Pakistan, Japan, Linux and lots more

Tuesday 27th March 2007

Mobile phone number portability

Mobile Pakistan

As of yesterday, you are no longer restricted to the service provider that your cell phone's prefix belongs to. Number portability is here and you may continue to use that same number you've had for years with any service provider. There is an interesting FAQ about number portability over at Djuice.PK Mobile Phone Blog. Worth a read.

I think the biggest company to suffer from this move would be Mobilink, the current giant when it comes to the number of subscribers. Though they have the largest customer base, their services probably can't compare to those from newer providers such as Warid.

A large number of people will probably continue with their current connections since more than the service, it depends largely on what your friends and people in your address book are using. But once a large enough number of these people have moved, we are likely to start seeing even more people switching service providers.

This development has brought up a number of questions in my mind. Such as how will you know what service a person is using? Will there still be an incentive for those using the same service? What will be the default number prefix for service providers? And will we start seeing entirely new number sequences that don't belong to a particular provider?

Whatever the case, things are starting to look bright for the consumer. I hope this competition also hastens the arrival of new mobile technologies, such as 3G.

Posted at 20:16pm PKT  Comments(58) |

Reminder for reading


Though I really love to read, I hardly get enough time for it, which goes double for writing. This post on Confessions of a sophisticated writer served as a reminder that it has been a while since I did any serious reading. The list of 100 books is an interesting one and though I have read only a few, I must have seen a number of movies based on a large number of the rest.

Here is my marking of the 100 books mentioned. I have made an addition of underlining those that I remember having seen picturized. As you can see, my reading record is quite pathetic and I am far behind most people in this area:

*Look at the list of books below.
*Bold the ones you’ve read.
*Italicize the ones you want to read.
*leave same the ones that you aren’t interested in.
*Underline those that you have seen a movie adaption of
*If you are reading this, tag you’re reading it.

  1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
  2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
  5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
  6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
  7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
  8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
  9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
  10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
  11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
  12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
  13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
  14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
  15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
  16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
  17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
  18. The Stand (Stephen King)
  19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
  20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
  21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
  22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
  23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
  24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
  25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
  26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
  27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
  28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
  29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
  30. Tuesdays with Morrie(Mitch Albom)
  31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
  32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
  33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
  34. 1984 (Orwell)
  35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
  36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
  37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
  38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
  39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
  40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
  41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
  42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
  43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
  44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
  45. Bible
  46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
  47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
  48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
  49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
  50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
  51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
  52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
  53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
  54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
  55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
  56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
  57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
  58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
  59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
  61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
  62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
  63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
  64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
  65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
  66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
  68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
  69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
  70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
  71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
  72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
  73. Shogun (James Clavell)
  74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
  75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
  76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
  78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
  79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
  80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
  81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
  82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
  83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
  84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
  85. Emma (Jane Austen)
  86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
  87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
  88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
  89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
  90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
  91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
  92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
  93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
  94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
  95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
  96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
  97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
  98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
  99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
  100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Time to grab some books and force some time out for them.

Posted at 13:14pm PKT  Comments(21) |

Monday 26th March 2007

Another website for anonymous browsing

Web Internet Security

In my quest to design/create/borrow and then run as many sites as I can (both for curiosity's sake and to try to make a difference), I've added another web-based browser or anonymous proxy if you want to call it that. Off course, calling it another ploy to make money from ads would also not be too inaccurate, though that isn't as lucrative as it may seem.

I present to you, the web cruiser, a tool for browsing (or cruising) the Internet anonymously. Like most of my designs, the front page was just something I patched up together and experimented to see what caught my eye. I hope I can be forgiven for my designs being somewhat bad. I admit that this isn't where my strength lies (at least not since I was a kid).

Web cruiser

As for the underlying tech, I have a good idea for a distributed system that I'll implement depending on how successful this one is.

Let the "cruise" begin.

