Pakistan, Japan and other stuff
Sunday 30th July 2006
Plans for a new camera
Majed recently bought a very cool new digital camera which reignited my urge to get one for myself. As you may remember, I used to have the excellent Canon "IXY 320" (also known as "Power Shot 230" outside Japan) which got stolen soon after I arrived in Islamabad. Ever since then, I've wanted to buy a replacement, but never actually got around to it. I tried to make do with phone cameras (or camera phones if you may), but it was one disappointment after another.
Though the one Majed got is close to a "pro" camera, it is too big to be carried around all the time as well as quite costly with all the accessories. After a lot of reading and thinking, I've decided on the Canon PowerShot SD600 since it has a good rating on CNET and is a successor to the 230 I used to have.
One snag I've run into is that Canon isn't very popular in Pakistan for some reason. None of the shops I visited in Blue Area and Jinnah Super carried the brand and concentrated instead on Sony, Olympus and Nikkon. It could be related to the lack of Canon support outlets here, but who knows. Since I'm going to Karachi soon, will try to find it there (along with a new laptop).
Monday 24th July 2006
Driving in the monsoon
I got out at around 7am this morning and found everything dark, wet and dangerous. It was raining so hard and visibility was so poor that I had to turn on the headlights of the car. All the roads had become raging torrents and even the main highway looked like a swollen river.
I turned on the car heater to keep the windows from fogging up, yet the same car that usually gets too hot for constant air conditioning, failed to heat anything. All this the very next day I washed and waxed the car. Just as well since the wax made the windshield repel water and visibility would have been close to zero if not for that. The wads of dirt under the car that I couldn't get to while washing it are also washed off.
Things seemed better around Pindi since it wasn't raining as hard, but they'll get a lot worse once the traffic builds up and the runoff from Islamabad reaches it. Islamabad is relatively better positioned and has a good drainage system that prevents water from collecting for too long, but it all ends up in Rawalpindi with nowhere else to go.
Looking on the bright side, at least the recent water shortages will be over.
Friday 21st July 2006
Rant: Rawalpindi passport office
A couple of days ago, I accompanied a friend, who needed to get a new passport, to the passport office. Since the office that you must go to for such things depends on the residential address that is on your ID card, we had to go to the Pindi office (as opposed to the Islamabad one). It was too crowded and disturbing to take pictures so I'll try to get some later, but the scene was quite frightening and I was glad I wasn't the one who had to stand in line.
The office itself is in a three-story house in a crowded residential area of Pindi (not that there are many "uncrowded" places left there). The surrounding roads and streets are in a bad state and it is almost impossible to find free parking space. Once you find one, you have to make your way through beggars, guards (who need a good reason to let you in) and rows of "agents" who will do some of the paperwork for a fee.
Once you find the end of the queue, which is somewhere out of sight behind the building, enjoy the hot sun for a couple of hours until the person letting you into the building informs you that the passport fee must be paid at the National Bank. The nearest branch isn't in the same building as you might expect. It is a few kilometers away which is quite a distance for Pindi considering the dilapidated state of the roads and the horrid traffic.
Though not the biggest problem, this particular bank requires you to fill in four copies of your details just to deposit the amount. What a wonderful joy. You better hope nobody invents carbon paper or decent ATMs to take it all away. Then it is time to get back in the queue at the passport office. Though I haven't seen the inside, I'm told it isn't exactly Buckingham Palace and the only relief compared to the outside is the lack of direct sunlight, though the humidity more than makes up for it.
The fairer sex has the advantage of not having to stand in line outside. But don't get your hopes too high. Even getting in on a priority basis, by the time you get your photo taken, you're hardly in a recognizable state and your passport photo is more likely to resemble your deceased great grandmother than your own.
Most of us who live and work in Islamabad are used to experiencing a relatively decent level of service and better facilities, but it is royally frustrating to see that simply having a Rawalpindi address means you have to put up with all this.
I wonder how enjoyable the experience of collecting the above mentioned passport will be. I'll definitely get pictures this time.
Monday 17th July 2006
Bird flu vaccine and eating chicken
It seems that some Indian scientists have developed a vaccine for the dreaded bird flu. Its about time that there was some news about it since bird flu has been off the radar lately and people seem to have forgotten about how serious the issue could be.
It is especially true for Pakistan where the flu was confirmed a few months ago. Just yesterday, I had three dishes in front of me for lunch and every one of them contained chicken in some form. As much as I dislike chicken, it is everywhere and almost impossible to avoid. If the flu wasn't enough to drown out the chicken craze in Pakistan, I don't know what else would.
