Sunday, December 25, 2011

Trying to Buy a Linux Laptop

So my old lappy is giving up on me bit by bit, and it is clear that I need to invest in a good replacement.

Of course, I am a Linux geek, and I want to avoid the Microsoft Tax and all the garbage of pre-installed software that comes with OEM systems.

The bad news is that finding a Linux computer isn't as easy as it sounds, and sometimes downright disappointing.

Now, lemme first say what I am looking for. I want a bit of processing power, so Intel i3 processor or equivalent is a must. 4 GB of RAM and 320 Gb HD is also a minimum. And I would appreciate a bill less than 600$.

When it comes to the big players, the selection is poor.
HP: We cannot buy those systems online. Huh??? Serious? Or if it does, you are sent to a retailer with no customization possible... so back to windows.
Dell: Underpowered systems... not gonna help me build LibreOffice any time soon.
Acer: their interface make choosing based on OS near to impossible. Man! So clicky clicky click... nope, no FreeDOS or Linux
Toshiba: Same as Acer.
Asus: At least their 'compare' feature is somewhat usable... only to NOT tell me what the OS is half of the time. But since I am comparing product families, I can do some good guesswork. If only they didn't have a gazillion products... And what a bummer... even the eeePC is with windows.
Lenovo: The website makes getting the data easier. But still no luck. And then I found out that they won't sell those directly anymore.
MSI: Meh

Specialty Shops, thanks to LXer and TuxMobil:
Linux Certified: USA stuff, doesn't seem to mention north of the border so much. Oh well.
System76: A bit on the pricey side, but notices Canada off the bat!
The Linux Laptop: Looks US-centric, again. And they are charging me to install Linux on it??? Dude!
Sub300/Sub500: Oh boy is the performance/price ratio plain wrong.
Zareason: Also a bit pricey, and some are out of stock.
EmperorLinux: Super expensive.
SWTechnology: Pricey
ERacks: Even pricier
GamePC: Even pricier... I need a better word here.
Alvio: underpowered
Puget: underpowered
PCsforeveryone: Decent interface. But 49$ for installing Linux? Duuuude! At least they make it simple to choose no OS.
PowerNotebooks: Make No-os easy. It looks like they are starting at i5 processors.
AvaDirect: Interesting starting prices, but underpowered. Decent hardware is expensive.
8Virtues: I like the no-nonsense website.
Alpha PC: underpowered
Think Penguin: I like the obvious jab at Apple in their names. It is attractive, but cranking it up to spec really hurts fast.

The leading contenders are, in my sense, System76, Zareason, PCsforeveryone. They are all above 600$, whereas my local store will send me Windows-infected hardware below that.

So I got myself a Gateway laptop for much below my price target and now I'll fight for a Windows refund

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Catching Back on North American Movie Pop Culture

So I am married with an Indian lady, and almost nothing that is my pop culture is in hers. How can we catch up? With a lot of movies, of course!

Here is a variant on the classical top 100, as I don't want the very scary stuff.

Feel free to suggest some in the comments.

Some classics:
Braveheart ✓
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark ✓
The Matrix (1 only!) ✓
Apollo 13 ✓
Star Wars 4 ✓ -5-6
Star Trek
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Leon the Professional ✓
One Elvis movie
2001: A Space Odyssey
Apocalypse Now
Blade Runner ✓
Citizen Kane
3 Stooges ✓
Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times
The Godfather
The Good, the bad, the ugly
Groundhog Day
Its a wonderful life
Lawrence of Arabia
Rocky 1
Saving Private Ryan
Schindler's List
Terminator 2
Wizard of Oz
Robin Hood
Mrs. Doubtfire

Children Movies
Snow White and the 7 Dwarves
Sleeping Beauty
101 Dalmatians
Lion King ✓
Finding Nemo
Toy Story
Alice in Wonderland
Beauty and the Beast
The little mermaid
Monsters, Inc
Peter Pan
Winnie the Poo
Jungle Book
The Incredibles
Hunchback of Notre Dame
Lilo & Stitch
Home Alone series
The Iron Giant

Some less classic
The Book of Eli ✓
House of Sand and Fog
All the Narnia movies
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Die Hard
Dr. Strangelove
Monty Python's movies
When Harry Met Sally
Inception ✓

Some Manga
Howl's moving castle
Castle in the Sky ✓

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Joys of the Passport Office

This is an old story. As you know, the matter is resolved now... But it gives an idea about how hard it can be for the common people of India to deal with the government.

And this one story is about the 'simple' matter of getting a passport.


Lagaan is an interesting mix of cricket and Indian nationalism in a single movie. Of course, with the mandatory love triangle :)

As with every Aamir Khan movie I saw so far, I greatly enjoyed it.

The story happens in the 19th century, at the time of the East India Company. The British are, as usually depicted in Indian cinema, abusing their power and cashing in big time. The story is about 'lagaan', an agricultural tax that gets doubled that year because the local Raja has begged the British commander to broker some treaty allowing his people to access a temple.

