Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How to handle sarcasm

For some reason, I cannot stand sarcastic people. If you want to say something, be man enough about it and say it straight; don't beat around the bush. If you want to prove how witty you are, get a fricken blog or become a comedian.

The best way to handle sarcasm is to play along. When I was in college, I once went to a workshop class not wearing the requisite khaki uniform (I forget the reason -- most probably because I hadn't done my washing). The instructor smiled very sweetly (now that I think of it, he could have auditioned successfully for Professor Umbridge's part in OOTP; yeah, I know that Umbridge is a woman) and asked me whether it was raining, the implication being that my uniform hadn't dried in time for the class. I quickly said no, I had washed it, it had not dried in time, and so on. In hindsight, all I should have done is smile back even more sweetly at the bastard and said yes.

Here's an example of this technique in action:
Bruce Schneier: By today's rules, I can carry on liquids in quantities of three ounces or less, unless they're in larger bottles. But I can carry on multiple three-ounce bottles. Or a single larger bottle with a non-prescription medicine label, like contact lens fluid. It all has to fit inside a one-quart plastic bag, except for that large bottle of contact lens fluid. And if you confiscate my liquids, you're going to toss them into a large pile right next to the screening station -- which you would never do if anyone thought they were actually dangerous.

Can you please convince me there's not an Office for Annoying Air Travelers making this sort of stuff up?

Kip Hawley: Screening ideas are indeed thought up by the Office for Annoying Air Travelers and vetted through the Directorate for Confusion and Complexity, and then we review them to insure that there are sufficient unintended irritating consequences so that the blogosphere is constantly fueled. Imagine for a moment that TSA people are somewhat bright, and motivated to protect the public with the least intrusion into their lives, not to mention travel themselves. How might you engineer backwards from that premise to get to three ounces and a baggie?
Ouch, didn't see that coming, did we?

Way to go, Xymph

Hilarious stuff:
I note that the agreement still has to make it through the Occupied Territories, aka, the American Congress.
Anthony Weiner, Jerrold Nadler, and, needless to say, Tom Lantos (all D–Tel Aviv, ...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Time may not exist

If only they had listened to me. Could've saved themselves the, umm, time and effort.

By the way, here's something ironical: I was searching my blog for the post I've linked to, and found that nearly all my posts contain the word "time". We sure use the word a lot, even though we can't seem to define it.


One year after getting myself a laptop, I decided that it was high time I started treating it as one, instead of shackling it to my table in order to stay connected to the Internet. Here are some insights and lessons learnt from my attempt to free the laptop:
  1. Wireless routers are a Good Thing, even if you screw up and don't get a modem/router combo and end up having no USB slot on the router to stick your old, tried and tested ADSL modem into.

  2. Setting up wireless networking in Windows is a breeze. Not so in Linux (well, Ubuntu at least; much easier in Suse). I still haven't managed to get the ipw220 driver in 2.6.20 to connect to the router without hanging the machine, forcing me to fall back to 2.6.17.

  3. Laptops come with a button for switching off the radio/wireless. This is to conserve battery power. Pay more attention to the output of tools like iwconfig. When they say 'no radio', they are trying to tell you something important.

  4. In my current setup, the old IBM PC is connected to the Internet via the USB ADSL modem; the laptops -- plural because the Windows laptop from work has also been commissioned into the home LAN -- use the Internet connection (I'm running Privoxy on the PC) via the wireless router.

  5. Accessing the Internet from behind a proxy is no fun, even if you have full control over your Proxy server. All software depending on access to other ports (most notably P2P) will stop dead in their tracks, unless you bone up on things like SSH tunnelling. The sooner you get an Ethernet modem and retire the proxy, the better.

