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.