Blog about the Internet, Pakistan and lots more
Thursday 28th June 2007
Crash boom bang
My last major car accident happened about 2 and a half years ago (the truck or its driver were never caught) and since then, I have learned to drive a lot faster, yet more carefully, avoiding even small brushes (though a couple of people with brakes worse than mine have managed to bounce off the bumper a couple of times). But, if you don't go looking for trouble, it can still come to you.
Last week I was in a meeting, with the car parked right outside the building, off the main road, when someone from downstairs called us to ask who the white Margalla belonged to. Turned out that some crazy driver had smashed into it and had then promptly disappeared. When I checked, the car had been hit from behind, moved it's full length forward (despite the handbrake and gears in a non-neutral position) and had just missed hitting the huge power transformer and boundary wall outside the building. The car's bumper and trunk were both smashed in.
There isn't anything you can really do about such a hit and run incident. Nobody saw the perpetrator and even if they did, I doubt they would get involved. Calling the police would mean having your own car impounded as evidence and a number of trips to the station and courts just to get it back.
My only satisfaction was that a small, cheap car would not have survived to do a runner after such a hit. It had to have been a big, expensive one with a low front since the nameplate and lights were unscathed. That should cost the idiot much more than what he/she would have had to pay me.
Sorry, no photos this time. Haven't gotten used to using my phone camera due to its low quality and the work required to touch up the resulting images. Have already sent the car in for a remake and it should be as good as new in a month or so. And whoever you are, I hope the repairs cost you an arm and a leg. If you had just owned up to it, I may have let you off easy. Now prepare to suffer. My curses can be pretty effective.
Wednesday 27th June 2007
7 Habits for Effective Text Editing
Thank you Stuart for sharing. The Seven Habits for Effective Text Editing 2.0 is an informative, 1 hour 20 minute presentation by Bram Moolenaar, the author of Vim which happens to be one of my favorite softwares and what I'm using to write this very post.
I haven't had time to watch the whole thing yet, but from just the first part, I got a few useful tips. Worth a peek, especially for sysadmins and the like who spend a lot of time with code and configuration files.
Monday 25th June 2007
Web based network tools
A couple of times on my blog, I have mentioned a network utilities site that I have been working on. It was briefly mentioned in my IPv6 post and I remember saying something about it earlier, but wasn't getting around to making it live and giving a full intro. It also differs in looks when viewed under different browsers.
So instead of putting it off even more, here it is:
Just creating some of the tools, like the Netmask Calculator, has been a challenge, as well as being informative. Working on something like this really refreshes your memory on how the internals work. I also have to appreciate Python and how fun and powerful it is to code in it. I even implemented an access control mechanism to stop abuse of the service though I hope I don't have to enable it.
These are the tools (or utilities) that I currently have, though will add more later. Most of these have IPv6 support:
- Email address verification
- DNS lookup
- Netmask Calculator
- Ping utility
- Reverse DNS lookup
- TCP Traceroute
The part that I'm really bad at is coming up with a good design. I guess you need to have at least some background in arts as well as a less technical approach to things to create something really beautiful. My sites may validate when it comes to good code, syntax and functionality, but they don't seem to be too appealing to the masses. How do you develop a good aesthetic sense?
Saturday 23rd June 2007
Ubuntu 7.04 and portable usb hard disk
It has been a couple of weeks since I switched to my new hard disk. My previous 80GB drive had run out of space (I have a thousand different ways to consume all available disk space) and I was also getting a little bored with the Ubuntu 6.06 setup I did sometime last year. Unfortunately, with a laptop, adding space isn't as simple as buying another drive and plugging it into an empty bay.
I did the next best thing. Bought a portable 120GB drive and exchanged it with the one inside the laptop. I then installed the latest Ubuntu 7.04 (codenamed Feisty Fawn) and moved my data back from the (now USB portable) 80GB drive. It was also a chance to get all the dust out of my laptop's internals and arrange my partitions more efficiently. Things went exactly as planned and I was surprised to see everything setup just the way I wanted within a couple of hours. No unexpected hardware issues, no problems getting my old mailboxes and settings migrated.
The only glitch happened with my Windows, which I had still kept on a separate partition for certain games and applications that I can't run under Wine on Linux. The mistake was just copying all files to the new vfat partition and hoping that my boot loader will pick it up. Forgot about the boot sector. Not a biggy since I haven't had any compelling requirement to use Windows yet.
So, what about Feisty Fawn? As I said, things went very smoothly, a bit too smoothly maybe and I failed to notice much difference from Dapper. The booting and shutdown sequences are more simpler and look a lot better.
One of the things I was very curious about was the desktop effects feature which is very cool, but as suggested, it really messed with my workspaces so it had to go. The icons are better and a number of packages are newer, but that's about it.
Some of the things that I noticed after extensive use are that packages like Firefox 188.8.131.52 and Gaim 2.0 (beta) are pretty stable and seem to have less issues than their predecessors. The one-click installation of some common plugins, like Flash, actually works in this version of Firefox and it hasn't yet crashed on a Flash-engulfed site like 1.5 used to.
A worthwhile upgrade. Plus, I have an 80GB USB hard disk to manage all my data.
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Thursday 21st June 2007
Telemarketer revenge and privacy protection
I just got off the phone after having a little chat with an "Account Executive" from one of the more sleazy local banks, offering credit cards and other junk that I have no use for. Such calls, and those too to my personal mobile number, have become a bit too common lately and I think it is time we started talking about legal action, or at least some countermeasures against such hideous practices.
