Sajjad Zaidi's Blog

Thursday 22nd December 2005

I'm Evil


Another online quiz, but a short one:

How evil are you?

Posted at 17:25pm PKT Comments(257) |

Tuesday 20th December 2005

Gmail Mobile and RSS


Google has just announced a batch of holiday goodies for Gmail. Among my favorites is Gmail Mobile which lets you use Gmail from your phone, and viewing RSS feeds within Gmail.

I was looking for both features and was going to write something to enable web email from my phone, but now I can just use this. There are a number of RSS-to-email services, but they aren't very mature and this should be much more flexible.

Posted at 00:07am PKT Comments(3) |

Monday 19th December 2005

Passing of a legend


My grandfather-inlaw was hit by a motorcyclist a few months ago while on his routine evening walk around his house in Karachi. He broke his hip and spent all this time in bed in great pain. He passed away on Wednesday.

This man, who claimed to have met many celebrities (Queen Elizabeth and ex-president Zia-ul-Haq to name a couple), was probably the oldest (and possibly the healthiest) person I knew. Nobody knew his real age, but my Mustafa grandmother remembers that she was just a kid when he was married. That should make him anywhere around 100. Judging by his health, if he hadn't had that accident, he would have lived much longer.

While everyone, young and old, is worried about eating right these days, "Mustafa" was the only man I knew who took a knob of butter with his tea and ate around twice the amount an average person eats. There's something about the Karachi climate that makes you lose your appetite and the food is usually too spicy, too fatty and contaminated for human consumption. Yet he somehow maintained both his appetite and health. A medical marvel I would say.

In a society where the older you grow, the more dependent you become on your children, he lived all by himself and quite independently. While others spend their short old age bed-ridden, he was always out and about. He was quite well-known and I often talked about him and his stories with friends.

Maybe the secret to his health was his easygoing, carefree nature. He rarely mingled with anyone of his age, preferring the company of younger people. Till a couple of years ago when his strength started to wane, he would gather anyone he could find between 20 and 30 and tell tales from his long life, often with a punchline at the end. If you didn't laugh, you got slapped on the back and forcibly made to laugh. The stories themselves weren't very interesting, but the way he told them made them unique. He'll be sorely missed. May Allah grant his soul a place in heaven.

Posted at 18:01pm PKT Comments(16) |

Saturday 17th December 2005

Japanese standards in a Pakistani world


Maintaining Japanese standards is a challenge. But when you're doing it in Pakistan, it's a nightmare in hell. I'm managing a project for the Japanese where despite all the planning and preparation, it is running well below my expectations (and hence the clients'). While I almost never had to deal with Japanese clients directly in Japan (thanks to the my nice bosses), it is I who has to do it here and it's not a pretty thing.

The biggest issue here is the lack of punctuality for Pakistanis, especially laborers and workers. A delay of a few hours is a serious setback for a large project, but taking a few days off, that too without notice, is normal for these people. It was a similar situation with the last project I did, but at least the client wasn't Japanese and we were able to complete everything to their satisfaction. I remember that while in Japan, even I knew what I would be doing each hour of the week ahead. For the Japanese, it's normal to have a detailed hourly schedule for at least the next 2 weeks and a less specific one for the coming months and even years.

Next issue is quality. It seems that it's impossible to get quality without taking on the role of a tyrannical dictator. Starting to get the hang of that one. You really have to get into the nitty-gritty of everything and make sure your orders are being followed. Now things are improving and the project is moving forward.

The project really makes me miss Japan. For the first time in a number of years, I have a chance to speak Japanese and I love it. Though almost all the Japanese speak a certain amount of English (and a few who even know Urdu), it's pretty difficult to communicate effectively without using more than one or two languages. I never thought my fairly basic Japanese would be so useful.

