Sajjad Zaidi's Blog

Tuesday 31st January 2006

Reasons Why I Still Love Islamabad

Pakistan

A few days back, I posted a list of 250+ reasons why we still love Tokyo. Here's one I came up with for Islamabad.

  1. The most expensive land money can't buy
  2. The subzero temperatures in winter
  3. It's safer than Baghdad
  4. The grid layout of the city. You just can't get lost
  5. The Margalla hills
  6. All the (disappearing) trees
  7. F-9 park, 4 square-km of grass and trees
  8. Hot Shots (within F-9 park)
  9. The straight, almost perfect roads
  10. It's safer than Johannesberg
  11. Daman-e-Koh (
  12. The clean air (compared to rest of Pakistan)
  13. Murree is only an hour's drive away yet around 2000 meters higher
  14. The educated citizens
  15. The decent traffic
  16. Wild animals that can still be seen at night
  17. Rawal Lake/Rawal Dam
  18. It's safer than Karachi
  19. The 40+ temperatures in summer
  20. The polite police
  21. Road blocks for VIP crossings
  22. All the shop names with "Butt" in them
  23. Pir Sohawa is only a 20 minute drive away yet around 500 meters higher
  24. It's safer than New York
  25. An hour's drive to anywhere in the city
  26. Jungle Hut
  27. The growing foreign community
  28. Stores selling foreign goods
  29. Jinnah Super market
  30. Abundance of wild bhang (I'm still not sure if it's marijuana or hemp. Someone please find out)
  31. Blue Area traffic
  32. Shakar Parian is only a 5 minute drive away yet around 50 meters higher
  33. More foreign food
  34. Less pollution, fresher air
  35. It's safer than London
  36. If you ever get tired of Islamabad, Rawalpindi is across the road and in another world
  37. Brad and Angelina woz ere
  38. No need to travel to another city to get a visa
  39. Higher chance of bumping into President Mushi (or any prez for that matter)

Feel free to suggest your own.

Posted at 01:14am PKT Comments(5) |

Monday 30th January 2006

Train crash near Jhelum

Pakistan

Last night, a train traveling from Rawalpindi to Lahore went off the tracks and fell into a ditch. It is now being blamed on sabotage.

Though the track record for Pakistan Railways has always been awful, with carriages seeming to date from the Raj era, I thought it had improved a lot lately. The ticket system had become more automated and old carriages have mostly been replaced with newer, Chinese-built ones. Trains, that used to be as much as 24 hours late, now arrived more or less on time and were relatively clean.

I think the only major threat to trains was from dacoits in more remote areas of Sindh, not around Northern Punjab. This act of sabotage could be politically motivated. God knows.

Posted at 16:52pm PKT Comments |

Wednesday 25th January 2006

Reasons Why We Still Love Tokyo

Japan

Found this page some time back and was meaning to blog about it, but never got a chance. It lists 250+ reasons why we still love Tokyo.

Here are a few of the really good ones. Most that I sorely miss (like heated toilet seats and great friends) and some that I don't (seaweed pizza anyone?):

  • 12. Automated taxi doors
  • 13. The most valuable coin in use in the world: 500
  • 34. Great friends
  • 35. Officers of the law can be neutralized by stealing their bicycle pumps
  • 44. 100 shops
  • 45. Tanning salons with names like "Black People"
  • 55. Tell-it-like-it-is cigarette brand names like "Short Hope"
  • 62. The little old lady in Yaesu wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with: "Get It While It's Hot!"
  • 67. Special high-tech, no-tatami apartments for foreigners for 2 million a month
  • 68. Special low-tech, no-toilet apartments for foreigners for 20,000 a month
  • 91. Slippers in the office
  • 107. Vending machines that take notes of any denomination
  • 115. The adrenaline rush that comes with having a wallet handed back with the month's rent still inside
  • 159. The sheer number of nationalities, in spite of the failure of the official internationalization policy
  • 176. Seaweed Pizza
  • 193. We can die and never feel we've missed anything on TV
  • 194. Statistically, the nearest convenience store is an average 4 minute and a 30 second walk away
  • 199. We never have to rent an Arnold Schwarzenegger video: at least one movie is on TV each week
  • 239. Heated toilet seats
  • 254. The art of reading a newspaper on a crowded train

Possibly due to having moved around so much before, I wasn't particularly shocked by the unique culture of Japan, or Tokyo to be more precise, but it was quite frustrating and uninteresting at first. It's said that either Japan enchants and traps you forever, soon after you land, or you hate it so much that you leave within the first year. If none of those, it slowly grows on you, which is what happened with yours truly. I miss it.

