February 19, 2003

Letter to the editor …

I was going to have another long rant today but then came across the following letter which I might find both enlightening and humorous :p It’s a letter to “The Observer” by Terry Jones called I’m losing patience with my neighbours, Mr Bush. While you can probably read it at The Observer site itself, let me reproduce it here verbatim and so escape having to write anything of my own today :p Actually, I believe it’s worth repeating since Terry Jones makes a lot of points that I totally agree with 🙂

I’m really excited by George Bush’s latest reason for bombing Iraq: he’s running out of patience. And so am I! For some time now I’ve been really pissed off with Mr Johnson, who lives a couple of doors down the street. Well, him and Mr Patel, who runs the health food shop. They both give me queer looks, and I’m sure Mr Johnson is planning something nasty for me, but so far I haven’t been able to discover what. I’ve been round to his place a few times to see what he’s up to, but he’s got everything well hidden. That’s how devious he is.
As for Mr Patel, don’t ask me how I know, I just know – from very good sources – that he is, in reality, a Mass Murderer. I have leafleted the street telling them that if we don’t act first, he’ll pick us off one by one.
Some of my neighbours say, if I’ve got proof, why don’t I go to the police? But that’s simply ridiculous. The police will say that they need evidence of a crime with which to charge my neighbours.
They’ll come up with endless red tape and quibbling about the rights and wrongs of a pre-emptive strike and all the while Mr Johnson will be finalising his plans to do terrible things to me, while Mr Patel will be secretly murdering people. Since I’m the only one in the street with a decent range of automatic firearms, I reckon it’s up to me to keep the peace. But until recently that’s been a little difficult. Now, however, George W. Bush has made it clear that all I need to do is run out of patience, and then I can wade in and do whatever I want!
And let’s face it, Mr Bush’s carefully thought-out policy towards Iraq is the only way to bring about international peace and security. The one certain way to stop Muslim fundamentalist suicide bombers targeting the US or the UK is to bomb a few Muslim countries that have never threatened us.
That’s why I want to blow up Mr Johnson’s garage and kill his wife and children. Strike first! That’ll teach him a lesson. Then he’ll leave us in peace and stop peering at me in that totally unacceptable way.
Mr Bush makes it clear that all he needs to know before bombing Iraq is that Saddam is a really nasty man and that he has weapons of mass destruction – even if no one can find them. I’m certain I’ve just as much justification for killing Mr Johnson’s wife and children as Mr Bush has for bombing Iraq.
Mr Bush’s long-term aim is to make the world a safer place by eliminating ‘rogue states’ and ‘terrorism’. It’s such a clever long-term aim because how can you ever know when you’ve achieved it? How will Mr Bush know when he’s wiped out all terrorists? When every single terrorist is dead? But then a terrorist is only a terrorist once he’s committed an act of terror. What about would-be terrorists? These are the ones you really want to eliminate, since most of the known terrorists, being suicide bombers, have already eliminated themselves.
Perhaps Mr Bush needs to wipe out everyone who could possibly be a future terrorist? Maybe he can’t be sure he’s achieved his objective until every Muslim fundamentalist is dead? But then some moderate Muslims might convert to fundamentalism. Maybe the only really safe thing to do would be for Mr Bush to eliminate all Muslims?
It’s the same in my street. Mr Johnson and Mr Patel are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other people in the street who I don’t like and who – quite frankly – look at me in odd ways. No one will be really safe until I’ve wiped them all out.
My wife says I might be going too far but I tell her I’m simply using the same logic as the President of the United States. That shuts her up.
Like Mr Bush, I’ve run out of patience, and if that’s a good enough reason for the President, it’s good enough for me. I’m going to give the whole street two weeks – no, 10 days – to come out in the open and hand over all aliens and interplanetary hijackers, galactic outlaws and interstellar terrorist masterminds, and if they don’t hand them over nicely and say ‘Thank you’, I’m going to bomb the entire street to kingdom come.
It’s just as sane as what George W. Bush is proposing – and, in contrast to what he’s intending, my policy will destroy only one street.

Posted by Fahim at 8:18 am  |  2 Comments

When I first started working, we had to work with (and code for) DBase and FoxPro databases. Now, I’m not sure what the whole category was called – flat databases? non-relational databases? pre-relational databases? I have no idea :p But then I did learn about RDBMS or relational databases and about SQL queries – OK, the latter part is not quite true, I’d learned SQL queries with DBase IV and FoxPro but you get the idea … I learnt about tables, schemas, queries, views, procedures etc. Now I hear that there are new kinds of databases being talked of: post-relational databases and OODBMS or object oriented databases.

