Pakistan, Japan, Linux and lots more
Wednesday 27th September 2006
Got back to Islamabad yesterday. I hadn't taken my car to Lahore for a number of reasons, one of them being the car's state (I'm not sure it would have lasted the trip without giving problems) and more importantly, because driving in Lahore is like trying to dodge bullets from a machine gun. However, after the discomforts of the Daewoo bus service and hagglingwith the rikshaw drivers, I'm prepared to take that chance on subsequent trips.
The night before, I was caught up in some work and missed the 11pm Daewoo bus I had a seat reserved in. I had heard a lot of good things about the twice a day train service between Lahore and Rawalpindi which covered the distance in just three hours, but the railway enquiry reps were so rude and unhelpful that I couldn't even get the fares and train schedule, let alone a reservation. Then went for a bite at a famous 24-hour cafe where the sandwiches, cookies and coffee really were pretty awesome. CTC was the name, methinks. Then I chatted with an old friend till it was time to start the fast, about an hour before sunset, and got on the first bus here.
Lahore is a nice place to visit sometimes. Plus, the food is generally better than what you will find in Islamabad's top eating places. But there's just this stuffy and chaotic feel to the city that doesn't allow you to relax much. Good to be back. Till next time.
Monday 25th September 2006
Today is the first day of the holy month of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar. It's a month of fasting and prayer that bestows its blessings on Muslims. Best wishes to all those who celebrate it.
In the Shia faith, fasting is to be postponed if you are travelling or too ill (I'm both), hence I missed today's fast, but will start from tomorrow and make up for the missed one after Ramadan.
It started sometime early in the afternoon when the power at my hotel suddenly went out and the generators kicked in. I remember power outages to be pretty common in Lahore so didn't pay much attention to it. Went to meet my relatives and the power was unavailable there as well. Went to meet my brother at my auntie's house across the city, power was still down. It was only when I got a call from one of my guys in Islamabad that I realized that the blackout wasn't limited to Lahore.
A number of places, from Islamabad to Karachi were down and it was believed to be a country-wide blackout. Suddenly, there was a torrent of rumours and conspiracy theories about a coup d'état and that Pres Musharraf had been overthrown. Some people were absolutely sure the US had invaded us. The rest of the talk was even sillier.
Are we really such a bored people that we have to let our imaginations run wild at the slightest event that is out of the ordinary? Or is there another reason for this? Why can't we ever take things at face value? If we have to imagine, why can't it be something positive and constructive?
It was just around sunset that the power returned, though not in its full glory, and we turned on the TV to read about the country-wide outage. It was believed to be due to a circuit overload though this could not be confirmed straight away. The full circuit was restored within an hour and everything has been normal ever since.
I was worried about my servers being rebooted, but thankfully, the backup power was enough to keep them up till the main power was restored.
Saturday 23rd September 2006
Though Lahore is a place relatively close to Islamabad (and a place I like to visit, once in a while), it has been well over a year since I was last here. It so happened that I had to configure a few cool servers in Lahore and got a chance to come down here. Though leaving Islamabad for any other Pakistani city isn't my idea of a fun trip and Lahore isn't a place I can stay in for very long, it has a certain panache to it that makes brief visits worthwhile.
I've seen most of it before, but I'm still impressed by the grandeur of the buildings, both new and old. The building I'm in, the Aiwan-e-Iqbal, has multiple levels connecting to the surrounding roads. The courtyard in the middle looks like a nice and peaceful place to relax and it is a relatively high-tech place. I picked up at least five wireless access points from where I was sitting.
Thursday 21st September 2006
While testing Weblog.pk, I started a blog about movies and television and have now decided to post anything related to the topic there instead of here. I'll mostly be writing reviews of what I watch, including TV shows, and might add more multi-media content once I have a camera and/or a great phone. Enjoy the show.
Wednesday 20th September 2006
Though I've never been there, I always thought of Thailand as a pretty stable country, at least politically. Maybe I just haven't been keeping up with world news, but the current situation comes as a surprise for me. Most of the big news sites seem stressed so I can't get a lot of details.
