Pakistan, Japan, Linux and lots more
Tuesday 27th February 2007
Telenor customer service
I don't usually tend to get into conflicts and try to solve things peacefully or avoid unnecessary arguments, but there are times when it becomes important to take a stand. Yesterday's lunch hour was one such time.
I was out with a friend when we passed by Telenor's customer service center in Jinnah Super and decided to check out their latest mobile connection packages. Just as we were about to go in, a security guard stepped up with the intention to do a full body search. This made both of us jump back in surprise and was the start of a lengthy argument. The guard was joined by another one and both insisted that they can't let us in without a frisk, even after we asked to talk to the manager about the way they are treating customers.
We were directed to their main office on the other side and went in, hoping that someone responsible would come forward and explain, and maybe even apologize. Just as I finished writing down my particulars in their register, (after explaining our purpose, showing our ID cards and getting visitor passes) I heard my friend's raised voice. Surprise surprise. You need to go through a similar check to talk to the manager. So to complain about this security check, you need to go through the same security check. Brilliant.
Nonetheless, some of their executives came forward upon seeing the commotion and informed us that that's the policy and that they'll continue to abuse their customers in this way. We wished them luck with getting customers and left hoping never to give them any business.
I think it is the indifference of the general populace that is to blame for such demeaning practices to be common, even in large corporations such as Telenor. I think it makes sense to allow such searches in high risk places (crowded mosques are pretty common targets for terrorists these days and it is a step which can save countless lives), but like banks, these companies can easily manage a proper security system. Then why resort to such means?
Saturday 17th February 2007
Linux and Windows naming
I was reading about the next Windows release after Vista, codenamed Windows Vienna, and started thinking about how important naming is when it comes to marketing of any sort. For once, I won't mention the technical superiority or inferiority of any OS and instead, talk about just the naming aspects.
When speaking of Microsoft's operating systems (not counting DOS), it was initially the name "Windows" itself that drove sales and widespread use of Microsoft's operating system. Newer version numbers, such as Windows 2.0 or 3.11, didn't have quite the same impact and it was the substitution of the version with the year that marked the next jump for Microsoft when it released Windows 95.
This trend continued with Windows 98, 2000 and 2003 Server, but now, the focus seems to be on using names to market their products. Names such as XP, Millennium and the recently released Vista. In every case, they had something new and flashy to offer every few years that made ordinary folks feel that they must have it and dole out more money to give to Microsoft.
While Microsoft was out enjoying its increasing wealth and power, Linux and open source were slowly making their way in servers and PCs of hobbyists, places where brand names and flashy titles have little meaning. I would say that one of the major reasons it took so long for Linux to come into the mainstream was its name being associated very early on with underlying technology that nobody could understand. Companies with commercial interests, such as Red Hat and SuSE, preferred to market their own names, rather than that of the OS which advanced with the same boring version numbers that people had been seeing since the DOS era.
Even after the "incorporation" of open source during the last few years, all we got were more version numbers. Granted that most releases of various distributions have had internal codenames (such as Valhalla for Red Hat 7.3, Sarge for Debian 3.1 etc.), but these weren't used for marketing purposes and neither were they suitable for this. It may also be argued that the different distributions could be construed as different models of Linux, but it really isn't the same thing.
It is only very recently that things have started to look up with distributions such as Ubuntu using distro names (such as Hoary, Dapper etc.) more openly, but even these don't seem very catchy or attractive to the end-user. The upcoming Ubuntu Studio, a multimedia creation derivative of Linux, may be a good start.
With Microsoft coming out with a new OS every couple of years and having a flashy name for it, Linux distributions face quite a challenge if they continue to use plain old version numbers or obscure and difficult names. The impact of a major change is attributed largely to how you market the change and the name plays a vital part in this. I think its time that this was done for Linux and more efforts were put into coming up with names that would attract the average user.
Thursday 15th February 2007
Valentines Day in Islamabad
Though initially frowned upon as a Western concept and anti-Islamic, Valentine's Day has become a full-blown celebration in Pakistan. When any culture adopts a foreign custom or celebration, there are bound to be changes to it and the origin for its practice is often lost. I witnessed this with many Western customs in Japan, such as Halloween or Christmas, and the same is true for Pakistan, though Valentine's Day is usually just considered an excuse to share gifts and celebrate with the significant other.
I was quite surprised with the preparations, sales and the crowds that were all geared towards this event. The whole of Islamabad's Jinnah Super Market seemed to be celebrating it in full swing. The Illusions gift and CD/DVD store shown above had changed the whole theme of the store to that of red hearts. The store's lighting was a shade of pink and giant hearts dotted the floor outside. Most restaurants and bookstores had also made similar adjustments to their look and feel.
