June 4, 2006

Wasted time …

I’ve been involved in an online controversy for the past week or so. OK, maybe involved is too strong a word – I’ve been following it keenly. I don’t like taking sides unless I know all the facts in a case and in this case, I didn’t know all the facts. Both sides claimed that they had unrevealed facts and that they couldn’t reveal all the facts just yet. So, I’ve been following things to see how it develops 🙂

Sure, I had my own conclusions (or rather theories) based on what I knew so far and what some of the players said themselves. But that isn’t necessarily proof, right? Of course, that didn’t seem to stop most people from taking sides and defending "their" side or vilifying the other side. The sad thing is, all this brouhaha broke up over a site about creativity, a site aimed at helping writers to hone their skills and their craft. Now, all that energy and all that talent is channeled towards name calling and arguments. A waste of time, or what?

A writer’s main job should be writing. And I hope, that when one writes, it will be something constructive, something useful or something entertaining. Sure, some of these posts are entertaining for a given value of entertainment – just like some people find cockfights or dogfights entertaining :p But I still feel that this energy could have been devoted to something else. We don’t know all the facts, we can’t presume to judge. So why not spend our time creatively rather than fighting others or baiting trolls? But that’s human nature for you – we just don’t know what might be logical. We do the exact opposite :p

Of course, I’m no better since I’ve been spending all my writing time reading this stuff and mentally commenting :p But I’ve decided that enough is enough. The community in question will be revived in its own time. There is not much to be gained by dwelling on what has happened. It is time to simply look to the future and start working on writing again 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:55 am  |  No Comments

May 18, 2006

Blue bites the dust …

I’ve written about Blue Security, Blue Frog and the attacks on them by spammers before. The last couple of days, access to the Blue Security site and to spam reporting has been kind of spotty. Then last night, spam reports started bouncing totally. So I took a look around the net to find out what was going on. Imagine my surprise that Blue Security had simply given up and folded in the face of continued attacks by the spammers!

Of course, on reading further, I realized that Blue Security probably had no choice. The spammer seems to have been bulldozing through everything in his/her path to get Blue Security to crumble. However, given the scale of damage caused and the number of companies and organizations that the spammer seems to have taken down, it makes me wonder as to why nothing is being done about this kind of thing.

The Internet has become the battleground of the future and the future is today. It looks as if any individual with the know how and the skill can simply hold any site on the Net hostage. Forget about little itty bitty sites like mine and yours, they can apparently hold multi-million dollar companies hostage. Nothing is safe anymore since if you are attacked, your host will probably drop you. And if you thought your host was safe, then maybe your DNS provider will drop you. Basically, if somebody doesn’t like what you say, they can take your site down and there is nothing much you can do about it. Sounds insane, doesn’t it? I guess this is just another facet of learning just how powerless we are in today’s empowered world :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:01 am  |  2 Comments

May 14, 2006

Response and responsibility

I read an interesting entry on a blog I visited today. The entry was about how this lady was the guidance counsellor for a group of high school students and she almost stopped a project that a few of them proposed because she didn’t have the time to devote to it. (She tells the story much better and my condensation just doesn’t do justice to it anyway – so go read the story :p) She realized in time that they didn’t want her to be involved, just to be a counsellor and they did end up going ahead with it and it was a roaring success.

When I read the story, I was struck by her final comments where she remarks about how often have we shot down a project or an idea because *we* couldn’t handle the responsibility. She wrote the article from the perspective of a counsellors (or an adults) interaction with youth. But I was struck by the fact that this same point applied to what we did everyday with anybody we came in contact with. So I wrote a comment on her site which said something along the lines of, how often have we, perhaps unconsciously, discouraged somebody from following their dream or from trying out a new idea they had because we thought it wouldn’t work or because we felt that the other person wasn’t ready for it or because we didn’t want to be dragged into the project ourselves? How often have we crushed the seed of something great because of our fears, insecurities and our prejudices? Makes you realize how much responsibility you wield on a day-to-day basis and how the tiniest of your actions can affect things on such a grand scale perhaps. A butterfly flapping its wings in Sumatra …

Posted by Fahim at 6:57 am  |  2 Comments

May 11, 2006

Rejections and reflections

I received another rejection day-before-yesterday – this time for one of my short stories. I had submitted my story, The Wyrm’s Lair, to Orson Scott Card’s Integalactic Medicine Show. I am not worried about the rejection – rejections are bound to come – but the way the rejection was given surprises me a bit. First of all, though the magazine has a website, the rejection came from a Yahoo address :p Secondly, they are supposed to respond to submissions in three months and the rejection came right on the dot on the final day of the three month period. The my paranoid side can’t help but wonder if perhaps they ever read the submission or they simply reject everything that has been with them for three months?

