Pakistan, Japan, Linux and lots more

Tuesday 31st October 2006

Dengue epidemic

Pakistan Health

The outbreak of "Dengue Fever" in parts of Pakistan is now becoming a countrywide epidemic. Quite a few bloggers have posted about it including one who lost his cousin to a dengue infection. Though nobody I know personally has died or been infected, it is alarming to know that death and disease are right here. So close in fact that there have been over 20 confirmed cases in Rawalpindi/Islamabad alone.

With the state of healthcare in this country, don't even think about getting sick enough to have to be treated by someone. It doesn't matter how expensive a treatment you can afford, in the end, you'll realize that not going to a doctor is the best cure. Anyway, for something as serious as this, you'll have to be extremely lucky to get proper treatment and be cured.

What may be partly to blame for this outbreak is a delayed winter. By this time of the year, we are usually wearing sweaters and jackets yet even in Islamabad, it is still so warm that one can easily roam around in a t-shirt. This heat, combined with the brief monsoon, has resulted in a swarm of mosquitos everywhere, many of which are carriers of the deadly dengue virus.

I think the best hope is to do all you can to stop being bitten and wait for winter to set in. The above-mentioned blog post, as well as many other sites on the net, which I didn't have time to check, offer a number of suggestions and preventive measures. Good luck to all.

And what's responsible for the heat? My best guesses are pollution and construction. Both are spreading fast and not even a clean and organized city (for Pakistan) like Islamabad is spared.

Some useful blogs and sites:
all things Pakistan: Dengue fever toll rising
Light Within: Dengue fever on the rise
CDC Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases: Dengue fever fact sheet

Posted at 21:28pm PKT  Comments(2) |

English translation of Musharraf debate

Pakistan

Below is my attempt at translating Syed Adnan's speech that I just blogged about. Since the best part was the delivery of the speech, much of the effect will be lost, in addition to the loss it will suffer through my inexperienced translation. My apologies for that.

Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamia, Binori Town, Karachi.

My companions spoke about this topic yesterday and today I will attempt to briefly talk about it in light of those comments.

There is no doubt that our biggest predicament is the lack of unity and oneness of thought, but the question is, why does this deficiency still exist after 58 years have passed. The reason for this is that confusions have been introduced concerning the basic platform of "Pakistan ka matlab kya, La ilaha illallah" (What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God, but Allah) that was given to us. According to a systematic plan, it is still being asked on what basis Pakistan was founded and what the Quaid's (founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah's) vision was.

Isn't it all clear? Can you or I answer this question or will it be answered by that generation that built the foundations of Pakistan with their blood? This is an insult to their souls... This is an insult to their souls. This is an insult to their sacrifices. To say that "You sacrificed your lives, but we can't understand what your issue was".

Our second biggest problem is the current law and order situation. And unfortunately, Islam is often held responsible for this. On the contrary, study of the Quran shows that peace and harmony is given utmost importance. Just look at the Prophet Abraham (A.S.)'s prayer. He prays about the economy later, first he asks about peace. He says, "rabbij-a'l haaz'al balada aamina", "O Lord, make this place the cradle of peace". Then he says, "warzuq ahlahu minas samaraat", "And rebuild/develop the economy for those who dwell here". When Allah recounts His rewards, he says to Abraham, "Wa iz ja'alnal baita masabata lin naasi wa amn'a", "We put you where you people may come and go as you wish and which We made into a center of peace and harmony".

This is very clear. The question is why were our peace and solace compromised? How did our youth become a tool for the terrorists? And why day by day, we are sinking into the quick sand of lawlessness? Mr. President, this is a point to be noted. This lesson was not taught to them through any religion. This lesson was not taught to them through any faith. This division of classes, exploitative governance, disregard of talent, hollow education system, unlimited corruption and misuse of authority are those terrifying problems that have pushed the youth to this stage. Solve these problems. Solve these problems and then see if this youth is a terrorist or a peace-loving person.

Our third biggest problem, which is of utmost importance at this moment, is the disregard for democratic customs. Still we have been unsuccessful in implementing a truly democratic culture and respect for the public mandate. Unstable assemblies, rigging of elections, and Mr. President, the custom of bypassing the parliament in important national issues has taken away the public's faith in the current political system.

