Frightening, realistic, and too close for comfort.

Book courtesy: Landmark http://www.landmarkonthenet.com

Wednesday, Nov 12, 2003



What’s wrong with your network?

D. Murali

What can go wrong will go wrong, especially in the realm of network management. Here’s more on it.


WHAT can go wrong will go wrong. Nowhere is this more felt than in the realm of network management. “Servers can crash, WAN links can become saturated, and for unknown reasons, an application’s performance can come to a crawl, pitting network engineers against application developers in a complicated blame game, usually without facts,” writes Kevin Burns in the intro to his book TCP/IP Analysis and Troubleshooting Toolkit. TCP/IP is the backbone of the Internet and corporate networks, states the back-cover and the book has solutions “that solve real-world networking problems”. A sampler:

  • If one protocol, more than any others, is responsible for the growth of the Internet, it would have to be HTTP. Also known as the Hypertext Transport Protocol, HTTP, like FTP, is a protocol used for the transport of information. But HTTP does much more than just transport information. It has built-in mechanisms for handling different data formats, provides connection persistence, and includes indicators for caching.
  • Fault management systems are the staple of any corporate network management centre. They usually consist of a large centrally-located computer or computers that actively poll devices on the network to confirm that the devices are still functioning. A standard database called a `management information base’ (MIB) allows a management station to query network devices and obtain statistics, such as uptime, utilisation, or error information, from this database. A management station using a protocol called SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) can retrieve virtually any piece of information that you can configure the device to store in the MIB.
  • IP is what is called an unreliable connectionless protocol. Although it is responsible for getting our data from one place to another, it does not guarantee that it will make it.
  • When TCP sends a segment of data to a host, it will wait for a set period of time called the retransmission time-out (RTO). If it does not receive an acknowledgement from the host during that time, it will retransmit the data segment. Most implementations determine the RTO by something called the smooth round-trip time (SRTT).
  • Web sites have become very complex. Take, for example, the National Football League’s Web site (www.nfl.com) , which contains thousands of statistics, up-to-the-minute score updates, and even live streaming audio of games in action. Today, complex Web sites do not exist as single servers but as multiple multi-tiered systems comprising back-end databases, application servers, and application-aware load-balancing switches.

Put the book on your network before linking the wires.



FIRST, the computer guys spoke of bits, then bytes and characters. Thereafter, came fields, records and files. The arrival of databases was a big thing. “Early renditions of databases centred around a single database serving every purpose known to the information processing community – from transaction to batch processing to analytical processing,” writes W.H. Inmon in the latest edition of his book Building the Data Warehouse, which caters to the enlightened notion of databases – that separates the operational needs from analytical ones that serve informational requirements and decision support systems (DSS). The book focuses on the `information warehouse’ that lies at the heart of DSS processing. A peek into the warehouse:

  • One confusing aspect of data warehousing is that it is an architecture, not a technology. This frustrates the technician and the venture capitalist alike because these people want to buy something in a nice clean box. But data warehousing simply does not lend itself to being “boxed up”.
  • The development of data warehouse operates under a very different life cycle, sometimes called the CLDS (the reverse of the SDLC). The classical SDLC is driven by requirements; thereafter are the stages of design and development. The CLDS is almost exactly the reverse: it starts with data. Once the data is in hand, it is integrated and then tested to see what bias there is to the data, if any. Programs are then written against the data. The results of the programs are analysed, and finally the requirements of the system are understood. The CLDS is usually called a `spiral’ development methodology.
  • The single most important aspect of design of a data warehouse is the issue of granularity. Indeed, the issue of granularity permeates the entire architecture that surrounds the data warehouse environment. Granularity refers to the level of detail or summarisation of the units of data in the data warehouse. The more detail there is, the lower the level of granularity, and vice versa. For example, a simple transaction would be at a low level of granularity. A summary of all transactions for the month would be at a high level of granularity.
  • The first impulse of many Web designers is to store Web data in the Web environment itself. But very quickly the Web becomes swamped, and once that happens, nothing works properly. Data becomes entangled in everything – in access queries, loads, indexes, monitors and elsewhere.

Coming to the aid of the Web is the data warehouse itself, as well as the bulk storage overflow component of the data warehouse. Typically, a Web environment holds a day’s worth of data, while the data warehouse might hold a year’s worth. And the overflow storage component holds as much as a decade’s worth of data.

