Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mozilla Prism, Chrome and Site-specific browsing

The prism plugin of firefox seems so easy to use. But I ran into problems. Unfortunately, I encountered two distinct issues.

  • Prism does not seem to be included in Firefox for 64bit Fedora.
  • It did not work with 32 bit firefox included with Arch Linux.

I did get it to work easily with the 32bit firefox downloaded from Mozilla's site. But Prism plugin is not compatible with FF4 beta as yet.

After these experiences, the site-specific browsing option in Chrome seems to be better and cleaner. So, I will experiment with Facebook as a desktop application using Chrome for my mother and see how she manages.

Learning to cope with Facebook

I decided to become a little more active on facebook. I added some films, books and authors I like to my profile. I did not realise that it would echo the likes to 'friends'. My wife, who is my friend at least on facebook, pointed out the two pages of "likes xyz's" from me cluttering her wall.

In the process, I seemed to have become a 'follower' of at least one author as well, which wasn't my intention. I will have to figure out how it works.

My motivation for becoming active on facebook was actually to open an account for my mother so that the pictures posted by some relations are visible to her. I will have to see if she finds the site usable.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blog as a therapy

Talking it out helps to get latent violence out of ones system. So, I have decided to take my frustrations out by "Talking to myself". The URL isn't what I would have liked but other people seem to have had similar ideas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What do I want for Christmas

Although software systems can go wrong in spectacular ways, I would love to have a mutual fund which does not say "Fund Managed by ..." but instead says "Algorithm by ....".

I would trust a computer program more. I cannot be sure if a fund manager is exploiting the plans of the fund to ensure better returns for himself or his rich clients.

A computer program is able to digest a lot more facts and will be less likely to be influenced by rumours and 'market sentiments' (24x7 business channel speak).

And I think it will be beneficial to the society as it may redirect the focus of the work talented people do.

I am not sure if the salaries are 'market' driven by supply and demand or by the benefit to the society. I think a lot of it has to do with the ability to do damage (which is why we want the police and tax officials to be well paid) or nearness to money (ability to misuse it or divert it) (which is probably why our engineering students want to do an MBA in Finance.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fed up with the noise about scams

Can't watch Indian tv news anymore without being bombarded by noise. Everyone talks and I doubt if anyone listens.

In spite of so many discussions, I can't seem to find even a tiny bit of information about:

1. Do elections cost as much as we think they do? ( Most likely yes or even more. )

2. Is the money collected by party membership fees enough to run the party and the elections? ( I seriously doubt it.)

3. Do the donations reported by the parties add up to known or estimated expenses? ( Doubtful.)

4. Seems obvious that every political party needs someone who will fill the money gap. What difference does it make who the person is. This role has to be filled if a political party has to function.

If I am a non-vegetarian, I have to have at least one butcher. A goat or a chicken is not going to come and make itself available on my plate!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Public Service or Stubborn Stupidity?

I tried to open an online trading account today as I now need to sell some shares occasionally. I want to avoid the paperwork - and, even more, the parking hassles associated with the paperwork. I wound up advising the representatives of the trading company and my bank where I have the demat accounts about the need for them to support Firefox or Chrome on Linux.

The transactions are only assured on Windows XP with IE6! Some people had problems even with IE7 and IE8. Needless to say, I did not take the account. Had it been free, I would have tried it and given them unwanted feedback :(

Wikileaks - First War of Independence by the Techies?

I have been puzzled by why I have been excited by Wikileaks. The revelations are hardly surprising. When I met my wife-to-be, I realised that for many people Diplomacy is a synonym for Lying - Wikileaks just re-confirms it :)

The cyber-attack on the financial institutions excited me even more. This left me bewildered. Most likely, the excitement has been caused by latent hostility (or jealousy?) towards those with 'greater power and control' over my life.

But one factor has bothered me a lot. I came across a number of students studying computer science and not interested or bothered about programming! Their goal was to get an engineering degree(lying would be a perfectly acceptably social virtue), go for an MBA and get a job with a ridiculous salary - ridiculous at least in comparison to what techies get.

I didn't really care about the financial geniuses or the money they made. Their income bothered me only after even the safe schemes lost money. I was sure that a reasonably smart computer program would have done a far better job and cost much less.

If I invested in the stock market, it was with the clear understanding that it was more like being a part of a pyramid scheme which had only an incidental connection with the fundamentals of companies or growth.

So, my anxiety is that if whole generations of people are desiring to make money from pyramid schemes, are Chinese the only ones who will be producing products? Can the few remaining techies remain unconcerned about money and their savings?

Wikileaks has given a ray of hope. It is time that the power equations in the world change!

Update: Feel really disgusted on reading this.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Arch Linux update and KDE graphics problem with Lenovo S10-3

My last update of Arch Linux affected quite a few packages including updating the kernel to 2.6.36. There was one more issue in addition to the resumption from sleep problem. The additional issue related to graphics effects of KDE.

The edge effect of showing all the windows worked. However, I could not select any of the windows and there was no way to return to a usable window. The display seemed to hang.

I could switch to a tty (ctrl+alt+Fn) and 'pkill ksmserver' to get a new login and start a new desktop session. My workaround was to disable desktop effects until I found the cause.

I rolled back a number of packages which seemed likely, e.g. kernel, mesa, xf86-video-intel. Finally, I located that the culprits were intel-dri and libgl. I had to downgrade both from 7.9-1 to 7.8.2-3.

I also needed to downgrade xf86-video-intel from 2.13.0-4 to 2.12.0-3. The display did not freeze but was very erratic and unstable.

Lenovo S10-3 with 2.6.36 - Resuming after Sleep

After installing the 2.6.36 kernel from Arch Linux, I found that the system would not resume after sleep. I spent the last couple of days trying to understand the problem. I installed 2.6.36 kernels from Fedora's Rawhide and from Ubuntu's kernel-ppa.

Fedora kernel had the same problem resuming. However, it worked on Ubuntu. On Ubuntu, I had been using 'intel_idle.max_cstate=0' as a kernel boot option. This was a work around for Ubuntu 10.10's boot problem on S10-3.

Removing the intel_idle option from Ubuntu's 2.6.36 kernel resulted in the S10-3 booting perfectly well. However, it showed the same inability to resume from the suspended state.

Adding that option to Arch Linux kernel resolved the resuming from sleep problem on this platform as well. Needless to say, the same option worked on Fedora kernel as well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rolling Distributions

It appears that Suse will have an option of a rolling distribution even if Ubuntu is not yet introducing a rolling distributions. For several years I have felt that this is inevitable (I still agree with the ideas in that article but wish I could have expressed them better).

A feature I miss in Arch Linux is the option to easily and quickly rollback the last set of updates in case some application or system malfunctions.

System Insists on Rebooting, Ignores Shutdown request!

My mother was patiently waiting for me to start her computer. Actually, the monitor was off but the computer was on. My sister had a problem shutting down the system last night as it insisted on rebooting! So, she had just left it on and powered off the monitor.

Needless to say, my sister was offended when I suggested that she may have clicked in the wrong location. Well, I too failed to get the system to shutdown. And jumped to the conclusion that upgrading to Arch Linux kernel 2.6.36 must be the culprit. It was a coincidence.

The system refuses to shutdown even on the alternate Fedora 12 still installed on the same system. The workaround is to choose the Hibernate option.

I suppose it's time that I get my mother a new computer!

Update: The problem is resolved but the cause was strange. There was a thumb drive attached to the system. I removed the thumb drive and the system shut down gracefully.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bank bureaucracy

I would strongly advise people to make sure that their bank accounts have a nominee. It is even more desirable that the accounts you may inherit also have a nominee.

I have just completed the task of getting the balance in may father's pension account transferred to my mother's account. The paperwork was ridiculous, especially considering the sum of money involved.

I had been procrastinating knowing that I would face some problem. I had to loose my temper which makes me very depressed.

It saddens me that victim of my frustration was a person who seemed very scared of his boss. He wanted to avoid any issue, possibly for himself, by asking me to fill in financial details which seemed totally inappropriate, considering that we had provided enough security from each of 5 people - 3 family members and 2 additional people - to cover much more than the balance in my father's account.