I used to get very annoyed and rude with these people and would usually just hang up, but nowadays I find that it is more satisfying to return the favor and it may actually be working. This is roughly how today's conversation went:
- [Telemarketer]: Hello Mr. Sajjad. I would like to ask you a few personal questions
- [Me]: (sternly) Personal questions? Who is this and what kind of personal questions are we talking about?
- [Telemarketer]: Urm.... I'm calling from XXX bank and we're offering credit card serv...
- [Me]: So you're selling something and want my personal information. What was your name again?
- [Telemarketer]: Ur...this is Rashid...
- [Me]: FULL NAME
- [Telemarketer]: Malik Rashid
- [Me]: M A L I K R A S H I D (making sure that he can hear the tapping on the keyboard). Designation?
- [Telemarketer]: Erm.. I'm the account executive (aka stinky weasel). Maybe it isn't the right time...
- [Me]: I'm getting 10 calls from you people every day despite telling you to remove my number from your records
- [Me]: Where exactly did you get my number from?
- [Telemarketer]: Mr. Fayyaz gave it to me together with a few other numbers
- [Me]: What's the number of this Mr. Fayyaz?
- [Telemarketer]: Er...er.. I can't give it to you, it wouldn't be right
- [Me]: Yes, off course. And passing around my number without my consent is just fine. Who's your incharge?
- [Telemarketer]: My manager...Mr. Ali
- [Me]: Get me his number, unless you want me to contact someone higher up.
- [Telemarketer]: No, you can talk to him. His number is 0321-5906898
- [Telemarketer]: I'm sorry Mr. Sajjad, but this is the first time I've called ...
- [Me]: Off course you have. Everyone calls just once
- [Telemarketer]: Please, let me expl....
- [Me]: Thank you
- (I hangup)
Now you might say that it was a bit harsh or that he was just doing his job, but there are decent ways to make money and everyone has a choice. If I let go of all ethics and morals, I'd be filthy rich, but I choose not to follow that path (just imagine the amount of money a person like me could earn spamming, peddling pr0n or getting juicy kickbacks).
The worst part is that if you actually apply to one of these banks for a loan or whatever, they'll take your particulars, documents, soul and what not and simply disappear. I must have filled in a dozen applications because the previous ones were either lost, had to be changed or the person handling the case had mysteriously resigned. To top it off, I still kept getting fresh calls from their awesome telemarketing department while this was happening.
On the bright side, I have virtually stopped getting calls from a certain other, internationally well-known bank with a penchant for hiring the least mannered scum of the earth. It took dozens of calls that were sometimes even harsher than the one above, but I guess it finally paid off.
One of the greatest bothers is that a mobile number isn't treated as a private thing here. People pass it around like a newspaper and it is written on everything from your official name card to corporate ads in the media. No wonder everyone expects to receive 24/7 support here and may call you at anytime, as they will, for the slightest issue.
Other countries have policies in place to protect their nationals against such nuisances (like do-not-call lists and company policies), but all this is badly lacking here. I've also noticed an increase in Pakistani spam and it seems that nothing is being done about it at the national level.
Anybody want to join in and do something about this? How about not supporting or promoting these forms of advertising? Or doing more to have consumer rights recognized.
I can't wait to receive the next call from the poor sod whose life I may succeed in saving.
Tuesday 19th June 2007
Blog of Majed Jahandad
One of my closest friends has finally been convinced to start his own blog. Another friend got the domain and Wordpress setup which was enough to get him started. Check it out here:http://www.majedjahandad.com/
If only people had listened to me 3-4 years ago. :) Though becoming a seasoned blogger requires quite a bit of time and effort, some of the posts here are interesting. Good luck Majed and may more people be convinced to join the club.
If anyone else wants to start their own blog, do let me know. Besides my free blogging service, I can have a blog setup for you with your own domain.
Thursday 7th June 2007
Internet Explorer in Ubuntu
I should be making sure that my websites have pretty much the same look and feel across different browsers and platforms, yet am reluctant to do so. Despite the fact that web design is now a mature discipline and a number of "standards" are now defined regarding HTML and CSS, each major browser behaves differently when it comes to handling these simple chunks of plain text.
Since I hardly ever use Windows, any website layouts that I design (or re-design to be more accurate) rarely get tested on Internet Explorer or Firefox for Windows. The silly thing is that even Firefox behaves slightly differently on different operating systems so my sites are missing out on quite a lot. It is only when someone complains or I happen to open any of my sites on Windows that I realize how ugly certain elements seem.
As an example, the menu bar you see at the top of this blog was developed to be translucent with the background image showing through. It looks quite nice under Firefox on Linux (as the above screenshot shows), but shows up as an unattractive black and white under Internet Explorer 6, as shown below. The fonts also aren't what I wanted them to look like.
You may also have noticed a number of websites that refuse to open in any browser other than IE6. This is especially true for web-based tools designed for use within an enterprise. One of our customers has their own global ticketing system which requires us to report and update any downtimes that are faced. Yes, you guessed it, it requires you to have IE6 and there seemed to be no way around it, other than to find a Windows system or assign the task to someone with a Windows system.
Now, I have changed the black and white to more subtle colors so the menu doesn't have the same striking feel under IE. I can also just fire up IE when any non-standards compliant website is encountered. All this thanks to being able to run different browsers in my beloved Ubuntu Linux.
I once heard about someone who managed to run IE under Linux using Wine, but I didn't have any luck with it myself until I found the IEs4Linux site. I downloaded the script from there which did a fresh Internet install of IE using Wine and I had both IE6 and IE5.5 running in not more than 10 minutes. It seems to have exactly the same look and feel as if it was running on Windows and on top of that, you can run multiple versions at once. I can now open the same page on Firefox, Opera, IE5.0, IE5.5 and IE6, all at the same time. Quite wonderful.