For this, we must learn a lesson from our neighboring country which Mr. Mushahid recently visited and you Mr. President are about to visit in the near future. Their time of independence and ours is one. We and they have had the same amount of time. Yet they have strengthened their democratic institutions such that no matter what happens, no matter what disaster occurs, the armed forces do not leave the barracks and take over the running of the country.

Similarly, .... Mr. President, I believe that this picture of the Quaid that is hanging in this hall (points towards the large photo on the wall) and that you are standing in front of, is asking you, "General, you are the keeper of the borders. Who has shown you the path to the corridors of power/government?".

Our third biggest problem, is "elite-class economy". Your number wizards are stating that the economy is growing, our reserves are increasing, debts have been reduced, kashkol (begging instrument) is broken. Again and again you state that in the past, we used to go to beg. Now we go to give.

And the public is astonished that while the economy is improving, the poor man's fire is dying out, while foreign exchange reserves are increasing, petrol prices are sky-rocketing. Look at what point the Rupee has devalued to.

One more thing after this. You stated that there is nothing wrong in celebrating Basant (kite-flying festival often chided for being excessively lavish). Islam doesn't forbid sports and actually encourages healthy pastimes. But for God's sake, don't dance on the tombs of the poor and the downtrodden.

Look at what Islam says. If within a house .... it is a strange feeling .... (cutoff by applause.) If you fly a kite on an individual level, nobody will forbid you from it. But when a poor man sees that he is starving while his president is flying a kite, he gets the impression that there is some sort of gap between them. The poor man thinks, .... It feels as if there has been a death in your neighbor's home and you are drumming away (celebrating) next door saying, "I'm free, the loss is yours, not mine". Every faith will tell you to sympathize with him, to be kind and to mourn with him.

In addition, Mr. President, an important thing that we feel is that many problems are made worse by the tone of your voice. You say to the people of Balochistan, "We will strike you from where you won't even know what hit you". These things... You are the elder of this nation. You should speak to us in the same way that you speak to your son Bilal.

.... Mr. President, ... My sister (probably a reference to a previous speaker) talked about the uniform. You yourself said that you will take off the uniform on the 31st October, yet for the "greater good of the people", you broke your promise?

(Just before applause from the audience, Mr. Mushahid states that "Your time is up")

The part where Musharraf speaks is quite lengthy and not as good as this so I won't go into it (not yet anyway). Thank you Sufyan for the corrections.

Posted at 11:21am PKT  Comments(257) |

Monday 30th October 2006

Full debate with Musharraf

Pakistan

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to see a clip of a student debate that took place sometime last year at the Convention Center in Islamabad. The clip was of a speech by Adnan Kakakhel, a student of a mosque in Karachi, in which he quite eloquently grilled President Musharraf on a number of issues.

It seems that Adnan and his speech are now quite famous and the clip has made the rounds on a number of blogs. I really wanted to hear the President's reply to it, but couldn't find the full clip earlier. Thanks to Eidee Man who posted the link on Pakistaniat, here is the full video:

Though I usually find his speeches to be witty, bold and articulate, I wasn't very impressed by the President's response to Adnan's speech. He didn't seem very sober, though that could be just how he speaks in Urdu, and looked somewhat nervous, outright refuting most of the points made against him. Still, he must be applauded for trying.

As for the student, I've had the pleasure of meeting Adnan a number of times since his brother is a good friend of mine. Quite a striking personality if you can look past the beard and the "mullah" look. And yes, he is still alive and well after that speech.

Since I saw a number of posts asking for English subtitles, I'm attempting to translate the speech and post it here (sorry, I don't have the tools for that level of video editing). Do check back in a bit.

Posted at 01:45am PKT  Comments(136) |

Saturday 28th October 2006

Open Source 2.0

Linux Internet Web

Many years ago, I remember a time when a whole bunch of open source software reached the elusive 1.0 stable release. This meant that the likes of Mozilla and Open Office now had enough functionality to compete with existing products (or simply do something good on non-MS platforms). These weren't necessarily better, or even that good in some cases, but were proof that the open source development model can work.