He sent us to his boss, who promised that the money would be transferred by the end of the day.

I feel depressed because in all likelihood the man on the desk may have been a senior manager but his authority must have been minimal. And I probably spoiled his day.

It also depresses me that India does not eat its own dog food - as far as Information Technology is concerned.

I wish someone would teach me how to do tasks which need to be done but are unpleasant!

Solving Problems with Indian Education

A wonderful simple solution:
The four-member inquiry committee probing the Madhuri Sale suicide case at IIT-Kanpur has suggested replacing ceiling fans with pedestal fans in order to help prevent suicides in hostels.
I wonder if the committee has spent a summer in Kanpur or may be their homes and offices are airconditioned.

On the other hand, nice to read that Azim Premji  is transferring a part of his shares of Wipro to a foundation for improving education in India.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lenovo S10-3 with 2.6.36

Yesterday, I updated the Arch Linux on the Lenovo S10-3 to the 2.5.36 kernel. As expected, ideapad-laptop driver is included with it and more of the hot keys worked.

The broadcom-wl package from AUR needed to be reinstalled and wifi worked fine.

There is one unfortunate surprise. The system malfunctions after sleep. On resumption, the display remains off. I can't seem to turn it on. Just to confirm that it was a kernel issue, I downgraded the kernel to 2.6.35 and sleep and resumption from sleep worked fine.

I may stick to 2.6.35 till I find a solution or a workaround.

Printer Issue after upgrade to Fedora14

I had not realised that I had not used the printer after upgrading to Fedora 14, hence, I suspected the printer. The printer was recognised. Cups would say - printing over. But there was not printout. There appeared to be no interaction with the computer at all.

The printer worked on the netbook, so the problem had to be with Fedora 14 on my desktop. Since everything seemed fine, I removed all referenced to the HP Deskjet, in particular /etc/cups/printers.conf, and that identified the issue.

Now, cups complained. It needed some more packages - foomatic and hpijs. As the upgrade had failed, these two packages were among the ones not installed and had not caused any issues till I decided to use the printer!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Great Excuse

Here a lovely quote from Indian Express: "the CM claimed that he was a victim of disinformation campaign and that he had continued practices set in motion by previous governments in the state"

It seems as if each passing year, amorality is stretched a little further. I wonder if it can ever be stretched so far that it will break.

Lenovo Wifi resolved

I decided to test the ideapad-laptop driver from 

I had thought that I would just need to compile and install just the driver. I, instead, needed to rebuild the kernel. The version was 2.6.36rc8. I also downloaded and installed the Broadcom wl driver, which, however, does not seem to be recognized - so far.

The nice aspect was that bluetooth was recognized and indicated that it was disabled. I enabled it and the wifi led worked!

I rebooted in the normal kernel and the wifi worked without needing to suspend the system and resume it.

It feels good to be able to resolve this problem without having to install windows - thanks to Ike Panhc and David Woodhouse. 

For more details about the driver:


Friday, November 12, 2010

On Slowness

Yesterday, I was restless. I stared reading Slowness by Milan Kundera and the following paragraph resonated with my restlessness:

"There is a Czech proverb that describes their easy indolence by a metaphor: 'They are gazing at God's windows.' A person gazing at God's windows is not bored; he is happy. In our world, indolence has turned into having nothing to do, which is a completely different thing: a person with nothing to do is frustrated, bored, is constantly searching for the activity he lacks."

Firefox 4 - Finally A Noticeable Change

I tried the new Firefox 4 pre8 beta on Fedora 14. I often use a ssh -X connection to another computer on the lan.

This time I could notice that browsing javascript rich sites was significantly better on the remote desktops using firefox 4. Scrolling was visibly smoother. It was virtually as smooth as on the desktop itself.

I had not found Google Chrome to be much better on the remote machine. So, although I use both Chrome and Firefox, latter continues to be my preferred browser.

The tabs are now above the toolbar but I did not really notice that at first.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Unity – Great to be Different

Buying a computer – whether a pc or a notebook is really very boring. It is depressing that while we are overwhelmed by the variety of soft drinks or flavours of potato chips, there is very little choice in the marketplace in the way we interact with a computer. Of course, we can take the computer home and customise its interface to our heart's delight, but its not the same thing. It would be nice to have each vendor's computers show some distinctive character and give the salesperson a chance to talk about the differentiation. One can spend hours in the store or debating with friends as I find people doing about their smart phones. That is why I was very happy to hear the news that Ubuntu will have a non-standard interface for Gnome.
Some credit should go to Xandros for the custom interface layer they developed for EEPC701. It was just a thin layer on top of the icewm window manager but it made it very easy to use the, predominantly, KDE applications bundled with the netbook.
Developing a complete window manager is expensive but a layer to give it a unique character is well worth the branding effort.
As I implied, it does not matter whether Ubuntu's Unity interface is better. The fact that it is different makes it special. If we examine the way the major desktop managers, Gnome and KDE, are evolving, we can see that they are making it easy to support the desktops on different types of machines, including netbooks, tablets and mobile devices. In the process, they have to make it easy to create very different look and feel for a common underlying framework, widgets and applets.
KDE4.5 offers the workspace option. We can see the possibilities by comparing the desktop workspace with the netbook workspace. Soon, there will be a mobile workspace as well.
Gnome 3 is headed in the same direction. MeeGo 1.0 and Ubuntu Unity netbook 10.10 are both based on gnome. Both use the mutter window manager. It would be hard tell that by looking at them. The difference lies in a plugin for mutter and a few configuration files.
Sooner or later, some manufacturers will start to offer a custom OS. I can imagine manufacturers and desktop designers sitting and debating the character of their product, the audience they are targeting, the values they wish to promote. Introduction of the new designs can be regular events. We can have our own favourite designers. We may not have a 24x7 ftv but a couple of hours a week on the latest in UI designs seems inevitable!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Upgrade to Fedora14

This time also, I updated Fedora using yum. On this occasion, the update was more challenging. The update failed in the middle and I had to recover the system from an inconsistent state.

I started the upgrade with the usual  first step.
$sudo rpm -Uv fedora-release-14-1.noarch.rpm

Next step was to empty the /var/cache/yum directory and started
$sudo yum update

It needed to download 2.6GB. The downloads succeeded and the update started. I was updating the system from a diskless system, in retrospect an unnecessary risk. My wife was working on the main system. The GUI sessions got stuck after a few hours. It seemed that the update had finished. I rebooted and the system seemed fine except that evolution failed to start.

A little investigation indicated that yum update had failed. I started
$sudo yum-complete-transaction
But after a considerable time, it indicated that the package database was not in a proper state and it could not continue. The rpmdb had both fc13 and fc14 packages installed for quite a few packages.

I used
$sudo package-clean --cleandupes

It took several hours but completed successfully. I now reran
$sudo yum update

This succeeded; however, package-clean seemed to have removed the desktop environments I was using - gnome, kde and LXDE. I had to reinstall these desktop environments. Since the packages had already been downloaded, it did not take time.

I am now working with Fedora 14 and install any missing packages as I need them. The time taken - a day. Not too bad given the problems encountered and the upgrade was certainly not boring this time.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lenovo Wifi behaviour still magical

The behaviour of the wifi on the Lenovo S10-3 continues to puzzle me. It continues to be magical and that feels uncomfortable. The magic is that I need to make the netbook sleep (Fn+F1) and then press the power button. Usually, the wifi will work. Occasionally, I need to repeat these steps.

This worked on Ubuntu netbook edition. It worked on Meego and Arch Linux. But I just haven't been able to get this magic to work on Smeegol from Suse.

There must be a difference. Looking at the logs, I found that if ACPI has an exception on waking from sleep state S3, bluetooth is recognised and wifi starts to work. The following extract from Ubuntu log file is indicative of each os.

