Saturday 26th February 2005
Just had an earthquake. Not that big, but pretty big for Islamabad. They're not as common here as in places like Japan, but the buildings aren't designed to withstand much more than a minor tremor. Almost all houses are constructed from simple brick and cement with concrete only being used for the ceilings and in larger buildings.
Hope it wasn't any worse in the Northern Areas or Peshawar and its surroundings, which is where the epicenter of most quakes lies. The unusual amount of snow up north is bad enough.
Update: 04:54 PKT The epicenter was in Tajikistan and the earthquake had a magnituted of 5.9. I'm surprised Tajikistan is so close to Pakistan.
Thursday 24th February 2005
The "Just Lose It" Competition
Found this while reading Live from Yokohama. The Eminem competition was to ring someone you know and make them "just lose it". The two linked mp3s are of an Aussie girl's call to her father who really does "lose it":http://www.users.on.net/~truckfins/
I don't know, but it looked like the dad got too mad too quickly over a simple speeding ticket. My dad didn't "lose it" even when called to tell him about my car crash. Maybe speeding (or doing anything wrong with your car) is a bigger issue down under. "Under-speeding" is what you should be worried about when in Pakistan.:)
Monday 21st February 2005
Snow in Pindi
A strange thing happened last night. I was driving home through Rawalpindi after attending the 10th Muharram (Ashura) mourning and everyone was commenting on how cold and rainy it is. There's been some snowfall on the tips of Margalla Hills that cradle Islamabad, but I've never seen it come down to the capital, let alone Pindi which is just south of it and devoid of much vegetation. People have said that it snowed in Islamabad over 20 years ago, but I wasn't here to witness it.
Back to the car ride. Imagine my surprise when right after I muttered something along the lines of "I wish it snowed instead", something white started to fall out of the sky together with the rain. At first I was worried that it's hail (pretty common here), but instead of the distinct sound of stone hitting glass, there was a splotch and a squishy sound, followed by a few more.
It was only after I got home and saw the news alert that it was confirmed. There had been snowfall in Pindi yet strangely none in Islamabad. Ali, my cousin, joked that had I wished for something even better, I would have gotten it.
As I was discussing with Majed this morning, just a couple more years and we should have full snowfalls in Islamabad. So much for global warming (not disputing it, just observing the effects here). Actually, Islamabad is having hotter and hotter summers so there is something strange going on. Maybe we are heading for another ice age. Not that I would be very disappointed. Remember, I love snow and my favorite sport is snowboarding which I haven't been able to do for a while.
Tuesday 15th February 2005
Slackware 10.1 is out
Just noticed the announcement yesterday and promptly started the bittorrent download though haven't tried it out yet. Upgrading to it might solve the problems I'm having with my personal PC. Things as simple as "less" have started acting pretty weird after numerous power outages.
"Highlights of the 10.1 release include the Linux 2.4.29 kernel (with Linux 2.6.10 as an alternate choice in /testing), X11R6.8.1 from X.Org, Mozilla 1.7.5, KDE 3.3.2, and Xfce 4.2.0. For a complete list of changes since Slackware 10.0, check out the Slackware 10.1 ChangeLog."
Interesting that 2.6 still isn't the default kernel. One of the things I like about Slackware is that the default software is pretty much upto date, yet stable. And they don't take much risk with critical things like the kernel.
Get the torrents for the ISO images here:http://slackware.com/getslack/torrents.php
Or use one of the mirrors:http://alphageek.dyndns.org/linux/slackware-mirrors.shtml
Sunday 13th February 2005
Pass Phrases to Replace Passwords
I was reading this blog entry by Robert Hensing of Microsoft's PSS Security Team on how difficult to remember paswords should be replaced by long, but simple pass-phrases. Despite all my efforts, I still can't get people to set secure passwords so maybe getting them to use pass phrases will solve the problem.
After that, I thought about PyKey and decided to add this little feature to it. A few minutes of work and random phrase generation from dictionary words was ready. Some of the results were quite amusing:
- "repeaters and glowingly replayed by cruises"
- "maintains roughness by adoptions and hastened by leafy for sublime"
- "shippers by fountain and backyard"
- "deprecate an infested nutria"
You can try it out for yourself here (choose the "Pass Phrase" option).
Friday 11th February 2005
Elusive Domain Reliability
I currently "lease" three domain names, two of which are (or were) in active use until very recently. That's nothing compared to what I used to have (you might remember filesystems.org, plaintext.net, sysdot.com and pylogger.com). One by one, I let them expire after I didn't make full use of them, or couldn't renew for one reason or another.