Posted at 12:35pm PKT  Comments(26) |

Sunday 25th March 2007

A slow Pakistan Day


I remember a time when I was a kid who eagerly awaited the month of March whenever in Pakistan. Even before the month started, troops and tanks would start gathering around what is now the sight of the luxurious Centaur hotel and the adjoining shopping mall and they would start practising in the then quiet areas of the capital. A few days before the national day, air force jets would also start practising their tricks above the capital and everyone would be out to catch a glimpse of them.

How things change. Though the 23rd March parade, which features everything from tanks, guns, troops and aircraft to various student organizations and all kinds of artists, didn't materialize for the past few years, it was set to happen this year. But the enthusiasm of everyone seems to have vanished. It was just another boring holiday which most people (including yours truly) loathed. The fancy parade was held within the confines of the sports complex instead of out in the open in front of the presidency. I doubt many people even bothered to see it on the tele.

To sum things up, Pakistanis seem to be more occupied with their lives and have little time or will to bother with such festivities. All the security measures and the terrorist threat have taken their toll as well. Then the recent political crises have greatly reduced the popularity of the government and catching a glimpse of our glorious leaders isn't everyone's priority.

On the positive side, the event was more scaled down and didn't have as much of the national budget thrown at it as compared to times past. And off course there should be no restraint in awarding medals and honors to those who truly deserve them. Maybe they should consider holding more constructive events on such occasions to involve all of us who are increasingly finding such times devoid of anything positive.

Oh and Happy belated National Day.

Posted at 03:15am PKT  Comments(13) |

Friday 23rd March 2007

Care for a hairburn?


Via BoingBoing, here's a barber who uses fire to style his customers' hair:

Wonder how he ensures that they're not using flammable hairgel.

Posted at 01:43am PKT  Comments(2) |

Friday 16th March 2007

Law of the land


The streets of Islamabad are very quiet for a Friday night. The shoppers, eaters and those simply enjoying the start of the weekend are not even half the normal crowd. It all seems to be the result of today's events.

Protesters were out in full swing and this time it was more than the usual Mullas angry about some insignificant event somewhere far away. This time, the cause was much closer to home and everyone who had a quarrel with the government, including the Mullas, exploited it to the fullest.

It has been about a week since the President suspended the Chief Justice and today was his second appearance before a tribunal to face the charges brought against him. Maybe the CJ did misuse his powers and maybe he didn't. But the way things were done has really put the government in the firing line and it appears that this time, the result will not be a very good one for it.

To make matters worse, security forces were shown breaking into the offices of Geo TV, the country's top private news channel. It is rumoured that the forces were trying to rescue one of their comrades who had been taken inside and beaten by protesters, but it isn't what the witnesses and the video clip say and Geo is using this to show what freedom of the press really is in this country.

The whole thing may have been overblown, but it just goes to show how badly the present government is handling the situation. Though the President has said that he will accept the decision of the Supreme Court, it is unlikely any of his critics will and things may deteriorate even further.

BBC's coverage here.

Posted at 23:55pm PKT  Comments(4) |

Communications blackout or coincidence


We just recovered (partially) from an hour long outage of all mobile and Internet connectivity. Connectivity and redundancy of networks is much better now compared to roughly two years ago when we faced a 2 week outage of international connectivity when the SMW3 fiber cable was cut, the sole Internet carrier at that time. Now there are a number of alternatives available, but what are the chances of all going down at once and all across the country?

I wonder if this could have anything to do with today's scheduled court hearing of the sacked Chief Justice and the countrywide protests that are taking place. Things are really heating up and the government seems to be on a roll when it comes to making blunders. What good can come out of making these silly mistakes and still claiming to be free, open and democratic is anybody's guess.

I had been a big fan of the prez in the khakis, but things don't look too good anymore.

Posted at 13:25pm PKT  Comments(33) |

Sunday 4th March 2007

Comment spam solution

Blogging Security

Ever since my last post about the subject, I have managed to reduce comment spam on this blog by a significant margin. There were a number of methods that I applied and I will attempt to explain them here, though I won't go into so much detail that it can be used to circumvent these mesaures.

First of all, I disabled links back to the commenter's website. That is unless it is a registered site that I have already approved. A number of spammers and abusers were using this to point back to their sites which were either spam or phishing sites or contained malicious code for various uses.

