February 25, 2002

Once again, there is a huge gap between updates but once again it’s due to a set of peculiarly Sri Lankan (well maybe not just Sri Lankan but decidedly un-US <g>) circumstances :-) I guess again, I had better lay some background for those who are not familiar with Sri Lanka … The telecommunication sector in Sri Lanka is pretty bad – a few years ago (before I left the country actually …) the only people who could provide a person with a telephone line was the Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT). Since they were a monopoly, they basically made their own rules and there were instances where people had to wait years (I kid you not …) to get a phone line. Then, about five or six years ago, private telecommunication companies arrived on the scene. They used (I believe …) a variation on cellular technology to give people landlines (a Sri Lankan term, I believe, meaning a fixed line, not a cellular phone …) They were still kinda under the SLT monopoly because they had to depend on the SLT to connect them to the existing SLT userbase but you could at least get a phone in about a week or less instead of waiting for years.

My parents got a phone from one of these private companies when they built the house where I currently live. Things had been working fine till I got here last time on vacation <vbg> I discovered that the connection speed was pretty slow when I used the Net and was told that I could get a free line upgrade which would allow me to connect at 28.8 kbps or higher by simply calling the phone company and I proceeded to do so. Everything worked fine and I went back to the US and came back again. We recently started having problems with our phone and they came and replaced the antenna which connects us to their base station (since I believe this is some kind of fixed cellular technology …) but since then I could connect to the Net only at an abysmal 16.8 kbps! This happened sometime last week and since it took me about twenty minutes just to get my e-mail, I decided not to try and update my site for the time being. I’ve been calling the phone company’s customer support and trying to get the problem resolved for about a week now but since I’m not at home during the day (and my parents aren’t here either), it’s been virtually impossible to get anything done.

Add to that the fact that once I do get through to them, they give me some sort of a “it’s your fault” line and you can see how frustrated I must be getting. They’d promised to redo the line upgrade last Friday and I had to go to Kurunegala (where my parents were …) this weekend and so I didn’t get to check if the line upgrade had been carried out over the weekend. I came back yesterday and discovered that I still was connecting at 16.8 kbps and so called customer support again and was told that 14.4 kbps is the highest speed that I could connect at and that if I was connecting at 28.8, then I was actually depriving somebody else of their bandwidth!! <vbg> I told them what a bunch of bull that was and was finally promised that they “would look into the upgrade process again …” I came back from work today and discovered that I could again connect at 33.6 kbps – yay!! So here is an update on all that’s been happening …

But this is by no means a full update since I don’t think anybody is interested in the day to day happenings at work, traveling problems, the heat, power cuts, managing a large team of people at work etc. I haven’t even mentioned coding basically because I haven’t had much time to work on any of my apps except to respond to support questions – and even that is not done in my usual prompt manner because most days I don’t get back from work till late at night and just don’t feel like thinking about how to work with one of my apps :p I do need to get back to coding but the problem is turning out to be finding the time since I get home late during weekdays and then am not here on the weekends. Hopefully, things will stabilize soon and I’ll have the weekends free to get some coding done …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:50 pm  |  No Comments

February 15, 2002

I’m home after a couple of hectic days – went to Kurunegala on a quick visit day before yesterday and got back yesterday morning and almost immediately started work <g> No, it’s not computer work but rather television work – I don’t know whether I’ll be going back to producing programs but I’ve already started reviewing stuff that others have done. I guess it’s going to turn out to be pretty interesting since I’m already involved in a variety of projects after just one day at work – guess that’s the advantage (or disadvantage) to going back to a place you’d worked at before :p

I saw something yesterday which has been going through my mind quite a bit but before I get into it, I should (I guess) put in a word of caution – I don’t believe that there are many (if any <vbg>) Sri Lankan readers of these pages and so some of my rants might not make much sense due to the fact that you don’t know the people I’m talking about or the cultural scenario. I’ll try to sketch out these things if I do remember but can’t always remember that I will remember since these are basically my thoughts jotted down whenever I feel like it :p But on to what I started to say … Yesterday was Valentines day (as you probably know :p) but it isn’t something that has been widely celebrated in Sri Lanka till about six or seven years ago. People (or should I call it organizations/businesses? <g>) started picking up on the cash potential of Valentines day over the last few years and at the time I left the country, it was still not that big a deal but the prices of roses would shoot upto around Rs. 200 (or even as high as Rs. 400-500) per rose on that day. I came back to find that it’s become a much more widely hyped event – everybody has gone Valentine crazy and businesses offer Valentines promotions, radio stations and cellular networks have Valentines promotions etc. Basically, it has become an overly hyped and overly commercialized event like quite a few other holidays (even though it technically is not a holiday :p)

