Saturday, October 31, 2009

Murphy's law - Review

Murphy's Law is a fictional book by Colin Bateman about an undercover cop Murphy Martin. The author doesn't try to prove Murphy's law that if anything can go wrong it will. In fact its quite the contrary and the only relationship of the title is with the protaganist's name and to catch your attention on bookshelves. There is also a BBC TV series by the same name.

Reading the book is like watching a really good gangster movie like Goodfellas or Departed. It has lot of twists and is unputdownable. It starts out as a regular infiltration movie with the protaganist making himself believable to the gangsters as a singer at a pub. The gangster family headed by Terry Hatcher is in the funeral services business and is also involved in protection, diamond robberies, murders and drug deals. Murphy makes his inflitration convincing initially as singer and later as driver. The other gangster characters Mitch, Johnny, Annie, Noreen have been well sketched.

After Murphy earns the trust of Hatcher, he is involved in their funeral business as driver and as accomplice in robberies. The plot in this book revolves around the sequence of events leading to Hatcher's major drug deal with a japanese gang. After Murphy enters the gang, its a roller coaster ride with lots of spiral twists and turns. And what do you expect when two gangs meet for a drug deal - ofcourse an adrenalin pumping shootout where lots of twists and truths which makes for a satisfying ending.

Murphy's character has lots of interesting shades as singer, funny guy and undercover cop with a sad history. There are some missing holes about his past life, which is expected from TV series to serve as missing links for future seasons. But that doesn't make the first book any less interesting. Overall a very fast paced and interesting read if you liked inflitration movies like Departed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pigs don't fly

Swine flu is creating panic all over the world and being at Pune, the epicentre (Is it a volcano?) of the disease in India, i cant think of anything else to blog about at the moment except that. If you came here looking for medical advice on how to combat Swine flu, look elsewhere. If you want to make fun of the virus and the soothsayers hang on. Swine flu is disproving the old saying that 'Pigs dont fly'. All the news channels are saying it everyday, so you better believe it. This is my argument/rant that Pigs really dont fly :)

Uptil now, i have never bothered about seasonal flu. There are millions of viruses which can cause seasonal flu and it is difficult for the doctors to figure out the specific virus strain that caused it and administer a vaccine for that. My dad used to say that common cold can be treated in 7 days without medication and just 1 week with medication. That's how well we understand flu viruses, atleast as far as therapy goes. Maybe if they had a wikipedia of all the different flu viruses that have ever affected mankind, we would be in a better position to fight flu or the well known common cold.

I like the adjective 'common' in 'common cold'. When you're having a bad cold, it's such a relief to know that its so 'common' to have a cold. When you're in a relaxed state after accepting that, it's so much easier to come out of any disease. If only cancer was called 'common tumor', cancer patients wont be so hopeless.

Think of it from the perspective of the Virus. How would you feel when all humans are just categorized as different variants of the species HomoSapiens as H1S1, H5S1 etc without any identity. Well, the taxonomist thought "What's in a name?" just like the human taxonomists dont bother to name each individual animal. You would be dying in anger to prove to the world that you're special and establish your name. That's exactly what the Swine flu virus did with a vengeance, when the rest of its common cold siblings are completely ignored by humankind and even its cousin Avian flu could not attain much glory. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft of the Virus world (Human, Bird and Pig, not in that order!) decided to collaborate and come out with a combination we call AH1N1.

This might seem like a really stupid argument, but after having read The Selfish Gene, you tend to believe that each organism is just a machine for the DNA to survive. The virus replicates to propage its DNA. Thats the reason humans treat their child with all the care, its their only chance to propagate their DNA even though they are mortal. Nonetheless, there are other equally bizzarre journalism like this: "You wont die of Swine flu because the Virus wants to spread. If the host dies, it cant spread anymore. The virus wants you to be alive and kicking and sneezing so that you will go out and it can spread.". Even Richard Dawkins would not have thought of that!. Remember Rachel saying in the movie Ring "She just wanted to be heard". Oh the pity virus, it just wanted to spread :(

If thats stupid, consider this conspiracy theory. It argues that Swine flu is a biowar labtest gone wrong. What is the probability that a sick pig, bird and human viruses come together and spread across the world in 2 months, unless Dr Dolittle is sick and decided to have animal sex with his sick pets GugGub(pig) and DabDab(duck) and they ended up giving birth to AH1N1. We dont pity the Mexicans specifically like we pitied the Japanese in 1945, because the scientists seriously misjudged the capability of a Virus to spread across the world. They could have atleast learnt from Microsoft Windows