Oct 27 14:55:36 anil-laptop kernel: [  690.604909] Initializing CPU#1
Oct 27 14:55:36 anil-laptop kernel: [  690.729043] CPU1 is up
Oct 27 14:55:36 anil-laptop kernel: [  690.729260] ACPI: Waking up from system sleep state S3
Oct 27 14:55:36 anil-laptop kernel: [  696.684074] ACPI Exception: AE_TIME, Returned by Handler for [EmbeddedControl] (20100428/evregion-474)
Oct 27 14:55:36 anil-laptop kernel: [  696.684099] ACPI Error (psparse-0537): Method parse/execution failed [\_SB_.PCI0.LPCB.EC0_.DSSV] (Node f7023f78), AE_TIME
Oct 27 14:55:36 anil-laptop kernel: [  696.684174] ACPI Error (psparse-0537): Method parse/execution failed [\_WAK] (Node f7023030), AE_TIME
Oct 27 14:55:36 anil-laptop kernel: [  696.684370] ACPI Exception: AE_TIME, During Method _WAK (20100428/hwsleep-601)
Oct 27 14:55:36 anil-laptop kernel: [  696.719069] PM: early resume of devices complete after 1.912 msecs

However, on Suse's Smeegol, I just could not get it to show this exception.

On Ubuntu, the system wakes up whether the power button is pressed or sleep hotkey (Fn+F1) is pressed again. However, if the power button is pressed, the ACPI exception will normally show up and wifi works. But if the sleep hotkey is pressed, the exception rarely occurs and wifi does not work.

The next step would be to try the lenovo-laptop driver and hope that the wireless hotkey works and I do not need the above magic any more.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pension and retirement - Contrast between India and France

Obviously, the pension in France must be much better than what I receive from EPF. I could not find out if any organisation could and does contribute towards more than Rs. 6500 as the pensionable salary. Worse, newspaper reports indicated that pension fund was in a financial mess in-spite of such a bad scheme from my perspective.

Unfortunately, my savings from 30 years of working do not match the gains from the property my father got in Delhi area. But my father's investment in property gave me the option of opting out when I needed to do so. For the last 3 years, I was working for about half time (and earning half as much) but it was great for me.

What has surprised me is the number of people who at least indicated that they would have loved to be in my shoes. I was bored, constrained and tired by the full-time routine and, apparently, many people are. The strikes in France indicate that this is the case in other countries as well.

Perhaps, companies could look at their practices and introduce new roles. It would be interesting to watch if the companies offered people in consulting and indirect management roles a chance to work fewer days, with suitable adjustment in salary, how many would opt for it.

However, I am certain very-very few in India would ever go on strike against increasing the retirement age.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cyber Security - DRDO style

The Tribune in Chandigarh (25 Oct 2010) had a news item about Defence R & D Organisation(DRDO). It was on the front page and included DRDO's solution for cyber security.

"With cyber security being a major issue in the wake of a series of attempts to hack networks, Saraswat said DRDO was developing its own computer operating system that would be much more resistant to penetration as the source codes for the software would not be available."

I hope the correspondent got it wrong. But somehow, the statement fits my expectations from bureaucracy :(

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Illegal Overstay

I had decide to return to India from Europe by land - at least till Kabul and then fly. (It was 1978 - Kabul was still a very friendly place.)

I had checked with the Greek Tourist office in Amsterdam - no visa needed for 'countries formerly under the British rule'. I landed up on the border of Yogoslavia and Greece and was offloaded! Visa - go back to Yugoslavia and get a visa. There was an option for visa on landing but only at the airports.

An officer at the railway station was very nice. He sent a few telexes, got me a place to spend the night. He managed to get me a transit visa and I could board the train next morning.

The visa was for 2 or 3 days and I was leaving on the 5th day. A day had already been lost as I had to travel by day train instead of the night train. Anyway, I went to the immigration office to get the visa extended. Looked at the chaos - as bad as anything in India. I thought why waste more time. I am not an illegal immigrant! And nice people - based on my experience at the Yugoslav border.

I was taking the train to Istanbul. Relations between Turkey and Greece were near war-like. At the border, I was in for a shock. I was now worried that I may be locked up or miss the train. However, the train stopped for a very long time and after a couple of hours - they put lots of stamps on my passport and I got away by paying a fine.

The fine pinched!

Immegration Office with a Human Face

I was just reading an article in Indian Express - 'Incredible Indian Red Tape' about the Foreigners Regional Registration Office. Nothing surprising about our pointless fascination for papers, particularly notarised (or signed by a Gazetted Officer). But the last line "There is no immigration office with a human face" triggered a memory.

It was 1976 and I had taken a one year post-doc in Helsinki University. The visa was for 3 months at a time. When the three months were getting over, I with a great deal of fear and trepidation went to the immigration office. The lady was so pleasant that I was shocked! Getting the visa renewed was such a pleasant encounter, I just couldn't believe it. Even on the third and final renewal, the staff dealing with me was very pleasant, wondering how I was getting along in Helsinki and said, 'have a pleasant stay and see you again'!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Netbook Suspend and Resume

While searching for something I did not find, I came across Canonical voices page and an explanation of how suspend and resume work in Linux.

The sleep key  "is bounced back out to userspace via /proc/acpi/events (currently, though it's going to be moved to the input layer in future) and userspace gets to choose what happens next.

Let's concentrate on the common scenario, which is that someone hitting the sleep button wants to suspend to RAM. Via some abstraction (either acpid, gnome-power-manager or kpowersave or something), userspace makes that decision and initiates the suspend to RAM process by either calling a suspend script directly or bouncing via HAL." (

Hence, it is possible that a different window manager on the same hardware may behave differently. And, of course, the behaviour on different distributions can be different.

I also came across a presentation on how notebook's lid and special buttons work which gives an insight into how the hardware generates the general purpose events.

On Lenovo S10-3, the sleep key (Fn+F1) worked on each on the os's. However, the lid works perfectly well with Ubuntu, MeeGo and Smeegol but doesn't with Arch Linux even though laptop-mode tools, acpid are installed. On Ubuntu 10.10 using gdm, if I start kde, even (Fn+F1) does not work!

Thanks to the above information, I can start my hunt for why and, perhaps, a consistent solution for S10-3 no matter what the distribution or the window manager.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Experimenting with Lenovo S10-3 - Smeegol

I downloaded the x64 version of the iso file. It worked without a hitch and I could install the Suse's version of MeeGo on the S10-3. Unlike the 'official' MeeGo, this version has the full Suse repository available and applications like OpenOffice are already installed.

It uses gdm instead of directly using uxlaunch. The X server in this case is owned by root and not the user as in the case of MeeGo. However, this also implies that it is multiuser unlike MeeGo at present.

It is an attractive and a nice alternative to the Ubuntu Netbook and the KDE netbook workspace.

The wifi issue continues to trouble me. LED is still off and I need to suspend the os (Fn+F1) and bring it back to life before it will recognise the existence of Bluetooth and enable wifi to work. Unfortunately, so far, with Smeegol, it does not recognise Bluetooth in spite of multiple attempts at suspending and resuming the system. I need to dig deeper and try to understand what is happening or supposed to happen upon resumption.

The other irritant on Smeegol so far - if I accidentally press the power button(and I seem to do that often while moving the netbook), a message is displayed that it will power-off after 30 seconds. However, it seems more like 3 seconds!

Figuring out how these buttons actually work along with the configuration files and code relating to them is one of the many pending items on my list of items I want to understand:(

Friday, October 8, 2010

Students, Teachers, Testing and Facebook

There were two news items which attracted my attention.

The first was that a number of students in a Chandigarh school were suspended for making offensive remarks against a teacher on Facebook. It appears that one student did not like the marks he got on a test. A number of fellow students supported him.

To many, this would be an indication of the problem with internal grades. Anonymous marking implies that the students cannot target a teacher.

There is no doubt that public comments can be offensive and hurtful. In interactions between people, some intentional and unintentional hurtful remarks are inevitable. However, the advantage is that the problem is out in the open in a few days. Action is taken in a few days. And students and teachers will learn to cope with the implications of new technologies.

The other item was actually an opinion piece by an ex-Vice Chancellor of Punjabi University. His view was that teachers in government schools were not accountable and were not performing their responsibilities adequately. A major problem was the curse of paid tuition classes, which he felt needs to be addressed urgently.

Tuition classes seem to be everywhere. Even in our local shopping area, there are as many tuition classes as there are grocery stores! Tuition classes rely upon standardised tests and preparing students to do well in them. What if the tests, including the final, were internal and the final exam was not critical. What would be the value of the tuition classes?