So much for the background <g> When I came to Sri Lanka this time, I realized that there was an anti-Valentine group that was protesting the fact that the highly hyped celebrations of Valentines day in Sri Lanka is utterly crass commercialism and that it is basically against the culture of of Sri Lanka. Yesterday, I saw a pro-Valentines rally which was composed almost entirely of young people (of course :p) who were protesting the fact that they had a right to celebrate Valentines – and even more so, the right to a free choice as to what they could do. Now to be honest, I have mixed feeling on the issue – in fact, I had a raging argument with myself when I saw the rally since on one hand, I believe utterly in individual choice (and the freedom for individuals to make their own choices …) I found the rally itself to be slightly comical and in extreme bad taste. Sri Lanka is a nation with many problems – the biggest of which is a multiple-decade spanning civil war which has crippled its economy and has brought all progress to a stand-still. At the moment we are enjoying a brief respite brought about by a ceasefire agreement that many hope will turn into a full blown peace initiative. Under such circumstances, I find this rallying for (or even against …) Valentines day to be almost a petty action.

But on the other hand, is it right to put any conscientious objections aside at any time just because we think the timing isn’t right? Doesn’t that by extension mean that it might be construed to be all right to be silent in the face of injustice just because we thought the timing wasn’t right? I am not sure … there are many facets to this problem and I would like to write about it at length but unfortunately, I don’t have the time since I have to get ready for work :-( So till the next time …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:17 am  |  No Comments

February 12, 2002

I have suddenly received several inquiries as to how to set up a PHP comments system with Blog – probably due to the fact that the URL I link to from my FAQ for a comments system done by Tyran Ormond is no longer working. I have modified the FAQ to point to a new zip archive that I have put up with the scripts that I use myself and some Blog specific instructions on how to set up the scripts. I have also included the original documentation for the scripts though it seems to be out of sync with the scripts themselves in certain places <g> Anyway, check the FAQ section on the Blog page for more information if you are trying to set up a PHP based comment system …

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Posted by Fahim at 9:15 am  |  3 Comments

February 11, 2002

There’s been no updates from me in a long time and so I decided it was time to change the trend :p The reasons for my silence are many but the main one is that I’ve been away from Colombo since the middle of last week and had no Net access all that time. I did get back yesterday and thought of doing an update but was too busy catching up on all the missed e-mails and sorting out all sorts of other stuff. Finally, I have time for a nice long update on what I’ve been doing, how things are going so far and my plans for coding etc.

First, the consensus about life in Sri Lanka after about a week – it’s basically a lot of good and bad <vbg> Does that make it fifty-fifty? I’m not sure since I feel that it is mostly good even though it might not seem so to somebody from outside :p For instance, one of the worst things about being here is that Internet access is prohibitively expensive due to the fact that local calls aren’t free (unlike the US) and so I can’t remain online for too long. This would count as a major minus but then again, staying offline probably gives me more time to do other stuff :p The good: some of the best cellular facilities (and phones) in the whole of Asia – if not the whole of the world. The bad? You have to pay for each facility (like WAP, GPRS, SMS etc …) and so the costs mount up. The good: you can get almost any software on every street corner <vbg> The bad? Nothing I can think of :p The bad: power cuts every day due to lack of rain. The good? Nothing I can think of :p

A really funny thing happened soon after I got over to Sri Lanka. I wanted to buy a multi-region DVD player since I had quite a few US DVD’s but was sure I wouldn’t get US DVD’s once I got here. I enquired at the duty free shop at the airport and was told by the Sony authorized agent no less that their DVD player played discs from all regions. I was kind of nonplussed since I didn’t believe that Sony made multi-region DVD players since that basically defeats the whole purpose of having region specific DVD’s. The guy at the shop was insistent however and so I bought the player since I was told I could return it if it didn’t work the way I wanted it to. I take it home, set it up and put in a US DVD and sure enough the message pops up saying that I couldn’t play it due to region restrictions! I took the player back to the Sony agent’s workshop and was told to take it to their service center. I did so and was asked what the problem was, told them and was told it was a minor adjustment. They took the player in, did some stuff and returned it to me. I didn’t have a US DVD disc with me and so I took the player home and what do you know? It now worked with US discs! I am surprised that the Sony agents themselves would do this but since I now have a Sony DVD player which plays discs from any region, I’m not complaining :p