This paranoia is reinforced by point number three – there was no reason given, no critique of the story. It simply stated, "we can’t use it, you can submit it elsewhere now". To be honest, I’m disappointed with Orson Scott Card :p Of course to be even more honest, I’ve never read any Orson Scott Card :p He’s one of those authors that I’ve been meaning to read since I first saw one of his books on a library shelf way back in 1989. But I’ve never done so because either I never find any of his books at the bookstore or I find part of a series and never the whole series. But still, I expected a magazine run by somebody of his calibre would at least give you a few pointers when they rejected your submission.

I grew up reading about Hugo Gernsback and "scientifiction", about authors of the calibre of John W. Campbell, Horace L. Gold, Lester Del Rey and Anthony Boucher who would spend hours discussing stories with their writers and who even when they rejected a story, inspired the writer to do better. When I started writing and submitting myself, I expected something like that. But I guess I’m forgetting the fact that the world has moved on. That everybody is in a hurry, that everything moves much faster now. I have made hundreds of queries and a few submissions over the last year or so. Most of those have been met with a rejection without any explanation. Of the handful of submissions I’ve made, I’ve received one rejection where they actually took the time to analyze stuff. Everybody else used meaningless and pat phrases like "not right for me", "I can’t get enthusiastic about it" or "too busy" to get out of actually giving their honest opinion.

Is it just that the world has become so PC that nobody wants to offend anybody else? Or just that everybody is so busy that they can’t be bothered to sit down and write down their opinion? Or worse yet, that nobody has an opinion anymore? :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:18 am  |  No Comments

May 9, 2006

Who’s to blame?

I’ve been going through news reports about the whole Blue Frog thing that I wrote about yesterday here, here and at a few other places as well. The more I read these reports, the angrier I become.

Some of these are probably the selfsame people who talked about "collateral damage" and how "you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs" when Bush declared his "war on terror" and went over to Iraq in search of WMDs. But now, let a few million "innocent" bloggers be deprived of their daily right to ramble, and out come the pitchforks and the torches. Not to get at the real culprit mind you, but to crucify the guys who actually seem to be fighting the spammers. So I guess a few thousand foreign lives have no value but by God, we have to protect the inalienable right of our innocent bloggers to blog daily, gosh darn it!

(Of course, a reverse of the same rhetoric was used by a Blue Frog defender elsewhere :p He said, and I quote, "First, the media says ‘shame on us’ for going after a sick group of people who fly planes into buildings (and who are bent on our destruction). Now, they are saying ‘shame on Blue Security’ for trying their best to fend off a cyber CRIMINIAL who thinks the Internet is his to do as he pleases." So I guess the rhetoric can be used both ways – and even to defend the viewpoint of those who think that Blue is at fault. But the rhetoric stays :p)

Now I’m by not a die-hard Blue-freak :p But Blue Security appears to be doing something about spam when almost all that these so called experts do is to sit around and talk about it. Sure, Blue seems to have been rather stupid in the way they handled the attack. But then again, if their claims are true (and the fact that they have traffic reports showing the decline in traffic to their site seems to indicate that they were working based on a hypothesis that they thought was true), they didn’t know about the DDoS and so weren’t knowingly throwing TypePad to the lions. So why are all these "experts" hell-bent on vilifying Blue Security?

Is it just the human mob mentality where you pick on the closest handy-looking victim because you really don’t care who you blame as long as you have somebody to blame? Or is it more sinister? Are these people blaming Blue because they really don’t want spam to go away because that would mean that their "expert" advice would no longer be needed – at least with regards to spam and so revenue streams will dry up? Or is it just a case of the little green eyed monster rearing its head? I don’t know … but the reporting about the incident, at least, seems a little biased.