My belief is that an internal system will lead to a far better relationship between the teachers and the students though there is bound to be confusion in the transition period. But I doubt if I will see it happen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Keyboad Interface - CTOS like options instead of short cut keys

I loved the Convergent's CTOS (Burroughs BTOS). The last time I used it was about 20 years ago - I would have been in my early 40's. As Ishiguro's novels show, memories are a very strange phenomena!

Still, I think a user interface modelled on CTOS on Linux would be very desirable for people who have problems with mouse - which includes a very large population - the aging group. Unfortunately, this is also the group which can't scratch its own itch :(

The features I think would be very useful:

1. Extensive use of function keys. Short cut keys do not need to be fixed. There is no need for each operation to be uniquely mapped to a key combination. Operations available could be mapped to the function keys based on the state of a document/application. This is quite similar to the options which are often available on right click of a mouse. A panel could dynamically display the function keys with labels of operations which were available.

2. Mark and Bound. The Mark key was used to set up a marker. Cursor could be moved around. When the desired destination was reached, Bound key was pressed and the content between Mark and Bound was selected. This becomes equivalent to a 'pick'. An operation like move, copy and delete can be done on that. Move and copy would expect that the cursor to be in the target position. This becomes equivalent to a 'drop'. Since a standard keyboard will not have a 'Mark' and 'Bound' key, function keys could be assigned to that role as described above.

I wish I could remember the number of times my father called in Goa regarding missing documents. He would press ctrl-A instead of shift-A and continue typing. By the time he would phone me, he had made closed and reopened the document and I could not help him over the phone.

He would have spent hours painstakingly typing a document and it would disappear. I never did figure out how to get rid of ctrl-A on Windows98.

Mouse - Click to Move

I had switched my parents to Fedora 4 years ago when I moved to Delhi area from Goa. One application from Windows98 remained - Freecell. My mother loved to play it and she just could not use drag and drop functionality. She has Parkinson's disease.

Then, after an update, I noticed 'Click to Move' option in AisleRiot. Had I missed it earlier or was it a new feature - I don't know. But after that, even Windows' freecell lost its place on the computer.

The reason I recalled this incident was that I was finding it extremely hard to use drag and drop on Kpat on the Lenovo netbook using the touch pad. Some operations with mouse can be very-very difficult as we age. KDE4.5 has more keyboard short cuts so I found that to play Kpat, I could use them. Not the best of solutions but a workable solution. An option for 'pick and drop' as an alternate to 'drag and drop' would have been very useful.

Sadly, keyboard shortcuts are just that. They are not very useful for older people who may have problem with mouse as well as remembering which key does what in which application.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Future best universities may surprise us

Rankings of Indian universities in a recent higher education survey was not particularly impressive. But that was hardly surprising. An article about why there is a crisis in Delhi university made me recall my views about Goa's potential as a fantastic place for learning.

Every time I visited the Goa University campus on Taleigao or Goa Engineering College in Verna, the serenity and beauty were striking. It seemed obvious that there could not be a better place for contemplation and research.

Little incidents indicated that teachers were sincere and cared. This was supported by a cousin who was training teachers for a major publication house. She said that she was pleasantly surprised by the dedication and sincerity of the participants. It was different from her experiences in general.

The environment and the atmosphere are right so why the absence of progress. Regrettably, the University Grants Commission (UGC) promotes uniformity in the guise of excellence. So, Goa University is a smaller version of the rest of Indian Universities - potential is there but execution is depressing.

It is a small university with not too many affiliated colleges. A little change in direction and autonomy can make a phenomenal difference. It is not money but a change in attitude that we can do it will make all the difference.

I keep hoping that one day soon I will hear that Goa University is excelling in X. That X does not have to engineering and medicine. It probably will be an 'obscure' subject - because making a change in a domain which is ignored is much easier. The rest of the society will notice only after success has already been achieved. Much like our software services industry.

Let it be modern languages, music or any one thing which will help trigger a movement for excellence by proving that it is possible.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Education, Testing, Memories

I came across Testing the Chinese Way from several sources. It is hard to avoid personal memories. I went to a public school in the US and my recollections are of weekly tests. I did not like schools (an understatement) but it was not because of tests.

I left the US at the age of 25 but have continued to have a fondness for their educational system - or what existed 35 years ago.

I suffered from self-inflicted tortures in school. I did not need tests to tell me that I was bloody awful in gym. I recall once I actually caught a flier and my team and the batter were amazed! (No team picked me. I was inflicted on one of the teams.) My mind wandered so much that I could never focus long enough to concentrate on where the ball went! If that was meant to build team spirit, it miserably failed me and not because of tests.

Frequent tests were like deadlines - I knew I had understood. But to make sure that I did well in tests, I was able to revise and review. Repetition is a must for absorbing knowledge so that it becomes a part of us and we do not need to memorize it.

Problem from my perspective is not testing but what we test. I probably started to appreciate psychology and philosophy after a test. In a psychology class, we were given an aptitude test. It did not surprise me that my interests matched those who did well in physics, chemistry and maths. It also came as no surprise that my interests did not match policemen or military personnel. But what did surprise me were two peaks for psychology and philosophy! It surprised me that I did not have to like biology to enjoy and appreciate psychology.

I am more inclined to favour good tests (or if one is allergic to the word, challenges). In fact, I would be inclined to believe that good challenges can be a very plausible substitute for good teachers. That is one of the reasons I like the OLPC project.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mint introduces a rolling option!

I haven't tried Mint. But it was a pleasant surprise to read that Mint will have a rolling distribution based on Debian testing repository. I have been convinced for some time that we should not have to change our OS - ever(at least for a long-long time). I was reminded of it by a blog entry about Windows vs Ubuntu release cycle.

I have been very happy with Arch Linux since Jan 2010. I haven't switched all my home systems because the range of applications available in Fedora repositories is considerably greater. I suppose I could use the rawhide repositories and that would be like a rolling distribution. However, the risk of the system breaking with that option is likely to be very high.

I am planning to use Arch Linux as the primary version on Lenovo S10-3 netbook using KDE's netbook style as the needs are well defined. The initial setup effort is worth the smoother subsequent operation.

I am not opting for Arch Linux because it is 'faster'. I do not know if that is even correct.

Nor am I doing so to have a fine control over the packages installed.

I am opting for it to so that I do not have to decide when to upgrade!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

S10-3 - Unusual wifi problem

I am not sure when exactly it happened or why. I was playing around with the physical switch to turn the wireless off and using the Reliance broadband usb modem. It was frequently disconnecting and speed was low. It probably was a network issue. But I wanted to be sure that it was not a Lenovo netbook or OS problem.

Anyway, when I tried to use wifi, wireless indicator LED was off and connection failed no matter how hard I tried. The LED hasn't been on since.

The symptoms were similar to a problem reported in Ubuntu forum. However, in my case wl driver is used and not ath9k. I tried the same solution and a simpler variation worked.

Bluetooth capability of the netbook is not discovered at boot time. Wifi doesn't work. The wireless indicator LED remains off. However, on Ubuntu, MeeGo and Arch Linux, if the system is suspended and then restarted, Bluetooth device is recognised. But even more important, wifi just works. However, the LED remains off.

I went to the shop from where I bought it - no luck. They fiddled with hardware, reconnected some cables and symptoms remain the same. They wanted Windows to do anything more.

I thought I would at least email the problem to Lenovo support. No luck - the serial number of my system is rejected as being invalid. I hope it is because the sale is not yet in their system. Oh, well, will have to follow-up.

In the process, I found that a driver ideapad-acpi(ideapad-laptop) has been submitted to the mainline kernel. So, the functions for enabling/disabling wireless should work and that may clear up what is definitely a bios bug.

Meanwhile there is one advantage though - no unauthorised user can use of the wifi on my netbook :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

KDE 4.5 on Lenovo S10-3

Kubuntu 10.10 beta does not have a separate netbook edition. Instead the plasma workspace type can be changed to Netbook.

I could not boot with the Kubuntu 10.10beta livecd on Lenovo S10-3. Fortunately, this bug was reproducible and will hopefully be resolved soon.

One of my desires was to learn the setup of netbooks in more detail. A great way of doing that is to use Arch Linux. It is currently using 2.6.35 kernel and KDE4.5.