Up next, some reasons why we (well, "I" at least) still love Islamabad.

Posted at 16:32pm PKT Comments(4) |

Tuesday 24th January 2006

Japanese raids

Japan

Lots going on in Nihon lately. I was recently reading about the raid on Livedoor on Joi's blog and then yesterday, came across this story about Yamaha being raided. Maybe this quote from Joi explains it:

"Unlike the US, Japanese courts do not have a "discovery" process and often have to rely on these surprise raids to get necessary documents. It makes for good TV News."

My thought is that the Japanese media thrives on heroes and villains and will exploit the most trivial piece of news to the maximum. Now that's true for media everywhere, except in Japan, even a small thing can make or break people. Joi has some good pointers if you are planning on becoming a public figure in Japan.

Posted at 15:11pm PKT Comments(13) |

Google's search refusal

Legal Web

Google has been asked by the White House to hand over records of internet searches its users have performed. So far it has resisted the request and aims to preserve the privacy of its users as well as trade secrets, but you have to wonder how long it can hold out.

The corporation, whose motto is "don't be evil", could do harm to its users if its defenses fall short. A friend of mine has refused the Google cookie since he found out about it though they may have other ways of tracking users. More difficult, but the source IP address can also be used to get to you. Web proxies only prevent some information about the source from being recorded (unless configured not to) and a lot of information still gets through. They can, at the very least, give away your city or service provider.

Services like Google/Gmail have become so essential to us that it's very hard to avoid them so the best bet is to voice your concern against actions like this. Today it's just search records that are at risk. What next? Your online emails?

Also check out the Beeb article.

Posted at 13:54pm PKT Comments(1) |

Monday 23rd January 2006

Don't touch that standby button

General

The BBC has an article on how much extra energy devices, such as televisions, consume and the amount of emissions they generate when left in standby mode.

Estimated annual CO2 emissions from devices left on standby:
  • Stereos - 1,600,000 tonnes
  • Videos - 960,000 tonnes
  • TVs - 480,000 tonnes
  • Consoles - 390,000 tonnes
  • DVD players - 100,000 tonnes
  • Set-top boxes - 60,000 tonnes

I didn't think it would be difficult to keep something in a sleep state, just enough to allow the remote control to power it back on, but guess I was wrong. Until now, I also thought the standby mode was an efficient thing and always left the TV on standby. The SunTV box connected to it didn't even get that much and was always left on. Will be more careful from now.

Posted at 14:15pm PKT Comments(5) |

Saturday 21st January 2006

Worst, Interview, Ever

General

I was recently approached by someone from a very big interesting company (won't say which one, but virtually everyone knows and uses it) for an interesting position and scheduled a phone interview. First mistake, I confirmed the interview time after I misunderstood 11am PST as 11am "Pakistan Standard Time". This after dealing with countless timezone issues on Linux/UNIX where PKT is always used and PST stands for "Pacific Standard Time".

So it happened. I didn't get a call at 11am PKT, as expected, and got it 13 hours later when I was stuck with a problem, half-awake and very grumpy, at a customer's place and talking to someone else on the other phone. It went well at first, but the first two really simple programming and network questions totally blanked me and I couldn't answer at all. Some Linux questions alone, that I answered correctly and without hesitation, saved me from utter embarrassment, but by then it was too late. I felt like kicking myself right after the interview when the answers suddenly dawned on me.

Here's a hint for job hunters: always check and reconfirm the time for job interviews and be prepared. Be very prepared. Also consider switching to decimal time. :)

Posted at 07:41am PKT Comments(2) |

Wednesday 18th January 2006

Mechanical Turk

Web

Dave sent this link to the Mechanical Turk, a beta service from Amazon.

"Complete simple tasks that people do better than computers. And, get paid for it ....."

At about 60 cents an hour (assuming that you complete one task per minute), it really isn't worth it, even for someone from a third world country, but it does look good for people/corporations wanting things done. Interesting concept.