We are again at a similar point which looks like the next step in open source's evolution. The Mozilla Firefox browser has just hit version 2.0 and Gaim, the open source, multi-protocol instant messenger, is nearing it. This could turn the tide in open source's favor for good since there are now actual advantages to using these alternatives in place of commercial software.

On a related note, it was also interesting to read about a Firefox user's week with IE7. It was interesting to read how Microsoft's push to force everyone to upgrade to their latest versions of Windows (by dropping support for earlier platforms) will prove to be a big plus for free software. Firefox, for example, still supports Windows 98 while IE7 won't even support Windows 2000. And we haven't even started comparing the actual softwares yet.

Posted at 14:46pm PKT  Comments(235) |

Thursday 26th October 2006

Blogging with the Nokia 9500 and Ufone

Mobile Blogging

This message, like the last one, is being posted using my Nokia Communicator, via Ufone's GPRS service. I called Ufone support multiple times to get this working, but despite configuring the connection again and again and bugging their reps each time, I kept getting a "Subscribe to GPRS first" message.

I had decided to switch to Warid's service when it suddenly started working a few days ago. Guess they just took their time in activating it.

Now I can browse and SSH on the go, instead of just at the office and a few other places (still can't get broadband at home). I'm also quite pleased with how easy it is to use the 9500 for such things.

Posted at 00:07am PKT  Comments(102) |

Wednesday 25th October 2006

Happy Eid to all

General

Eid greetings to all, especially those who didn't get my email or SMS. After 30 days of Ramadan fasting, as well as some controversy, Eid is finally being celebrated here in Pakistan.

It seems that we were correct all along about the dates and those few who followed their own dates are being chastized for going against the religion as well as national unity. I hope this doesn't happen again.

The night before Eid is a happening one with people rushing to do last minute shopping and out to enjoy and celebrate. I was in the Jinnah Super market quite a bit after midnight, yet it was more crowded than even peak times in ordinary days. It's a pity the police forced most of the shops to close down by around 1:30am. I don't see why they did that.

Anyway, as usually happens, I got home pretty late and haven't had time to sleep. The Eid prayer in the morning will be difficult and I just hope I don't fall asleep in the midst of it. Enjoy the occasion and may you receive Allah's blessings and love and may your prayers be accepted.

Posted at 06:00am PKT  Comments(30) |

Monday 23rd October 2006

Eid preparations

General

The Eid, or post-Ramadan celebration, holidays are here and we should be celebrating Eid either on Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on our national moon-sighting committee's decision. Since Pakistan is the only place one to two days behind in the Islamic calender (it's either the 30th Ramadan or Eid today in the rest of the world), I would guess Tuesday will be the day. You would imagine that sighting the moon wouldn't be an issue in these times, but apparantly it is enough to cause three different dates for the same calender.

Most of my Sunday was spent shopping for Eid. It is nice when you do this in Islamabad (yes, the traffic is worse than ever, but it's still manageable), whereas Pindi is simply hell. I was stuck in traffic this morning and realized quite a while later that some clowns in front had just parked their cars there on the road (it was empty in front of them) and everyone behind them thought they were stuck too. In Islamabad, the traffic police takes care of any such wrongly parked cars.

Still, the crowds that are out shopping, eating or just enjoying themselves are bigger than any I've seen here. People seem to have more money to spend and there are more and better places ready to deprive them of it. My main concern is that things may seem hunky dorie in the capital, but the rest of the country is still in a miserable state. Some of my friends argue that the rich getting richer will raise the quality of life for everyone, but that's still questionable. I just hope that there are less people below the poverty line today than ever before.

Posted at 01:56am PKT  Comments(2) |

Tuesday 17th October 2006

Latest in email and comment spam

Security Internet

These days, a much bigger part of my day is spent on fixing the damage caused by spam. It isn't that much of a hassle to remove the dozens of comment spams I get daily on this site, but it does take up valuable time. Even after my software nukes all URLs in the comments, it doesn't take much for the spammers to post so the practice continues. I'll simply add a few more measures to make it more painful for the spammers, but that'll have to wait till I have time.