  • End users operate in a mode that can be called the `discovery mode’. They don’t know what their requirements are until they see what the possibilities are. Initially populating large amounts of data into the data warehouse is dangerous – it is a sure thing that the data will change once populated.

A book that you can populate your rack with.

Block by block


ARE you an engineer or designer out there looking for software to do your work? Look at one of the world’s “fastest growing solid modelling softwares”, says Sham Tickoo of Purdue University in his book SolidWorks Release 2003. The software is a `parametric feature-based solid modelling tool”. It unites the 3D parametric features with 2D tools, and also addresses “every design-through-manufacturing process”. A few dimensions from the book:

  • In the `part’ mode, you are provided with the standard hole library known as `hole wizard’. You can create simple holes, tapped holes, counterbore, countersink, and so on. The holes can be of any standard such as ISO, ANSI, JIS, and so on. You can also create complicated surfaces using the surface modelling. Annotations such as weld symbols, geometric tolerance, datum references, and surface finish symbols can be added to the model.
  • Feature is defined as the smallest building block that can be modified individually. A model is a combination of a number of individual features and each feature is related to other features directly or indirectly. These features understand their fit and function properly, and therefore, can be modified any time during the design process.
  • Collision detection is used to detect the interference and collision between the parts of an assembly when the assembly is in motion. While creating the assembly in SolidWorks, you can direct the collision between different parts of the assembly by moving and rotating the components of the assembly.
  • An over-defined sketch is one in which some of the dimensions, relations, or both, are conflicting, or the dimension or relations in the sketch have exceeded the required number. In the dangling sketch, the dimensions or relations lose their reference because of the deletion of an entity from which it was reference.
  • Reference geometry features are those that consist of no mass and no volume. These are available only to assist you in the creation of models. They act as a reference for drawing the sketches for features, defining the sketch plane, assembling the components and so on. Reference geometry is widely used in creating complex models.

A book that performs a dual role – teaching you the software and also a lot of engineering stuff.

Books courtesy: Wiley Dreamtech http://www.wileydreamtech.com

Wednesday, Nov 19, 2003



Security – nothing absolute about it

D. Murali

`When a network is called secure, it only means that checks are in place. Security breaches can’t be ruled out.’ Do you agree?


YOU are a network guy or gal and you want to be thorough with cryptography and security technologies, identify threats and attacks to network infrastructure, learn how to create a security policy, find out how to recover from a security breach, and so forth. Read the second edition of Designing Network Security by Merike Kaeo from Cisco Press (www.ciscopress.com) . She paints a grim picture in the intro: “Devices will be misconfigured, new attacks will be created, and software has bugs.” However, there is no such thing as absolute security. “Nothing is impossible, only mathematically improbable,” the author quotes from the movie The Avengers. And goes on to debunk a popular myth: “When a network is called a secure network, it is often misunderstood to mean that there is no possibility of an intrusion or security breach.” What it means is that “there are mechanisms in place that will mitigate most of the risks to corporate assets.” A few picks:

  • Key escrow is the notion of putting a confidential secret key or private key in the care of a third party. Not a bad idea because it is easy to forget a private key, or the key may become garbled if the system it is stored on goes berserk. The most controversial key escrow issue surrounds whether cryptosystems should be developed to have a backdoor for wire-tapping purposes. But all the current algorithms operate on the premise that the private and secret keys cannot be compromised (unless they are written down or conveyed). Key recovery goes against all these assumptions.
  • Securing virtual private network (VPN) data streams requires the use of a combination of technologies that provide identification, tunnelling, and encryption. Tunnelling is the way of creating a virtual path or point-to-point connection between two devices on the Internet. There are three widely used VPN tunnelling protocols: IP Security (IPsec), Point-to-point Tunnelling Protocol (PPTP), and Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP).
  • Impersonation is the ability to present credentials as if you are something or someone you are not. These attacks can take several forms: stealing a private key or recording an authorisation sequence to replay at a later time. These attacks are commonly referred to as man-in-the-middle attacks, where an intruder is able to intercept traffic and can as a result hijack an existing session, alter the transmitted data, or inject bogus traffic into the network. Impersonation can come about from packet spoofing and replay attacks.
  • An intrusion detection system (IDS) acts like an alarm system in the physical world. When IDS detects something that it considers an attack, it can either take corrective action itself or notify a management system, which would alert a network administrator to take some action. A host-based IDS (HIDS) intercepts operating system and application calls on an individual host and can also operate by after-the-fact analysis of local log files. The former approach allows better attack prevention, whereas the latter approach dictates a more passive attack-response role.
  • Often, the employees who make the least money have the most access in a company: security personnel, maintenance personnel, and janitors.