I also had some problems with the game consoles I’d brought over with me. I had bought a multi-system TV at the duty free shop as well since I knew the consoles all had NTSC output whereas the TV signals in Sri Lanka are in PAL. The TV worked fine but all the consoles needed 110V power whereas they only have 240V in Sri Lanka! I’d brought along a few converters for just this purpose but I hadn’t read the instructions properly on them and realized only when I tried to use them that the converters could not be used with electronic items! I went out and got a step-down transformer, hooked the consoles up to that and the tried them and voila! It worked fine :-) At least it seems to work fine but since there are so many power cuts and I’m not at home much, I really haven’t had much time to play games. Oh well …

What about coding and the promised releases of my apps? Well, so far I haven’t spent a day at home – either I’m not in Colombo at all but don’t have access to my computer since I had to leave it behind or I’m in Colombo but am out getting stuff done or searching for work. I do want to get to work on some code but I fear that it’ll be some time before I actually do so – especially since there are power cuts at night and batteries can run only for so long. So, while I do not intend to stop working on any of my apps, I fear that I won’t get to work on any of them soon either :-(

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Posted by Fahim at 8:45 pm  |  2 Comments

February 3, 2002

OK, I am home and I’ve finally changed the time settings on my computer :p The final leg of the journey was quite uneventful but long – thank God :-) I mean the uneventful bit … I simply went to the Tokyo airport again in the morning, checked-in and the flight actually left the gate on time for a change. We even seemed to have made some extra headway on the journey back because we got to Colombo before the scheduled time :-) I had asked my parents to not meet me at the airport since my schedule had been shot to hell and I wasn’t even sure that I’d get there at the given time and so I had to do a bit of running around – get some stuff from the duty free, go through customs, find a vehicle, load my stuff etc. – but was home in a couple of hours!

So there ends the saga of my return to Sri Lanka – though I do have a feeling that quite a few things will continue on from the fact in the future … such as what happens with my consoles :p But all that is for another time. I’ve had about five hours of sleep and am trying to get back in to the routine of things over here. Unfortunately, I seem to have timed it a bit badly at this end since today is Sunday and tomorrow is a holiday as well due to it being Independence day over here :-( So I will have to wait two days before I can actually get to work on all the stuff that needs to be done. Ah, well … I guess I can at least unpack during those two days …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:00 am  |  2 Comments

February 1, 2002

Hmm … first of all, I guess I should change the time on my notebook to not use Eastern Standard Time (EST) :p But that brings up another matter that I’ve been contemplating during the flight – whether it is feasible to add time zone support (as well as static storage of the time zone of each post …) to Blog. I’m not even sure whether this is programmatically possible (though I might try to find out after I finish this entry …) but if it is, I probably will add that. Anyway, on to other stuff …

The reason that I mentioned the time on my computer was because I’m typing this sometime in the afternoon on Saturday high atop the skies over Tokyo whereas Blog thinks it’s late at night on Friday :p My streak of bad-luck continued last night when I got to Tokyo. Since we were delayed around six hours in Detroit, my connecting flight to Singapore was obviously gone :-( NorthWest had me assigned to a different flight to Bangkok from where I was supposed to get a connecting flight to Singapore and then on to Colombo on my already scheduled flight. We boarded the flight to Bangkok, the aircraft even pulled away from the gate but then we sat on the tarmac for a while … we seemed about to take off when the captain suddenly came on the PA system and said that we’d exceeded the 11 o’clock airport curfew in Tokyo by thirty seconds and that we had to return to the gate!! As you can imagine, some of the other passengers were pretty pissed off and there ensued a long argument between the flight crew and some of the passengers about what to do (or rather what they wanted the flight crew to do – which did not include any unmentionable physical acts though I’m sure some passengers at least thought of it <vbg>)

We finally got out and were told that we’d be put on another flight to Bangkok tomorrow morning. I didn’t want to go to Bangkok and then on to Singapore and then find that my connecting flight to Colombo was gone, so I talked to the NorthWest staff in Tokyo. They were helpful enough and found me an alternate flight straight to Colombo from Tokyo but that took quite a long while and it was past midnight in Tokyo by this time. NorthWest put us up in a hotel and I simply got there, had something to eat, called home to let my parents know what was going on and then crashed :-)

The unfortunate side-effect of all this was that I was unable do some shopping in Singapore that I’d been planning on – to get a bluetooth enabled cellular phone :-( Ah well … maybe in Sri Lanka or some other time I guess – not that I’m planning to fly anywhere in the near future :p I got to the airport again today in the morning, got through the usual stuff and for a change, the Sri Lankan flight to Colombo even took off on time. So here I am on the plane writing this soon after we took off … It’s a nine and a half hour flight and hopefully the streak of bad luck is over – I’ll just keep my fingers crossed :-)

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Posted by Fahim at 11:42 pm  |  No Comments