The world, how it works, surroundings, myself, etc.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Greenphone: A phone to yearn for

Finally, there exists a phone which I want. Ever since I lost my last phone (an year ago), I didn't get a new one partly because none of the ones available had features which this yet-to-be-released Greenphone has. For eternity, phone-makers have been assuming consumers to be stupid and users can't modify things on the phone lest the warranty should void.

But now Greenphone is there to change things.
For one, it runs on linux, you can reflash the bios to load a custom kernel (why? just coz I can), you can rewrite any of the apps therein without locking-horns with the supplier and create new apps using Qt library (QPE to be specific) -- essentially, a phone which I can truly and completely own.

Trolltech co-CEO Haavard Nord stated, "With Greenphone, the sky is the limit when it comes to creating and testing new applications on a powerful mobile device platform."

The phone also has a QVGA touchscreen, WiFi, bluetooth, 1.3 MP cam, mini-USB and extensible SD slots (apart from the builtin 128 MB flash and 64 MB RAM) on a 312 MHz processor.

The phone is expected to start shipping in September. The pricing hasn't been released yet but with the above features, it doesn't appear that it'll be cheap. Since the phone is first of its kind, Trolltech would do a good job of keeping the phone affordable not only to sell in large numbers but also to ensure that developers get hooked.

So excited!

Monday, August 14, 2006

11.14 Review

I saw the movie 11.14. Here's how I'd like to review it.

void* thread0(void* arg)
// do something
return arg;

void* thread1(void* arg)
// do something
return arg;
void* thread2(void* arg)
// do something
return arg;
void* thread3(void* arg)
// do something
return arg;

int main()
pthread_t thread0, thread1, thread2, thread3;
//! Create all threads
pthread_create(&thread0, NULL, thread0, NULL);
pthread_create(&thread1, NULL, thread1, NULL);
pthread_create(&thread2, NULL, thread2, NULL);
pthread_create(&thread3, NULL, thread3, NULL);

//! Join all threads
pthread_join(thread0, NULL);
pthread_join(thread1, NULL);
pthread_join(thread2, NULL);
pthread_join(thread3, NULL);

//! Print time
print gettimeofday();

11:14 PM

Saturday, August 12, 2006

CVIT gets a 7950 GX2

Cribbing about low RAM on your system? Have a look at CVIT.

CVIT today acquired a GeForce 7950 GX2 which has 1GB GDDR3 VRAM (the RAM on the video card, that is). Earlier CVIT used to get the 2nd level of graphics cards but this one is the fastest graphics card that there is, on a single PICe slot. It came for Rs 35K. The difference between this card and a "regular" one is that this actually is two graphics card PCBs coupled tightly side-by-side. Naturally, this card cannot go on just any PC (actually, there are only 2 PCs currently in CVIT which can handle this card), so a new system will be bought soon.

Looking back, I still remember the system with mere 32MB RAM that I had when I was in my 1st year.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Server Room Correction #3

We had a "knowledge transfer" session in the Server Room, as it was decided in an earlier meeting I had with Dr Bruhad. Apart from Dr Bruhad, Dr Pudi too joined in. All Server Room staff (except Mr JP) were present. To my surprise, some unrelated people were present too (Sambabu, Phani Kumar).

Routine jobs at the Server Room will get more organized. Expect basic things like backup, response-to-queries, help-page, wee-bit responsibility, etc to come up. Nothing can happen overnight. So, be patient. Sending a mail to sysadmin-(at) should be good enough to get your problem registered. If need be, Cc it to bezawada-(at) and rest assured that your problem will be looked at (you'll get a response).

If you have been following this section, you must would remember about the 3 types of jobs in the Server Room that I had talked about. 1) Routine, 2) Devel & 3) Security-related. Today's session was aimed at covering the first of this. Although I didn't have the least idea what a "knowledge transfer" session was supposed to mean, I had a list of trouble-shooting test cases prepared. (Why is it called "knowledge transfer" by the way? Wouldn't "knowledge mirroring" make more sense, given that nothing is really transferred?) Not much discussion was required on these issues. Dr Bruhad asked for setting up help-pages, FAQs etc.. all manageable stuff.

I hope the 2nd and 3rd points are tackled too.