The first big issue cropped up when I tried to renew zaidi.jp, the domain I thought I'd keep for a long time. Due to weird Japanese banking procedures, my transaction was declined and on top of that, the registrar suspended the domain for a whole month. By the time I could renew and reuse the domain, it was too late since I had already started relying more on my other domains and the need just wasn't big enough to get someone in Japan to go through the renewal process.
This time, the DNS server I was using for all my domains suddenly stopped working. It wasn't being looked after well so I should have expected it, but it had been running without problems for a very long time. This outage prompted me to find another DNS server or two, which I did, but another problem came up. I had no trouble updating the information for domains I had registered online, but the most important domain was through a local ISP and they still haven't responded to my requests to update the info.
As of now, my blog and personal email is working, but the commercial domain remains unreachable. If only certain domain names could be registered for lifetime use and a more lasting solution found for problems which take this long to fix. That would bring up problems like trademark infringement or other forms of abuse, but workarounds can be found to avoid those. Maybe you could really own a domain (as opposed to "leasing" it) after using it actively for a certain number of years and if no one else contests its use.
Another advice I have is to keep at least two, geographically separate DNS servers that you can update (or have updated easily). I was doing this for a while, but in time, one server went offline and I didn't bother to find an alternative until this one suddenly became unusable.
Monday 24th January 2005
Eid-ul-Azha Mubarik (or Selamat Hari Raya Haji for those who speak Malay) to everyone. It's a three-day celebration to remember the sacrifice made by the prophet Abraham and the first day here was last Friday. Though you are supposed to make a sacrifice on one of the three days, the price of live animals has sky-rocketed in Islamabad and has put it out of reach for many people. It's also almost impossible to find a goat/sheep/bull with everything intact (animals being sacrificed can't have broken horns, cut ears, be too young or have other anomalies).
Sorry you couldn't see it this year Victor, but maybe once was enough for you.
Wednesday 19th January 2005
Linux Harder to Crack
This article talks about how Linux distributions have improved in the area of out-of-the-box security. From the tests a group of researchers ran, only 4 out of 19 Linux boxes were compromised while only one of the four Solaris systems was left standing secure. More details on the Honey Net project's homepage and this PDF.
Brute password attacks were responsible for cracking two of the four Linux systems compromised. This points out the importance of having strong password protection.
The tests do seem a bit dated since they were using older distributions, but maybe that was part of the test. Anything before and including Red Hat Linux 9 doesn't have official support from Red Hat and therefore should be considered insecure unless an alternative, such as the Fedora Legacy Project, is being used. Other distributions, such as Slackware and Debian, which have a good track record for security, were missing and probably would have fared even better.
Another thing I saw today. Someone turned "Linux" into one of those recursive acronyms: Linux Is Not UniX.
Tuesday 18th January 2005
Thank you Poland
According to this page, Mr. Wlodzimierz Marcinski, the Undersecretary of State at the Polish Ministry of Science and Technology, is single-handedly responsible for blocking the dreaded European software patent vote on 21st December last year. This means that Europe will remain software patent-free which in turn will help open source software and software innovation in general.
Since a lot of good, free software ( Mplayer, Linux, Knoppix to name a few) has come out of this region, the benefits aren't limited to just the EU. Countries like Pakistan, which are starting to rely more and more on open source software, have a lot to gain from a patent-free Europe.
Gnu has issued banners to thank Poland for this effort, one of which I'm putting here. Looks like Poland doesn't have an embassy in Pakistan so we can't write a thank you note to them.
Monday 10th January 2005
Rahat and Gastronomic Issues
Rahat Bakers recently made their debut in Islamabad after running a popular and successful outlet in Rawalpindi. Their new setup in Blue Area has the same design as the one in Pindi with the addition of a spacious parking lot and a nice exterior. They have a huge variety of junk food (burgers, sandwiches, breads, pizzas), salads and sweets, not to mention the "Safilo" ice creams, coladas and shakes next door. Unfortunately, the only thing missing is a proper seating area which was also a big problem at the Pindi outlet.
After it's opening a week or so ago, my colleagues and I have found a delicious and affordable solution to the lunch problem. As I mentioned earlier, there aren't many good options around our office. The likes of Cafe Grind and KC Grill have excellent menus, but are just a bit too costly for regular lunches. Rahat is about a 5 minute drive/ride away and their salads, though high in creamy, meaty stuff, taste good.