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Posted by Fahim at 8:31 am  |  No Comments

May 8, 2006

And the battle rages on …

I wrote about Blue Security, Blue Frog and the fight against spam a couple of days ago. At that time, I mentioned how a spammer was trying to intimidate Blue Frog users and get them to stop using Blue Frog. I also mentioned that the Blue Frog servers appeared to be under attack at that time.

Well, it turns out that the two events were related. The spammer who was trying to get Blue Frog users to stop was the same one who was attacking the Blue Frog servers. He had gone as far as to get an employee at an ISP to filter all traffic to the Blue Frog site except from inside Israel, where their servers were located. If I was surprised at that – at the fact that employees at ISPs were corruptible and didn’t really take their responsibilities seriously – I shouldn’t have been. We are after all, human and utterly fallible :p

Blue Security had overcome that particular issue by moving their company blog outside Israel by pointing it to a TypePad account of theirs. The spammer had retaliated by launching a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack against the TypePad servers, denying service not just to Blue Security but all the other users of the service as well. Apparently, the spammer then proceeded to DDoS TuCows, Blue Security’s domain service provider, resulting in TuCows terminating their services for Blue Security.

Of course, this Yahoo news report (and probably others like it) seems to indicate that Blue Security might not have been totally blameless here and it looks as if people are actually blaming Blue Security for all this. I am not aware of the actual events that took place – besides, they say that there are three versions of the truth: his, hers and what really happened :p However, there are two things that I do find interesting – one, that major service providers (including registrars) will shut you down if somebody attacks you and you did not do anything. Basically, they are punishing you for somebody else’s misdeeds. Two, that people will find the most visible scapegoat for anything without actually bothering to find out who is at blame. This unfortunately, is typical of most people.

Sure, Blue Security might have been aware that they were being DDoSed and have pointed their domains at TypePad – if they did, that was reprehensible. It is also possible that they were never aware of the DDoS as they claim and that they simply pointed stuff at TypePad so that they’d have a site visible to the rest of the world. So why castigate them? Why is it that nobody talks about the spammer here and censures the guys who actually make the effort to go after spammers? I think it’s because this is not about who is right or wrong but about one thing and one thing only … money 🙂

TuCows is going to lose money if their servers are down and so they cut Blue Security loose – doesn’t matter that Blue Security was combatting spam and were a victim of the DDoS themselves. TypePad is angry because their servers went down and they look bad. Does anybody care that somebody took the stand against spammers? No. All they care about is their own businesses.

However, this situation has certainly made me go after the spammers with a vengeance 😛 I used to simply delete the spam in my Google and Yahoo inboxes. Not anymore. I report the spam with relish! If 10% of the people who were affected by this whole Blue Frog thing feel the same way as I do, the spammers have made a major mistake by launching this attack and they are going to find that it’s going to cost them …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:39 am  |  1 Comment

May 4, 2006

Race, what is it good for?

We’re watching "Anita and Me" at the moment. It’s one of those rare Indian movies made in English. There are a few of those around and we’ve gathered all of those together and watch them avidly since these movies have an experience beyond Bollywood and Hollywood. They are unique in their own terms because they provide an Eastern perspective of the West – or something like that 🙂

"Anita and Me" is the story of Meena, an Indian girl living in an English backwater village in 1972. She is fascinated by Anita Rutter (though the way they pronounce it, it sounds more like "rotter" :p) the local troublemaker and glamour girl. It’s an unlikely friendship and highlights a lot of things that we’d rather not think about. There is of course the racism, it is an underlying theme throughout the movie – both the racism of the British towards the Indians as well as the reverse racism of the Indians towards the British. But there are all the other subtle variations – wanting to be somebody you are not, wanting to belong, wanting to be your own person.

We haven’t seen the whole movie yet but so far it is interesting though sometimes a bit hard to understand because of the thick brogue of some of the characters. Even Meena, who is Indian, has a real thick accent which is unlike any Indian accent I’ve heard but then again, given she was probably brought up in England, it probably makes sense that she’d speak more like the natives of her village rather than her own parents 🙂

What interested me was the strong undercurrents of racism of all stripes and colours that the movie portrayed. We’re used to the usual stereotypes of racism and how the brown/black/coloure (make your choice) people are always looked down upon by the white folks. But what about the reverse? Sure, it’s true that most of the folks in post-colonial countries (at least) bow down to those with white skin as if they were aliens, or messengers from God :p But at the same time, they have this habit of disparaging the whiteys (or "goras" or whatever the common local term) and their morals and culture and so on. Is this not racism as well?