Tuesday 19th September 2006
Eweek has this article on the ten programming languages you should learn right now. The (sorted) job availabilities they list for each language are as follows:
- Java: 14,408
- C (and all derivatives): 6,164
- VB.Net: 2,090
- C#: 5,111
- Perl: 4,810
- PHP: 1,152
- AJAX: 1,106
- Python: 811
- Ruby and Ruby on Rails: 210 & 54
Interesting to note that Java still has more than twice the job availabilities of C, the next language in line. Though not a full-time programmer, I can claim to be somewhat competent with 5, 6, 7 and 9, the last one being my favorite and strongest skill. Thanks to this list, I'm inspired to add a couple more languages to this list. Guess I'll probably be learning AJAX and Ruby first. Java/C/C#/VB.Net are just too hardcore for a lowly sysadmin like moi.
I came down with flu on Saturday. It had been a while so I thought it was about time my immune system got some stimulant and a chance to get stronger. Despite people telling me to go to a doctor or take some pills, I don't usually take any medicine when I'm sick and prefer to let nature take its course. Soups and herbs etc. are natural enough so they're ok.
That's just what I discussed with a friend of mine as soon as the first symptoms appeared. It is said that if you take some flu medicine, it takes about seven days to recover from it. Letting it take its course on its own usually takes a week so there you have it. It seems that medicine temporarily holds back the flu, but doesn't give the immune system a chance to fight it off by itself so in the long term, you get weaker as an organism.
I believe that's the case here. Though I was bedridden for most of yesterday and today, I can feel that the worst has passed and I just need to fix the cough to get back on my feet.
Friday 15th September 2006
I first read about it from this recent post on Metroblogging Islamabad, but only believed it after almost getting myself caught on Margalla Road last night. Lately, it has so happened that I'm hardly driving during the day, what with all the heat, traffic and the dreaded speed cameras. Night was the time to escape all these and enjoy a nice, fast ride instead of trying to figure out the least congested (and usually the longest) route or having to crawl behind some guy or gal who doesn't know how to drive.
Now that will change since at least during daytime, the cameras could usually be spotted and avoided from far away. At night, you only see them when it's too late.
Wednesday 13th September 2006
Via BoingBoing: this python swallowed a pregnant sheep and then couldn't move off the road.
More info here together with a mention of these incidents:
In July surgeons were forced to operate on a 4m Burmese python after it inadvertently swallowed a queen-size electric blanket.
Humans also have become victims. In 1972 a python in Burma swallowed an eight-year-old boy.
In October last year, a 3.6m python came off second best in Everglades National Park in Florida. The snake, which tried to swallow a 1.8m alligator whole, exploded, said scientists who found the gory remains."
I'm reminded of another incident while I was in Singapore. Across the border in Malaysia, a man was strangled by a giant python which was in the midst of swallowing him whole when people found and killed it.
Monday 11th September 2006
The restaurant I just mentioned (it doesn't even have a name yet) opened at Gokina a couple of weeks back. I went there late last Saturday with some friends which culminated in an under-10 minute ride (or more like a mad rush) down, a fun, adrenaline-pumping, but very risky manauover, even if you do happen to have a sturdy car with Anti-locking Braking System (ABS) (you know who you are). ;)
The food is pretty good and prices are relatively decent for a quality place such as this. They seem to have stolen my idea and include a number of different naans on the menu. I have yet to find another place in Isb that offers varieties such as garlic naan or cheese naan. Their butter chicken haandi (or stew) is excellent as well. I have yet to try out the other dishes.
The service however, is quite appalling, though it may be too early to say that. There are multiple levels (we counted at least 5 different sections) to the restaurant, sloping downwards and giving the appearance of the deck of a cruise ship. There must be enough seating for a couple of hundred people. Yet despite being somewhat far and difficult to reach from the city, it was jam-packed yesterday. All this before they have even put up a sign board or done any advertising.
We must have waited an hour for someone to come and take our order and when that didn't happen, we just paid for the bottle of mineral water and left. Though we didn't get to enjoy any food or drinks, the view made up for it. The ride down took longer than the last time (I'm a relatively careful driver), but it was still pretty fast and fun enough. There's nothing like overtaking vehicles at blazing speed on a narrow, winding mountain road.
One advice to anyone going up there: bring warm clothes. It gets a little chilly after sunset or when there are clouds around (another awesome experience since sometimes you are actually within the clouds). Though it increases the risks (slippery roads + lightning hazard), I hear Pir Sohawa/Gokina is best experienced during a thunderstorm.