The real PITA is clearing the queue on the ISP's mail server. The issue seems to be getting worse and worse by the day. It is quite normal to delete a couple of thousand spams during a single day and filtering only helps a little.

For a while, the biggest problem was rogue customers (ab)using the mail servers and spamming away or running open relays used to send out spam. Blocking all of their outgoing email was an effective way to reign in the culprits and stop the hideous practice, but then they shifted to temporary dialup accounts which made it impossible to detect and stop the spammers permanently. Some additional measures and a more vigilant watch on the mail has brought that under control as well, but now the focus has shifted to incoming spam.

The spammers and spam seem to be multiplying faster than we admins can fight them off and although we're smarter (off course we are, somehow ;)), there are simply more of them around. They're wealthier too.

This has now become a big enough issue for me to really concentrate on setting up a better email system which means I should get back to work. Wish me luck cos if I fail, I may just switch sides.

Posted at 23:14pm PKT  Comments(339) |

Friday 13th October 2006

Friday the 13th for Muslims

General

Today was Friday the 13th, a day considered extremely unlucky by some in the West. Whatever the origins of this superstition, some Muslims have the opposite view (most are indifferent I guess).

Firstly, Friday is a blessed day for Muslims. A day of prayer and a day to celebrate. If the Eid celebration, once celebrated right after Ramadan and again at the time of the Hajj, falls on this day, it is considered a greater Eid.

As for the numeral 13, though it doesn't have any big significance associated with it, 13th of Rajab is the birth of Imam Ali (A.S.). (today, 19th of Ramadan however, is a day of mourning. The day he was struck down to be martyred two days later).

Posted at 23:33pm PKT  Comments(101) |

Monday 9th October 2006

Why pork is forbidden in Islam

Health Religion

Below is a conversation (could be hypothetical, but definitely worth a read) that Mr. Hashim, an old friend, forwarded about the medical aspects of why pork (and blood) is forbidden in Islam and why we follow a certain method of animal slaughter.

WHY IS PORK FORBIDDEN IN ISLAM?

Bob: Tell me why is it that a Muslim is very particular about the words
Halaal and Haraam; what do they mean?

Yunus: That which is permissible is termed Halaal and that which is not
Permissible is termed Haraam and it is the Quran which draws the
distinction between the two.

Bob: Can you give me an example?

Yunus: Yes, Islam has prohibited consumption of blood of any type. You
will agree that a chemical analysis of blood shows that it contains an
abundance of uric acid, a chemical substance which can be injurious to
human health.

Bob: You're right about the toxic nature of uric acid, in the human being.
It is excreted as a waste product and in fact we are told that 98% of the
body's uric acid is extracted from the blood by the kidneys and removed
through urination.

Yunus: Now I think that you'll appreciate the specially prescribed method
of animal slaughter in Islam.

Bob: What do you mean?

Yunus: You see, the wielder of the knife, whilst taking the name of the
Almighty, makes an incision through the jugular veins, leaving all other
veins and organs intact.

Bob: I see, this causes the death of the animal by a total loss of blood
from the body, rather than an injury to any vital organ.

Yunus: Yes, if the organs, example the heart, the liver, or the brain
crippled or damaged the animal could die immediately and its blood would
congeal in its veins and would eventually permeate the flesh. This implies
that the animal flesh would be permeated and contaminated with uric acid
and therefore very poisonous; only today did our dietitians realize such a
thing.

Bob: Again, while on the topic of food; why do Muslims condemn the eating
of pork or ham or any foods related to pigs or swine.

Yunus: Actually, apart from the Quran prohibiting the consumption of pork
bacon (pig flesh); in fact the Bible too in Leviticus chapter 11, verse 8,
regarding swine it says, "of their flesh (of the swine another name for
pig)shall you not eat, and of their carcass you shall not touch; they are
" unclean to you."
Further, did you know that a pig cannot be slaughtered at the neck for it
does not have a neck; that is according to its natural anatomy? A Muslim
reasons that if the pig was to be slaughtered and fit for human
consumption the Creator would have provided it with a neck.
"Nonetheless, all that aside, I am sure you are well informed about the
harmful effects of the consumption of pork, in any form, be it pork chops,
ham, bacon.