There are other conspiracy theorists who argue that Swine flu is being hyped up by Media, who get paid by Pharma companies to spread panic and fear of the unknown among public, so that they can get world governments to indulge in mass vaccination programmes and make zillions of dollars. Imagine the creators of Tamiflu and Relenza sitting on billions on cash, and WHO telling the world that by 2010, 2 billion people would be affected by SwineFlu. I say WTF, bcos thats 1/3 of the population. I think WHO needs some statistics lessons. Take a city like Pune for example. The population of Pune is 5 million, out of which 500 (0.01%) have been affected and 10 (2% mortality rate) have died. If thats a small sample, world over, out of 6 billion people, 200,000 (0.003%) have been affected and 2000 have died (1% mortality rate).
Even if it spreads 10 times by 2010, just 0.1% of the population and not 1/3 are going to be affected. I dont have the statistics for common flu because its common, we dont panic and it just goes away, but i guess the numbers would be marginally lesser.

Pharma companies are hurrying to create a vaccine for Swine flu. A vaccine is a weakened less virulent form of the virus to train the immune system to fight the antibody and then remember it. Louis Pasteur need not have been a genius to discover this. Even Adam Sandler could come up with that idea in Longest Yard to boost the confidence of prison guards by setting up a football game with a weak team of prisoners. The medical world still doesn't fully understand the virus and can only hope that the weakened flu doesn't become really strong like the prisoners in Longest Yard. But they sure know that they're going to make zillions of dollars through mass vaccination programmes.

I finally had a chance to rant out on all the shit the media has been feeding me in the last week. Dont believe all that you hear from the news channels. Just use that info to be aware of the situation in your neighborhood. Swine flu is a little less common than common flu, but i'm planning to use this as an opportunity to eat with nutritional awareness and increase my immunity and get some exercise and good sleep. I dont mind if this is a conspiracy by Food industry to make people eat healthy food.

PS: The title of this blogpost is inspired by a really bad PJ by a co-worker.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back on the Wireless Web

I'm finally back on the blogosphere after 45 days without internet access at night when my blogging neurons are most active. And this time im on the wireless web. Not WiFi, its so yesteryear. Im connected on Reliance Netconnect EVDO, which is a CDMA wireless broadband technology. Don't be impressed by the tech, true to Reliance the speed and service suck top notch. I dont know why the Ambanis make so much money. Anyway, something is better than nothing.

It looks cool and suave, but its a horrible chinese product. And guess what, it doesn't work out of the box on Linux because the device behaves as both Modem and FlashDrive.

Getting it working on Linux is not for the faint hearted. This is how i got ZTE8710 working on Ubuntu Intrepid after 3 hours (It's supposedly easier in Ubuntu Jaunty):

Make sure you're logged in as root
$ su

Step 1. Make OS recognize it as Modem and not a FlashDrive.

You can do this either by using usb_modeswitch or ZTE8700 drivers.

And the following cmds are helpful for debugging this step:

$ lsusb
Vendor and Product of device. If the device is being recognized as FlashDrive Vendor/Product is 0x19d2/0xfff6. If the device is recognized as Modem, Vendor/Product is 0x19d2/0xfff1

$ dmesg | tail
Tail kernel log to see if USB is being mounted in the proper location. If its mounted on /media its treated as flash drive. If its mounted on /dev/ttyUSB, its treated as Modem

$ tail -f /var/log/messages
This log is also a Kernel log where you can monitor device being connected/disconnected

What to choose?

usb_modeswitch is written exactly for the purpose of switching from Flash drive mode to Modem. But somehow i couldn't get it to work.

As suggested in tuxhat post, this is what i did.
1. Download ZTE drivers for AC8700 from
2. $ dpkg -i ztemtEVDO-1.1-8-i386-ubuntu804.deb
3. Installation fails saying ztemt.ko not found.
4. Don't give up yet
$ cd /usr/local/bin/ztemtEVDO
$ tar -xvf usb-serial.tar.gz

Go to extracted folder and run make.
It builds ztemt.ko. Copy ztemt.ko to /usr/local/bin/ztemtEVDO

5. Now ztemt comes with 2 utils: ztemtevdo and ztemtvcdromd. ztemtvcdromd is used for swtiching modes

$ ztemtvcdromd
reinsert device
$ lsusb

The device must have switched from Flash mode(0xfff6) to Modem mode(0xfff1)

$ ztemtevdo still errors out. I haven't figured out what it is.

If you have got it going till now, cheers.