Baloon vendors have also caught on and could be seen carrying the distinct heart-shaped bunches of them the whole day. The one above was probably on his last run for the day. The person in the next photo may have been waiting for his date while having his photo taken next to the specially decorated car.
Though I have nothing about celebrating such events, they shouldn't come at the cost of local and religious customs. The mournful month of Muharram, for example, has not passed yet and at least some thought should be given to it, whatever school of thought one follows. It is ironic that while even the staunchly religious have come to develop some level of tolerance for events like new year's eve or Valentine's day, Muharram is still considered something limited to the Shia community and even despised by a few.
It is also disappointing to see a lack of intellectual activities and tho whole focus being on partying and hedonistic behaviour. Why aren't there any science fairs or days dedicated to conservation? Where are the debates and exhibitions on the future of mankind as a whole? When can we expect to see the adoption of the truly positive things that the West has to offer?
Monday 12th February 2007
Double Wires game
Double Wires is a flash game where you try to hang on with the wires (or webs) hanging from your hands. Simple, but fun.
Saturday 10th February 2007
Gmail for all
I was going to post about how difficult it is getting to filter spam, but since Google does such a good job of it, I'll post about their mail service. Gmail, which until now could only be used after an invitation from an existing user, is now available for open registration.
If you remember, it was Google that made the jump to providing very large mailboxes for free. What started off with an offering of a whopping 1GB of mail space, has now gone up to more than 2.81GB (and increasing, if you look at the login page). This much space is still uncommon even for companies that host their own mail setups (we have upgraded to 100MB quotas from the previous 10MB).
Here I should mention hasanshabbir.com, which belongs to Hasan, a friend of my cousin who runs his own mailing list. It has some controversial though interesting threads that include a lot of pictures and forwarded documents that would otherwise fill my mailbox really fast. It's because of these being sent to my Gmail address that I can stay subscribed and keep some of the more interesting posts.
Now that it is open to all, Gmail should pose a serious threat to both Yahoo Mail and Hotmail who are still struggling to provide the same features and integration that Google provides with its services.Link
Friday 9th February 2007
Google the next Microsoft?
Business Week is running an article, titled Google Steps Into Microsoft's Office, about Google turning their Google Apps service into a full-fledged office suite, a paid web service. They also have clients, such as Pixar and Disney, who are prepared to ditch Microsoft and move to this more flexible platform.
This news complements an article I saw in a local magazine about a Google OS that may appear in the near future. Maybe as early as 2008. Judging from this, Google has the highest chance of toppling Microsoft from its current position, although considering everything that Google has done so far, this would be substituting one monopoly for another. Evil or no evil.
Steps like this one would initially be quite positive for the end user, giving them more choices and creating healthy competition among the big players. Plus, until now, Google has largely stuck to it's "Do no evil" motto. But what happens when it's the largest kid on the block with the power to do whatever it wants? Will it still stay "good" or will it fall victim to the same afflictions that brought Microsoft to its current state?
There is also another thing to consider here. With big companies like Google grabbing the top talent and acquiring any enterprise with some value to it, one has to wonder what the future will be like. Will there be one huge corporation governing everything or will there still be room for the next Google or Yahoo to flourish? Maybe the days of coming up with a new and unique idea and building your very own company around it are long gone.
Wednesday 7th February 2007
Attack at the Islamabad airport
Got news of another attack, this time at the main Islamabad airport, a couple of hours ago. I can't find anything to say except that the security forces must be given credit for thwarting this and so many other attacks the past few weeks. It is they who have suffered the most losses while saving potentially dozens, or even hundreds, of civilian lives.
Thursday 1st February 2007
Wordpress proxy beta
Considering that a number of people, including myself, have had trouble accessing Wordpress.com blogs off late, I have setup an anonymous Wordpress proxy to alleviate the suffering of those restricted by such repressive and redundant policies.
It is still in beta and I would like to get as much feedback as possible so that any missing features or bugs can be handled. All you have to do is go to http://www.wordpressproxy.com and enter the name of the blog you would like to view. Currently, it can only be used to open Wordpress.com blogs and is restricted to the wordpress.com domain (I wouldn't want it to become so popular that it is rendered unusable due to the load), but I'll expand it depending on the traffic and feedback I get. I can also consider setting up another blogspot proxy (and maybe even a full anonymous proxy), when this is successful.