Pakistan, Japan, Linux and lots more

Friday 29th December 2006

HTML email banned at DoD

Internet Security

At least someone is still concerned about the harms of HTML email. Email formatted with HTML has become so common these days that even I, previously a staunch opponent, started using it a few months back. Now, the Department of Defense has barred the use of both HTML email, as well as Outlook Web Access. It looks like they convert any HTML to plain text along the way (as opposed to blocking the mail altogether).

Though almost everyone I know has no qualms about using it and wouldn't bother even listening to the arguments against HTML email, it's good to know that there is still some hope.

To recap, here are some of the drawbacks of HTML mail:

  • Not all email clients support it (this argument has become redundant since even Mutt can view it)
  • It unnecessarily increases email traffic (something that usually only admins have to be concerned with)
  • It opens up a number of holes for viruses and spam to propagate
  • Virtually all spam is delivered in the form of HTML email

The advantage is just that you get richer and more visually appealing content as compared to plain text, but most people would argue that this can also be achieved with sending the data as an email attachment.

Posted at 19:15pm PKT  Comments(18) |

Monday 25th December 2006

Demise of my grandmother

General

My beloved grandmother passed away on Friday. She had live a long, tough and pious life and we'll never be able to fill the void that she left behind. May Allah grant her a place in heaven and give strength to us to cope with the loss.

Posted at 18:37pm PKT  Comments(270) |

Thursday 21st December 2006

A tale of two Faisals

General

It has been four days since my last post about Faisal Chohan's mistaken arrest and fourteen days since I posted about the accident caused by Faisal Farooq, which resulted in the death of a baby.

As of now, Faisal Chohan, the CEO of Cogilent Solutions which was mistakenly raided after suspicion that it was providing illegal voice services, is still in jail. Though both the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority and the Minister of IT and Telecom, have given instructions for his release, it is quite shocking that he still isn't free. This is a glaring example of how outdated and inefficient the judicial system is in this country.

I am told that the process of simply "canceling" a case requires about a week's worth of time as well as a guarantee by someone who owns property within the capital. Though most of my friends live in Islamabad, even I have trouble recalling anyone who is close to Faisal AND fortunate enough to own property in this city of sky-rocketing property prices. The next hearing is on the coming Saturday, yet there is still no guarantee that Faisal will be released.

I have also heard a rumour, though haven't been able to verify it, that during this ordeal, Faisal's pregnant wife suffered a miscarriage. More details, as well as some good comments here.

While the above Faisal is still in jail, there is no update on what happened to the second Faisal, heir to the Nirala Sweets chain. All I can find is a mention in this article in the Daily Times from last Monday that his arrest warrants have been issued. Just to recap, Faisal Farooq, while allegedly racing in his Porshe, hit another car that was carrying a 4-month old baby who died soon after. It is alleged that he then went on to threaten the baby's family to get them to drop the charges against him.

The media seems to have gone quiet about this case and I can't find any update on it. Has he been arrested or have things been hushed down to protect the untouchables?

Both of the above cases highlight some serious law and order problems in this country. How is it possible that a humble professional like Faisal Chohan, mistakenly arrested and then proved innocent, can still be behind bars while a privileged and wealthy heir like Faisal Farooq roams free? Why is it a crime, with quite severe punishments, to utilize VoIP which is a technology that is as revolutionary as the Internet and has become common in the rest of the world? Is wealth and power all that is required to get away with murder? When will this system change?

Posted at 20:44pm PKT  Comments(111) |

Tuesday 19th December 2006

What is wrong with soft drinks

Health

I read about the effects that Coke and other soft drinks have on your body, a few days back via Hulleye Comes By!. As I recently mentioned, Pakistanis have lately stopped worrying much about their diet and health and I'm sure that this will result in some serious problems after some time. Articles like this one might help in reversing this trend.

Here are some of the effects of Coke (as well as other soft drinks):

  • In The First 10 minutes: 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. (100% of your recommended daily intake.) You don’t immediately vomit from the overwhelming sweetness because phosphoric acid cuts the flavor allowing you to keep it down.
  • 20 minutes: Your blood sugar spikes, causing an insulin burst. Your liver responds to this by turning any sugar it can get its hands on into fat. (There’s plenty of that at this particular moment)
  • 45 minutes: Your body ups your dopamine production stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain. This is physically the same way heroin works, by the way.
  • >60 Minutes: The caffeine’s diuretic properties come into play. (It makes you have to pee.) It is now assured that you’ll evacuate the bonded calcium, magnesium and zinc that was headed to your bones as well as sodium, electrolyte and water.