Since I wanted to have a reasonable but not too fine a control over what I installed, I decided to follow the route of kde-meta packages. The available meta-packages were obtained using
# pacman -Sg kde-meta

I decided to install kde-meta-kdebase, kde-meta-kdeutilities, kde-meta-kdenetworking and kde-meta-kdemultimedia.

The first problem I encountered was pretty simple. X wouldn't start. It turned out that xorg package had to be installed separately.

Next, I installed intel driver for X.

Working with the mousepad was a problem - it was very jerky and sensitive. It took a while to realise that touchpad has a separate driver. I needed to install xf86-input-synaptics package. It was a great relief being able to work with the mousepad without going crazy.

I changed the workspace type to Netbook in the settings and I had the new look.

While it will take time to get used to it. The main page starts with the search and launch options. Most likely it is the usual kde4 menu but with a very different look and feel. One can search for an application or select it from application groups.

Once the application is started, the top bar is hidden. The entire screen is taken up by the application. I prefer this approach. It reminds me of the reason why one commentator had praised dedicated eBook readers - There are no distractions. On the desktop, while watching a youtube or similar video, I frequently find myself making use of the extra space to start a game of solitaire!

It is going to be enjoyable exploring it and getting used to it. At my age, learning something new is a necessity :)

New Ubuntu Netbook Interface

Next step was to try the newly released 10.10 beta with a new look netbook edition. I updated the Ubuntu netbook installation. All went well, except that it would not boot with the 2.6.35 kernel used on 10.10 beta :(

Fortunately, the 2.6.32 kernel from the 10.04 version was still available and I could use that to boot and work.

The new look is indeed quite different. There is still an activity bar on top. In addition commonly used applications are available as icons in a vertical bar on the left.

Menus seems to be giving way or, at least, co-existing with search tools. A search tool is available for searching for files and applications for selecting a task to start.

There is also an applications icon in the vertical bar. It will display applications on a full screen. Grouping application in tabbed pages and a search option makes it is very nice to use.

The vertical bar of icons is quite flexible. When an application is started, the icon in the bar changes if it was already there. Otherwise the icon of the activated application is added to the bar. Both the vertical and horizontal bars are always visible. This is a trade-off between convenience of information about the system available at a glance and the desire to have as much space available for the application as possible.

Switching between applications is, thus, a single mouse click. However, it often took me time to find the icon of the application to which I wanted to switch.

I realise that the new netbook edition is a work in process. But I am inclined to favour the MeeGo or the KDE Netbook workspace approach. Hiding everything else helps one focus on the current task with minimal distraction.

Update: Booting Ubuntu 10.10 with 2.6.35-22 kernel now works by appending "intel_idle.max_cstate=0" to kernel parameter. For more details

Experiments with Lenovo S10-3

I finally gave up waiting for a tablet and decided to get a new netbook even though at over 2 kg, it is considerably heavier than the 1KG eepc701 I used. The eepc 701 now though was too limiting.

The first thing I tried was the Ubuntu 10.04 netbook edition. The interface was same as the 9.10 I had used on eepc.

Since it has 150 gb of disk space, I installed MeeGo 1.0 as well. I like the ui of MeeGo but it did not support the Reliance USB modem. Huawei modem is still detected as a mass storage device on MeeGo though the next release may have a fix.

The broadcom wireless driver had to be built and installed. The instructions were straightforward and worked well.

Various options are available as tabs in a horizontal bar on the top of the screen. This is different from the way the bar is typically used. If an application is started, the bar disappears until the mouse is pushed to the top.

Applications available in the repository are fairly limited. However, Fedora will soon have a MeeGo spin. I will probably use it more only then.

KDE 4 plasma workspace has a Netbook option. So, I installed Kubuntu netbook edition. It uses the entire screen for an application. Pushing the mouse to the top displays the activity bar. Pushing the mouse to the left corner displayed the active applications.

NetworkManager works very well in switching between USB modem, wireless and wired connections in both Kubuntu and Ubuntu.

So far there were no surprises or complications.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fascinating lectures on justice

The courses I enjoyed even more than physics and mathematics were in philosophy and psychology. Hence, I found the lectures on very stimulating. The first lecture should probably be seen by all, or at least by those who are certain about their belief in what is right or just.

The ninth lecture is worth seeing to, perhaps, reflect on how India should address the issue of 'fair' admissions in colleges. All I can say is that uniformity of rules is not the answer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Python Macro

Writing a macro in Python for renaming cells turned out to be simple. Use of the dir command and just trying various options helped.

def chgSheet1RangeNames( ):
"""This macro changes names to the Excel values"""
#get the doc from the scripting context which is made available to all scripts
model = XSCRIPTCONTEXT.getDocument()
names = model.NamedRanges
name_list = [names.getByIndex(i).getName() for i in range(names.getCount())
if names.getByIndex(i).getName().startswith('sheet1')
and names.getByIndex(i).getName().endswith('_2')]
for n in name_list:
rng = names.getByName(n)
return None

I selected the names which needed to be renamed and renamed them one at a time.

Unfortunately, some hidden functions gave errors. So, the best option was to create additional names for the same ranges. This was also easier than expected. Instead of


I used

names.addNewByName(n[:-2], rng.getContent(), rng.getReferencePosition(), 0)

Monday, August 16, 2010

OpenOffice VBA Macros

I want to use OpenOffice to file the income tax return online. This created the compulsion of learning to debug VBA.

On the beta version of OO3.3, the Worksheet_Change method is called but fails. The reason for the failure appear to be that some VBA objects still need to be defined, e.g. Application.EnableEvents.

In addition, the target parameter, Target, does not seem to have all the expected attributes of a range object, e.g. Target.Validation.Type and Target.Name.Name. I am not even sure what 'Name.Name' implies!

As most of the validations were now being done with cell functions, I decided to ignore the Worksheet_Change method. Actually, I had no choice if I wanted to progress further.

Worksheet_Change is actually called by Worksheet_Change_OnChange_Proxy, which maps OpenOffice functionality to that expected by Excel VBA. I commented the call to Worksheet_Change in this method and the validation code is ignored.

Now, the generation of the xml file went through but no file was created. Furthermore, when I forced a file name, the xml file was created but all the data fields had no value.

The issue is that the cells had names sheet1.FirstName_2 while the code was looking for sheet1.FirstName. The subscript '_2' seems to be added by OpenOffice. This may be because the sheet1 is actually the 2nd sheet! Since OpenOffice cannot use the same name on multiple sheets, this is probably a safety measure to prevent name conflicts. However, the VBA code does not know about the name change in the sheets.

I have filed these issues with the VBA project of OpenOffice.

A workaround would be to rename the cells back to what the code expects.

I plan to use a Python macro. The macro will be external to the sheet. It can be applied the first time a new tax return spreadsheet is used.

The Python module may continue to be useful because while I expect Novel and Oracle's VBA project to resolve the issues with Worksheet_Change method, I am not so sure if the issue with range names can be easily resolved.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Income Tax Returns using OpenOffice

The income tax department makes some spreadsheets available(ITRx) for online filing of the return. The spreadsheets are for Excel and contain VBA macros.

I could fill the form but could not get it to generate the XML files. I filed the return on paper this year. However, I decided to get started for next year and see if I could make these forms work on OpenOffice. Since I do not have access to Excel and my knowledge of VBA macros was zero, it was hard even to know what was expected.

Finally, I feel a little less ignorant.

On Fedora and Arch Linux, the macros were commented. On Ubuntu, they were visible. It turned out that vba module is enabled in all; however, on Fedora and Arch Linux, I had to enable 'Executable Code' in Options => Load/Save => VBA Properties. I was confused and thought that VBA module was only available in go-oo.

I am still puzzled as 'Load Basic code' was enabled and I am still ignorant about the difference between Basic code and Executable code!

The ITRx uses the event Worksheet_Change to validate the data as it is being entered. However, the validation was happening even if the macros were commented. It appears that the protected cells within the ITRx sheets are doing the validation as well. Hence, the Worksheet_Change function is not really critical.