Of course, the people are not happy about that, especially since there is no rain that year.

The British commander is a prideful guy, and he decides to gamble a bit: he'll waive 3 year's worth of Lagaan if the local villagers can beat his team in cricket, but will make them pay the triple tax if they loose. And the villagers take the gamble.

The rest of the movie is about them trying to make sense of a game that has layers and layers of complexity built into it, trying to convince others to support them, etc.

Of course, there is a love triangle... one British lady falls 'in love' with the hero, who is himself about to get married to a village girl.

The dialogues are in pure Hindi, which means that even native speakers can hear words that won't sound familiar to them.

The storytelling weaves many threads together very nicely, and I enjoyed seeing an actual scenario after a few a-dime-a-dozen Indian movies lately.

Watch it, it is a must!


Singham is one of those typical 'hero-style' Indian movies.
If you want to have a taste of it without paying, it is legally available on Youtube.

The plot is simple: an incorruptible village police inspector is transfered to Margao, Goa, after crossing a well-connected criminal.

Said criminal is trying to make him breakdown, and his police work is interfered by his superiors, who are in the criminal's pocket.

In short, it shows the kind of immunity that people can get through corruption.

Oh, and it struck me as 'Telugu people won't leave me alone', since two major actors are Telugu movie actors ;)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bible Talk on Integrity

I've been asked to take care of the Bible talk recently and I was scratching my head to find a good topic. The Bible is full of them, but what is it that the people in my group need?

Someone suggested integrity and I liked the idea. If something needs a bit of a reminding, that would be it. It may not be as 'in your face' as sexual sin and materialism, but certainly something that we need to talk about.

So here goes...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bible Talk on Fear

Here are some notes of the last Bible Talk I did on campus

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How to NOT Ask for Help in Open Source

Here is a slightly edited extract of the IRC chat I saw today. WARNING: coarse language ahead.

In case you don't want to read the whole thing:
  1. User barges in the dev channel and asks for a full-blown feature to be implemented
  2. User does not listen to the devs who give some information to answer the question
  3. User mocks devs who exchange some thoughts related to the implementation of the feature
  4. User complains that the devs who are trying to help are wasting his time, when in fact he is wasting theirs.
  5. User ignores the polite request to calm down
  6. User gets kicked by a senior dev
  1. Being humble really helps
  2. Listening to the answers to your question is really simple and helps a lot
  3. Insulting people isn't helping
  4. Not everything in software can be done easily