Though I already knew it was bad, reading about what actually takes place is pretty scary. Until now, nobody paid much attention when I tried to get them to stop or help me avoid drinking a lot of soft drinks. At least now I have some sort of info to scare them into doing so.

Posted at 00:57am PKT  Comments(3) |

Sunday 17th December 2006

Minister orders release of Faisal

General

The latest update on the Cogilent Solutions case, and the false arrest and detainment of their CEO, is that the Minister of IT and Telecom, Mr. Owais Leghari, has ordered that the CEO, Faisal Chohan, be released from custody. Here is an Urdu news snippet about this from the Jang newspaper:

Orders for release of Cogilent CEO
Click to view full image

It's a case of "too little too late", but at least the issue was highlighted enough to reach the Prime Minister and have solid decisions taken against those who made the mistake. I hope that these decisions are followed through instead of being forgotten after a while and that a repeat of this doesn't happen to anyone again.

Posted at 08:44am PKT  Comments(1) |

Saturday 16th December 2006

Infrared on Nokia Communicator and Linux

Linux Mobile

Though the camera on my Communicator is surprisingly good, I never got around to using it on a regular basis, mainly due to the hassles of transferring the images. I would have to email them as attachments to my email account (through WiFi off course) and then transfer them back to the laptop from my email server. That is, until now.

I tried getting infrared to work on Linux a couple of times before, but never very seriously or successfully. Last night, I was in no mood to work or do anything else so started playing with IrDA utils on the Ubuntu Dapper Linux installed on my laptop. At first, irdadump started to show some output, including some details of my Nokia Communicator 9500 when I tried to "beam" a file over. This in itself was a promising sign, but I couldn't get past an error message saying something about the "IrDA:IrOBEX" class not being available.

Then I installed the openobex-apps package from the Ubuntu repositories and also discovered this howto. Everything worked very nicely when I followed these simple steps (as root):

  • Ran irattach irda0 -s (probably don't need to do this if irattach is already running)
  • Ran irobex_palm3 and let it wait for receiving files
  • On the phone, chose to send the selected images via Infrared
  • Found the files saved in /tmp/

For some reason, I'm still unabled to send a file to the phone from my laptop, but I can't remember the last time I needed to do this, so by the time I get around to troubleshooting this, Infrared may just be obsolete.

Here's a cute photo of a fat cat that has made it a habit to sleep on the guard's chair outside the office every night. I tried to snap it before, but it would run away when we switched on the lights. It seems to have become lazier now or doesn't mind the intrusion as much as before.

Fat Cat on a chair

The quality of still shots like this one seems quite acceptable. Better than the 1.2 Megapixel 6680 that I used to have. And no, I still haven't bought a proper camera, though I really should get one soon (even if it isn't a Canon). Am missing lots of outdoor shooting opportunities simply because of this.

 

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Posted at 01:26am PKT  Comments(124) |

Friday 15th December 2006

Cogilent Solutions acquitted

General

The illegal voice termination case against Cogilent Solutions has been dropped after it was found out that the PTA/FIA had raided the wrong office. In an incredible show of incompetence and carelessness, the IP address that was in use by the actual perpetrators was mistakenly associated with Cogilent. This simple mistake resulted in the arrest and detainment of an innocent person, confiscation of Cogilent's property and extremely bad publicity for the authorities.

The news finally made it to the mainstream media and today's papers ran the story, though playing down the role of the authorities in this fiasco. While we were up in arms about this issue, it is very likely that the actual "terminators" wound up their operations and disappeared without a trace and with their truckloads of illicit earnings. Another example of the innocent being made to pay for the crimes of the rich in this country.

Faisal, CEO of Cogilent Solutions, is due to be released on bail today, yet we can still only hope that there aren't any additional glitches. Nonetheless, nothing can bring back the 11 days that Faisal spent under custody, or the damage this might have done to Cogilent's reputation. I doubt anybody has enough power to sue the Pakistani authorities in such circumstances.