I guess it is only an evolutionary step and that it was bound to happen sooner or later but I find myself fascinated by OODBMS. On one hand, I wonder if they will ever take hold and come to be widely used like the RDBMSes of today – Oracle, SQL server, Sybase etc. On the other hand, I simply want to get to grips with them and start playing just for the sake of working with them :p But before I get into that, you might be wondering what an OODBMS is and how it differs from an RDBMS? I probably am not the best person to explain the difference but let me try 🙂 An RDBMS basically stores its data in the form of tables of records (or rows) and records which are made up of fields (or columns). If you need to represent some sort of a relationship between data in one table and the data in another table, you usually use a key field and if you really want to normalize things (now I won’t even get into a description of it – just accept it as good database design philosophy if you don’t know about normalization <g>), you’ll probably end up with a separate table for the relationship as well. Now with an OODBMS, data is represented in the form of classes and (here is the good part) you can actually define methods for the classes to manipulate the data contained within! What’s more, since your data is represented as properties of the class, you can have other properties which are references to a different class or a collection to represent relationships with other data. I am not sure whether I explained it well enough but to me it seems a much more elegant solution – but that’s probably because I am a programmer and I can think in terms of classes :p

Incidentally, I’d done some work along similar lines to access Oracle data using an object framework written in Java for one of my employers and I was startled to find that I had basically written something like an OODBMS system emulator for my particular case 🙂 Anyway, I stumbled upon not quite an OODBMS (because they call it a post-relational database) by accident when I clicked on a banner ad at SourceForge for Cache. I was fascinated by the ability to work with data as classes and am actually looking into how well Cache works because their site says that you can access Cache data from Java, C/C++, VB, Delphi etc. I intend to test it out (since they have a free download) with Delphi and see how well it works and they might actually have a convert if it works well 🙂

Posted by Fahim at 6:45 am  |  2 Comments

February 18, 2003

I went through the CSV reader component code and realized that both an embedded carriage return and an embedded quote in the same string could cause problems with my new code if the carriage return appeared after the embedded quote due to the way I’d coded things. So I added some more code to get around that situation as well and then ran a test on a file which had embedded quotes, embedded carriage returns and a mixture of the two in the same string and it all seemed to work fine – seemed being the operative word :p I’m about ready to send the final binary over to the client and hope that I’m done with it …

Work has been extremely hectic for some reason or other though I can’t for the life of me think of anything concrete that I’ve been accomplishing <g> We got hit again by Sapphire at work yesterday though since some idiot in another department forgot to patch his installation of MSDE even after we’d warned them of it after the last Sapphire attack. They were supposed to call me and find out about all the necessary patches but nobody called me – I hope they patched it fully since if they haven’t, it’s going to disrupt the network again soon and if you have the .NET Framework SDK installed, the regular MSDE patch alone isn’t supposed to be enough. Oh well, guess we’ll know sooner or later :p

Posted by Fahim at 6:57 am  |  No Comments

February 17, 2003

The war for peace …

I’ve been watching the anti-war protests all over the world and I am happy to see that so many people all over the world do see the futility of another war but I find myself asking "will this be enough to tip the scales?" Somebody mentioned a statistic that I keep on coming back to – he said that if this war goes through, 30% of the children in Iraq will die. Is that something that we can actually live with? Not just those who actively supported the war or benefitted by it or participated in it, but those of us who stood by in the sidelines and did nothing?

Is there anybody who’s reading this who would step forward if I was to say that if somebody would step forward so that they and their families could be killed, the rest of the world … no that’s not right .. that’s too lofty and anyway does not provide a correct picture of the situation … that a country on the other side of the world can live without fear of attack? Is there any such person? If somebody like that exists, I might (and I said *might*) consider changing my opinions on this war but I don’t think anybody would like *their* families to be killed. So why are we doing nothing when somebody else’s family is being butchered in the name of something over which they have no control?

When the "war on terror" started and Afghanistan was to be attacked, I said "collateral damage" was not acceptable but a lot of people said "it’s unfortunate that these people have to die but those responsible for 9/11 have to be punished!". Well, time has passed, we’ve had collateral damage on both sides – the US has lost soldiers, young men who really had no idea of the battle they were fighting and the Afghanis have lost people, people who knew nothing about Bin Laden or 9/11 and probably had not even heard of the World Trade Center but has any justice been done? Not as far as I can see. Bin Laden still roams free and so many innocents have been killed on both sides just to make a point. All I see is injustice piled up on top of another injustice.