Bob: The medical science finds that there is a risk for various diseases
as the pig is found to be a host for many parasites and potential
diseases.

Yunus: Yes, even apart from that, as we talked about uric acid content in
the blood, it is important to note that the pig's biochemistry excretes
only 2% of its total uric acid content, the remaining 98% remains as an
integral part of the body. Further more, new study shows, that Pig's Milk
is Red not white, also pig meat could carry harmful disease / bacterial
easily.

Note: Islam forbids not only pork but meat of all those animals who eat
their own or some one else's body waste; the most commonly known animal in
this category is pig or swine whose meat is commonly known as pork.

At this point, this entertaining excerpt from the movie Pulp Fiction comes to mind which makes a good enough argument not to eat pork, without delving into the faith aspect (obscenity censored):

Vincent: "Want some bacon?"
Jules: "No man, I don't eat pork."
Vincent: "Are you Jewish?"
Jules: "No, I ain't Jewish, I just don't dig on swine, that's all."
Vincent: "Why not?"
Jules: "Pigs are filthy animals. I don't eat filthy animals."
Vincent: "Yeah, but bacon tastes good; pork chops taste good."
Jules:  "Sewer  rat  may taste like pumpkin pie, but I'd never know, because I'd never eat the filthy mot#%$0!r.
Pigs  sleep  and  root  in  shit,  that's a filthy animal. I don't wanna eat nothin' that ain't got enough sense to
disregard its own faeces."
Vincent: "How about a dog? A dog eats its own faeces?"
Jules: "I don't eat dog either."
........

 

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Posted at 22:32pm PKT  Comments(105) |

Earthquake blog posts

Earthquake Blogging

It seems that quite a few bloggers have posted their tributes to those that perished in last year's quake. I seem to remember that there were only a handful of blogs that were actively posting updates about the tragedy. It's good to see such an outpouring of thoughts and emotions one year onwards.

This page on Help Pakistan has a list of all the blogs that have commemorated the Pakistan Earthquake Blog Day:

http://help-pakistan.com/main/

Kudos to Dr. Alwi for setting up the site and making an effort to help the ones that need it.

Posted at 02:06am PKT  Comments(176) |

Sunday 8th October 2006

One year after the quake

Earthquake

It was a year ago, October 8th, 2005, that one of the deadliest quakes in history struck this region, leaving over 73,000 people dead, millions homeless and whole cities decimated.

Though most people have put it behind them, I still can't forget that fateful Ramadan morning when I woke up in a dazed state and felt everything around me shaking itself to bits, my mind somehow treating this as a normal state of things. Then the realization, after what must have been minutes, that it was an earthquake and a large one at that. Even then, I had no clue whatsoever about the magnitude of losses.

I blogged about everything that we in Islamabad went through, right from the initial reactions to the depression that took hold of most people that I knew. Then about my trip to Muzaffarabad to help out with the relief efforts. I had wanted to return the very next week, maybe to another area such as Bagh, yet it has been a year and that hasn't happened (finding a job and trying to build a career does that to you). However, a neighbour who was in Muzaffarabad recently, has described how little has changed in a year. Even the smell of rotting corpses hasn't completely left the city.

On this sombre occasion, there is little I can say. I wish I could save the people that died. I wish there was more I could do back then to help those in need. I wish things were back to normal for everyone, yet the most we can do is pray for those that are no more and do the best we can in helping all those in need.

You can read more about how things currently are in the quake affected areas at this BBC page and this gallery about how the people of the Palas valley have coped.

Posted at 17:46pm PKT  Comments(45) |

Tuesday 3rd October 2006

All hail Slackware 11.0

Linux Technology

It's finally here:

A great day for all fans of the oldest surviving Linux distribution - after an unusually long testing and debugging period, Slackware Linux 11.0 has been released: The first Slackware release more than a year in the making, this edition of Slackware combines Slackware's legendary simplicity, stability, and security with some of the latest advances in Linux technology...