OpenOffice 3.2 seems to have had a regression error in handling VBA code. Hence, I had problems on the current versions of Fedora and Ubuntu. Since few complaints were visible, it would appear that not too many Open Office users use VBA macros.

In any case, OpenOffice 3.2.1 worked better. However, the Worksheet_Change method was not called on it and neither were the macros triggered by the buttons in the spreadsheets.

Finally, I downloaded the development version. Now the Worksheet_change macro is being called as well as the calling of the macros on clicking a button. So, I can concentrate on checking out the core of what does or does not work in the ITRx macros. And, hopefully, find an easy way to get over the limitations.

Incidentally, it seems much easier to experiment with development version of OpenOffice while keeping the original installation intact. Arch Linux makes it even easier by offering beta and development versions of Open Office in its repository. All three can be installed concurrently.

The Yes Men and Bhopal

Approximately half-hour of the yes men save the world movie is the most effective documentary on the Bhopal tragedy I have seen.

It was particularly disturbing and depressing to hear the journalist whose claim to fame is that he failed. All his efforts to bring the possibility of disaster to the notice of various authorities failed.

Dow Chemicals paid $2billion to 14 victims of asbestos poisoning by Union Carbide in the US. We are aware of the amount they paid to clean up the Bhopal mess.

The area is still not cleaned up of the pollution.

The link:

The timing of watching this movie was particularly moving. The press, the media, the politicians have all been clamouring for greater punishment for those who headed Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary and, of course, punishing the ceo of the parent company. And if these people were actually surprised by the outcome, they are even more incompetent than anyone could have expected.

If anyone talked about the survivors, I did not hear it. It was lost in the noise.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Algorithm for stress reduction - HRD Ministry

Board exams cause stress.
So, get rid of board exams.

Students run after marks.
Replace marks by grades.

But what's a grade?
People getting a score in a pre-defined range, get the same grade.
How does that reduce stress?
A single mark does not matter.
But if he/she is on the borderline, then the impact of a single mark with a grade is much worse!

Well, we still need to select candidates for further study on 'merit'.
So, let's have a common exam.

But on what?
Let's have a core curriculum which is uniform across the country.
Just like SAT.

So, we are back to a single exam - but worse.
It is the same across all India and on a well defined narrow range!

Time to open an academy. Lots of money in helping students crack SAT!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Importance of Error Messages

I was trying out Asterisk server and Sip clients. I used ekiga as a client. It would just fail to register.

I tried on Fedora and Ubuntu in a VM. Same symptoms. I was running the server and the client on the same machine.

Googling did not help. Then on Ubuntu, I installed an alternate client - Twinkle. The message now was - port 5060 already in use. It was obvious - both the Asterisk server and the client were trying to listen on 5060 and I should have known that. I used an alternate port for Twinkle and it worked.

I tried Ekiga from Fedora with Asterisk running under Ubuntu in a VM. It worked!

If only Ekiga had a little finer exception handling and gave the reason for failing to register!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

There had to be a reason!

I was surprised to find comments in Chinese on the blogs. Most of them seemed innocuous. So, I let them be. Today I noticed that there were dots after the comments and the dots were a link to an undesirable site!

I presume it was to push rankings by search sites.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Migrating to Fedora 13

I had updated to fedora 13 soon after it was released - following the update approach as I have been doing for several years now.

I downloaded and updated fedora-release-13-1.noarch.rpm

Next step -
yum -update
Well, it failed. It complained about a number of packages and suggested I try
yum -update --skip-broken
Failed again. One of the problem packages was rb_libtorrent-python.

It could not be removed as Miro depended on it. It seemed strange.

'yum update Miro' worked and installed a few more dependencies. However, Miro stopped working and the update broke a few other packages - e.g. Firefox.

I reverted back to the original state. Erased Miro and rb_libtorrent-python.

Now, I could update the system using
yum -update --skip-broken
But it cautioned me that
Skipped (dependency problems):
mutter-mbl x86_64 2.28.1_0.12-1.fc13 fedora 1.2 M
mutter-moblin x86_64 0.43.8-4.fc13 fedora 2.4 M
I decided to clean the two packages before updating. I was not using moblin now, so I erased the group 'Moblin Desktop Environment'

The above two packages did not get erased and had to be removed manually.

After that the upgrade was fairly smooth other than the unstable network I was experiencing. I had to restart update about a couple of dozen times before the downloads were completed! Over 2 GB of packages were downloaded. Sadly, delta-rpm's still play no role across fedora versions.

After moving to Fedora 13, installing Miro was a breeze. There were no issues at all. So, what was the problem with rb_libtorrent-python?

The version on f12 was 0.14.10-1 while on f13 it was lower 0.14.8-2!

Subsequently, I noticed that java-1.6.0-openjdk was higher in f12 than in f13. However, it did not cause any issue in upgrading the system. Java openjdk package for f12 was retained. Packages updated from f13 repository did not complain about the mis-match of repositories.

By contrast, one of my systems with Arch Linux is using the same or higher versions of packages as Fedora 13. The packages have been steadily updated over a period of time with minimal friction.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Education - Not Reform but Revolution

It is enjoyable to hear a talk like one by Sir Ken Robinson. On reflection, there is sadness as well. Our education system continues in its attempt to mass produce and churn out apples which look and feel the same. No wonder, as Robinson says, most people just muddle through life.

Uncle, Look Behind You

A few days ago, a two wheeler seemed to be changing lanes but suddenly slowed down instead. I had miscalculated and had to break a bit hard.

The person behind me was furious, but I ignored his honks. At the next round about he stopped on my side and was very upset with me. The gem was - "Uncle, look behind you when you drive?" Sounds even nicer in Punjabi.

Oh, well!

Fortunately, one day, the cars will be driven by computers. I have more faith in computer software.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just 6 visits later

I returned to the office of the Registrar of Births and Deaths and stood in a queue. My turn came and I was asked to go to counter number 1.

At counter number 1, after waiting patiently, I realised that some pushing and shoving was needed. Finally, a clerk on the window took my receipt and I waited. No feedback, no comment. I observed that he just passed the slip to another person. The person to whom the slip was handed looked out of place. More like a person I may find in a private office. Well, I know we make judgements based on appearance.

I moved away from the window, a little more at ease. About fifteen minutes later, the man out of place called me and asked me to come next day at 11AM. At the delivery counter, I asked. No, the same counter, he said.

Next day, the counter 1 was not open at 11. I was told that deliveries are after 3:30 - come back. I told the security guard that I was asked to come at 11 today. He let me in and I met the Overcoat guy. As he struggled to find my request, I realised that the man out of place had solved his problem by asking me to come the next day. He had no idea what was the status of my request for the death certificates as the papers couldn't be found!

The person from the computer section who had phoned me and told me about the spelling error remembered my case. He helped the Overcoat guy. Some ten to fifteen minutes later, the papers had been found. I waited for another five minutes to be informed of what next. I finally asked the guy in the computer room, who passed me back to the Overcoat guy, who with reluctance got up from his chair and consulted with the computer guy. Finally, that was a Friday and he asked me to come on Monday afternoon.

And I went on Tuesday afternoon and to my surprise, the death certificates were ready and the corrections had been incorporated.

Relieved, I looked up at the heavens and noticed the sign board. It read "Fully computerised"!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Update to Ubuntu 10.04

I downloaded the alternate iso for Ubuntu 10.04, mounted it as /media/cdrom and ran the update script.

A couple of hours later, the update was uneventfully completed while I browsed the internet and handled my emails.

I know the update is done as the theme is different and I have to move the mouse from the upper right corner to the upper left corner for closing or minimising a window.

The boot seemed to be stuck for about 10 seconds, but then the graphics display appeared. It lasted another 10 seconds and the gdm login screen appeared. I will explore the changes in the boot process of the new version of Ubuntu. However, signing in and being able to use the system took over half a minute. Overall, the time span from boot to a usable system was a little more than a minute.

And I noticed that the OpenOffice now has the Oracle logo on it.

I use Ubuntu only occasionally at home. I will explore it more at work, where I am curious whether the problems with X and old intel graphics chipset persists.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reluctant Eavesdropping

I have now stood in lines on three days at the Registrar of Births and Deaths. I would have liked to see the staff a little more empathetic. I suppose the endless issues with correction of data may make them seem callous and cold.