Posted at 17:29pm PKT  Comments(29) |

Thursday 14th December 2006

Linux file recovery: A close call

Linux Technology

I've been working on a Python project and had done quite an amount of coding when I decided to rename a few files. While doing this, the most important file, the one with the most code in it, got deleted. It was on a ReiserFS partition and I couldn't recall any tool that I could use straightaway, before the data was overwritten with something else.

I got the whole file back, but it was done in a really simple way without the use of any fancy tools. I used less.

This is what I did:

  1. Opened the partition I was working on, using less: less -f /dev/sda18
  2. Searched for some of the text that I remembered was in the file
  3. Realized that there were multiple "versions" of the data from the file I deleted (wonderful how Linux filesystems work)
  4. Recalled the last few variables I added to the original code and searched for those
  5. Copy + pasted the latest text that I found, into a new file
  6. Profit:)

Amazingly, the file size, after copying and pasting, came out to be exactly the same as the original and there were no issues with the code. Thank God for less, UNIX and Linux. Will update on the Python project when it's complete.

 

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Posted at 21:50pm PKT  Comments(51) |

Tuesday 12th December 2006

Perils of technological advancement in Pakistan

Pakistan Technology

You might have read of the recent raid by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on the premises of my former employer, Cogilent Solutions, and the subsequent arrest of their CEO, Faisal Chohan. The raid was conducted under the suspicion that Cogilent was providing illegal voice termination services, yet they have yet to produce (or fabricate) any evidence supporting this suspicion. Meanwhile, Faisal remains in custody and under interrogation.

I was heading Cogilent's "Networks" department about a year ago and was looking after a number of projects, under the guidance of Jawad, our CTO. One of their products, IRIS, was a call center solution based on the Asterisk open source software and this was pretty much the closest they ever came to providing voice services. It had nothing to do with call termination or anything illegal.

To show how ridiculous this whole exercise was, here is a list of items that the FIA confiscated during their raid:

  • 1 Notebook PC
  • 2 8-Port LAN Switches
  • 1 ADSL Router
  • 1 P-II 400 MHz PC running Linux and Asterisk
  • 1 P-III PC running Asterisk
  • 1 PC running squid (this machine was called "gateway" by the Cogilent guys and when PTA officials during raid were frantically asking for gateway or SIMs, the poor guys pointed to this machine as 'gateway' and FIA team happily confiscated that.
  • 1 Desktop PC with monitor, web cam, key board, etc.

And to top this off, both the PTA and PTCL failed to appear in court for the hearing and the FIA failed to provide any evidence supporting their allegations.

Despite the medieval laws concerning technology in this country, Pakistan is one of the leaders in the development of Voice over IP products and technology. If simply providing such services can be cause for arrest and confiscation of property, how can anyone be expected to continue any positive development here?

Below is an excerpt of an email that was forwarded to me by Hammad, a smart fellow that was in my team and is still with Cogilent Solutions:

In order to highlight the issue before press and IT community, friends of Faisal, Jawad, Cogilent and IT/CS professionals of twin cities would be arranging a peaceful and graceful protest in front of Software Technology Park-II, Evacuee Trust Complex, Aga Khan Road, Next to Marriot Hotel, on Wednesday, 13 December 2006 at 1:30 pm sharp.

I'll be there together with most of the other IT professionals that I know. I hope the blogging community can also raise their voice against such injustice and help in preventing this nation from slipping back to the stone age.

Posted at 20:08pm PKT  Comments(208) |

Saturday 9th December 2006

Rules of the Taliban

General

CNN is running an article on The Taliban's Rules and how the extremist group has recently become more disciplined, numerous and powerful, despite being toppled from power in Afghanistan about five years earlier. Though most of these rules are still of an extremist nature and seem quite archane, many seem to be designed to project a better image of the Taliban and attract more recruits.

Here are a few examples taken from the article:

  • A Taliban commander is permitted to extend an invitation to all Afghans who support infidels so that they may convert to the true Islam
  • Taliban may not use Jihad equipment or property for personal ends
  • It is forbidden to work as a teacher under the current puppet regime, because this strengthens the system of the infidels
  • Taliban are not allowed to take young boys with no facial hair onto the battlefield or into their private quarters

Judging by the current state of things in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, what good has come out of the US invasions of these two countries? No doubt that both were under the grip of oppressive regimes, but the outlook seems to be gloomier now for everyone.