(05:17:24 PM) Kicksyourballs: So how can I hack open office to remove the stopping of me embedding my fonts in my documents?
(05:18:19 PM) thorsten: Kicksyourballs: no idea 'bout OOo, but for LibO:
(05:18:42 PM) Kicksyourballs: So how can I hack open office to remove the stopping of me embedding my fonts in my documents? - does any one know HOW to do do it?
(05:19:48 PM) Kicksyourballs: Yeah I have been fighting this fight big time for a long time - I am only intereseted in a solution, or doing what ever it takes to achieve that result.
(05:20:17 PM) thorsten: Kicksyourballs: sounds good - so best not waste time in discussion, but get some code rolled to support it -
(05:21:32 PM) Kicksyourballs: a) I CAN code - and if I apply myself to learning how to do it, I can and will but I'd rather speed the process up by simply finding the part of the coding that says "NO FONT EMBEDDING" and remove / edit / alter it
(05:22:00 PM) Kicksyourballs: And then publically announce the hack.
(05:22:07 PM) thorsten: Kicksyourballs: wrong assumption. it's simply missing - and needs extra code to handle it, at a bunch of places ...
(05:22:40 PM) frob_tea: Kicksyourballs: could you also look for "NO MAKING EVERYTHING GREAT BUTTON" and remove it?
(05:23:26 PM) Kicksyourballs: Yeah well - this info is not exactly publically advertised - "OK so you think us stopping you from embedding your own fonts in your own work sucks - here's how"
(05:23:56 PM) tml_: thorsten: and leaving out half of the glyphs, it would no longer be immoral to embed (if the creator of the font doesn't want you to embed it) ?
(05:24:32 PM) thorsten: tml_: no moral judgement at all involved - it's simply considered permissible by case law it seems
(05:24:43 PM) thorsten: fair use, yadda yadda
(05:25:08 PM) Kicksyourballs: I am am not intertested in arguing the issue, or the pro's and con's or debating it - I want to embed my own fonts in my own documents - and this is how it is going to be:
(05:25:10 PM) tml_: don't some font formats have information in them what one is allowed to do with the font?
(05:25:16 PM) thorsten: tml_: yes
(05:26:03 PM) tml_: Kicksyourballs: screaming "Fuck Ubuntu" doesn't exactly improve your credibility, make us think "this guy must be a good coder"
(05:26:06 PM) thorsten: tml_: still, subsetting is considered acceptable - that's what's used in pdf exports all across the globe, and also MSO ...
(05:26:10 PM) Kicksyourballs: Do the people here expressing opinions actually know how to do it? If you do, share it - if not - don't waste my time.
(05:26:27 PM) tml_: Kicksyourballs: no we don't, we are just kicking your nuts
(05:26:28 PM) frob_tea: Kicksyourballs: it was already shared
(05:26:46 PM) frob_tea: Kicksyourballs: calm down
(05:27:12 PM) Kicksyourballs: Thorsten - I am not interested in what you think - either you have a solution or you don't. If you do, share it - if you don't don't waste my time.
(05:28:03 PM) tml_: Kicksyourballs: maybe you should join that other OOo -based project instead, they are much more friendly
(05:28:36 PM) Kicksyourballs: So this is where the dick heads hang out...... opinions about everything - solutions to nothing.
(05:28:45 PM) Sweetshark: Kicksyourballs: this is the wrong channel. Unless you have a patch.
(05:29:12 PM) thorsten: Kicksyourballs: starts to get inacceptable - behave, or leave.
(05:29:15 PM) Kicksyourballs: - Sure......
(05:29:29 PM) Kicksyourballs: Dumb Fucks.
(05:29:36 PM) tml_: lol
(05:29:48 PM) ***Sweetshark giggles.
(05:29:49 PM) tml_: "fix my bugs, or! I know where you live!"
(05:30:02 PM) Kicksyourballs: LOL
(05:30:29 PM) frob_tea: tml_ "and which school your kids are going!"
(05:30:57 PM) Kicksyourballs: The low IQ one handed typists are such fun... "Oh well I think this, I think that" - "Do you know how to fix it?" No then fuck off.
(05:31:30 PM) Sweetshark: Kicksyourballs: Why dont you join and explain to them how awesome you find their native linux packages?
(05:31:55 PM) Kicksyourballs: Oh Oh I am a Open Orifice developer... I have opinions to everything and solutions to nothing.... I'll hang out here with my other cool buddies.
(05:32:24 PM) Kicksyourballs left the room (Kicked by dtardon (Kicksyourballs)).
(05:32:30 PM) frob_tea: dtardon: thank you
(05:33:23 PM) tml_: you just have to love Open Source enthusiasts
(05:33:28 PM) Sweetshark: dtardon: now that is dry -- not even talking to the troll once.
(05:34:05 PM) dtardon: Sweetshark, i'm not so good at talking ;)
(05:34:31 PM) Sweetshark: dtardon: but your kicking moves are quite hamdsome ;)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Faster LibreOffice Build

How about building LibreOffice faster? So I am giving another post about boosting your LO build speed, starting from scratch.

Short story: system libraries are your friend. Now, it is not super easy to make a build that is using 100% system libraries, but you can go a long way with this, and very easily too.

Reminder: I am doing this from Fedora 15 system with an Icecream cluster.

This is the procedure:
1. Clone the latest repository. If you are behind a firewall, use corkscrew
git clone ssh://

2. Set up build dependencies
sudo yum-builddep libreoffice
sudo yum install icecream
sudo yum install zlib-devel libjpeg-devel poppler-devel sane-backends-devel curl-devel boost-devel cppunit-devel libpng-devel

3. Configure and Icecream
sudo vim /etc/sysconfig/icecream
sudo /etc/init.d/iceccd restart
sudo chkconfig iceccd on
icecc --build-native
mkdir ~/.icecc
mv <whatever icecc generated> ~/.icecc/icecc-env.tar.gz
echo "export ICECC_DEBUG=debug">> ~/.bashrc
echo "export ICECC_VERSION=~/.icecc/icecc-env.tar.gz" >>~/.bashrc

4. Generate make files

./ --enable-icecream --with-gcc-home=/usr/lib/icecc --with-num-cpus=16 --with-max-jobs=16 --enable-symbols--with-system-libs --with-system-headers

5. Build
make; make dev-install

Monday, September 26, 2011

Setting up LibreOffice For Fuzz Testing

I will assume that your VM is properly set up with the CERT BFF :)

Now, you will need to install Java, which you can download from Oracle.
To do so
1. Copy to your virtual machine's shared folder
2. Create the target installation directory, e.g. /usr/java
3. Run the unpacking, e.g. sudo /.../jre-6u26-linux-i586.bin
4. Add to your path: sudo vim /etc/profile and add PATH=$PATH:/usr/java/jre1.6.0_26/bin
5. Source the new setting: source /etc/profile

Then you will need a reasonably recent copy of LibreOffice. For instance, the latest bundle of debs. After you got that
1. Copy to your virtual machine's shared folder
2. Unpack: tar xvfz  LibO_3.4.2_Linux_x86_install-deb_en-US.tar.gz
3. cd  LibO_3.4.2rc3_Linux_x86_install-deb_en-US
4. sudo dpkg -i *.deb
5. Add to your path sudo vim /etc/profile and add PATH=$PATH:PATH=$PATH:/opt/libreoffice3.4/program
6. Source the new setting: source /etc/profile

After you did all that, it is a good idea to power down and take a snapshot of your virtual machine.
Once this is done,
1. Unzip the scripts folder into the directory shared with the virtual machine
2. vim bff.cfg and replace as follows

You should be good to go. Try starting you VM and the fuzz testing should happen automatically

CERT Basic Fuzzing Framework in QEmu

Here is a follow-up post on how to use QEmu to run the BFF from CERT. Since the support for sharing files between host and guest OSes is not always there, I'm suggesting to use another method for that. In this case, I'll just copy the files in the VM.