One cause of the common problems I observed/overheard were the result of various government hospitals, including PGI - a premier institution in India. My sample size is small but differences in the names as claimed by the relatives and as entered in the register were oddly substantial. This required the relatives to run around at the hospital, get hospitals to correct the data, gather proofs, etc.

Some of the relatives were desperate, pleading for help. A few were near breaking point, helpless and abusive.

Another case for reducing the donkey work by using computers and, as a side effect, having people be nicer to each other.

One Department, Two Cultures

I was pleasantly surprised to get a call from the Registrar of Births and Deaths regarding a spelling discrepancy in my grandfather's name.

I went to their office with the necessary proof. The clerk at the counter was shocked. He called out to his colleague and asked him whether he had started phoning people regarding any problems with the issuing of a death certificate. His colleague said an emphatic NO - must be X.

Mr X was in the computer room. I went to meet him. He and his colleague were courteous and very helpful. They wrote down the issue and asked me to see Y who had the pending file.

Mr. Y was the person called out by the clerk at the counter. He was very busy, concentrating and carefully copying and filling columns of a register. I waited. The whole atmosphere reminded me of the protagonist in Overcoat by Gogol though I must have read it 40 years ago.

He completed the line and then talked to me. He told me to submit an application on a 'pakka' paper. He was reasonably polite. This time I knew what a 'pakka' paper was - bond paper, preferably green. I had earlier printed an application regarding my grandmother's name on a white paper at home and it had to be redone on the desired paper.

I got the necessary application typed. The typist misspelled my grandfather's name just as it was in the register! So, I suppose the conventional spelling in Punjab is 'Sunder' and not 'Sundar'. In fact, I could have provided proof of either of the spellings. My father's current passport had one spelling but the expired one had the other! National ID program had better take care of the correct representation in the original language and accept variations in transliterations.

Anyway, I got the letter corrected and took it to Mr. Y. Waited for him to finish his writing some entries in the register. Mr. Y scanned the letter, marked some data in red ink. Signed it and asked me to go to counter 3, where I had first gone.

The man at the counter grumbled. Why come to me when the officer has already signed it. Go to counter 6.

Counter 6 belonged to the computer cell. When my turn came, the lady at the counter said, you should just give it to Mr. Y, he has the file. I told her that Mr. Y asked me to go to counter 3, who told me to go to counter 6. I could see her smile faintly. She took the paper from me, made a remark on it and asked me to come back a week later.

I suppose changing the 'e' to an 'a' will require much more time in the register than replacing it in the computer record. And I expect that the computer record can only be updated after Mr. Y has made the necessary corrections in at least one register.

I am in no hurry.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Arch Linux Update Broke

Update on the system with an old Intel graphics chipset succeeded. The packages needed to use the old intel driver were held back.

Gdm would not start. Manual start of X revealed that it wanted while openssl was now version 1.0.0.

I decided to experiment with the current intel graphics driver. It was much better but the system still froze twice in a day. Hence, I decided to go back to the previous intel driver.

Downgrading openssl would have affected many more packages. Hence, the idea was to install the older libcrypto libraries as well.

But before doing that, I decided to create a softlink to the current version of libcrypto. As far I could tell from the documentation, some new calls had been added. The old interfaces were unchanged. As I suspected, X came up and the updated system has been working fine now.

This again brings up the issue of how to package the libraries. A package should be able to use a more recent version if it is compatible or allow an older version to be installed in addition to the newer version. Current distributions are just not using the power and flexibility of the shared libraries in Linux.

To the extent possible, a 'normal' user should not have to worry about shared libraries and their versions.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


What if I have to implement and execute a task with which I am in disagreement? Will I wind up being disagreeable and quarrel with those around me? To what extent will I need to compromise? At work, the customer specs are the final word. In social scenarios, I suppose, relations play role of the 'customers'.

My father went to the Arya Samaj Mandir almost every Sunday. He would try to influence me but I remain an agnostic.

Fortunately, Arya Samaj is quite a bit less ritualistic than the mainstream. I found myself accommodating the desires of my extended family. The priest was also quite modern and understood my position. The actions expected of me were generally more symbolic than ritualistic.

There was, however, one clear advantage of rituals - they kept the mind occupied and distracted, which, I suppose, was the need at the time.

A time machine would have helped more except as Albert Camus writes in The Fall: "It's too late now. It will always be too late."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Without Comment

Father passes away.

Humour helps in coping

Importance of timely information

Supreme court rejected the plea of a killer for any leniency. Fine, except that the killer had committed suicide 5 years earlier!

I do not know whether the judges were embarrassed about it but effective use of computers would definitely have avoided the pointless, wasted effort.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Can physics help understand India

I chanced upon a headline that a judgement in a case of bombing in 1994 was expected today. Normally, I would have treated it as routine and moved on.

However, I had seen Sean Carroll the Arrow of Time just the night before. Could it be that entropy was increasing faster in India? We know that if justice is delayed, chaos increases. Hence, the theory seems consistent.

Could there be another explanation? What if the Indian administration was moving at close to the speed of light? By general theory of relativity, time would slow down. That would also be consistent with our observations.

I hope that the the LHC experiment will shed more light on the dark matter which surrounds and invades us and we may be able to rule out one of the two theories and improve the theory so that it matches the level expected by David Deutsch

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Back in College

This weekend has been great. I have a digital photo frame which can play streaming video. I could easily stream images using Mediatomb. Streaming video was much harder - one major issue was getting the video format right. It is incredible how many variations seem possible. While the video would play perfectly fine when I tested with MythTV, the photo frame had problems.

I could get some videos to play. However, the reliability of playing streaming video was low. The display would often freeze or restart from the beginning. I finally realised that my goal was not streaming. It was to relax and watch some videos without being tied to the desktop. I do not like laptops. As the photo frame has a usb port, I decided to copy the video on a usb drive and play it on the photo frame. This worked quite well.

It would have been more fun to stream but I managed to lie in bed, relax and watch some memorable videos from

Aside from the wonderful presentations by J K Rowling and Steve Jobs, I loved Robert Sapolsky's talk about the uniqueness of humans. I was taken back to my college days and the deeply troubling philosophy course on ethics while watching Michael Sandel. I plan to watch all the lectures in that course. It feels like going back to college :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weird Keyboard Malfunction

It was a weird experience. I was working on Arch Linux in a VM( Sun VirtualBox) in a remote X session from a thin client. Suddenly, the keyboard seemed to have stopped working. Function and control keys seemed to work partially. But normal keys were totally ignored. Ctrl-alt-Fn also did not behave correctly.

I naturally assumed that the VM must have caused the problem.

I rebooted the thin client - same behaviour. I switched from LXDE to Gnome. Same behaviour. Rebooted the main machine - still the same scene.

The same user worked fine on the main system; however, I realised later that the desktop was KDE.

I then tried KDE and keys worked fine.

I assumed that I must have updated some package which caused the problem. But the last update was four days ago. Hence, that was not a likely cause. Also, I could use the gnome desktop using an alternate account.

After quite a bit of struggle, I found the problem to be related to SCIM. I must have pressed some short-cut keys which caused the keyboard to seem to be abnormal! At least, I assume so because after using the input pad with the mouse and exiting from SCIM, the keyboard has been working fine.

Hopefully, I will find time to reproduce the problem and add an update to this post.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Uploading old articles to web

I finally completed pushing the various articles I had written for Linux for You since 2005 to my web site.

It is amazing how the directories get so cluttered. It took a day to sort and select just 20 files!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Arch Linux - An update

The season for the upgrades has started. Ubuntu 10.04 is around the corner. Fedora 13 alpha is also out. So, it is time to examine what has happened to my parents' system.

Arch Linux has not given any problems. The kernel and OpenOffice on their system is more recent than on mine. The old xorg and intel display drivers continue to work.

An update solved the permissions issue with pulseaudio. The user no longer has to be a part of the audio group. The most recent update has completely replaced policykit package by polkit.

Updates take longer in the absence of something similar to delta-rpm on Fedora.

I wonder how long before delta packages are the norm on all distributions.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why numbering should start at zero

Possibly because I learnt programming in Fortran and Pascal, starting an index with 0 and the syntax of Python range statement had seemed unnatural to me. So, it was nice to come across Dijkstra's Why numbering should start at zero.