Thursday 13th July 2006
Yet another new look
As you must have already noticed, the site has a new template, another one based on a Pivot template. I wasn't quite happy with the previous one and felt it was time for a change.
This is simpler and I especially like the selection of fonts, though certain other things had to be left out in order to integrate with my blogging scripts and previous data. Those will have to wait till I switch to the new database-driven version I'm working on.
I'm hoping the new look will make the blog more readeable though I'll keep making enhancements along the way. Suggestions on improvements most welcome.
Wednesday 12th July 2006
World eBook Fair
Get your download engines ready. In celebration of the 35th anniversary of Project Gutenberg, a number of titles are being opened up to the public for free download via the World eBook Fair website.
"Please visit us here from July 4th-August 4, 2006 to download your selections from 1/3 million free eBooks."
I've already found and downloaded some wonderful classics which I've always wanted to read, but either couldn't find in the bookshops or kept skipping my mind when I was there. Hope I get the time to read these.
Monday 10th July 2006
Wooden memory sticks
Cool idea. Get your wooden USB memory sticks here.
Maybe now I can have a PC mouse made out of real mouse carcass.
Victory for Italy
Things initially didn't go according to plan for me tonight. I forgot that the World Cup Final was supposed to start at 11pm (PKT) and not at midnight like the other matches. I also didn't watch the match at Jinnah Super as planned. I missed everything upto a few minutes into the second half.
But it was probably the best game I have seen in this world cup. My support was for Italy and I predicted that they would definitely win. However, their performance seemed to be below their usual while France seemed to be doing better. I didn't expect it to go into extra time, let alone penalties. A nice win.
Sunday 9th July 2006
Oh the humidity
It's so hot and humid that you can't go for a stroll at night without shedding a pint of sweat. It's even worse during the day. Even Singapore wasn't this bad. I will probably be watching tonight's World Cup final in Jinnah Super, where Pepsi have put up a large screen for it in the open air refreshment place at the center of the market. The heat will be a problem.
Anyone know where I can find portable air conditioners?
Wednesday 5th July 2006
Carpal tunnel and my trackball
This blog post by Umar about carpal tunnel got me writing about something I'm asked a lot these days. Since my home PC is out of order for now, I've moved my Logitech trackball to my laptop bag and am using it instead of the finger-grinding and annoying touch-pad.
Though the large trackball looks weird next to an ultra-slim laptop, I find it very comfortable since I hardly ever use the laptop from my lap. This naturally prompts a lot of questions from people who have never even seen a trackball before. I doubt you can even get one in Pakistan. Then I have to recount the reasons as to why I use it and it starts to get more frustrating when nobody seems to have heard about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or RSI.
I got the trackball about six years ago when I started full-time system administration. Using the mouse and keyboard all day had started to take its toll and my arms and wrists developed pain that kept getting worse. At first I tried those soft gel wrist rests, but that seemed to make the matter worse. Three things I did finally solved the problem and I haven't had any such trouble since then.
Firstly, I replaced the mouse with a trackball, or a thumb-ball to be exact. At that time, Logitech was concentrating on making something actually useful than the "funky" stuff they came out with later. Their later trackballs were smaller and better to look at, but less comfortable and effective at easing your pain. I was lucky to get the classic model. And though slightly worn out, it is still working as good as new (with the required scum removal every couple of months). Not recommended for hardcore gaming, but excellent for virtually everything else.
I've probably already written about the other measures I took. Changed my keyboard to the Ergonomic Microsoft Natural keyboard, probably the only thing I liked from MS more than the other alternatives. Not the newer one with diamond-shaped arrow keys and vertical home/page up/page down keys, but the big one with extra Internet keys at the top and a built-in USB hub. That also seems impossible to find these days. I once had two of those, both of which were lost in Japan.
Lastly, I switched my keyboard layout to Dvorak which I still stick to today. Less travelling for your fingers and more comfort while typing.
With more and more Pakistanis spending more and more hours in front of the PC, carpal tunnel and RSI could become a problem, but without anyone knowing about what it is and how to prevent it, it is going to be much worse.
Size of our World
This lovely page has a number of images comparing Earth to the other planets in the solar system. Then you see its size compared to our Sun and then the Sun's size compared to the other giant stars in the universe. Really makes you wonder.
Saturday 1st July 2006
Firefox World Cup extension
Though I watched tonight's match live and saw my all-time favorites, Argentina, get out of the World Cup (sniff sniff), live updates for the matches you don't see are a nice thing to have on your browser. The extension even allows you to change the browser's skin to that of your favorite team.
So, which team am I supporting now that Arg is out? Not Brazil or England so most probably Germany. Good luck guys.