Posted at 12:52pm PKT  Comments(5) |

Thursday 7th December 2006

Boycott of Nirala Sweets

Pakistan

You may have heard of a disturbing story developing during the last few days regarding the death of a 2-month old baby and Faisal Farooq, the son of the owner of Nirala Sweets which is a popular confectionary chain in Pakistan. A Mr.Waseem, travelling with his 2-month old son and other family members, crashed his car as a result of a race between two other cars, around Lahore's Defence area. The baby died shortly after reaching the hospital while the other passengers also suffered serious injuries.

While Faisal fled the scene of the accident, a case was registered against him, but instead of justice being swiftly served, Faisal and a group of armed men arrived to threaten the victim's family to withdraw the case. It seems that they were initially successful at making this happen (or at least preventing a final case being registered), with the help of some senior policemen off course, but the issue has now garnered enough attention to get the Inspector General to intervene.

This case could be a testbed for where this country currently stands when it comes to basic human rights, justice and equality. Will the rich and powerful manage to get off the hook yet again or will justice prevail this time? Is the life of a child, belonging to a family that doesn't fall into the elite category, still worth less than the freedom of the privileged? The good thing is, this time we can play a part in getting the right thing done.

However, what is the right thing to do? There is some material to suggest that the facts are less sensational than what the media, both blogs and news services, are making them out to be. According to Adnan's post, Nirala Sweets Controversy-Media Politics?, someone had the following to say:

The events have been grossly misreported & exagerated. The way it really happened was that the driver of the Honda City took blind u-turn in the middle of the road, into the path of the oncoming Boxter driven by Faisal Farooq. There was no race. I know Faisal to be a particularly cautious driver & he rarely exceeds the 100 km/h while driving. If there was an accident, something must've popped up real fast in his way for him to react; i.e. the blind u-turn taken by the driver of the Honda City.

But this is just the account of one person. I have trouble believing that a Boxter, driven by the son of a rich businessman, was moving at an acceptable speed (100 km/h is in itself above the speed limit for pretty much any city in Pakistan), while a Honda City, with a child and family on-board, was at fault.

A number of blogs have posted about this and have called for a boycott of Nirala Sweets, something that I'm also going to endorse based on the facts available and until some solid evidence can be found to refute the original account of events.

Here are some more links on this:
Boycott Nirala
The Perks of Being Rich: Time for You to Act

Posted at 17:04pm PKT  Comments(35) |

Tuesday 5th December 2006

Unrelenting Rain

General

It's been a slow (news) week so don't have much to say, though I myself am as busy as ever. What better to write about than weather? It has been raining, almost continuously, for three days now and everything is cold and wet. For a change, Islamabad is somehow reminding me of a typical day in London. Maybe it's because the city is starting to show signs of development or it could be that I'm just getting out a lot less and am associating these rainy experiences with those in my memory.

I've pretty much stopped paying attention to the car so it's a lot of bother to drive in these conditions. The frame of the car is again filled with rainwater, seeping in from God knows where. The windows fog up very fast since I haven't been cleaning them myself (I'm very thorough when I do) and the heater doesn't work. I tried driving with the air conditioner on to get rid of the moisture, but it didn't help much. Imagine driving at night with only enough visibility to see the lights of the car ahead. What a comfort while on a fast highway.

In a surprise move, McDonalds opened here a few days ago in a corner of F-9 Park. I like the "developed" look that a structure like this presents, but if only they had the vision to extend the shade further so people can enjoy the open air even while it's raining. The food wasn't very good which begs the question of why these establishments differ so much across cities, or even within twin-cities. Maybe I've lost the ability to appreciate normal tastes after eating at the likes of "Monal" and "Gun Smoke".

I would disagree with the statement that there isn't much to write about. Just that I'm working on too many other things at the moment and seem not to be able to find time to think, let alone put the thoughts into words. Hopefully, I can complete all the queued tasks soon and concentrate more on blogging. And maybe get some sleep.

Posted at 19:46pm PKT  Comments(26) |

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