Now, I am a convert and nice to unlearn Fortran.

"Adhering to convention a) yields, when starting with subscript 1, the subscript range 1 ≤ i < N+1; starting with 0, however, gives the nicer range 0 ≤ i < N. So let us let our ordinals start at zero: an element's ordinal (subscript) equals the number of elements preceding it in the sequence. And the moral of the story is that we had better regard —after all those centuries!— zero as a most natural number."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Same solution to all problems

Listening - actually ignoring - the parliamentary debate on reservation, I felt that the only solution our politicians could see for any social ill was reservation!

I was reminded of the following comments by Dijkstra's in Humble Programmer
I have run a a little programming experiment with really experienced volunteers, but something quite unintended and quite unexpected turned up. None of my volunteers found the obvious and most elegant solution. Upon closer analysis this turned out to have a common source: their notion of repetition was so tightly connected to the idea of an associated controlled variable to be stepped up, that they were mentally blocked from seeing the obvious. Their solutions were less efficient, needlessly hard to understand, and it took them a very long time to find them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Working in the Winter Sunlight

Winter sun in North India really feels nice. It seems silly to be sitting in a cold, dark room when I could be enjoying the final few days of sunlight before it gets miserably hot.

I tried using my netbook but it was virtually invisible. There seems to be hope - OLPC-like hybrid screens on commercial netbooks. "Put simply, we've never seen a laptop display look as good in broad daylight as Pixel Qi's display"

My next netbook will have to have such a screen!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Discovering Stuff one Likes

I didn't realize that I liked 'literature' until a college friend suggested I read Albert Camus' The Outsider. He also suggested Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. I discovered that I had a liking for European modern classics. Had he not made that suggestion, I would have missed a lot.

The other 'discovery' was by casual browsing - I do not know why I was attracted to Ian McEwan's First Love, Last Rites. It had just been published and I knew nothing about the author. But these were among the most memorable and weirdest stories I have ever read. I have continued to enjoy most of what McEwan has written, particularly, Enduring Love, Saturday and Atonement.

I find casual browsing very hard now. There is too many chaos in book stores. It is hard to find one rack which is likely to have books which fit my brain.

So, a recent 'discovery' was thanks to Amazon. I looked at the books bought by people who bought Ian McEwan's novels and found Kazuo Ishiguro's When We were Orphans and The Remains of the Day. It is amazing how he plays with human memories.

Last but not least, I 'discovered' Python by reading Eric Raymond's article, Why Python?

But I still don't know why I chose one recommendation and not another. Did I try others but remember only the ones which worked?

Importance of DIY

Squid wouldn't start after rebooting. Seemed strange - missing files and directories.

And then it struck me. After installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix, I had optimised the installation and changed /var/log /tmp to temp file systems! Squid wouldn't start because it needed /var/log/squid. So, the problem could be resolved very quickly.

I am finding that I now understand Fedora and Ubuntu distributions better after working with Arch Linux!

Monday, January 25, 2010

What's Worse - Walking or Parking

I just walked 10 minutes to pay municipal taxes in Mapusa. Half the walk was on the main road going down from Court. I kept wondering whether I should have taken the car and struggled with a parking place.

Should there not be a design effort to make walking pleasant or, at least, bearable? I saw the lovely walkway across Miramar beach on the way to Dona Paula. How many people did I see walking on it - Zilch! How many people were on Miramar beach - Lots.

I am not grudging the walkway on Miramar but the absence of similar facility elsewhere. Should we not start with places where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic? Should we not redesign our systems to make driving a little tougher if need be but make walking around safer and nicer?

How about creating parking places a little away and make people move around the narrow roads on internal shuttle services - quite possibly electric vehicles? Why not start with Calangute beach area and Mapusa town :) I want to walk without fear and daydream.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Replicating Arch Linux

I had frequently taken a backup of the root partition, restored it on another system and it would work, with some minor changes to the fstab file. I decided to replicate Arch Linux the same way.

I took a backup of the functioning system in Chandigarh and brought it to Goa. Restored it, made the minimal changes in grub.conf and fstab - and Surprise. The kernel crashed. The problem seemed simple enough.

Chroot to the Arch Linux partition. Reinstall the kernel. Reboot and getting ready to relax with a cup of tea. No luck. Kernel crashed again and again.

Installed the core Arch Linux from a usb image. This time the system worked!

Next step - saved the kernel and the image. Restored the tar backup. Copied the installed kernel and the image. The system worked! Reinstalled the updated kernel (2.6.32) and the system still worked.

I used the EEPC701 as the gateway to connect to the Internet and started to add some packages, e.g. NetworkManager to use the Reliance Netconnect USB modem. Pacman complained. I chose to ignore the warnings and forced the additional packages. And the system stopped working. I was back to kernel crashes.

I had to look at how the packages were stored and realised the issue. Arch Linux keeps installed and available packages as directories and files. Restoring the tar backup resulted in updated and original packages both being listed. It resulted in a very confused package manager.

So, back to installing from the USB drive. This time I removed the package manager 'database', that is the directories in /var/lib/pacman. Now the restored package database was consistent. The system has been working fine.

I have to re-examine the tar backup. I must have missed something.

Arch Linux for Parents

My parents are over 80 years old and have routine needs. I switched them to Linux after moving to Chandigarh 3 years ago. The problems they have faced have been fewer than they faced with Windows. Partly because many of their problems were related to dial up connection failing whereas broadband connection is more reliable. Printing issues are about the same as earlier.

The only reason I had not switched them earlier was because the hardware technicians get nervous with Linux.

I have been updating their system to the new versions of Fedora by updating the fedora release information and then just allowing yum to update the system. However, before updating to Fedora 12, I decided to cleanup some of the old packages. I was not in a hurry as I wanted to wait till the Fedora 12's issues with old intel graphics cards were resolved. Unfortunately, I got into a mess and cleaned up almost everything - including rpm and yum (bug report). So, I had no choice but to reinstall the OS.

I decided to take a risk with Fedora 12 and, as expected, the display and the system would freeze periodically. This was very frustrating/disconcerting for my parents. Hence, I decide to install Arch Linux on their system as well.

The instructions in the Wiki for beginners guide were perfect. Arch Linux was installed fairly quickly but the graphics issues with intel driver were worse. A forum posting guided me to the 5 packages I needed to downgrade. Using pacman for package management was similar to using yum. The names of multimedia packages I needed were known so the installation on Arch Linux was easier.

In order to have the system as close to Fedora 12, I also installed PulseAudio. I had to add the users to audio group to get the sound to work. I haven't had a chance to expore ConsoleKit/PolicyKit to fix the permissions issue.

I copied the Fedora icons and theme and the system looks almost the same whether booted in Arch Linux or Fedora 12. Small tweaks were needed to the desktop icon which started OpenOffice.

I plan to persist and see if I can keep the system current without a major upgrade. But I will definitely miss the delta rpms for updating packages. The key lesson is also that if someone sets up a machine, using any distribution, including one like Arch Linux intended for tech users is not difficult.

Firefox is also moving towards incremental improvements and scrapping version 3.7. I hope Fedora moves soon to a rolling model as well. If Arch Linux can do it, so can Fedora.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Holiday in Goa - Switching to Arch Linux

Overhearing phrases like 'How you did?' in a very pleasing accent makes me feel at home again.

Cab driver drove fast from the airport to Mapusa. The roads seemed nicer. At a few places, the rumblers were replaced by rounded speed breakers.

At night, when I drove, the traffic seemed nicer - more polite. Fewer people honking and fewer headlights on high beam. The addition of reflectors at the edge of the road made driving at night from Panaji to Mapusa more comfortable.

As usual, my first task was to upgrade my old PC in our flat in Mapusa.

The PC has an intel 945 graphics chipset, so the likelihood of the system freezing with Fedora 12 or Ubuntu 9.10 is very high.

Also, this will begin my long experiment with keeping a system used a few times a year current without upgrading the OS again.

I brought a backup of Arch Linux from my parents' system in Chandigarh so that I could be operational very quickly.

It did not turn out to be that way - more about that in a separate post.