I assume you already downloaded the files from CERT, so I will not repeat that.

1. Convert to qemu format
qemu-img convert DebianFuzz.vmdk -O qcow2 DebianFuzz-copy.qemu
2. Copy to whichever system will run it
scp DebianFuzz-copy.qemu myvmhost:
3. Login to that host and start the VM with network support and VNC
sudo qemu-system-x86_64 -m 512 ~/DebianFuzz-copy.qemu -vnc :1 -net nic -net tap
4. Connect using Remmina to myvmhost:5901
5. In the, VM connect to the network using DHCP
dhclient eth1
6. Change your apt configuration if needed
7. Install OpenSSH
su -c "apt-get install ssh"
8. Copy the data from your own box
scp -r mydesktop:~/fuzz-shared ~/fuzzing
9. Configure a symlink:
sudo ln -s /mnt/hgfs/fuzz /home/fuzz/fuzzing
10. Restart the VM
sudo shutdown -r now

While this officially runs 'fine', I personally have not been too happy with it. Things are slow, and the results we get are only in a log file. So that means hours of fuzzing and I don't even get a sample to test with!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fear of the Lord

The Fear of the Lord is an unpopular idea. We typically understand that God is all about love, and there shouldn't be any reason to fear, right?

Well, the Bible tells us to have a more balanced view: having both fear and love. How is that possible? Is it Stockholm Syndrome? Read on...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reflexions on the Historical Adam

Whether you like it or not, the false issue of Creation vs. Evolution is the dominant intellectual roadblock on their way to a relationship with God.

So, here is my feeble attempt at helping my brothers and sisters in the faith dealing with our Biblical ancestor, Adam.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Indian Visas

Don't let the Embassies' websites fool you, there are a LOT of visa types one can get in India.

I got this from the "Application for Visa Extension/Return Visa/Multiple Visa Entry/Exit Permission", from FRRO Hyderabad.

The types are: Tourist, Business, Employment, Entry (x), Student, Journalist, Official, Yoga, Diplomatix [not my typo], Medical, PIO, Medical Attendant, Missionary, Research, Provisional Student, Return Visa, Stateless, Others.

You read that well, there is a 'Others' too!
One of the annoying things is that there is almost no documentation online about these visas, and how to get them.

But that begs a question: do we really need all of those? Can we merge Yoga, Medical, Medical Attendant and Entry (x) into Tourist?

Do we really need the Return Visa?
What about the Missionary Visa? After all, a lot of missionaries in India are... Indian citizens!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Monsoon Blues

We had a very weak monsoon rain lately, so it was time for Nature to 'catch up', and it did so insanely this weekend.
One fine morning, at 1AM, some boys rang our bell and told me "Sir, your car is moving".

Looking at the river that replaced my street, I did not venture.

The next morning, it was time for the damage report. Have a look:
Monsoon Vs Car

So, water and mud inside, and some crazy pressure on the suspension/alignment. I got things cleaned up and inspected easily enough, but still!!!

Monsoon is an interesting season. It is when the country gets the water it will run on for the next year. A weak rainfall means that people are going to die of hunger and that prices will go up. Too much rain means floods, and that can be very destructive.

Of course, this creates other disruptions in every life. Electricity will often go down during the rains, and the phone line may take a hit too. Traffic slows down and sometimes stops.
Some people have their houses flooded, and need to spend hours during the night in damage control. This sort of stuff.

If you plan to visit India, avoid this season. Your trip may not be so enjoyable.

Young Earth Theory

One of my friends told me about Hovind's Theory and I thought I couldn't hear something worse. A chunk of ice from space splitting conveniently enough to cover both the poles? You gotta be kidding me! For extra laughs, have a look at the over-simplifications at the Creation Minute.

Anyways, I did a little searching and found what looks like The Ultimate Resource against foolish Young Earth Theory defenders: How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments? by Dave E. Matson.

Now, for my dear brothers and sisters in the faith, I have a little tidbit for you: you can, and you must, believe in evolution.
You can because the Bible doesn't mention a mechanism by which Creation has enabled God's decrees, so it doesn't rule out evolution. And the story of Adam and Even does not have to happen on the 6th day, but more reasonably happens much later, after a chunk of soulless humanity has spread.