That brings up an important issue. Once we started having regular lunches (before we moved to F-7), some of my colleagues started gaining weight dangerously fast. I usually tend to eat more than them while doing a similar amount of work, but there was hardly a change in my physique yet they continue to count tires around their wastes. My first problem is that I can't work when hunger pangs set in and secondly, I need good, relatively healthy food which rules out most commonly available Pakistani dishes.
Once I start planning for lunch, the others usually can't resist the temptation to follow me. The week I was in Karachi, my colleagues usually skipped lunch, but it's coming back into full gear again. All this makes me feel a bit guilty about fattening up these poor souls by tempting them with gluttony while wondering why I'm (thankfully) immune from these after-effects. One fear I have is that the extra energy is being used by my remaining and slowly dwindeling muscle tissues and once they are gone, I'll suddenly turn into a Homer Simpson (or that inflated tire mascot).
Majed and I have been looking around for gyms/swimming pools nearby though admittedly, not too actively. I better find something fast before time runs out.
Saturday 8th January 2005
2005 marks 100 years since Albert Einstein published his papers on Brownian Motion, the Photoelectric Effect and his theory of Special Relativity. This year has been marked as "Einstein Year" and there seem to be lots of fun things happening. This site has lots of interesting facts about the man and physics in general:
2004 in 25 Words
It was a turbulent year and I didn't achieve much of what I was aiming for. Was reading Mediatinker after quite a while and saw Kristen's summary of her year in 25 words which reminded me that I haven't done mine yet. I did one a year ago (when I was a more active blogger and blog reader) so here it is for 2004:
Took on another job
Made more friends
Had a scary car accident
Got aquainted with Pakistani law
Attended lots of weddings
Thursday 6th January 2005
Silly Exercise Video
Via Jim's blog:http://nimportequi.com/v_d_o/lecteur.swf?vid=126
Silly, but fun.
The Einstein Game
"Aliens have stolen your time machine! You've reached their base, which is travelling away from earth close to the speed of light. Problem is .... because of relativity, your twin on earth is aging much faster than you"
An action game (flash required) where you try to get back your time machine before your twin is old and smelly:http://www.einsteinyear.org/games/EinsteinGame
Monday 3rd January 2005
I'll keep it simple after the tsunami tragedy of last week and the ensuing aftermath. Hope that this year eases the suffering of the victims and brings about peace and prosperity to all.
Friday 31st December 2004
Banned by Slashdot
Relating to my last blog entry, I was quite surprised to see a message saying that my IP was banned when I tried to open Slashdot (News for Nerds) yesterday. The banned IP belongs to our proxy server so it means other users also can't access it, though it seems that not many of them are regular Slashdot readers since I received only one complaint and that was from another Linux geek I know.
The page said that it was probably due to multiple requests from the IP. It also said that they are usually able to distinguish multiple requests through proxies from multiple (and most likely malicious) ones by individuals. Either they didn't or there really is something fishy going on. The instructions said I should ask my proxy admin to contact them if I'm behind a proxy. Since I am the proxy admin, I checked the proxy logs and sent them an email asking them to unblock it or give me a solid reason for the ban.
Still no reply so I can't read Slashdot unless I change the proxy IP or bypass my own IP so it doesn't go through it. Well I did manage to read it, but only after logging in to another server and running "lynx". I'll try sending another message if there's no response by this afternoon.
Wednesday 29th December 2004
Dealing with Online Abuse
It didn't seem that interesting to me, until I clicked it and realized that the original owner of the software eventually traced the fraudster to Pakistan and that a local ISP was hosting the site. After some threats and a positive response from the ISP, all signs of the product were removed from the site so the damage done wasn't much.
One of my current duties is to handle abuse complaints concerning our customers and I have to go through lots of them each day. Almost all of them involve email, either open mail relays which are being used by other spammers to send unsolicited mail, or complaints about local PCs sending out email viruses. The normal procedure is to send a warning to the customer and block their outgoing email if there is no prompt action taken.
The response from the clients is usually frustrating at best. Some remain helpless because they don't understand what we are talking about or how to solve the issue. Others think they've done something by re-installing the software or Windows only to see the problem reappear. One customer went as far as to blame us for blocking their legitimate outgoing mail while allowing the deluge of incoming spam and viruses they were receiving (their POP3 server was hosted elsewhere, thus was not our problem).
But the worst kind are those that claim what they are doing is right when it's clearly wrong, like what the above fraudster did. One customer was furious that their "bulk email software" wasn't working and that their business was suffering because of our decision. They went on to say that they don't send out "spam" and are against "spamming", but their business involves "legit advertising" to online groups and mailing lists. Their outgoing mail remains blocked.