  6. Though Gmail is my preferred email application, I still like to have offline access to my emails by pulling them from Thunderbird. Problem: how to access Gmail's POP server from behind a proxy? Solution(s):

    • Run a POP3 proxy

    • SSH tunnel through the HTTP proxy

    • Export your Thunderbird email folder in your laptop via NFS to the PC, and run Thunderbird once a day on the PC (replicating the Thuderbird profile to all your Linux installations does come in handy, after all)

    Naturally, I opted for the more complicated, unorthodox solution, i.e. the last choice.

  7. The Switchproxy Firefox extension is worth its weight in gold.

  8. I don't know if my rudimentary networking knowledge is a contributing factor, but both Privoxy and Squid have some DNS issues; I tried all these combinations: starting my Internet connection manually before starting Privoxy/Squid manually, starting the proxy manually before connecting to the Internet manually, sticking the connection script in /etc/init.d/boot.local and starting the proxy automatically using YAST System Services, but I invariably ended up with "Could not resolve..." errors. The solution finally was to compile Privoxy from the sources and run it manually, after connecting to the Internet manually. Whew.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Filing your tax returns online

I filed my tax returns online today. Impressions:
  1. You need Acrobat Reader 8.1. Since only 7.0 is available for Linux, you need Windows. Big bummer.

  2. Don't try opening the PDF in 7.0, either in Windows or in Linux. Acrobat will chew your RAM up and pretty much freeze your machine.

  3. v8.1, while it does the job, is still not perfect. The first time I was in the middle of filling the form it crashed on me, forcing me to reenter all the data (Note to Adobe developers: it's not cricket to raise the hopes of users by volunteering to recover the lost document and not fulfilling your promise).

  4. Doing your own taxes is not a cinch, but is still doable, provided you are willing to invest the time (three and one half hours in my case).

  5. The surcharge is 10% of the total tax; the education cess is 2% of (tax + surcharge). This one stumped me for a while (the education cess bit, that is).

  6. When you are Googling for tax slabs and such, make doubly sure that you are looking at the figures for the correct year, or you'll end up tearing your hair out, trying to match the numbers obtained from a tax calculator for 2002-03 with your Form-16.

  7. I don't understand the need for having something called an assessment year. Why can't we just say we are filing the returns for FY 06-07, instead of saying AY 07-08?

  8. You still cannot avoid standing in a physical queue, unless you digitally sign the form.

Fool me once

Here's a scam to watch out for the next time you fill petrol for your car.

You stop at the pump, roll down your window and tell the attendant how much petrol you would like: say, a thousand bucks' worth. All modern pumps have a facility by which the attendant can set this amount on the display and then proceed to fill the tank; the pump automatically stops the flow of the fuel when the amount reaches the Rs 1000 mark. The attendant sets the amount, but before he starts pumping the gas, his colleague approaches you and asks you some seemingly innocent question, the real purpose of which is to distract you while the first attendant surreptitiously resets the pump display to zero. He then commences the filling, and as the reading approaches say, Rs 900, the second attendant once again distracts you, this time with a query about the bill or the credit card. While you are busy answering him, the first guy stops the pump and quickly sets the reading manually to Rs 1000. Congratulations: you've just been scammed out of Rs 100.

I was scammed out of Rs 85 by a bunch of scumbags employing this M.O. at the petrol pump in Indira Nagar. I couldn't do much about it then since I was in a hurry at that time; I also felt that if I took up the issue, it would be the attendant's word against mine.

Anyway, I resolved never to fill petrol there again, but, as luck would have it, I was very low on gas one day and had no choice but to pull into the same thieves' den. This time I parked my car at a different pump, and things started out normally; I mentioned the amount, the attendant punched this number in, but before he could start, up came his accomplice with some stupid question, and what did I see on the display when I looked up after answering the bastard? You guessed it: 0.00. That did it for me: I got out of the car and planted myself about 18 inches away from the display, and didn't take my eyes off till the last paisa rolled up on the screen.