Posted at 18:51pm PKT Comments(2) |

Tuesday 13th December 2005

Another big one


Just felt another earthquake in Islamabad. Though not as big as the 8th October quake, it felt stronger than any of its aftershocks did. It started off slowly, but soon the doors were rattling and it went on for quite long. There's still nothing on the USGS Earthquake page or any of the news sites I monitor, but it must have had a magnitude of around 6.0.

I just hope it wasn't as strong elsewhere and that no damage was done. It's almost freezing just here in Islamabad so would be really cold elsewhere.

Though I found nothing on the news sites about this, I did find this story about a woman pulled out alive from the rubble in Muzaffarabad after being buried for 2 months. Quite amazing. I heard a similar story today about a man, though it might just be a distorted version of the same.

Posted at 03:15am PKT Comments(1) |

Saturday 10th December 2005

Moblogging with a Warid connection


My first aim with the Nokia 6680 was to get GPRS working. I tried to make it work with both my Warid and Ufone connections, without success. I realized later that the Ufone connection didn't even have GPRS enabled and that I would have to pay just to enable the service. I distinctly remember that I got GPRS on it some time back, but oh well. For Warid, I had to pay a visit to their customer service center and worked fine after that.

The plan I had in mind for moblogging was to write a Python module that accepts email from the phone, extracts the picture and updates it on the blog. However, this is Pakistan and I was forced to take another approach when I found out that Warid doesn't even have an Internet gateway server that is required by email and other "mobile to net" applications.

What do you do in that case? Build a web-based solution. It's still in the testing phases, but I'll soon have a Pylogger module that uploads the pic I've taken and posts it on the blog. That reminds me, I should publish the current Pylogger that I'm using since there have been lots of modifications to it lately.

Posted at 15:58pm PKT Comments(15) |

Comment spam bombardment


Last couple of days, I've been getting dozens of comment spams on posts with a high ranking. I don't want to disable comments and will fight it out so I've added some code to make it unattractive for the pesky spammers. Details withheld for now.

Posted at 10:29am PKT Comments(13) |

Friday 9th December 2005

World Squash Tournament


One of the reasons I got a new phone was so that I could cover the 20th World Men Team Squash Championship being held here in Islamabad. I'm part of the team providing technical support and connectivity at the venue and the Squash Federation's website is also hosted by us.

Squash may seem like an uninteresting game, but there are teams here from all over the world and it is a pretty big event. A number of celebrities usually show up at these events so it's a good chance to get some interviews or just to take pics. The courts are special too. This newly-built court is made from special, laser-treated glass which allows the spectators to see right through it, but gives a solid room look to the players. Even the floor is specially made.

Empty Squash Court

The tournament kicked off yesterday (Thursday, 8th December) and will last till the 14th. Let's hope I can get some good pictures.

Posted at 00:46am PKT Comments(13) |

Thursday 8th December 2005

My new Nokia 6680


After a couple of years of using inexpensive, low-featured phones, I finally took the plunge and bought the best thing that I could find (without going into the overkill area). My priority was to be able to post quality photos on the blog and be able to moblog text easily. That meant a high-quality camera and a good keypad and at the same time, staying within a reasonable budget.

I could have gone for something like the WiFi-equipped i-Mate (aka K-Jam) that my friend Sohaib owns, but buying that would have pushed things over my budget and not all its features would be used by me. I also wanted to stick to Nokia this time for various reasons. My Samsung x600 is worthless right now and even the Sony Ericsson won't sell for much. Nokia's have the best resale value here. Also, my friends are mostly very happy with Nokia while I have always had at least one major complaint when using other brands. And the simple, globally compatible power adapter is awesome.

Initially, I was thinking of going for the Nokia 6600 since the photos are of an amazing quality, despite it having just a VGA camera. The price has also dropped a lot, but it is now a bit old and seems bulky. The next in line was the 6630. I loved the matt-chrome keys and it just has this "solid" feel to it, but the rounded, bulging bottom was one of the things that put me off of it.

