Friday 16th September 2005
Gmail on Orkut
First, they create a social networking service that's bound to be very popular. Then they start a free email service that offers more space than anybody else. Some time later, when the novelty of a 1GB email account has worn off and the social network has grown to a huge size, they combine the two. This should add a large chunk of new accounts to Gmail.
Saturday 10th September 2005
Good Luck Firefox, Hello Opera
A few days ago, Opera Software celebrated their 10th anniversary and gave away free subscriptions to Opera, one of the last remaining commercial browsers. Though they offer a freely downloadable version, buying the license removes the ad bar at the top, making it a very lean, mean browser. It also still claims to be the "fastest browser in the world", which appears to be very true.
I was an avid Opera user for quite some time and even paid for a license as soon as the Linux version was released. Then I had a few problems with Opera using up too many resources and once my financial crunch hit, I didn't bother to renew the license. For the last couple of years, I've stuck with whatever has come out from Mozilla and loved it. Firefox has been my browser of choice for a while and it is what I always recommend to others.
Once I got the free Opera subscription, I decided to give it a try and as of now, Opera has replaced Firefox as my main browser. Main reason? I just love the "Continue from last time" feature and can't live without it.
The one thing that really drives me mad about browsing is when the power goes and I end up losing valuable articles, sites or documents that I have open. Due to time constraints, I usually open all sites that I find interesting and come back to them as soon as there's time, which might be in a couple of hours or days. At any given moment, I have at least 15-20 sites open and in case of a crash or power outage, all this is lost. Though crashes are very rare, my UPS has trouble keeping things running for more than a few minutes so this is a problem.
Opera, by default, will remember where you were and start things exactly from that point. I tried searching for a Firefox extension that would do this, but didn't find anything that worked and in-built support is planned for version 2, but that still seems far. Now, I can be content that I can start from where I left off.
Speed and the great memory aren't the only things that Opera does better than the others. Consistently, it has been the first to make use of nifty features such as tabbed browsing, mouse gestures and popup blocking. It now has native support for Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs), again something that is not in the stable release of Firefox and only works in IE through a plugin. Adobe provides a Firefox SVG extension, but few have seen it work.
Firefox, after I have it open for a few days, starts eating up lots of memory (sometimes fixed by power outages). Opera may be just as bad, but the current version has been ok
The above is not meant to be a plug for Opera or demeaning of Firefox. I still love Firefox and will continue to use it alongside Opera, but there are things that the latter just does a lot better. Best of luck to the Firefox team and I hope the open source browser soon has everything needed to surpass, or at least match, the upcoming IE 7.
Tuesday 30th August 2005
Five reasons NOT to use Linux
A nice, short article:http://www.linux-watch.com/news/NS8124627492.html
Seriously, I see the list of reasons for ordinary folks to continue using Windows on their desktop getting shorter and shorter and that for dumping it growing. Or at least switching to open source software, such as Firefox, which run very well on Windows.
Off course the current situation is unlikely to change soon. A friend of mine recently told me how a lot of employees in his company, a huge multi-national, switched to Firefox from IE, only to have an official circular sent out banning all "unauthorized" software. This policy was enforced after Microsoft came to know of the prevalence of Firefox and pressured the company into revising their "security procedures".
I'm still very disappointed in how there isn't any real change in the way Pakistanis do things. With so much pressure on the country to crack down on piracy and free software being such an attractive option, you would expect migration to it in droves. Quite the contrary. Forget about ordinary desktop users. Even a lot of network/system people I know don't give it much thought and would prefer to put up with all the troubles Windows brings than to even try out an alternative.
Though Outlook still dominates, a lot of mail I get from other regions is written using a whole variety of mailers (Becky, Thunderbird and Evolution to name a few), whereas virtually everything coming from local senders is written using Outlook or Outlook Express.
Organizations are still hesitant to have anything running Linux, including servers, but not without reason. While everyone knows someone who can fix a Windows problem (even if the solution is simply to reinstall everything), there just aren't enough Linux guys/gals around. Hell I must have gotten half a dozen good job offers just in the last couple of months (I'm sticking to concentrating on iinix).
Maybe it's a good thing that high speed broadband connections aren't very common here (yet). If they were, Pakistan would be one of the biggest virus proliferators in the world.
Saturday 27th August 2005
So close, yet so apart
As I've mentioned before, the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad are right next to each other and are usually counted as one city since the only thing separating them is a single road.
Today, I was in Pindi and saw something that you wouldn't usually see in Islamabad next door. Majed and I had gone to get new tires for his car (Rawalpindi is the place to go for getting most stuff like this) and there was a nice little car parked there getting new tires and awesome, expensive alloy rims. While we were waiting for our tires and chatting with the shop keeper, there was a sudden screech and the car with the cool rims pulled out and sped away without paying, leaving the shop attendants (about five of them) standing there in bewilderment.
The thing that amazed me even more than the theft was that the shop keeper expressed some regret and then continued chatting as if nothing had happened.
On the way back, I experienced another thing that made me glad I spent most of my time in Islamabad. Despite the ever-growing Islamabad traffic, the congestion and lack of parking space, Pindi still beats it hands down. At least the former can be considered to be quite orderly. In Pindi, be prepared to dodge everything from pedestrians, bicycles and speeding traffic to pot holes, moving stall vendors and all kinds of fumes. And all of that within narrow roads or streets that were probably never meant for four-wheeled vehicles.
