Pakistan, Japan, Linux and lots more
Saturday 27th January 2007
Another blast in Peshawar
There's been another blast at a Shia mosque in Peshawar, killing upto 10 policemen, including at least one senior official. Though there may be doubts about the motive of yesterday's suicide bombing, this was definitely a sectarian attack.
Today was the 7th of Muharram, a day when the mourning intensifies, reaching the highest point on the 10th (the day of Ashura). There will be a lot of mourners in processions and gatherings during the next few days, making these attractive targets for extremists. I just hope that no such incident happens.
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Google now has a patent search option that allows you to search and view the details of thousands of patents. There are some really interesting ones if you can smoke them out. Could be quite useful for finding new ideas to copy in a country where patent laws don't mean anything. Like our very own Pakistan for example.
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Friday 26th January 2007
Suicide bombing at Marriot
Just got confirmation about a bombing near the side entrance to Marriot Hotel here in Islamabad. It seems that the suicide bomber tried to enter the hotel using the side entrance and blew himself up when stopped by a security person who also perished.
These two are the only confirmed dead at this point, but it is very disturbing considering that things had been quite peaceful for a while now. This could be linked to the current Islamic month of Muharram, a period of mourning and an easy target for extremists. With the day of Ashura, or 10th of Muharram, just a few days away, this seems even more likely. I guess the recent increase in security checks and huge convoys of police cars and army trucks are only a show of the government's power and meant to protect the powerful rather than the common man.
Though I hardly ever went to Marriot before the last such incident a few years back, it has become a popular hangout for coffee or the occasional meal. My friends and I usually gather there late at night, but were there recently for evening tea. Will be thinking twice about it now.
Thursday 25th January 2007
Japanese Only establishments
Found this site, via Boing Boing, about signs outside various places all over Japan that prohibit foreigners or require them to be accompanied by a Japanese. Here is one posted outside an Onsen (or spring bath) in Hokkaido:
Though I didn't experience extreme forms of racism while I was living in Japan, it is still quite rampant. In most cases, foreigners are simply avoided or ignored, but you can be barred from entering places, like those on the above site (and even deported if you're unlucky). I remember a friend telling me how his boss never spoke to him directly despite him being fluent in Japanese.
Here is another sign from the same site that was quite hilarious and must have been posted during the 2002 World Cup, while I was still in Japan:
Tuesday 23rd January 2007
Inflation in the last 6 years
I recently got one of those "info" emails that friends of your friends sometimes forward (this person has sent me over 50 in the past week alone). Some of them are quite informative and interesting so I don't mind them as much and besides, I've learned that trying to educate people about good and safe email etiquettes just results in negativity with most people.
This particular mail had an image, probably taken from an Urdu newspaper or magazine, that had a table showing the increase in prices of various commodities between the years 2000 and 2006. Here is what the table looked like:
|Commodity||Price in 2000||Price in 2006||Increase|
|Gold (10 grams)||Rs. 5,371.08||Rs. 12,500||232.7%|
|Petrol (per litre)||Rs. 32.50||Rs. 57.70||77.5%|
|Flour (20 kg)||Rs. 181.44||Rs. 262||44.4%|
|Sugar||Rs. 22.68||Rs. 32||41.1%|
|Hydrogenated Oil||Rs. 48.92||Rs. 74||51.3%|
|Lamb||Rs. 104.92||Rs. 260||147.8%|
|Beef||Rs. 52.38||Rs. 140||167.3%|
|Kerosene Oil||Rs. 16.50||Rs. 35.23||113.5%|
|Potatoes||Rs. 10.07||Rs. 18.20||80.7%|
|Onions||Rs. 10.39||Rs. 40.50||289.8%|
An average increase of 125% over 6 years is quite something, though contrary to what the article stated, salaries and the general quality of life have also increased quite significantly. At least in the private sector, I have seen them double just within the last 2-3 years. All the recent investment, especially in the telecom sector, has to trickle down to the common man eventually.
What is yet to be seen is the increase or decrease between the gap in the high and low income levels. I think a lot still needs to be done in terms of poverty alleviation. It seems that the trend of people moving from rural areas to cities has seen a sharp increase, simply because of better prospects there.
More has to be done, whether it is setting up factories or subsidized farming, to improve the lives of those who live too far from places like Islamabad to benefit from the recent boom. Maybe the spread of telco operations to all these areas will help in bringing them into the 21st Century.