The 6680 is a slight improvement over the 6630 in terms of features, though it has its share of aesthetic issues and costs a bit more. It's the phone I eventually settled on. Regarding the appearance, it looks a bit flimsy and cheap due to the clear plastic keys, loose lens slider and the shiny chrome parts, but they grow on you pretty fast. The shop only carried the light bronze model and I realized later that it is better than the other, "baby blue" color.

Photos taken by the main 1.3 megapixel camera are of excellent quality if you don't use zoom and hold the phone stable. Otherwise, you'll get a Nokia 6680 very grainy photo. The 1280x960 mode churns out some nice photos, but 640x480 is quite enough for me (for now) and allows more images to be stored at one time.

Next challenge was making it accessible from my Linux system. The phone comes with a USB cable and is recognized by Linux as a Nokia device when connected. It was a good time to upgrade my kernel since I had to do it anyway to use Gnokii. After a lot of trouble getting Gnokii's CVS version compiled, I found out that not all features of this model are currently supported. In fact, all I can currently do is identify the phone and monitor it. To use the rest of the features, I had no choice but to plug it with a PC running Windows.

I was starting to regret spending all that money to buy the 6680 when I could have had the 6630 for less. That is, until I read this review and comparison. There have been a few issues with the 6680, such as applications running out of memory until the phone is restarted (WHAT? even in a mobile?), but generally, I like it.

Since I was already spending so much money, I decided to spend a little more and get a bluetooth headset plus an extra memory card. Got the Nokia Wireless Boom HS-4W Headset, mainly for the borg look, and 128MB of extra MMC memory. It's not much at all, but they didn't have higher capacities and I'm still getting by on the 64MB one. The headset is cool, but you get some interference and it seemed to die for no apparent reason one day. For no apparent reason, it's back now.

Now that I've bought it, I'll stick with the 6680, hoping that either 3G will reach Pakistan soon or that I'll be in a 3G-enabled country soon, but if I could do it again, I would save my money and get the good ol' 6600.

Here's another blogger's review of the 6680

Coming up: How I'm trying to get a working photoblog. Fast.

Posted at 17:55pm PKT Comments(4) |

Saturday 3rd December 2005

AKFs Relief Efforts


Yesterday, I was in a meeting at the Aga Khan Foundation's Islamabad office and we got to talking about everything the AKF is doing for the victims of the October earthquake. Other than the US/British (and NATO?) Chinooks, the only major helicopter fleet still delivering aid and evacuating the survivors belong to the Agha Khan Foundation. Both the UN and Pakistan Army's choppers have pulled out and their role is now mostly limited to groundwork.

The figures in front of me of the aid coming in, tonnes of food distributed and relocated survivors were quite respectable. However, the best thing I saw were these shelters that the AKF has designed and is now distributing. Though not really a replacement for a brick and mortar house, they cost very little and provide at least some sort of protection against the harsh weather.

Rounded shelter for quake survivors Shelter for quake survivors

They have setup a few prototypes of the shelters in front of their office, walking distance from Marriot Hotel. The shelters consist of a corrugated metal sheet on a metal frame and covered by thick plastic. By themselves, the shelters will remain very cold in winters and extremely hot in summers, as pointed out by some people living in them. These people preferred to live in tents nearby to these. But with a coating of mud, mixed with straw, the shelters trap heat in winter and keep it out in the hot summer. It has been tested in extreme weather near the Karakorum mountain range so should perform very well in the (relatively) milder climate of the Kashmir/NWFP areas.

Kudos to the Aga Khan Foundation.

Posted at 14:09pm PKT Comments(13) |

Thursday 1st December 2005

Meebo - Web-based Instant Messaging


I'm at the office where all I have at the moment is a Windows PC without Firefox or Gaim (though PuTTY is installed). An Ask Slashdot question and my desire to IM led me to Meebo.

It's a web-based client that allows you to use multiple protocols, similar to Gaim, but without having to install anything extra (at least on Windows using IE6). Good to keep handy for days like these.

Posted at 12:49pm PKT Comments(2) |

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