Step 2. Mount usbserial kernel module to use the USB modem

usbserial module is not loaded by default in Ubuntu. You can load it in two ways:
1. Add a line to /boot/grub/menu.lst file [works only in Ubuntu Jaunty]
2. Use modprobe
$ modprobe usbserial vendor=$VENDOR_ID product=$PRODUCT_ID

This turned out to be the timesucker for me. The Product ID you use here is the product id corresponsing to Modem mode(0xfff1) not FlashDrive mode(0xfff6). So don't execute this command until you successfully switch to modem mode

Its time for some command line trivia:

loads a kernel module with supplied options

list all loaded kernel modules

lsmod | grep usbserial
check if usbserial is successfully loaded

If you got it mounted successfully, you're just one step away from getting disappointed (ofcourse after using Reliance Netconnect on Ubuntu)

Step 3. Use wvdial to connect

The next step is a breeze. Get wvdial, edit the config file and you're connected.

$ sudo apt-get install wvdial
make install from source (

$ vi /etc/wvdial.conf

Here's a snapshot of my config file:

[Dialer Defaults]
Init2=ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0
Modem Type = Analog Modem
Username=########## (Your 10 digit number)
stupid mode=1

Now run
$ wvdial

And you're Netconnected. All this pain for 'some stupid mode = 1' surfing through a dumb AT command modem.

So, what do you have to do for everyday surfing?
$ su
$ ztemtvcdromd
Plugin device
[Optional: $ lsusb to make sure device is in modem mode]
$ modprobe usbserial vendor=$VENDOR_ID product=$PRODUCT_ID
$ wvdial

Or make a convenient shell script and execute it.

Here are some more links which i found helpful:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why we survived?

Now that you're ROFL after seeing the obese man, have you ever wondered why we survived all these years? Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is based on the whole premise of "survival of the fittest". And do you call that fit? The point is its not fit as in gym/healthy, but fittest could be interpreted in a lot of ways - the species that survives is the one that is fittest for the circumstances.

Why should the human animal survive and prosper all these years when there are stronger animals out there? And we are so far ahead in the evolutionary game that we control the survival/extinction of the rest of the species. They are under our mercy, or atleast getting the mercy of the subset of homo sapiens who are members of PeTA or WWF. I have sometimes wondered while walking on the streets, why we humans built those huge buildings and live comfortably. Why not Tigers, Rats, Dogs or Ants?

Reproduction alone is not the answer because rats multiply faster. The next obvious answer would be Sixth sense. But billions of humans living alone with their sixth sense could not have dominated the earth the way we have dominated today. There's an element of collectivism that helped us unite in some way and survive so far. We still don't have as much collectivism as Ants, who could have easily been here instead of us. Imagine zillions of ants walking the face of earth, slowly and steadily building huge ant mounds and industries, which is easily possible. But their collectivism was not enough to beat us. If only they were carnivorous and fed on humans, they wouldn't be the object of fancy of every child playing in the park or backyard. Or they would not have become a cute decorating item on your coffee table.

Humans have both collectivism and individualism. The individualism makes some humans aspire to greatness, like a Wright brothers or Newton or Shakespeare or Einstein or Da Vinci, which help us like turbochargers in the evolutionary game. But the important element that made sure we didn't re-invent the wheel or re-invent the fire in evolutionary terms, was the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another. And the tools that helped us are language, books and internet, and not to forget schools and colleges and universities.

Intellect was the key in later years, but that still could not have helped early humans beat a lion in catching a deer. There could have been no "Teach yourself How to catch a deer in 21 days without being eaten by a Lion" in those days. Humans were not completely carnivores, and that solves half your food problems, because flesh rots faster than vegetables and they didn't have refrigerators in those days.

Can you think of any animal that doesn't have an external dependency on food? Even cows need grass. And if you have been to a park with monkeys, even they depend on the snack food you feed them, in additon to the fruits and nuts on the trees. That's where it all started. Imagine humans feeding monkeys in a park. Flashback 50 billion years. Only there are no humans to feed the monkeys, because the humans have not yet evolved from the monkeys. The monkeys jump around trees, grab fruits and vegetables and sometimes eat in groups. Some monkeys are more advanced than the others and fed on meat. As evolutionary rumours in erstwhile People magazine "Primates" go, one monkey-man dropped his food in the sea, discovered that salt added taste to his otherwise raw meat. Another monkey-man dropped his food in the fire and heating was born. Monkey man one meets Monkey man two and cooking was born. Salt evolved into garam masala, schezuan sauce and numerous other spicy tastemakers. And heating evolved into Firestoves, Kerosene stoves, Gas cylinders, Ovens, Microwaves and Magnetic Induction cookers.

And the external dependency of humans on food was gone. Now they no longer needed to hunt for food. They can store and cook their own food, which no other animal can even today. Now when everybody has to hunt for food everyday, humans can happily cook and feed on 3 sumptuous meals a day, and have other things to think about than where the next meal is coming from. They thought of agriculture, industries, science, philosophy, wars, computers and a lot of other things.