I've been living in Islamabad for over three years and must have gone to Gokina (the spot at the top of the hills, on the way to Pir Sohawa), or to Pir Sohawa itself, dozens of times, but I never (successfully at least) drove there on my own.
My last attempt was a long time ago, only a few weeks after I had gotten the car. At that time, I wasn't aware of the engine's capabilities, had next to zero knowledge in car maintenance, plus had never driven in a hilly area. I didn't even know how far we had to go.
It was pretty close to the top (so I now know) that the engine gave up and I realized that the car had overheated. Let's forget the fact that in those days, I hardly ever checked the radiator (it's done almost daily now), or that I shouldn't have switched the engine off. Yes, I switched it off, right there on the slope, opened the bonnet and slowly started to unscrew the cap. You can imagine what happened next.
An eruption of steam and boiling water flung the cap high into the air and threw me a few feet away, though thankfully, without the slightest injury. Upon the advice of a passerby, I kept the engine running for a while and waited for it to cool down a little. Then turned around as soon as the car was able to and back down I went, thinking I'll never take this risk again.
That was 2004 (not a good year for my driving). Forward to 10th September 2006, a Sunday where me, my sister and Ali were contemplating on going to F-9 park to pass time when on an impulse, I turned the car towards the Pir Sohawa road and up we went. That's the beauty of Islamabad. A 10-20 minute drive (depending on how much you value your life) brings you to the top of the world.
We got up to the top without any issues and the car handled it pretty well. It was one of the most fun drives of my life and that, plus the excellent view and atmosphere at the newly opened restaurant at the top, made it well worth the effort.
Sunday 10th September 2006
Went to watch "Dally in the Dark" last night at the Islamabad Club, a play by Shah Sharabeel who has also done a number of other plays recently, like Moulin Rouge, You Only Marry Twice etc. (none of which I got to see). I gathered from Dee that it wasn't the best or the funniest of his plays, but I still enjoyed it.
The play used a concept of reverse lighting, i.e. we saw everything during blackouts within the storyline, while it went pitch black for us when there was light. Though we were told to switch off our cell phones and any light sources to get the full effect of the darkness, the irritating little girl next to me was wearing a glow in the dark wristband which spoiled the "total darkness" for me.
The accents of the characters interested me a lot. Most of them were quite accurate imitations of snobbish, posh English, but one of the characters' attempt at a German/Russian accent didn't go too well. The hot maid, a.k.a Clea (damn, she was hot), kept switching between what seemed to be Jamaican and Indian accents as well as a third which I couldn't recognize.
On the whole it was nice. I may go and watch it again and will definitely try to catch the next one.
Thursday 7th September 2006
A friend asked me why I am so busy all the time. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I suffer from a fear of boredom which causes me to seek for things to keep me busy. Just for fun, I tried searching if there was such a thing as a "fear of boredom" and found this page about different Phobias which lists Thaasophobia as one.
I'm surprised there are so many and such strange fears out there. Some, like Thaasophobia, are probably very common, but the others are really bizarre. Some interesting ones:
- Arachibutyrophobia - Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one's mouth
- Bogyphobia - Fear of demons and goblins (duh)
- Francophobia and Gallophobia - Hatred of France and French things (there's more than one word for it? wow)
- Geniophobia - Fear of chins (these are the girls who only date guys with goatees)
- Hagiophobia - Fear of holy objects, holy people, and saints (damn vampires)
- Levophobia - Fear of objects on the left side of the body (I guess these are the people who wear watches on the right wrist)
- Logophobia - Fear of words
- Onomatophobia - Fear of hearing a specific name, word, or phrase (reminds me of "Jahova" in "Life of Brian")
- Parthenophobia - Fear of virgins or young women (unbelievable!)
- Philosophobia - Fear of philosophy or philosophers (if that includes poets, count me in)
- Phobophobia - Fear of fear itself (the title of this post)
- Poinephobia - Fear of many things (there's a word for these people - cowards)
- Politicophobia - Fear or dislike of politicians (that's a common one)
- Sitophobia or Cibophobia - Fear of food (these are the people who die in childhood)
- Theatrophobia - Fear of theaters (is that you Mr. President?)