Posted at 14:28pm PKT Comments(2) |

Tuesday 17th January 2006

Million Dollar home page

Web

My ex-colleague and friend Naeem was recently here from Lahore and we were discussing online advertising when he told me about the Million Dollar home page. An annoying, but interesting and quite brilliant idea.

Was tempted to buy some pixels for the blog and iinix, but thought twice about sharing ad-space with casinos and other questionable sites. His claim about the number of pixels sold also looks a bit dodgy.

Posted at 15:48pm PKT Comments(12) |

Hairy Barbarians on blogging

Blogging

This heading from my friend Tim's blog, partly sums up the state of mine:

"If bloggers read more they would write less."

I'm reading a lot online, when I'm not busy meeting clients or doing actual work, yet hardly get a chance to put my words down in a complete blog posting.

Posted at 11:12am PKT Comments(14) |

Thursday 12th January 2006

Eid ul Azha Mubarik

General

We celebrated "Eid ul Azha"/"Hari Raya Haji"/"Annual Hajj and Sacrifice" yesterday in Pakistan. The celebration lasts three days so this post is going out on time. May your sacrifice be accepted and may this occasion mark the start of good things to come. Best wishes to all.

Posted at 13:22pm PKT Comments(11) |

Monday 9th January 2006

New Hi-Power Vim

Linux

Apparently, my favorite text editor can now do more than just configure Linux/UNIX servers or provide cool Vim Dishwash Bar features for Python (replace with your favorite programming language) development. It does the dishes too. The new version also touts Hi-Power as one of its features and is available in Lemon flavor and powder form.

Vim is a pretty old brand of dishwashing soap in Pakistan (and possibly elsewhere) which is why the name of the editor sounded strange to me at first. I had forgotten about the former Vim until my return and wanted to blog about it, but didn't get around to until now. Today, I was shopping for other cleaning material and decided to buy a bar just so I could take a photo and post it here.

Now just have to start exporting it to the dirty geek masses around the world.

Posted at 06:32am PKT Comments |

Saturday 7th January 2006

Controlling Apache's resource usage

Security

One of the servers I'm maintaining was acting strange due to a badly programmed PHP page. It would cause the server to drop network connections every once in a while and the only option for fixing it was to have it hard rebooted. The initial suspect was the distribution since I don't remember ever seeing a stable, trouble-free server running it, but it looks like a bit of both. Besides, changing the OS was not an option.

I started looking at ways to fix it (without switching the distribution) and found this file (doesn't exist on Slackware):

/etc/security/limits.conf

This seemed to have everything I could use to contain Apache and PHP and keep the rest of the server from coming down, but digging a little deeper, I found these settings within Apache's docs:

RLimitCPU 100 100
RLimitMem 10000000 10000000
RLimitNProc 20 20

The first limits the number of CPU cycles a child process uses, the second limits it's memory usage and the third limits the processes it can spawn. Though I can't confirm if they solved the issue yet, they look like very useful options. Should come in handy while bolting down Apache.

Posted at 11:25am PKT Comments |

Tuesday 3rd January 2006

2005 in 25 words

General

It was a turbulent year for me and one where I felt I didn't achieve much, but there were some very special things that I experienced. Like last year, and the year before that, here is my summary of 2005 in 25 words:

Strengthened existing friendships
Experienced major earthquake
Volunteered to help survivors
Returned to blogging and the web
Improved dealing skills
Transitioned from technical guy to manager

Posted at 00:04am PKT Comments(1) |

Monday 2nd January 2006

New server host for a new year

General

Due to a problem at the office where my server was previously hosted, all my email and websites were down for about a week. Thanks to a special friend of mine, the server is now hosted at a more permanent (undisclosed) location. Should be the end of power or link instability issues I've been having for the last year or so. I also have some great ideas which I can now implement easily.

As a side-note, I reconfigured Apache and filesystem layout to make it easier to deal with multiple sub-domains. Now, each sub-domain is located under a main domain folder instead of everything under one roof. Same goes for logs. The VirtualHost sections have also been taken out of httpd.conf and placed in separate files. Look forward to more visible changes soon.

Posted at 15:01pm PKT Comments(13) |

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