In truth, what should matter to us about another person is how they conduct themselves and how they treat you and others around them. Their skin colour or the country they were born in (or brought up in) should not matter at all. Unfortunately, it might be a long time before all of the human race comes to realize this ….

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Posted by Fahim at 7:13 am  |  No Comments

April 29, 2006

The return of purchase pains :p

If I thought that my notebook purchase problems were after day-before-yesterday’s trials, I was sorely mistaken – as I found out yesterday :p Of course, this being Sri Lanka and my fellow Sri Lankan’s being notorious for this kind of thing, I did expect this new turn of events …

I called the notebook place again to see what was happening with the RAM situation since they’d told me the day before that I would have my 2GB of RAM yesterday. Of course, when I call them, they say that I will have my RAM on Monday! So I casually ask, "I’ll be getting my USB thumb-drive then as well?" and the guy (this is the sales guy that I had originally dealt with) says, "No. I told you last night over the phone that you can’t have that and drop the 2.6% on the card as well …."

I tell him that that was before they bungled up my RAM and that the guys who were in the store at the time I was there the night before agreed to drop the 2.6% and to give me the USB thumb-drive and what is more, that they wrote all this down on the invoice. But this guy is adamant – I can’t have the USB thumb-drive! I tell him that I’d been patient with them up to that point and that they had been constantly delaying stuff and that they’d better be nice and meet me halfway or that I was going to cancel the order :p The guy says that he’s got to talk to his boss and get back to me. I give him half an hour and of course, I get no call back after 40 minutes had elapsed. I call him back and he says that his boss said to give me the USB thumb-drive and that he’d get me everything on Monday. So that’s where we stand now.

This again is typical behaviour for Sri Lanka and not something that I’m proud of about my countrymen (and women) 🙁 An agreement means nothing to them and they’d rather say "yes" because they hate to say "no" (because they think it somehow is bad to say "no") and so they’d rather give you a promise that they can’t keep than tell you outright that they can’t deliver something on a given date. I asked the sales guy specifically before I placed the order whether he could deliver everything on the date he specified and he promised that he’d do so. Now he tells all sorts of stories ranging from "it’s my boss’s fault" to "you have the notebook and 1GB of RAM and that’s enough for you to work with". Ah, Sri Lanka! I hope the people change sooner rather than later …

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Posted by Fahim at 9:49 am  |  No Comments

April 27, 2006

Purchase pains

We are currently trying to get a new notebook computer for me since my current one is showing signs of age and we don’t want it to suddenly go on strike and leave me without a machine. Since this is Sri Lanka, it is not as simple as walking into the computer store, picking the model you want, paying for it and walking out. Oh, no :p

Here, most of the display models are low-end machines 🙂 If you want a high-end machine, you have to pick the model you want, talk to the store, let them know what you want, wait for them to get the pricing from Singapore or somewhere, place the order and then wait a week or two (or three) till the computer actually arrives. Yes, a lot of work to get a new machine :p All this extra waiting is compounded by the fact that my fellow Sri Lankans seem to have no grasp of delivery dates or customer service. As somebody (who is himself a Sri Lankan) put it, when they say tomorrow, you have got to ask them "which tomorrow"? For most of them, tomorrow is simply a an indefinite day in the future which is "not today" 🙂

Well, we picked the model I wanted and we placed the order last Monday (the 17th) and that brought up the another little Sri Lankan business practice – the advance :p You have to pay an advance on an order (it might be as little as a few hundred – or thousand – rupees or it might be half the value of the order) as a sign of good faith. It is also insurance against the customer saying that they don’t want the ordered item after they’ve got it down from Singapore or wherever 🙂 So, these guys wanted an advance but we couldn’t get there immediately since I had work. I said that I’d come by Saturday and pay the advance but for them to go ahead with the order since I wanted the computer fast. They said OK and that I’d have the notebook by Monday (the 24th).