If I have a fear of work, does that make me eligible to run for president?
Wednesday 6th September 2006
Sad to hear about the death of Steve Irwin, a.k.a Crocodile Hunter, a well-known Aussie who played with his life for the sake of bringing us up close and personal with otherwise deadly animals. I don't think I had even heard of him before I saw the South Park parody, the "Pre-historic Ice Man" episode, where the Crocodile Hunter proclaims, "I'm gonna jam my thumb up its butthole. This should really piss him off.", referring to the croc (and later a snake) in front of him.
More recently, I often watch his croc/venomous snake shows on Animal Planet, though I only saw his Michael Jackson-style, baby dangling antics during the news coverage of his death.
So, the man who so smoothly danced and played with poisonous snakes, crocodiles and other creatures falls victim to the barb of a stingray that pierced his chest. What a way to go. Darwin award anyone?
Tuesday 5th September 2006
Star Movies started showing the "Lost" series sometime late last year. Though I missed the pilot and a number of episodes in between, I'm now hooked onto it. Must have watched eight episodes (each about an hour long) within the last week alone.
I think there's too much suspense than is good for it, but it's enough to keep you glued.
Sunday 3rd September 2006
As you may have heard, Nawab Akbar Bugti, a powerful tribal rebel leader of Balochistan, the biggest and most mineral rich (yet still the poorest) province of Pakistan, was recently killed by the government's security forces. He had been quite a nuisance for the government (and the rest of the country) due to his rebellion (or "struggle for independence", if you prefer to call it that) and repeated attacks on gas pipelines that supply the whole country. Though taking of any life is deplorable and avoidable, many Pakistanis have breathed a sigh of relief after the Nawab's demise. "Good riddance" is the appropriate term, I believe.
The theories presented by Kokaine in the above article are quite interesting. Adding to that, the presence of advanced and expensive equipment in the hands of the insurgence that Bugti commanded point to two possibilities.
1. That the insurgence was being funded by an outside source, as suggested by the article and many other conspiracy theories.
2. That they were purchased through legitimate revenue that the province generates from its immense natural gas, oil and other mineral reserves.
The first scenario turns the whole thing into an act of treason and the insurgence loses any glory it may have held if it was truly justified. There should be no qualms about suppressing it for the better good.
Since Balochistan is claimed to be deprived of all the benefits that the other provinces receive and such a large number of its people live in a state of poverty, the second scenario implies that the issue is one of unequal distribution of wealth and power. If all the money that is spent on training and arming the militias and to acquire sophisticated equipment was instead used to educate the people and develop the region's economy, this imbalance wouldn't exist.
The Gwadar port, which is located within Balochistan, looks destined to become a crown jewel for Pakistan and at the same time, provide a great opportunity for the people of this region to bring themselves into the 21st century. Other projects, such as the planned gas pipeline from Iran to India that will pass through here (if the deal actually materializes), and proper exploration and use of this vast area, will bring unprecedented prosperity, yet the tribal system ensures that only a privileged few reap these benefits.
For the good of the people of Balochistan and the whole country, the current system must be modernized and people like the late Nawab will have to mend their ways or go the way of the Dodo.
Friday 1st September 2006
Solely out of curiosity, I decided to check up on the status of Slackware, my favorite Linux distribution, and see how far it has gotten. Went to the website and was quite disappointed to see the last news item. "Slackware 10.2 is released!", dated 14th September 2005, almost a whole year ago. I wanted to find out if any development is still going on or if the project has frozen altogether so I opened a mirror site and was somewhat relieved to see that the "current" branch was last updated only a day ago.
I'm still disappointed that the default kernel is still 2.4 (makes sense from a stability point of view, but 2.6 has been out for very long now) and Apache is still 1.3 (again, I'm running 2.2 on this server). The good thing is, a lot of other packages (like vim, x11, SeaMonkey) are newer than what is available for Ubuntu.
A search on Distrowatch revealed that release candidate 3 (RC3) for Slackware 11.0 was just released on the 25th August and there have been recent updates. I'm now hoping the final will be out by the time I receive a new laptop (which will be any day now). Sorry Ubuntu fans, but I just don't get the same feel with Ubuntu that Slackware provides. The latter is just more stable and efficient and since all my servers are also running it, having it on my main work system makes sense.