And you must believe in evolution because that's the best model put forward by science. Any if one wishes to put aside science, then one must also put aside the benefits of science. So that means turning off that computer, removing those factory-woven garments and hunting for the next meal without a rifle (extra points for doing it with bare hands).

As a sidenote, a better understanding of Genesis is available in a book highly recommended by a (scientist) friend of mine: The Science of God, by Gerald Schroeder.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

BSNL: Disconnecting India

BSNL is a well-known acronym for Bharath Sanchar Nigam Limited, one of the two government phone companies. Think of it as the Bell Canada of yore.

A while back, BSNL/MTNL was the only phone company most of Indians would have access to, and the queue for having a phone connection was pretty long.
After the liberalization, things got competitive, and now BSNL has improved its service dramatically.

That being said, it remains horribly backwards compared to the rest of the industry.

I had my phone connected the same day, and my Internet (ADSL) connection came a few days later. For a while, things were OK. The internet was mostly working, and the noise on the line wasn't too bad, so we were more or less able to use it.

But then came the monsoon season. Every time it rains, the line will be dead for some time. If it is not dead, it will have a lot of noise, so that we can't use it.

The customer service is disappointing, but less than one would expect from a government agency. While you have to go to a customer service centre to get some things done, and that the staff there are less than hardworking, there are some operations you can do by phone and on their portal.

Sadly, even that takes a hit in practice. Sometimes, customer service phone number won't connect. Also, the complaints you register tend not to get resolved in the system, so that you can't register complaints again.

Being very unsatisfied with the service, I thought of not paying the bill. This was very easy, as they didn't send me the bill last month. I didn't think much of that, and saw on the current bill that I didn't pay. They gave me a tiny penalty for late payment and gave me a due date of the end of the month. No problem.
But then, one fine morning, I hear a robo-voice telling me that the phone is disconnected due to non-payment. It is very interesting that the bill tells me I have another 2 weeks to pay and there is no threat of disconnection on it.

The very next day, a technician finally came (after months of constant complaints) and fixed the phone line. Now it is crystal clear and it has survived some pretty nasty rains.

BSNL: seriously? You fix people's phone lines after your disconnect them? Is "sadistic" or "evil" a requirement for employment in your organization?
Anyways, thanks for helping me making the decision I should've done months ago. I am not turning back.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ala Modalaindi

Ala Modalaindi is the first Telugu movie that I saw that doesn't have the exact same story as the other ones.

The story is simple: boy meets girl, feelings start, but then it gets complicated. One is engaged, but breaks up, then the other gets a girlfriend, then breaks up, etc. etc. etc.

I laughed a lot. There is an actual story and the characters make me feel like liking them.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Another review for yet another action-oriented Telugu hero movie.
Varudu is about a nice guy who has an arranged marriage with a girl whom he doesn't know what she looks like.

She gets kidnapped right in the middle of their wedding, right after seeing her for the first time. And the rest of the movie is about getting her back from the bad guy.
The only interesting thing in this movie is learning about the over-the-top pre-marriage rituals for the very rich people around here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Fast(er) LibreOffice Build

So I have finally managed to build LibreOffice from the source. In order to cut a lot of compile time, I have set up a small build cluster. And this is how you would do the same. This is how I think I did it (but I don't guarantee anything... too many intermediary steps). If anything is missing, please let me know in the comments.

sudo yum-builddep libreoffice

sudo yum install icecream

Once you reach that point, set up your Icecream cluster properly. I won't mention steps on the other machines
sudo vim /etc/sysconfig/icecream
sudo /etc/init.d/iceccd restart
sudo chkconfig iceccd on
icecc --build-native
mkdir ~/.icecc
mv <whatever icecc generated> ~/.icecc/
sudo vim ~/.bashrc
  • export ICECC_DEBUG=debug
  • export ICECC_VERSION=/home/<your home folder>/.icecc/icecc-env.tar.gz

Now, you are ready to build
./ --enable-icecream --with-gcc-home=/usr/lib/icecc --with-num-cpus=16 --with-max-jobs=16 --enable-symbols ; make 
Next step: I'm going to find out how to accelerate this build using even more system libraries.

Monday, August 1, 2011

CERT Basic Fuzzing Framework in VirtualBox

So CERT has released an ever-improved version of their Basic Fuzzing Framework (BFF) and you might wanna play with it.
But then, you discover that it is distributed as VMWare image. Maybe you work in a company that would like to avoid spending for a license, or you might be a free software zealot.

So here is how to use it with VirtualBox OSE. I hope I didn't mess up some of those instructions...