Wednesday 17th January 2007
Steve Jobs commencement address
Just over a year ago, someone forwarded me the text of "Stay hungry, stay foolish", a brilliant speech that Steve Jobs gave at a Stanford commencement.
While searching for videos of the recent Macworld keynote address that announced Apple's iPhone, I stumbled upon the video of the speech. You should really check it out if you haven't already:
I think this, together with the other videos I saw, was the first time I actually heard Steve Jobs speak. He may not be the best presenter, but I liked how relaxed and comfortable he is whether the topic is the future of Apple, his competitors or his life.
Tuesday 16th January 2007
Apathetic society or a lucrative trade?
Begging is a topic that often crops up in everyday conversations and I think this is the first time I have seen it in the blogging world. Darwaish posted a story about begging, titled Living in an Indifferent Soceity, in which he states how heartless our society has become when it comes to these individuals. I beg to differ.
First, a little background. In virtually all areas of any large city in Pakistan, you're likely to come across a stream of adult or child beggars. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some simply knock on car windows and ask for money. Some always carry goods to sell, but end up begging for a larger amount once they have your attention. Others try to gain sympathy after showing their festering wounds, burns or amputated limbs. Yet others use all the tricks in the book, everything from using religion as a tool to appealing to your moral values, just to get you to pony up your earnings.
When I first arrived here, these encounters would really touch my heart and I would try to help them whichever way I could, but it didn't take long for me to lose faith in doing something that only benefits the begging mafia or the common trickster. I have come to realize that it is almost never a genuine case of need and desperation. The real needy couldn't beg even if they overcame the initial shame, for the already established begging gangs wouldn't allow it. Else, they themselves would be lured into the lucrative business of professional begging once their initial need was met.
Too many times, I have seen disabled children make a quick getaway when their perfectly healthy, hidden limbs are exposed. Too many times, I have actually talked to these adults and children and found their excuse for begging to be just another ploy to rob you of your hard-earned cash. I have also seen perfectly normal and well-off people in the disguise of a genuinely desperate and homeless beggar. There is a seemingly dumb woman that roams around Islamabad's F7 area whose bandaged, amputated arm still carries fresh "blood", just like it has for the last couple of years. You see the same group of people begging at the same point everyday.
I remember an incident from roughly 10 years ago while I was working day and night just to make enough to cover the travel expenses. I left the office around sunset and encountered an old woman in rags on the steps of the building. She asked for my help in counting and sorting whatever she had earned begging that day and to my disbelief, the day's total came out to be quite a handsome figure for that time.
If these really were needy, homeless people, they wouldn't suddenly disappear during the holidays. It is quite impossible to find the usual hordes after festivals such as Eid or national holidays. If I was unfortunate enough to be dependent on mere pittance, a few days off would definitely spell my end, but not for these people.
On the other hand, the real needy never pester you for money or play any tricks to get what they need. These are the people who sell newspapers to stopped cars wearing nothing but a single shirt in freezing weather. These are the people who refuse "pittance" and accept only what is due for their product or service. These are the people who slave away in the homes of the rich and wealthy and truly deserve the "charity" that is wasted elsewhere.
So are all beggars "fakes"? No, there are definitely a number of them, usually children, who have been kidnapped and had their limbs cut off or wounds inflicted. Quite a few are forced into this trade by the gangs running these rackets yet their ties with the authorities or the underworld prevent any large-scale action against them. According to an article I read sometime back, the government has made quite an effort at rehabilitating these people, only to have them escape back into the "easy" and high-paying profession of begging.
What can we, the supposed indifferent society, do to solve this problem? Especially the inhuman and totally unacceptable practice of amputating, burning or forcing people into a life of misery and bondage? Quite the opposite of throwing more money at those you pity. Why does this practise continue to flourish? It's a simple matter of economics. As long as people continue to give, the gangs will have all the more reason to recruit and enslave more people to increase their profits. The freelance children will see it as a lucrative means of earning ready cash and it will become their lifelong career. It is only when this line of profession becomes unprofitable, combined with better law enforcement, that we can truly be rid of this evil.
Monday 15th January 2007
Giant bunnies for breakfast
According to this article from Spiegel Online, a German rabbit breeder is in talks with North Korea about supplying giant bunnies to feed the North Koreans. Apparently, each of these monster rabbits is big, about the size of a dog, and can feed upto 12 people.