To my surprise, discussion on wireless took up most of the time, even though none of that was planned. Nothing was concluded. I won't write anything about this since I'll end up using words which I don't like to write very often.

Personally, I have a very mixed opinion about the nature of today's meeting.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Slow Internet? Check weather

Is the internet performing a bit too sluggish? Check the weather outside. If its raining, the slow internet is due to our wireless connection to the ISP. The radio waves somehow don't do well with humidity.

Come to think of it and quite funny correlations can occur between technical performance of computers and environmental factors.
  • Internet graph can be used as a rain-gauge -- the lower the bandwidth, the stronger the downpour. (Wonder what no-internet might end up indicating.) Imagine, the newsreader citing monsoons as 3.14 Mbps!!
  • Room temperature can be predicted by the swearing-frequency of a gamer. How? Well, the hotter it is, the worse his graphics card will perform. So, the gamer will feel more irritated and swear more. With minor adjustments here and there, a mapping function can be devised.
  • A novel way to kill geeks: Bring down the internet for 3 days straight. All geeks will either die of anxiety or will commit suicide.
I'm sure there are more such correlations.

Happily denied food by OBH

I was denied dinner by the OBH caterer. But I'm pleased by the gesture. Why? Read on.

I wasn't registered to the mess. And by the time I reached the OBH mess, it was (partially) running short of food. All previous catereres would have accepted the money and allowed one to eat from whatever was left, even at the cost of running-out on regular/registered members. I always wondered, in a professional system, the caterer should be bold enough to deny food, if it foresees shortage for registered members. This is exactly what happened.

Why is professionalism good?
Professionalism has been created by the fierce competition between the 4 caterers in campus. Only those who are fit enough will do good. This also means that for any of the caterers to survive, they'll have to perform good. Professionalism helps.

Seeing the professional attitude of Hot Rottis guy, I do have a feeling that this caterer will do good and might last longer than any previous caterer.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Feel like this

A Monkey and a Bird

It was raining heavily. A monkey, dumb as he was, was shivering on a tree, while a bird was sitting merrily in its nest. Seeing the plight of the monkey, the bird offered him a suggestion -- "You look capable enough. Why don't you build a nest of your own? Then you won't have to shiver in the rains." This suggestion angered the monkey -- "How dare a tiny little bird give me advice!" He ran up to the bird and tore down its nest.

Moral of the story: Never give advice to fools.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Server Room Correction #2

After sending the long mail on Tuesday night, Paresh and I met Dr Bruhadeshwar on Wed (Aug 2) morning. The meeting lasted long and I must admit that Dr Bruhadeshwar has a lot of positive energy.

The Meeting
I have a feeling that Dr Bruhadeshwar didn't believe much in what I said, at least towards the beginning. This I feel is natural since he has taken over as a CRC head only a month ago and is not acquainted with many things. He had a printout of the list of issues which I had mailed yesterday and it had a lot of markings (even though he mustn't have gotten much time since yesterday night to this morning). He began going through them and discussing corrective action. I had listed only 10 such examples. Even though each of them were tragic blunders in themselves, I mentioned that these were only specific examples of mismanagement and that we needed more fundamental level reforms or else such a list could be practically endless and tackling them one-by-one would be impossible. He did not agree quite, or at least so I feel, towards the beginning of the meeting.

We went through a couple of the specific examples and we landed to the OBH lan problem. That's the time when he called up the server room twice regarding this issue and asked for what was happening. The immediate fallout was that OBH lan was fixed in merely 3 hours (aah.. why couldn't they fix it earlier rather than wait for a bashing for 3 weeks?).

On the issue of poor internet he blamed DC++ for choking up the bandwidth. Now, this is not true. Perhaps he had some misconceptions about the network structure. Eventually, I was able to convince him that DC++ or any such sharing over the LAN doesn't affect internet bandwidth by as much as a dot.

I reiterated that we were just going through specific examples whereas what we should instead be doing is prepare a system. These inconsistencies would just fade away. I gave the example of misconfigured DNS leading to mail-loss by several faculty members. From this point onwards, I believe, he started feeling that I was talking sense. We didn't discuss specific examples after this point.

Student Sysadminship
I have been reiterating that the server room has to have some responsible expert-level administrator, whether student or otherwise. Since such a person is missing at this point, he mentioned that the staff should be trained for it. But this takes time, even if it's possible.