My faith in Slackware has lately been challenged by the Others and though it is still my distribution of choice, I'll be using CentOS (ugh) more for deployment. These were the same arguments I used to have about Linux vs Windows around six years ago. Pity that they still have to come up. The reasoning went something like this (from their side):

  1. Slackware is the product of just a single person who may die soon while CentOS has the backing of a corporation which can't
  2. Slackware is one person's hobby while a large corporation heavily invests in R&D that trickles down to CentOS
  3. Everyone has heard of Red Hat while nobody knows about Slackware
  4. Anyone can administer Red Hat/CentOS while people will need special training for Slackware

My futile answers which did nothing to change their minds:

  1. Corporations can fall or change just as easily as people and their priority is to make money. The very beauty of Open source is that it doesn't depend on one person or entity. It is the community that runs it.
  2. Corporate backing doesn't guarantee technical superiority (think Microsoft, think Linux itself). Open source means that any research and development is shared across the community. One person can easily combine the latest developments into a final product that rivals that of a corporation. Linux was one person's hobby yet look where it is now.
  3. Fame or recognition is no proof of a better product. That too in a small, homogenous market such as Pakistan.
  4. A person given the responsibility of administering a production server should be competent enough to work with most if not all UNIX/UNIX-like systems.

Granted that these aren't necessarily good enough to stick to Slackware (or whatever your distro of choice might be), but there's more. I have a fast to break so will share them some other time, but All I'll say is that Slackware 11.0 has a number of interesting updates and I'd love to start using it soon. No way they're going to stop me from putting it on my laptop.

Posted at 18:06pm PKT  Comments(37) |

Monday 2nd October 2006

Nokia 9500

Mobile Technology

It's that time again. After the disappointment at finding an ideal phone that could take decent pictures as well as easily balance my account, I had become sure that I would live out the rest of my days with a couple of simple, camera-less mobiles, such as the Nokia 1110 that I currently have (an excellent phone, by the way). Yet when the opportunity presented itself, I took the bait.

Nokia 9500 It was a chance to get rid of my broken (now repaired) 6680 and get a used organizer+phone in its place. I'm now the proud owner of a Nokia Communicator 9500. Ooh, the word "Communicator", combined with a very large 4-digit model number is enough to make any man proud and feel like the toughest kid in town. And it's not just the name and model that turns it into a woman repellant. This thing is a monster. A reminder of the days of yore when a phone was more than just a talking device. It was a status symbol, a show of power, a weapon you could use to actually knock your opponent out.

The phone portion of the 9500 is pretty slim actually. It's the inner LCD, keypad and the battery portion that are responsible for most of the bulk. Looking past the size (the weight doesn't seem to be an issue actually, or could be just me), the features could make up for the decreased portability.

Typing a message is almost as easy as typing an email, thanks to the thumb-friendly keyboard. The screen provides enough space to view even my blog, thanks to the built-in wifi support, and there are enough Nokia Communicator features to keep you quite busy. The one drawback I can see straightaway is the speed. Though I'm told that it can be improved after formatting the device once, currently, it feels slower than that 486 laptop I have stashed away in my closet.

I haven't had much time to mess with it, but it looks like I'll either keep it for quite a while (because of all the features) or get rid of it very soon (due to the size and slowness).

Posted at 18:37pm PKT  Comments(116) |

Sunday 1st October 2006

Musharraf on the Daily Show

Pakistan

President Musharraf's trip to the US and the release of his new book is making waves everywhere. I was surprised to read that one of his planned appearances was as a guest on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show", hosted by Jon Stewart.

Musharraf drinks tea on the Daily Show
(click to download a 15MB MP4 footage of the episode)

I just love this show and was afraid the honorable President might fall victim to one of the show's gags, which can be quite brutal at times, but I think it went very well and he came out with his "dignity" intact. Jon, though curiously witty as usual, seemed to keep a certain level of respect and Musharraf's answers, though not the wittiest, were enough for him to deserve it.

Posted at 12:22pm PKT  Comments(363) |

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