I always thought rabbits weren't the most efficient animal to breed. Didn't they cause vast amounts of damage to crops and wildlife in Australia? Maybe the Aussies weren't eating them. Excessive consumption of rabbit meat can also cause a condition known as "rabbit starvation", besides being impermissible for Muslims (I guess the Koreans have no worries about that).
Sunday 14th January 2007
Web design is one of those things that I can easily get addicted to and I've been playing with it a lot recently. Just like I used to at the start of my career in the Internet business.
It was many years ago, soon after I started blogging, that Stuart shared a nice technique with me on how an "RSS" image button can be replaced with simple HTML and CSS. This was a more flexible and bandwidth-saving approach than creating an image everytime a change was required.
During recent experiments with CSS and scripting, I realized that there is much more potential in this method than just an orange link on your site. So why not create an online resource for all these experiments and share it with everyone? This is just what I've done.
Some of the stuff I've come up with:
On top of all this, I was inspired by this image button maker by Adam Kalsey to create one for CSS. The CSS button maker allows you to generate code for the type of button you want, with the parameters you require. I'll expand it further later on so that the size and other aspects may be also controlled.
I hope anyone with a webpage finds the site useful and interesting. Let me know what you think.
Wednesday 10th January 2007
It seems that this year, Apple really has lived upto its reputation as a leader in innovation and Steve Jobs has done it again. Though I'm having trouble finding the video of the keynote speech (will look for it on YouTube), Mac Rumors had these pictures of the iPhone.
It looks much cooler than any mobile I have owned or have considered owning and the new user interface is something I'd love to try out. Though the iMate K-Jam probably does a lot of what iPhone does, the latter looks so much slicker and cooler. $499 (for the 4GB version) isn't cheap though and I'll probably have to both wait for it to reach these shores and also for the price to come down quite a bit.
I just saw the title of a BBC section on tech blogs that I've been following closely. Tomorrow's World used to be one of my favorite BBC programs on TV in my childhood and these blogs are just as interesting.
Most of the blogs are currently reporting on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that is being held in Las Vegas, as well as the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. The hottest topics are the release of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD storage formats and the keynote addresses by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Living in Pakistan, you lose track of most developments in bleeding edge technology. Though a lot of it eventually arrives here, I miss the days when I would be down in Akihabara every weekend and get a chance to actually try out stuff when it was still hot. It was also nice to have extra cash to spend on new toys.
The proximity and affordability factors aside, I'm not particularly impressed by what has counted as "new" or "revolutionary" technology the past couple of years. Where are the truly automated homes that we always dreamed about? New modes of transportation? Truly free sharing of information? It seems that we still have a long way to go before these become a reality.Read more
Tuesday 9th January 2007
Bad Boys Proxy
A friend has recently released an anonymous proxy that I'm using to access blogspot and wordpress.com blogs. For some reason, he's using the Bad Boys movie theme which is cool, but kinda gimmicky. Doesn't really matter if it does the job (which it does pretty well).http://www.badboysproxy.com/
That gives me an idea .....
Friday 5th January 2007
Fixing a mess of cables
In a recent maintenance activity, one that lasted till dawn, the aim was solely to fix the horrendous mess of cables that had piled up over time at the data center. The mess was so bad that I was expecting to find some distant relative of the Dust Bunny somewhere underneath. Cablator, the evil midget that converts everything it rubs on its bald head into cables.
The operation wasn't as bad as you might think though. Fresh cables were run following a properly defined path and the old ones were simply ripped out and locked away. There were some service disruptions during the few seconds when the old cable was plugged out and the new one was inserted, but these were quite minimal.
Here are the before and after pics of the same network rack:
Ok, maybe the current view doesn't look that impressive by itself. Some of the award-winning networking jobs that I've seen really are very good, but comparing to the before pic, it was a commendable and brave achievement.
Tuesday 2nd January 2007
New Year Mubarak and a Happy Eid
Once again, an Islamic holiday has coincided with a predominantly Western festival, and though most of the Islamic world celebrated Eid three days ago, we in Pakistan did it on New Year's Day.
Due to the recent passing away of my grandmother, my family isn't fully celebrating either event, though at least we're all together at this time. I was also down with a terrible flu the past few days and was bed-ridden, unable to even blog.
Best wishes for 2007 and Eid-ul-Azha to everyone else. May there be more reasons to celebrate this year.