On second thoughts, I am still not sure whether I got my money's worth of fuel; folks who resort to such scams probably adulterate their stock, too.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I'm no fan of the BJP

... but is this all you could dig up on Shekawat?
  1. He served in the police force under the British during 1942-1948.

  2. His state government was dismissed after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, as part of the bid by the central government to be seen to be doing something, no matter how tangential and ineffective it was.
But come to think of it, why do we want the President of the country to be a person of impeccable character, integrity, and so on? Why can't he/she be more like the rest of the scumbags? In other words, let Pratibha Patil become President; she'd fit right in with the crowd.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Oh, by the way...

I've not taken a sudden liking to Bollywood music. The Last.fm tracks displayed at the right are not mine, they are my SO's.

Ta Ra Rum Pum? I'd rather shove a stick in my ...

Killing hope

Every month I get The Anti-Empire Report newsletter from William Blum, and it never fails to make me disgusted; not at the author, but at the actions of the sole superpower and its allies. The newsletter is all the more damning because nearly all of its references are 'impeccable' news sources like The Washington Post, The LA Times, and so on.

No Linux in corporate laptop

Our IT department is currently setting up my laptop, and I asked them about the possibility of creating a separate partition in it where I can install Linux.

Nice try. Corporate policy prohibits dual boot machines, it seems. If required, they can install Linux, but only Linux, no Windows. Heavenly though this sounds, this is not an option for me, because I need to have access to Lotus Notes for corporate email. I think POP3 support is provided by our email server, but then I will not have any way to access already archived emails. I have decided to run Linux from VMWare for the time being.

The no-dual-boot restriction smells like an MS dirty trick as part of the corporate licensing deal; however it could simply be a requirement to push standard corporate images on to machines.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What's worse than

... getting a big dent in your car because some moron crashes into you?

Getting a big dent in your car because some moron has just learned driving and doesn't know how to park yet and bangs into your car (which is quietly enjoying an afternoon nap in the parking lot) and doesn't even have the courtesy to leave a sorry note.

And what is even worse? When the above moron is not some random stranger, but your coworker.

Item #12, coming right up.

Is it time to unsubscribe from the RI blog?

Habits are hard to let go, but for quite some time I have been noticing that RI forum posts are way more interesting than Jeff's blog. No offence, but there's only so much occult and UFO stuff that one can take. I can't even believe half the things there, anyway. Another nit is Jeff's non-usage of blockquote tags, which makes it very difficult to separate what he says from what he quotes.

(This post was triggered by a post expressing a similar sentiment, albeit for different reasons)

Quote of the day

From an RI Forum post:
... dubya will probably be reborn as a slug, or a worm, and probably stay there for several lifetimes. Good hard work building up the soil will be a starting point for his long journey back to sentience.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Movie Review: Ocean's Thirteen

Maybe it's the geek in me, but any movie that has scenes involving computer messages like 'Transferring file from FBI' (gag) instantly loses two stars, notwithstanding the fact that it boasts of a star cast that includes Al Pacino, Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

There's nothing new in the story -- hi-tech gang targets Casino/Bank/Museum and walks away with a gazillion bucks, with the roll of the dice favouring it in all the -- ahem -- dicey situations. I am also fricken tired of the too-clever dialogue, the main purpose of which is to show how smart and clever the characters are, rather than providing entertainment for the audience.

Here's a plot idea for Oceans' Fourteen (do you think we'll get off that lightly, with only two sequels? Oh no): Willie Banks and Terry Benedict join hands together and start a casino on Mars, spending something like a trillion dollars. The casino also serves as a Swiss Bank (should I say Martian Bank) and houses the bestest and the most famous precious stone in the world. The security of the casino/bank is ensured using unbreakable quantum cryptography, developed by a quadruple Nobel/Fields prize winner. Well, unbreakable for mere mortals, actually, for Ocean and his buddies travel back in time and bring back Schrodinger's cat, whose left pupil has the amazing property of decrypting quantum cryptography beams by diffracting with the above diamond's light rays...