I watched the delegate from France make a strong appeal for not going to war at the UN and then later heard a commentator on CNN say that if the bullets started flying, you’d probably see France fighting shoulder to shoulder with US troops because France does not want to be left out when the oil fields are divvied up – cynicism, bitterness, reality, politics? I really have no idea – I wonder more and more if I understand humanity at all. All I know is that each and every individual, each and every family, each and every group and region and nation and continent, has the right to live without fear, the right to live peacefully. Nothing and I mean nothing is more important than that. But please don’t bring up that hoary old chestnut about how the US has the same right and this was is all about the people of the US might live without fear – open your eyes, stop listening to the politicians, start thinking for yourselves. People everywhere are people just like you and me – it’s the politicians who are a breed apart …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:32 am  |  1 Comment

February 16, 2003

I got back to work on the CSV reader component yesterday since the client has been having problems with embedded carriage returns in a CSV record. I had originally thought that a CSV record was a single line in the CSV file but turns out that I was wrong since in the case of embedded carriage returns, you’ll have multiple lines for the same record. However, since a column with an embedded carriage return gets enclosed in quotes, I modified my code so that if the component finds a column with an open ended quote, it reads the next line and the next line and the next line till it finds the closing quote. This should take care of embedded carriage returns but I’m not really sure what other problems this might have initiated. Plus, I don’t think I still have provided for one extreme case – what if a column has both quotes and carriage returns embedded in it? CSV usually doubles the quotes to indicate that a quote is there and I handle that fine and I do handle embedded carriage returns fine too but what if you have the opening quote for a column, then doubled quotes to indicate an actual quote in the data and then a carriage return and the closing quote for the column in the next line? I don’t think my code catches that … yet … So I have to go back to the code again today :p

I also want to get to work on Blog and fix a few bugs including the one which does not add an entry for the earliest range in the archive table of contents. I don’t know how long that bug has been there but quite a few people have been mentioning it recently and so it’s high time I did something about that. Plus, it looks as if the password encoding bug is more prevalent than I thought too. So that needs to be fixed as well. I still have done nothing with my installation of B2 to get BlogMan support for B2 finalized. There just is too much to be done …

Posted by Fahim at 7:13 am  |  5 Comments

February 15, 2003

When philosophies wage war …

I was sent for a workshop on peaceful co-existence by work day before yesterday. I was sent not because I was involved in any project about peaceful co-existence but because my boss had been invited but had to leave early whereas they wanted the participants to be there till the end of the day – so I was the chosen one to provide cover for my boss when she left :p I think I did a pretty good job since I infused my own brand of philosophy in to the discussion and was so in their face, questioning their methods that they probably will specifically ask my boss not to send me there again in the future <vbg> Be that as may be, there were some interesting points of note to the whole experience.

They started the workshop by telling each one of us to write down four words that came to our mind when you said peaceful co-existence. Then they had us get into pairs and combine our two sets of four words and come up with a list of four words that we felt best described peaceful co-existence. The first person I was paired with was a girl who believed that non-threatened (her word) was a better choice than understanding (my word). We had a fairly long discussion on this and in the interests of peace, I agreed to combine non-threatened, understanding and another word which I can’t remember to come up with non-threatened. However, by this time it was dawning on me that this exercise was a better way to discourage peaceful co-existence than to foster it :p Everybody gets hung up on "their" words and it becomes contentious – at least, it was so with all the groups I was involved with … so maybe I was the negative link in all of these but I believed that I was trying to compromise as much as I could – so maybe it’s an aura around me or something :p

Anyway, they had the groups of two then combine into groups of four and again combine the words to come up with four again. This time, the other group had understanding and we were back to the impasse about understanding and non-threatened. Honestly, I felt that understanding describes peaceful co-existence better than non-threatened but to simply trample all over the other person even though there was now a majority of three speaking for understanding, didn’t seem right to me. So I proposed a compromise again where we kept both understanding and non-threatened. They then made up groups of eight to again come up with a list of four words. We were put with my boss’s group this time and she’d noticed that our group took a long time to deliberate over matters and she’d decided to show her leadership skills – or maybe she was just tired of all the arguing. So she just got very bossy, challenged people and basically bullied everybody into agreement quickly <g> But understanding still survived.