1. Install VirtualBox. In Fedora 15, you would enable the RPM Fusion repositories and then run
sudo yum install VirtualBox-OSE
2. After downloading the Debian image from the link above, unzip the file
3. Set up a new virtual machine with the vmdk file you installed
4. Set up a shared folder named fuzz and make it auto-mounting
5. Run the virtual machine
6. Get the VM Guest Additions as follows:
sudo cp VBoxGuestAdditions_4.0.4.iso /usr/lib/virtualbox/VBoxGuestAdditions.iso
7. Mount the additions ISO clicking on Devices > Install Guest Additions and then
sudo mount /dev/cdrom2 /cdrom
cd /cdrom ; ./ ; cd /
sudo umount /cdrom
8. Set up the user to use the Virtual Box group as the default group
sudo usermod -g vboxsf fuzz
9. Add a symlink where the framework expects the shared folder to be installed:
cd /mnt/hgfs; sudo ln -s /media/sf_fuzz fuzz
10. Restart the virtual machine, and you should be ready.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mass Violence in India

With the news of a coordinated terrorist attack in Mumbai this week, I thought of my friends outside India who don't know much about what is going on here. So I am summarizing about the kinds of mass violence we see in the newspapers. By mass violence, I'm talking about multiple homicides from the same origin (either in planning or in execution), and so I'm not including accidental deaths like temple stampedes, derailed trains, and the usual murder case (which happens everywhere on the planet).

I'm only going to give examples of 5 years ago and less. Otherwise, that would be too many links.

#1 Officially State-Operated Mass Violence
This first category is when agents of the State bring violence to the civilians. Recently, the Supreme Court demanded the disbanding of SPOs (Special Police Officers) in Chhattisgarh who were supposed to hunt down Maoist insurgents but did a lot of 'collateral damage'.

The same happens with paramilitary forces of the Central goverment. The first references to come to mind are the Assam Rifles in Manipur. Almost the same situation happens in Jammu-Kashmir, but with a mix of military and paramilitary forces (from memory: the Army, Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force). They are protected by a law that prevents all prosecution against them, unless an authorization is granted by the government - and that never happens.

#2 Unofficially State-Operated Mass Violence
The second category is when the government uses their own private forces to hurt the people. This happened not too long ago in Nandigram, when Communist cadres tagged along with the police and went trigger happy against protesting villagers. Again, there has been no accountability for this.

#3 Inter-communal Mass Violence
This type is often orchestrated by politicians, and it aims to bring one community to unleash destruction to another. In 2007-2008, Christians in Orissa received a nasty Chrismas gift in the form of murders, rapes, burn buildings and dismemberments. Again, there has not been any real punishment for the perpetrators.

#4 Revolutionary Groups-Operated Mass Violence
Insurgent groups typically gain support in the aftermath of #1. The most famous of such group is the Maoists, who are leading an insurgency against the government (and not really winning much). These will typically target the agents of the State and infrastructure like cellphone towers and railway tracks.

#5 Externally-Sponsored Terrorism
This is the one that give diplomats headaches. The acronyms we see normally around those cases are LeT and ISI. The 26/11 Mumbai attacks were one of those. The perpetrators were trained in Pakistan and there are some hints of a backing by the Pakistani government.

#6 Internal Terrorism
There are a few bombs that detonate every year in various cities in India. They are unpredictable. They are typically the work of radical 'muslim' groups. I put that word between quotes because I know enough Muslim friends who will tell me that such terrorists are not Muslims at all

The last three are typically getting the headlines and big budgets are set up to react against them.
My impression is that the first three bring a lot more people to the graveyard than the last three, and that they get conveniently swept under the rug. If anyone knows any hard numbers on these, please let me know!

So now you know why I'm not too preoccupied by the terrorists.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Why I replaced Ubuntu with Fedora

You will remember my fanboy-esque previous post about how Ubuntu Linux just works and now nice it is.

At some point, reality hit me: the Unity interface crashes from time to time (especially when Chrome and SpiderOak are running). Trying to change to the 'classic' interface gave me a bad surprise: the annoying scrollbars introduced in Unity were still there (that behaviour will be changed in version 11.10). This is when I got angry at Canonical/Ubuntu/Shuttleworth for ramming down a choice down my throat. That is when all the criticism I read before clicked in place, and I left the state of denial I was in.
What kind of project abiding to the spirit of free software would force all of its users who want an upgrade to use their half-baked technology simply because a serious competitor (gnome 3) was coming? That's sophistry: no true open source project would do that. So I went to the other popular distribution, Fedora 15, which has very strict policies in place to offer only free software by default.

It makes things a bit less magical. One has, for instance, to search a little bit for the library required to play encrypted DVDs. Also, LibreOffice and flash were not there by default, so there was plenty of packages to install. Being a hardcore geek, I don't mind too much. But Ubuntu's focus on making things easy has produced something I hope that Fedora will imitate soon: an installer that will yield a system that 'just works'.


I am generally a big fan of Aamir Khan, as my friends know. He was the leading actor in so many of the Hindi movies that I enjoyed watching. And he knows how to act reasonably well, unlike so many Bollywood 'heroes'

I recently saw one of this older movies, Mann. I have to admit that, at first glance, it is one more of the typical Bollywood romance movies that involve a boy changing his ways after "falling in love" with a girl in less than a week. The fact that they were both engaged and would decide to put all of that aside is almost standard for a Hindi romantic movie. But they have put a twist in the plot (no spoiler!) that make it more interesting.