Secondly, I removed the motivation for putting up comment spam by removing the link code on all posts (except those by registered users). This can easily be done in Python through either the sgmllib module or the re module's "sub" method. Once you remove the link code, all that will be posted is the URL itself without being an active link. Since this is not the aim of comment spammers, it can act as an effective deterrent.

Another method that I implemented was to count the number of links in the post and have the whole post discarded in case it contains a high proportion of links. This is checked before the link code is removed, as described above. I still get a notification of these posts, but so far there has not been a single false positive. This has made it much simpler to handle the spam. I can just discard all comments marked as comment spam.

Something that would be relatively difficult to implement with most other blogging software is changing the form input "names" on the comment form on a periodic basis. This stops spammers from "learning" how your comment system works and using automated tools to directly POST comments. This method helped me cut down on a huge amount of comment spam the last time I changed the values.

I must admit that all this hasn't stopped spam completely, but it has helped a lot. Some other methods that could be used include the use of picture verification codes, using Bayesian algorithms to identify spam and implementing an approval system (using Mailman maybe?). Anyway, I'll leave those for another day and when I have enough time to work on them.

Posted at 15:34pm PKT  Comments(361) |

Friday 2nd March 2007

Worlds 2nd tallest building planned for Karachi


I just read this post on All Things Pakistan about plans for a 1947 feet building in Karachi. 1947 was the year of independence for Pakistan and holds a lot of significance, but 1947 feet (or 593 meters) seems like an unrealistic and overambitious target for a country with some serious problems. It's economy has only recently stabilized and still has a long way to go, terrorism is becoming a major threat and poverty is still rampant.

For comparison, 1,947 feet is taller than all current buildings in the world, including Taipei 101 (1,671 feet/508 meters including spire) and the Sears Tower (1,729 feet/527 meters including spire). It is also taller than those under construction with the exception of Burj Dubai whose actual height is yet to be disclosed, but will likely be above 2,600 feet.

Though ambitious projects such as this Karachi project and the Centaurus in Islamabad do represent lots of optimism and maybe some vision, they seem more like pipe dreams. It may be prudent to concentrate on building up a strong economy and tackling the menaces of terrorism, sectarian violence and human rights abuses before embarking on such feats.

Posted at 18:01pm PKT  Comments(17) |

Thursday 1st March 2007

Linux multiplayer gaming

Entertainment Linux

The past year or so must have been the longest I have gone without gaming (simple flash or card games once in a while don't count). I'm into both first-person shooter and strategy games, but it has been a while now. I hardly ever use my desktop PC which has a pretty decent graphics card (even by today's standards) and enough power to run the games without issues and although the laptop is better powered in other areas, there was this apprehension that it won't be suitable for gaming.

I resubscribed to Transgaming recently and got the latest version of Cedega which allows you to run Windows games under Linux through a sort of emulation. I also made sure they didn't double charge me like last time, but when it came to trying out some of the latest games, I couldn't find any decent ones.

Counter Strike is a pretty old game now, but it's still loads of fun and one of the few games that will run on everyone's laptop, including the lowly Pentium IIIs. We have even setup teams for it within the office and it is running very well on my laptop (Pentium M 1600MHz, 512MB RAM). By this time, there may even be a Linux client for it, but I haven't seen any so Cedega it is.

At first I tried playing using the laptop's pointing device, but that was quite unbearable (though Riz seems to be quite effective with it). Then I tried my Logitech trackball which is excellent where accuracy is required (sniping for example), but not very good for assault. Now I've dug up an optical Logitech mouse that I had at home which is working out nicely.

My other favorite, Warcraft III, is supposed to work very well since it is well-tested and fully supported by Transgaming, but for some odd reason, it is too slow to be playable. I'll have to try harder to solve this issue. Other games on my "toplay" list include Half Life 2, Oblivion and some car or bike racing game. And multiplayer gaming can't be complete without Quake III.

Posted at 23:48pm PKT  Comments(38) |

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