After depending on restaurants for a long time for food, I recently discovered this freedom from external dependency after learning to cook using the magnetic induction cooker i recently bought and the numerous packed and ready to cook foods available. I felt like the Neanderthal man walking on earth feeling sorry for the Lions and Tigers who'll never learn how to cook.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

If Yossarian Lives In a Big City

Yossarian is a popular fictional character in the book Catch 22. He has a lot of witty and funny lines in the novel, and here's Yossarian ranting about pollution for a change instead of me:

"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.

"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.

"Then why are they polluting my lungs?" Yossarian asked.

"They're polluting everyone's lungs," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."

"And what difference does that make?"

"Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?"

"Every one of them," Yossarian told him.

"Every one of whom?"

"Every one of whom do you think?"

"I haven't any idea."

"Then how do you know they aren't?"

In search of Fresh air

The most common cure people suggest for anything is to get some fresh air. But where is the fresh air? I recently discovered fresh air in a hopelessly polluted city like Chennai. Try traveling in a busy polluted street at 6 PM and at 6 AM and notice the difference. The same choking street is radically different at 6 AM and is full of fresh air.

If we reduce our pollution levels for just 6 hours, and allow some time for nature to recuperate, see how well nature rewards us. Nature has its own air purifying mechanisms and absorbs the insane amount of pollution we stuff upon it. Imagine if we stop or atleast reduce pollution levels forever, how fresh the air would be. And fresh air is known to make wonders to your health. No wait, i dont need to convince you, Fresh air is my fundamental right. I cant breathe polluted air because of lone drivers who travel in big cars and breathe marginally fresher stale air.

This early morning experience has clearly convinced me that when Humans are extinct from respiratory problems due to inhaling polluted/stale air, Nature will need just a little over 6 hours to recuperate and become habitable to Aliens or the next generation of ecologically-aware smarter Humans.

There are situations like these that reassert my faith in Nature in the Nature vs Humans ecowar. Whenever you fly from one big city to another, you can see through the window seats of airlines, that the concrete jungles of big cities are just 10% of the surface of earth. Nature predominates the rest. Or imagine a busy traffic day interrupted by rain. It takes 15 minutes of downpour to down out the pollution and bring in the smell of rain and some fresh air. I hope i get my regular dosage of fresh air every morning before they ruin it for the rest of the day.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Mackintosh or Mac is one of the most desired computing devices. Of late it has become relatively affordable. I never knew Mac was Unix-based and as powerful as any Linux box until last year. I just thought it was a glossy device with a flashy UI for Rich startup CEOs to brag about. Even with student discounts, MacBook is still not for the masses.

One elusive thing about Mac is the difficulty of installing Mac OS X on PCs. Thats also the USP of Mac. Why would you want to pay for expensive glossy hardware when you can get the same experience on a cheaper laptop. Every platform needs a USP like this.

Even after Mac shifted from PowerPC to Intel microprocessors, it still isn't easy to install Mac on a PC. For the poor people out there who can't afford a Mac, there are several ways to do it:

1. Get a Theme
This is by far the easiest option if you want only the Mac look and feel and are not bothered about Time machine or TextMate. And this is legal too. But a Mac underneath is more than just the glossy looks for flaunting. The differentiating factors in a Mac desktop are the cool buttons, the dock and global menubar. Checkout this link on how to convert your Ubuntu Intrepid to OS X Leopard lookalike.

And here's how i saved 2000 $ by adding Mac OS X Theme on Ubuntu Intrepid on a rusty old Desktop. So much for the looks!

2. Virtualization

There aren't many virtualization options available for the OS X and it isn't a breeze like other Linux or windows installations. You need to do lots of patches and tweaks on the Install image and virtual os settings to get it work. And it doesn't work on VirtualBox, which is a freeware. VMWare is relatively easier compared to Qemu, but it isnt free.

Checkout this guide for how to get it working with VMWare

Checkout this forum for how to get it working with Qemu

And for the faint hearted, there's a pre-patched VMWare image of OS X which works like a charm on a VMWare player. Search for pcwiz vmware in your fav torrent tracker, find an image and follow this guide. Actually there's not much in the guide, you just get the image and run it.

Here's a VMWare install of Mac OS X Leopard on a Dell laptop:

Checkout your favorite torrent trackers for the corresponding image files. Browse around forum to find out other virtualization options

In case you still havent guessed, lots of essential things like Ethernet, Sound and USB dont work properly on a Virtual OS. Ethernet and Sound might work if you're lucky or perseverent.

3. Patched DVD

The last option for people who want the real Mac OS X on a real partition is to get a Patched DVD like Kalyway etc, perform BIOS tweaks and after lots of struggle get it working. Checkout for discussions and guides