Short comment: entertaining romantic movie when you don't want to use your head

Building LibreOffice: What Nightmares are Made Of

It is no secret that I started helping out with fixing bugs in LibreOffice, that fixed-up and overall much improved fork of
Started is a good word. After managing to do one patch, I somehow messed something up and I had to rebuild it all. I started on Monday. By Friday, I still didn't have a working build.
Why? Well, it is about 9 million lines of code meant to be compiled on pretty much every computer that is reasonably recent. The amount of switches on the autogen script is mind-blowing, and it has a mix of C++ with Java and Python. The build tool is coded in perl, and it is being migrated to proper makefiles.
Some of the dependencies are downloaded from the internet and patched as part of the build process.
Etc. etc.
I have been told that the best case scenario, using a icecream cluster and ccache is a 45 minute build.
Every now and then, a module will not build nicely and some manual intervention is required. Or you will run out of disk space (we are talking about 10+ Gb!). Or there is a bug specific to your platform that needs a magical patch not yet committed to git.

That sort of stuff. It is a beast, in the words of leading maintainers.

I also literally had a nightmare about this building process. And I can safely say that I hate C++ more than ever!
I encourage everyone to join and help. But you need to be very very patient!

On the + side, I'm fast becoming friends with the maintainers on IRC. I also learned many things about software builds. I see more than ever how you need to make your software very easy to build if you want contributors. This is why I am a big fan of Buildr, which makes things simple to package, test and release.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Checking the Status of your Icecream cluster without icemon

I started playing with Icecream, a distributed build system for C/C++ projects.
One of the irritating things is that icemon isn't really working (and it is not available in Fedora in the first place).

So, lo and behold, here is a little bit of script-fu to allow you to do the same.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

O Kébek

Someone commissioned a national anthem for Québec, and they came up with this:

Now, it seems like features like "being able to remember it" was not high on the priority list.
I compared with a few other national anthems, and this one would be the longest I saw (assuming we count out La Marseille's chorus).

Compare with O Canada, which has 10 easy-to-remember lines.
La Marseillaise is roughly 50 lines, counting out the chorus
The Star-Spangled Banner is about 30 lines.

And remember that those anthems are often truncated in practice because no average joe will remember it all.

It is a nice poem, I will give it that. But it doesn't have that oomph of a national anthem.

My guess is that Calixa Lavalée is spinning in his grave a lot this week.

Now, let's listen to a real iconic Québecois songs that will do just fine instead.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Royal Bank of Scotland Going Down the Drain

RBS took over ABN Amro in India some time back. They were hoping that the merger with HSBC  India would be approved by the RBI, but that isn't happening any time soon.

Since March, NetBanking was disabled for making payments, and customers had to use their Debit Card instead (sometimes having 2%+ penalty).
Apparently, that option will be closed on 31st May, which means that RBS customers will NOT be able to do any electronic payments at all. There is an exception, of course, for customers with their credit cards. Which is not many people, since they pulled out of that business during the financial crisis.
The justification? Too much phishing.

As a security guy, I am a bit surprised... why not instead implement... ahem... effective security measures? Maybe they could just give a phone call to their HQ in the UK and ask them 'How are you guys doing it?'

Instead, someone somewhere said something like 'Meh, why spend money on protecting our customers? Lets just shut down the whole thing instead.'

This is funny in many ways... the RBI wants to limit how much foreign banks can do in India, in order to protect its own banking sector. Yet, we're seeing a foreign bank having worse offerings than many local banks.

After stopping issuing credit cards in 2009, stopping online transactions in 2011, I think we can predict RBS India to shut down its operations in 2013.


Magadheera is, in many ways, exactly what one would expect from a South Indian hero movie: it has a cheapo romance, two guys fighting over the same girl, random songs unrelated to the story (even one in Switzerland!), and an absolutely insane level of violence.

The idea is that, 400 years ago, the hero, the villain and the heroine all died tragically and their love could not be. So, they all reincarnate in this life to put an end of this 'unfinished business'.
The only hint the hero has about all this is that he will have sparks flying and flashbacks the moment he touches the heroine.

I could talk for a long time about this movie, but I'll just summarize my comments as follows: please turn brain off for ~3 hours. Why? There is a bunch of historical inconsistencies, a lot of deus ex machina moments, and actors that are both South Indians and North Indians in the same movie. You can tell that the focus on skin fairness is going a bit too far when that happens!

Lets try to have some positive: the fight scenes are epic, the images are stunning, and the bad guy is so evil that you can't help but be happy when he dies.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ubuntu 11.04 'Just works'

The latest version of Ubuntu, Natty Narwhal, was released a few days back.