Essential read for anybody on the network.

Office progress


AFTER years, Microsoft has upgraded Office. And the 2003 product has not only visual updates but also greater compatibility between applications. The book How to do Everything with Microsoft Office 2003 by Laurie Ann Ulrich is a beginner’s guide to the software suite, published by Wiley Dreamtech (www.wileydreamtech.com) . The intro states that the suite’s popularity is due to the wide distribution of Microsoft Windows and more than that because the applications – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, and FrontPage – are “truly great tools for both business and home users”. A glimpse of the guide to Office 2003:

  • The three primary applications – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint – offer two main toolbars, and you can see them as soon as you open the applications for the first time. The Standard toolbar is on top, and it contains tools that generally pertain to the entire document, workbook, or presentation. Commands allow you to open, save, print, and add important elements such as tables (in Word), formulas (in Excel), and a grid to assist in object placement (in PowerPoint). Other than the application-specific tools, most of them are common to all three applications and are found in the same place on the Standard toolbar. The second toolbar is the Formatting toolbar.
  • You can export your images, choosing the format to export in and renaming the files as needed. Click the Export Pictures link under the Sharing section of the right-most panel in the Picture Library window and then use the offered options to select the file to be exported. Then rename the file and choose a format for the file. When you’re exporting images for use on the Web or to be viewed online, JPG is a good format for photos, and GIF is a good choice for clip art and other simplistic images.
  • Section breaks are like page breaks, except that they don’t necessarily force text onto a new, following page. They are used primarily to “change the rules” in a document, allowing a variety of header or footer settings throughout or to allow for multiple documents to be combined into one (and for each one to retain its own formatting, page numbers and so on).
  • In Excel, by default, when you choose to print, the active worksheet is printed. If you want to print more than one of your sheets or only some of the pages in a particular sheet, or if you want to print the entire workbook, interact through the Print dialog box. Another more important thing to know is that, by default, Excel will print your worksheets on as many sheets as it needs to.

A book worth studying in your office to increase your productivity.

Playing with Maya


ALL the world is but maya. That is what some philosophers tell us. But there are many artists who are busy with Maya. Who is Maya, you wonder, but it is the name of a 3D application. And, to add to its beauty, there is a great potential to exploit Maya by using the programming dimension. So, David Stripinis – who is “not a programmer by training” – writes a book titled Maya Scripting for 3D Artists: The MEL Companion, again from Wiley Dreamtech. Stripinis is `an artist’ and here is a glimpse of his work:

  • By default, Maya includes relatively few primitive objects. Those it does include, with the exception of the sphere, are actually quite easily built by hand. One of the more useful primitive types Maya does not include is the Regular Polyhedron. This is also called a Platonic Solid, and defined as a solid object where each face has an equal number of vertices, and all the angles of the face are equal.
  • One of the more exciting technologies that has become prevalent among all 3D applications is non-linear animation (NLA). NLA provides a way to take animations and link them together to create a new performance for a character. For game developers, this is nothing new, as this has been the fundamental way character animation in video games has worked since their inception. In Maya, this feature is supported through the Trax editor.
  • Many artists mistakenly believe that the only way to create accurate reflections for an object in Maya is to raytrace. This, however, is not the case. Maya actually provides multiple ways of projecting a reflection onto an object. However, due to the relative difficulty in creating the maps used in these environment mappings, they are not often used except to provide a general effect, such as to provide a metallic look to a material.
  • The heads-up display, or HUD, is a very specific user interface item. Rather than being a class of commands, it is in and of itself a MEL command. HUDs are created as text that is projected as a 2D layer on top of the modelling panels. HUDs are useful for monitoring data within a scene, such as the number of polygons on screen, how many keyframes are set on the selected object, or even such mundane information as what camera the user currently is looking through.
  • The Maya Embedded Language, or MEL, is an important part of what makes Maya so powerful. Yet, many artists working within Maya – out of ignorance, fear of the unknown, or a mistrust of programming – do no exploit it. MEL is not just another aspect of Maya; it is the very foundation of the Maya application itself. While many of the core pieces of the software are hard coded, you will be surprised, if not stunned, to discover the amount of functionality Maya provides with scripting.

A book for the artists by an artist.

Wednesday, Nov 26, 2003




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