Sunday, June 17, 2007

The End of a HDD

They say pride comes before a fall.

A couple of weeks ago, I was laughing at a certain "low-life" that was backing up data on an external hard drive. I called her paranoid. Look who's laughing now.

For, just a couple of days ago, I came to turn on the computer for the good ol' evening surf. And when I turned it on, I was greeted by the following words "Boot sector not found on internal hard drive". For a moment, I thought Wowbagger was pulling a fast one on me. (Wowbagger is an insult generating program which curses you every half hour. I wanted to get insulted every half hour, so I installed it). A cursory investigation exonerated wowbagger, thankfully - because a future without insults every half hour is just, well, unimaginably dreary.

Rather than panic for more than a couple of hours, I decided to see if I could recover data using Linux. The Tux has been always been there for me when windows dies. And believe me, windows has died on me on numerous occasions. I did hear a friend use something called Knoppix, which is essentially a Linux which runs off a CD-ROM drive. I downloaded it in the lab (the XP in the lab did not die yet) - and after the necessary combustion onto a CD, ran it on my Dell.

I was intrigued to see that Knoppix DID actually work! I did manage to boot up (in German, but something is better than nothing - even if that something is in German). After some forumming, I managed to get onto the wireless internet and read everything in English. But the Knoppix experience was wholly unstatisfying. I was unable to listen to music on Pandora; I was unable to watch videos on youtube.

And then I came across something they call PCLinuxOS. I was not put off by the obscure name. I downloaded it, and here I am, listening to some nut called "John Eddie" on Pandora (apparently he sounds a little like Knopfler) having watched a cat play the piano on youtube. A few fdisks off the command prompt give me the dire warning that the partition table on my hdd if as corrupt as the average Indian policeman. (This analogy breaks down when I try to offer my hdd Rs 50 or $1.10 to let me through. Maybe it is because I don't know where to stuff in the money. I could buy one of those vending machine type financial transaction thingamajigs - and somehow fit it onto my computer.)

It seems quite likely that all my data has reached the land of no return. Fortunately, there was nothing of importance on the computer (which I cannot find elsewhere). My programs are all on CDs - so is my thesis. No office work is done on my home computer - or whatever there is of it is already backed up in the office. And almost everything important is backed up on Gmail.

I did lose all my firefox bookmarks - which Included lots of interesting sites that I had encountered over two years. But that's not such a big deal. It just points the importance of using internet based bookmarks.

Right now, all hopes of data recovery lie in some talented Indian in some Surat computer shop. Failing which, I will give into this temptation of just formatting my hard drive and installing a robust version of Linux (perhaps Ubuntu?) on it and using LaTeX instead of word.

And, yes, I am off to India tomorrow FINALLY. Looking forward to those amazing restaurants in India.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Do we really need a president?

Every few years or so, India fights within itself to elect a new president. A president who is just a "head of state", little else. A president who, for all practial purposes, has no hands, no legs, no eyes (fuguratively speaking of course) - and certainly no purpose except being an inspirational figure. (who lives in luxury that the Indian can scarcely dream about).

So, let me say this out loud - let us consider abolishing the presidency. A president does nothing - just eats resources - which, frankly could feed an army. Let us not fall prey to blind faith in our constitution - let us Amend it and get rid of the president. And while we're at it, let's get rid of the governers too. After all, these people do not govern!

Dr. Abdul Kalam is a visionary. An outstanding intellectual, who would have been equally important had he never been the president of India. As a matter of fact, he would have been better used as a professor in Anna university, inspiring the students (yada, yada, yada).

Because sooner or later, you run into some idealist (like the most recent female nominee, Mrs. Patil) who decides to make her opinion heard. Her ideas of "not being a rubber stamp president" are antithetic to the very foundations of democracy. She has not been elected by the people: she should realize that and keep her opinions to herself.

That havnig been said, neither is the prime minister in our country elected by the people. He is usually elected (and often just "nominated") by the people who are from the party elected by the people of the nation.

So really, even the prime minister is not elected by the people! Some might argue (debatably so) that the president is a more direct representative of the people than the prime minister.

You have no idea how confused I am regarding what to think.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why not Libertariansim.

There's many interesting political ideologies in the west, not the least of which is libertarianism. A libertarian is an individual who believes that (s)he is the owner of his/her own life. Libertarians hold that the state should not interfere with what they do with their property unless they are violating another person's liberty.

Libertarianism values free will and common sense - but frowns upon the welfare state and compulsory charity.

One can see why this is a very seductive ideology to lots of those who think. It basically boils down to this: I do whatever I want, as long as I don't harm anyone. This is surely what the people who founded most modern nations would have been thinking when they founded the nations!

And yet, I don't think this is the way to go for me. I am not a libertarian, and let me tell you why.