I installed it at home and I have to say that I finally had what I consider a user-friendly installation process that 'just works'. I'll explain the quotes... my lousy MacBook has this problem of just dying unexpectedly, so I haven't had the time to really test it enough to know if the webcam works out of the box.

If you used Linux before, you likely had to do a fair amount of tweaking after you installed, and I'm not talking about the fancy stuff that power users do. Things like installing Flash, MP3 support and the like  needed some decent know-how to get done (think medibuntu and RPM Fusion). So, it failled the 'just works' test.

The latest Ubuntu makes this a whole lot easier. One of the features is to download the 'extra' packages that I mentioned above, while running the installer. Of course, you need to be connected to the Internet for that, but that's not a big problem in the typical use case. So the result is that I had a system that was ready to be used without any tweaking. I just had to open up the Software Centre in order to add a few applications that my wife and I are using often that I can't expect the average user to want (Arista Transcoder? Xiphos?).
Of course, the MP3s are playing right out of the box, and I was able to start some Flash video.
And I didn't have to do any configuration for my printer to work too.

Also, did I mention that it comes by default with useful fonts that make the screen lookable at?

When installing on the Macbook, it automatically detected it and allowed me to brainlessly create a 'sharing' (FAT32) partition between the two OSes.

So, essentially, it was the first painless Linux install in my life (and I'm a power user). I hope that this ease of installation will encourage more people to make the switch and have a (more) liberated life.

Of course, I'm not expecting the most hardcore geeks to like it... VIM doesn't come pre-installed ;)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trip to Kerala

I had the chance to go to Trivandrum for a work-vacation... I went along with my darling and I loved it.

Trivandrum is a nice starting point, but few things are there to see.
Alleypey is overrated. The boat trip is nice, but if time is tight, it can be skipped.
Munnar was the highlight. I wish I had more time to enjoy there.
Kochi looked promising, but time was too short. Oh well.

RBI Arm-Twisting the Indian Banking Sector

One thing I like about India is how the government can really force banks to do the right thing. One example is how they have forced them to disclose the service tax they'll take on FOREX, so that you won't feel randomly cheated on every transaction. There's the raw data:

<= to R 100 000 : Max of 25.75 or 0.103%

R 100 000 to 1 000 000: R 103 + 0.0515% of (X - 100 000)

R more than that: Min of R 566 + 0.103% of (X- 100 000) or R 5150

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Welcome to Dongmakgol

Thanks to Creaking Projectors, I had the chance to see Welcome to Dongmakgol, a beautiful Korean movie.

The story is that soldiers from both North and South Korea (and an American pilot) end up in this super remote village in the middle of the mountains. They somehow put their enmity aside and become one with the villagers in time.

I strongly recommend it!!!

Monday, February 28, 2011


Brindaavanam is a typical action+romantic South Indian movie. The violence is over-the-top, the songs feature quite a bit of the actresses skin, etc. You know, the typical stuff.

What redeems this movie is that the story is interesting... a lady sends her boyfriend to pretend be her friend's boyfriend, so that she can be spared a forced marriage to a bad guy. And to the lies, more lies come and add up, to the point that the situation isn't sustainable.

I'll spare you the ending, but lets just say it isn't encouraging people towards godliness...

Monday, January 31, 2011

BSNL in Almost 48 Hours

In India, the government has a reputation for being slow. BSNL, being the government phone company, is no exception. I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised.

Well, they are still making it hard to get the phone line and internet connection... show up to their office, get forms, have a form missing. Show up again to get the form, and submit it a 3rd time.

But once that was done... same day we had the phone line set in the house (In India, not every home has a phone jack built-in). The next day it was activated. The third day the internet was set. W00t!

Actually, the line was noisy and was getting on and off randomly. It has been useless for ~2 weeks until we complained in person at the Customer Service Centre. BooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOh!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kedgaon Retreat

Last weekend, a bunch of us Hyderabadis went in Kedgaon, Maharashtra. We were telling people we were going to Pune, cuz nobody knows about that place (and its in Pune district too!).

The train stopped for 30-45 seconds max at that station, and you could see more than 30 people on 3 train doors trying to get out as quickly as possible. The locals trying to get in the train didn't like us ;)

Calling Kedgaon the middle of nowhere is not a big exageration. They do have something else than fields, but aside from that Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission (and its retreat centre - where we went), there is not much there. That there is a field and cows grazing next to the station's fence add to the feeling.

The retreat itself was nice. I saw some sins in my heart exposed, like selfishness and lack of surrender and trust in God on some domains of my life. We met brothers and sisters from Pune and Kolapur, who were the organizers. There are some amazingly talented disciples there. I'm thinking of those 4 Kolapur sisters who danced and sang beautifully for us.

The life of the founder of that mission is pretty amazing. She was the first to translate the Bible in Marathi, and she is known to be praying in face of every difficulty that came her way, trusting God to take care of it (which apparently happened a lot too!)