Monday 22nd August 2005
iinix - Reloaded
After some time of keeping a relatively low profile, iinix Solutions is ready to make a comeback. I've thought things through and the focus will now mainly be on a line of products instead of solely relying on offering Linux/UNIX services. I'll also be managing it full-time now so wish me luck.
The site has been redone to give it a more corporate look, though it will go through minor changes from time to time. Any feedback appreciated.
Our new products consist mostly of different open source software combined into a single solution and we'll be developing some parts of it in PHP and Python, most of which will eventually be released under an open source license.
Linux developers/sysadmins welcome to apply.
Friday 19th August 2005
ICE - In Case of Emergency
Here is a great idea that should have come into more common use a while back:http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/07/14/ice_mobile/
'The idea is that you store the word "ICE" in your mobile phone address book, and against it enter the number of the person you would want to be contacted "In Case of Emergency".'
I've already added my ICE and ICE1 numbers, though I hope they never have to be used. Another idea might be to keep a saved draft of a message you'd like sent to the ICE contact person. It would also be useful to have your name somewhere in the wallpaper, but not all phones support this.
Sunday 31st July 2005
Perl has been driving me crazy lately. I'm having to test, debug and develop somebody else's code, which itself isn't fun, and it being in Perl, plus having to test it mostly on Windows and IE just turns the whole experience into a horrible nightmare.
My search for Perl developers has been fruitless so far. You would think that the (once?) most widely used language on the web would be a pretty common skill, but all I found was one person with the right experience and he was on the other side of the country.
The good part? Seeing the fruits of going through such an experience. It's just more satisfying if you've had to suffer a lot.
Wednesday 27th July 2005
Riding the Motorway on a Wheelchair
It's been a while since my last entry though there's been a lot to blog about. I've been so busy with work that there's hardly been much time for sleep. Though I can't guarantee more regular posts, I'll try to write what I can. To kick things off, here's an amusing story:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4719819.stm
"German lorry drivers were shocked to find themselves sharing the autobahn with an 80-year-old in a wheelchair, ...... He took to the hard shoulder in an electric chair capable of speeds of 6-10 km/h (4-6mph), ..... The police spokeswoman explained that he had wanted to do a little shopping."
Monday 11th July 2005
Internet Link Restored
Almost two weeks after the undersea cable problem that crippled the country's international bandwidth, things are back in full swing. The issue was resolved sometime Friday morning and the link was fully operational (after testing) by noon the same day.
It's hard to say how much losses businesses have suffered during this period. A lot of businesses, based entirely or mostly on the net, have sprung up recently. Call centers, airlines and banks rely on it quite heavily and even the provided satellite backups could hardly provide half of the required bandwidth.
Nadir Minhas, my ex-boss and a good friend of mine and the owner of a classy broadband cafe here in Islamabad, was mentioned in this Yahoo News article which states how badly his business suffered:http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/050630/481/isl10106301407
Though we're used to frequent local outages (due to power failures, faulty lines etc.) that cause at most a few hours of disruptance, it is the first time I've seen it on this scale and for this long. As I said earlier, it would take a failure like this before better redundancy is provided. Now, at least two backup links are being setup, another undersea link and one over land through India.
I hope this doesn't cause too much of a setback for the booming industries here. It looks like it might have been for the better in the long run because of the backup links coming up. Might also lower the costs enough for people like me to afford unlimited data transfers. Something I dearly miss these days.
Saturday 2nd July 2005
The Hottest Days
While in other places, people were celebrating the Summer Solstice and complaining about temperatures of 30°C+, we in Pakistan were going through something much hotter. Islamabad used to be the coolest major city in Pakistan and was a nice summer retreat until about 15 years ago. Since then, summers have steadily gotten hotter and drier. It must be all the new construction, that's taking the place of trees, and increasing road traffic that's causing this.
According to Yahoo Weather, the current temperature is way down to 33°C and "feels like" 36°C. On the 23rd June, the actual temperature was at least 45°C and felt like 51°C+. No worries for a person like me who takes pleasure in braving the extremes, but it was hell for some of my friends.
I wanted to post about three kittens I recently rescued, but didn't have the time so I'll mention them here. These very young kittens were abandoned by someone at a rubbish dump over a month ago when the fourth one died. Sohaib, Nadir and I rescued them, had them washed and disinfected and after a few days, I took them home to my sister.
They were settling down pretty well, but during the heat wave, they stopped feeding properly and started losing weight. I was really saddened when my sister told me that one of the smaller two, the really cute grey one that we loved the most had died. The other small, loved one (with pink patches on its white coat) died the very next day and we couldn't do anything about it. The larger one, is doing well, though it seems to have a poor eyesight and isn't as affectionate as it's deceased siblings.
Good news is, the recent rains and thunderstorms have taken away a lot of the heat. Plus, I've managed to find a few swimming pools after a 2 year break from swimming. Shaukat Spa in F-6 is ok, but I prefer the one at Hot Shots in F-9. Might also join the nice gym they have there.