Firstly, let me come clean. I find the idea of libertarianism very comforting. Since people can do what they want to - there is very little reason to feel dissatisfied. And since there's very little reason not to be satisfied, there's no worry of a revolution waiting in the wings. This is almost as stable as I have ever seen a society be.

The main issue with this is that the world lives in Nations. The division among people into nations is a very bigoted and aritificial division. This division causes all the wars in the world. (What are wars about but land, now-a-days?) And there are usually lots of economic and immigration barriers between nations.

I hail from the third world. India. A more libertarian America would be an even more selfish America than it already is. A recent case in point: consider those Prophet Muhammed cartoons - and the subsequent riots in the Muslim world. Freedom of speech is a libertarian notion - perhaps as libertarian as a notion can be. A notion which is absolutely incompatible with the Islamic world's reverence for its founder. When people in a nation (or a culture ) do as they want to, they are bound to be insensitive to another culture - because they just did not know better. And this ferments hatred.

In a multi cultural world - it is very unlikey that this ideology will ever work (unless people everywhere are okay with eternal hatred). For libertarianism to really work, I feel the world needs compatible cultures - which is just not going to happen.

One might view this is as a failure of the system of nations more than that of libertariansim. One might be right in doing so. But it is unlikely that these ridiculous, unnatural political barriers will ever be lifted. So, that being a given - libertarianism is very unlikey to enlist me as a adherent - though I find it quite seductive otherwise.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

American Politics

Until now, I have deemed it below my dignity to talk about American politics in this blog. I still do find it demeaning to talk about American Politics - considering that they don't let me vote for their president (and why should they?). But I will make an exception this time.

Firstly, why do I consider it below my dignity to talk about American Politics? Because, (and this is true) - America is the land of plenty. American politics are the politics of plenty. I don't know about you, but I do hail from a land of over-whelming poverty. A land where it would be an insult to discuss obesity or abortion on a national stage. There, accroding to me are more pressing issues than the above. And that's why I manitain (from a third world perspective) that American Politics is a sad joke.

But I will discuss it here, because these trivial concerns (abortion, gay marriage and obesity) govern the world today. That's because the American people elect someone based (mainly) on these concerns. And the elected individuals have the capacity to destroy the world many times over. They are demonstrating this power in Iraq right now. I do believe I have a stake in this: this is my planet too!

I was watching the Republican and the Democratic debates on TV. They don't have a shortage of candidates, both the sides. The canditates range from the sincere to the pretentious - and the, well, deluded.

Among all the Republicans that talked, I thought there was one person who made a lot of sense. And he was from Texas (the irony is palpable). He is a republican that even Noam Chomsky (uttering whose name is a taboo on American Media) would be proud of. A conservative that convices you that conservativism need not be chauvansim. An American politician who is not ashamed of admitting to a series of foreign policy gaffes that Chomsky has been crying himself hoarse about since god knows when. I am talking about Dr. Ron Paul, perhaps the only reasonable, non hypocritical person running the race.

The tragedy is (and he knows it as well) that he will never win - not even the nomination. That's democracies for you! The sensible person seldom does win. It is usually the blow-hard. Take his argument with Guiliani in the aforementioned debate. He beat Guiliani hollow in the debate - and the latter managed to salvage some pride by taking a cheap shot at invoking patriotism.

Even the media, it seems, has lost its capacity to make independent judgements - though some will argue it never had any. I would guess the risk of being branded "unpatriotic" is too much for the media in this country - or any country for that matter. For the immeditate result would be an en-masse withdrawal of sponsors - which is the life line of the media. How unbiased can reporting be if there is a strong financial disincentive from making calls that one deems rational? And thus, you get a "mainstream" line: a line toed by everyone - except by the often courageous jesters such as Stewart, Maher and Colbert - and ostracized rationalists like Chomsky (and international students like yours truly).

To me, this is the ultimate failure of democracy and capitalism. A system that elects jingoists and kills rationalists - that's what democracy is. Back in India, Look at Modi. How on earth do you think the BJP is holding on to the reins in Gujarat? Good governance? Perhaps only partially so. Nationalism thrives on fanaticism, something that people earlier reserved for religion.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Going Home

In a week, I will be on the familiar shores of Motherland. Perhaps that's where all the familiarity ends, for I will be staying with my parents who have just moved to a coastal town in India's most fanatically right wing state from a confused, electric power deficient, "quasi-industrialised" state. I will refer to my trip as "home-going" rather than home-coming. For I am going to an unfamiliar place (home) from a familiar place (apartment in College Station). Ironic. Further details regarding the location of home are with-held - in case some fanatic nut tries to beat up yours truly in the airport.

To say that Motherland has been missed would not be an exaggeration. Of course, when one thinks of home one cannot but help think of the stray dogs, the stray cows, the filthy roads, the honking horns, the unhygienic roadside food, the omniscient Auto-Rickshaws, the corrupt policemen, the utter lack of infrastructure, the slums beside the railway track to name a few. But there is something strangely peaceful and therapeutic about the chaotic streets brimming with life. There is never a lonely moment in India.