We go there on Saturday (the 22nd) to give them the advance and I get the distinct feeling that while the order has indeed been placed, that I won’t get the computer by Monday. So I tell the guy that if I don’t get the computer by Monday, I’m going to cancel the order. He calls his boss and the boss says that I’ll get the computer by Wednesday "for sure".

Wednesday was yesterday. I call the salesman in the morning and he says that he can’t reach his boss. To give him 10 minutes and he’ll call back. Half an hour goes, nothing from him. I call him back and he says his boss still hasn’t called back. I give him an hour. I call back after an hour and a half. He says, still nothing from his boss and that he’ll call me back in 10 minutes. 10 minutes goes by. Nothing. I call him back and say that if I don’t hear from him by 2:30 (which was about 20 minutes away) that they can cancel the order. I call him at 2:30 and he says he’s got his boss on the other line and a few minutes later says that they’ll have the computer by 6:00pm for sure. I say "OK but if it doesn’t arrive today, I’m cancelling the order" and hang up.

About an hour or two later, I get another phone call – this time from the boss. He says that he’s very sorry but that he got delayed due to a meeting and couldn’t get all the necessary documents to the clearing agent to clear the computer from customs – could I give him till tomorrow evening to get me the computer? I tell him that I was fine with that but for every day he delays, I’m going to deduct Rs. 500 from the price. He seems to be fine with that and says that he’ll even throw in a USB thumb-drive to make up for the delay. That is where we are now 🙂

For the longest time, Sri Lankan businesses have not had any sense of customer service. I personally believe that this is because in the old days, you had one shop to an area and you had to deal with them or do without. So, the whole attitude of "it’s my shop and you can buy from me at my terms or walk out" was born and it has become so inculcated into society that people are finding it difficult to wean themselves away from that mentality. However, things are changing, albeit a bit slowly, here in Sri Lanka. I am not, overall, displeased with my dealings with the computer vendor so far – they do seem to have managed to get the notebook into the country within 10 days of the order being placed and are trying to make amends for the delay. That is a major improvement for Sri Lanka 🙂 The only thing I have a problem is that I have to keep at them to get them to actually deliver on time :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:26 am  |  1 Comment

April 20, 2006

Two Roads

There’s this TV series named "Just Cause" which has a theme song named "Two Trains" which is about somebody faced with two different options but can take only one. Like that, the journey of life seems to be full of branches in the road where you can take the easy road or the hard road.

When I was younger, I used to take the easy road. I would lie, I would steal (or borrow), I would do whatever it took so that life would be easy. As I grew older and began to look at the world around me and to understand things and to really learn about God, I came to realize that this really wasn’t the way to live life. That above all, you had to be true to yourself and deal with others as you would want to be dealt with in turn. I changed myself and began taking the harder road.

And often it turns out, that it indeed is a hard road to travel. You would think that telling the truth and dealing honestly with people is the easy thing to to do. There are no stories to keep straight, there are no lies to remember, there are no people to avoid. But boy, the problem is people. They just don’t want to seem to hear the truth. Or to deal with it. In fact, it looks as if most people are content to just deal in lies (or at least not be totally honest) because it makes life easier.

Today, we reward people for taking the easy road. You get a politician lying about his past, we dismiss it as "Oh, that’s natural in politics" and elect him to office. If they lie about their opponent, we just call it "mud slinging" and move on. If they take a bribe, we just nod sagely and say "This is what politics has come to" but we keep voting for them anyway.

But politics is not the only place this happens. In our own lives (at leave over here), we don’t tell others if something they did bothers us. We keep it bottled up and pretend everything is fine but show our irritation through little actions. The other person doesn’t know what is going on, misunderstands our actions and gets angry at you but they doesn’t say what is bothering them either because there is nothing concrete to point to – it’s all innuendo and suspicions. If you try to burst the bubble of mistrust and hatred by speaking out, you get shushed to silence because nobody wants the status quo disrupted.

How exactly have we arrived at this point in time? When did we decide that it was easier to go with the flow than to stand up for what is right? All of the religions in the world say that lying is wrong and that you should be honest in your dealing with others. But that is probably the commandment that we break the most often. We lie outright, for no reason or just to win an argument or to win a competition or to discredit somebody else or to … you pick the reason. But why do we have to be that way? Why can’t we take the harder road?

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Posted by Fahim at 6:21 am  |  No Comments

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