Now they combined the four words from three different groups of eight people each to come up with one final four word list. Understanding still was there (why do I keep on repeating that? Because to me understanding is very important for peaceful co-existence but that is something for another day again …) and then we had this huge argument for "tolerance". A lot of people seemed to think that tolerance was alright but I felt that tolerance implied some negativity – that you didn’t really agree with the other person but were willing to tolerate them for the sake of harmony – like I’d done with "non-threatened" <g> and that really is not healthy since you do have some (maybe a very minute amount but yet some) amount of resentment which can over time grow into a problem. We finally agreed to drop tolerance and came up with our list of words – which I now totally forget except for understanding and harmony.

Another exercise that they had us do provoked even stronger emotions from me. They had us divide into ethnic groups and come up with stereotypes for other ethnic groups as well as stereotypes that the other groups had for us. Now I was the only Muslim there and while the following might sound like a cop-out, it wasn’t – I basically did what I believed in :p I’ve always believed that our basic problem here in Sri Lanka is that we cling to our ethnic, racial, religious differences than to embrace the fact that we are all Sri Lankans. I wanted to represent the Sri Lankans and not the Muslims but since I also have this strong urge to follow rules (not the implied ones of society but rather the rules laid out in a classroom situation or basically any rule that is explicitly laid down I guess :p), I decided not to. However, one of the others at the workshop had joined the Muslim group – her name is Veronique and she changed my mind for me. She said that I should do what I was comfortable with and not what was forced upon me and I saw that this was right and so simply wrote down stereotypes about Sri Lankans. It was interesting to note the comments of some of the others at the stage when they didn’t know what I was doing but only saw this long list I had – they would say things like "you are a single person and yet you have such a long list about *our* group?" It was very much evident that group feelings were pretty much at the forefront and I was beginning to dislike this particular exercise very much because it seemed to engender hostilities rather than to foster peace.

I remarked on this later when we’d read out all our lists of stereotypes and was told that we had to see the differences before we can understand each other. While I subsided at that point, later reflection has shown me that this was wrong. We already *know* the differences, that’s why we have conflict. The point is to let us *understand* the differences and to learn that we are not really that different after all. I really don’t think that the workshop did anything towards that – it was so busy highlighting differences that they forgot that what they had to do was to let people reconcile these differences. In fact, when I spoke in support certain people in another group, I was told that I was to remain silent while that group sorted it out themselves. This to me sounds like segregation and demarcation and that’s basically what brought us to the present crisis! Ah well … even the teachers sometimes need teaching methinks …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:33 am  |  No Comments

February 14, 2003

Of Life, philosophy, idealism and other asbstracts …

I’ve not been at my computer much the last few days – the day before because it was one of the two festivals of the Muslims – the Haj festival – and I was with my family in Kurunegala and yesterday because I was at a workshop about peaceful co-existence for work. Both days provided me a lot of fodder for thought and obviously, I’ll be sharing some of that here :p

The day before yesterday, quite a bit of our family gathered together for the Haj festival and as is usual we had a group discussion going on various topics ranging from politics to cricket. Eventually of course, the talk turned to the current situation with Iraq and one of my cousins made a comment that set me off <g> He said that the world fears the Muslims and that’s why they are persecuted – incidentally, I should mention that a lot of Muslims believe/fear that they are being persecuted by the rest of the world because of their religion – and I said that the only reason the world fears the Muslims is because we are fanatics and that that is our own fault because some of our people kill others in the name of God when just that act proves that they are not Muslims nor have they understood the teachings of Islam. So the fault lies with us to a great extent – not the rest of the world. Then my cousin said something to the effect "but look at Israel and the Palestine. Israel gets everybody’s support".

Somewhere around this point I had an epiphany – well, maybe not really an epiphany since I think I’ve known this before but it suddenly became crystal clear to me as a fact and has since become part of my philosophy about the world and humanity. My response to my cousin was based on this insight – I said that most of the conflicts in this world are not based on religion but on politics. America does not attack Iraq because they are Muslims – it attacks Iraq for various political reasons, the fact that they have oil not being the least of them. Israel and Palestine are not engaged in a religious struggle – it’s purely political. Man is a political animal and while we would like to put the tag of "religious struggle" on a conflict, it is almost certainly not about religion but about politics. The Islamic fundamentalists who claim to wage a war in the name of God are also not in it because of God but because they want power – again politics.