The frequent reader will testify to the fact that I have devoted almost all my posts to India in the two years that I have been beyond its borders. Going to India after two years (in both of which the 8% growth rate has been breached) - one does expect a few significant changes. I will tabulate some significant changes expected in this blog.

What I expect to see in Urban India is a much larger upper middle class - a more significantly prosperous section of society. I see more shopping malls, more multi-plexes to cater to this huge new market. I see lots of Walmart Clones.

And yet, I see lots of poor destitutes. I see lots of abused children, I see barking dogs everywhere. There's so many poor people in India that lifting some out of poverty is like emptying an ocean with a small tumbler. I don't see their number reduce in the near future, 8% growth or not.

I expect to see child laborers working for rich people, I expect to see vast stretches of lovely highways flanked by the occasional slum. I expect to see that familiar disdain for traffic rules on city streets, I expect to see a civic infrastructure absolutely incapable of handling the generous monsoon rainfall.

And before all that I expect a grumpy immigration clerk be rude to one and all. The first rude person I would have encountered in two years. I expect to see an Airport with too many people. I expect to see traffic that cannot even move.

The point is, if one expects the worst, then one can only be pleasantly surprised.

And I would also like to announce to the casual reader of this blog - that the motive of this visit is not mere tourism. There is a more significant reason for this trip, the reason being that the author is getting hitched, taking the plunge, tying the knot - basically indulging in matrimony. The little woman is halfway to India as I write this blog. Probably asleep flying over the Atlantic ocean somewhere.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

India Guilty for G.W.?

Politicians never cease to surprise me - in their shamelessness and utter stupidity. And the latest Bushism, holding India among those "responsible" for global warming is just worth a good laugh - little else. I'm laughing so much that I'm not able to focus on work. So, I will rant and rave and get it out of my system.

It is a cynical laugh, a resigned laugh. A sad laugh which concedes that the world is run by individuals with negligible IQs and big mouths. And what scares me is that such people are in charge of weapons that can destroy the planet many times over - and history has shown - are not afraid to use them.

Picture someone, say Bill Gates (for want of a richer guy) walking down the street - nay - driving down the street in a Hummer (for want of a more polluting vehicle). Picture a grad student (for want of a poorer person) driving her bike innocuously on that "bike lane". And picture Bill Gates stopping beside the bike and exclaiming "You are so shameless, you {female dog}! Do you have any idea how much pollution making those tires of your bike causes? How much CO2 do you think the manufacture of that thing pumps into the atmosphere? You'll kill my planet."

A tad exaggerated, of course - but I trust you get my point.

A math course perhaps would have done these people a whole world of good. I idea of comparing nations as a whole (as opposed to per-capita comparisons) is incredibly stupid. It is incredibly stupid while comparing economies - and even stupider while comparing environmental effects.

I do believe that there is very little that outraged rhetoric can achieve, so let me change gears into full- blown satire. (Not that satire will achieve anything either - but it is much more fun!)

So, let me quote a report from an international Journal. Let's say, Science.

India IS Responsible For Global Warming

By Lunatic, Some.

Recent Studies by Exxon Mobil have shown that the Over-Indulgence of the Americans (OIA) is not a significant factor in increasing greenhouse gas levels in the world. The study further states that the carbon dioxide combines with oxygen and water under sunlight to produce acetone and sugar. Acetone has a low boling point - and actually cools the atmosphere.

The main reason for global warming, the study then goes on to say, is bovine flatulence in India. The report quotes "A cow in India is fed grass - which makes the flatulence contain a significantly high portion of methane. Methane is a global warming gas. It is anticipated that god lights methane up to keep himself warm - and some of that heat inevitably leaks back to earth. Even though, at a given time, the US has a billion live cows, they are not harmful to the planet - as they are fed a diet rich in meat made from other cows. This creates a sort of endless cannibalistic loop that would be extremely freakish if the species in question was Human Beings. American Bovine flatulence does not consist of mehane. And most of these cows are killed young for their meat. Studies have shown that only old cows can warm the globe"

The study has the following recommendations:

1. Abolish Hinduism as a religion since God created cows so that humans could eat them. People praying cows (as opposed to preying on them) are infidels. India can subsequently be colonized and the Indians (whatever we leave of them) will be forced to kill and eat cows.

2. More automobiles should be used. The use of cycles should be banned as the amount of CO2 emitted by their manufacture is inadequate. Hummers should replace SUVs and SUVs should replace sedans.

3. Hybrid vehicles should be illegal. This can be achieved by stipulating certain maximum mileage standards. Every car should achieve less than 11 miles to the gallon - failing which there will be a significant tax disincentive.

4. Anybody Driving A Hybrid Should be: given lethal injection.

More recommendations will be aired on Fox soon.


I hope I did not overdo it this time.