I’ve been thinking about this after the fact and I realized that we find it easier to talk about religious struggles or to feel as if we are being persecuted due to our religion than to realize that it is all politics – so we turn a blind eye to the facts. We feel comfort in a way in thinking that all insert-racial-or-ethnic-grouping-here are persecuted because then we belong to a group and can feel safe and secure while we think about the persecution we face. It also makes sense from the other side. Would many people support the US government if it simply said, "we need Iraq’s oil. So we are going to war"? Hardly likely. But you say "we are going to war against terror. Support us" – can anybody refuse? Of course, the Muslims perceive this as a direct threat on "their" religion and that sparks a new wave of fundamentalist terrorists and so the business of politics keeps on rolling … sad …

I think I got a little bit carried away there and since the stuff about the peaceful co-existence workshop would probably take just as much space as this, I’ll reserve that for tomorrow 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:41 am  |  4 Comments

I was not at my computer the last couple of days and so no updates 🙁 Since I haven’t done much in the way of coding still no updates I’m afraid :p There are updates on the personal/philosophical front but for that you’ll have to go over to SM – and so with that shameless plug, I leave you … :p

Posted by Fahim at 6:39 am  |  No Comments

February 11, 2003

Work’s been getting extremely hectic of late and I seem to find myself with more and more things to do in the evenings – looks as if programming is going to be sort of on a low simmer for a while 🙁 I’ve been working with both Blog and BlogMan on and off and fixing little bits of code here and there – fixing bugs that are common to both. I even managed to install B2 yesterday though I still haven’t given it a whirl. I then will have to figure out how to get titles working via the BlogAPI for BlogMan using B2 – it should be fairly simple since the B2 documentation already tells you what to do :p

In the meantime, I added a new splitter to the Blog and BlogMan UI since I have moved the category display to the right of the entry text box and moved comments and preview to different tabs. Since there are probably people who don’t use categories, or hate the screen space the category display takes away from the entry box, I added a splitter which will hide the category panel when you click on it and then display the category panel when you click on it again. If you don’t understand what I mean, then you’ll find out when you see the next release 🙂 I am still not 100% happy with the new UI but it does look fairly OK …

Posted by Fahim at 6:55 am  |  No Comments

To be mayor for a day … or a week … or …

Have you played "SimCity"? I have been playing that game since it’s first incarnation as a DOS game. I barely remember the original version. I think I tried to play it on my notebook computer (a 386SX – does anybody even remember those nifty numbering schemes such as SX and what it meant? :p – with an astounding 5MB of RAM and an 80MB – not GB, MB :p – of hard disk space). I think the game refused to load because my video card would not support VESA drivers. Now the only thing I’m hazy about is whether this was the original SimCity or the later SimCity 2000. I think it was SimCity 2000 because I remember being really frustrated with the video problem and I wouldn’t have been that disappointed if I hadn’t already been addicted to SimCity :p

I do remember playing SimCity Classic under Windows 3.1 and I even remember some of the graphics (and the improvement in overall graphics standards) for SimCity 2000. I remember that there was a Win9x version of SimCity 2000 (not just a DOS one and so it must have been SimCity 2K which gave me VESA driver problems) and I remember playing that one too but by that time I was more interested in other "Sim" games like SimTower and SimIsland but my love of the SimCity franchise remained. In fact, I think I have played almost all of the Sim games developed by Maxis (now they are just an extension of Electronic Arts but they used to be a different company) – who remembers such classics as SimAnt and SimEarth?
Anyway, my interest in SimCity peaked again when I heard about SimCity 3000. I was told that you could actually walk through your city and get the opinions of your citizens as to how you were doing with the city. That it would be the first, personal city simulator. I waited for SimCity 3K and bought it when it came out but alas, the personal interaction was not there. The graphics were better than ever and the gameplay was more of the same stuff that I remembered but this really wasn’t the evolutionary next step in the game that I’d expected. Now I hear that SimCity 4 (not SimCity 4000 but SimCity 4 – guess somebody at EA decided on a name change :p) is out 🙂

It still does not have the personal interaction with your citizens – at least not much. You can take people from The Sims and plop them in your city but I’m told that they don’t always convert over well and that they don’t retain the same characteristics as they had in The Sims. But it’s a small start. In addition, instead of city building, the new game is supposed to concentrate on region building so that you can build several cities or a city and a town or an agrarian community (whatever takes your fancy basically) and build up interactions between the two. This leads to a lot more planning and building stuff that is probably going to keep you occupied for hours. Plus, I’ve seen the graphics and it looks gorgeous – and the game is now supposed to have a day and night cycle with pretty realistic effects. So I’m looking forward to the next iteration of SimCity – I’ll probably write more after I’ve actually played the game :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:38 am  |  No Comments

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