He mentioned that the idea of student sysadmins abandoned because students didn't document properly what they did. Even though I'm not nearly a software engineering fan, I agree that a certain level of book-keeping is required to ensure awareness amonst the staff. However, I categorically mentioned that the level at which it'd be helpful (in the current case) would be an overkill. I don't want to start teaching how to use VIM! I mean, isn't there a documentation/manual available for these?

I do belive that by the end of the meeting, he did start seeing that I had valid points, and also that students sysadmins are required. Probably, this issue will be discussed in some faculty meeting later. Erstwhile, he suggested that there be a knowledge tranfer session (whatever that means) on next Monday where I run the staff through some routine admin know-hows.

I told about the solution which I had proposed, the three steps that needed to be taken (as per my earlier mail). He was convinced.

Personally, I was irritated not with the idea of knowlege transfer but with the term itself -- it's so SE-ic (and need I mention that I don't like SE?). But should I expect that all of a sudden someone who I didn't even recognize (and vice versa) follow me totally? Was Rome built in a day? I don't think so. So, I agreed to the knowlege transfer session to be held next Monday.

As of now, things look extremely positive. Probably, student sysadmins will get appointed. By the end of the meeting, we landed up discussing about the stuff on DC++. Now, I don't watch a lot of movies, but I'd still like to have the option. So, I responded with what a student should and he responded back with what a faculty should -- perfect ethics, although on a light note. Dr Bruhadeshwar is extremely active and I hope things shape up well. Or else, god save the system administrtion, and I'm not just exaggerating.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Server Room Correction #1

If you have been following this blog, you might have seen the sequence of posts labelled "Server Room Tragedy..". Well, things got out of hand. So some of decided to raise the issue to the higher levels. In a brief meeting with the director, we had scheduled a meeting just after the convocation. This meeting was held yesterday (Aug 1). However, since Dr Bruhadeshwar was not available then, he asked us to list out the issues and then discuss. I sent him the mail which is shown below. Since the mail is long, I'll discuss about the meeting in the next post.

From: Nirnimesh
To: bezawada[at]
Cc: sangal[at]
Subject: System Administration related issues

Dear Sir,

I'm listing out the issues which we wanted to discuss and which we feel
that need attention. Some of these are very critical and apply at the
fundamental level of system administration. I first list out specific
examples of concern. This list can practically be endless so I list out
only a few. Then I list out some general issues. In the end I list out
solutions which in my opinion would be required to solve the problems.

Specific examples:
1, Backup disks: In a CRC meeting once, it was decided that a backup
system be setup, which would backup data incrementally. 4 hard disks (2
TB in total) were approved to be purchased for the purpose. The hard
disks never got purchased. The current backup server is improper (if at
all). Checkpoint backups on to DVDs were planned but even the first
checkpoint never materialized.

2. DNS misconfiguration: Drastic server failures take place if the DNS
is misconfigured, since it forms the basis for delivering all mails,
etc. Recently, when the ISP was changed, the DNS was misconfigured
(ideally, it should be a planned transition from one set of IPs to the
other). Not only did several mails bounce, some of our servers got
classified as spammers by some prominent DNS black-lists, due to which
our mails were tagged as spam. This was reported even by some faculty
members (Dr Madhav Krishna, Dr PJN lately) when they discovered
undelivered mails. I'm sure there are more such instances which have
gone unnoticed.

3. Wireless LAN: The wireless LAN is in an abysmal state. Not only does
it go down without any warning, it works at poor speeds, sometimes even
lesser than the internet b/w! Given that the number of wlan users in
campus is now more than the wired lan ones, this issue is all the more
important. I do feel that it has been time enough that wlan become
stable and reliable rather than bearing the experimental tag forever.

4. OBH LAN: OBH LAN has been non-functional with proper settings for
more than 3 weeks now. This has been reported to the server room several
times but in vain. Some random network setting is working currently, but
it is non-optimal.

5. SPAMS: Faculty reported bombardment of spams from infected systems.
Methods to identify and block these infected systems are required apart
from proper configuration of the mail server's spam checkers.

6. Internet: The internet has been unreliable ever since the ISP was
changed, even though the b/w was increased and the internet graph shows
good throughput. I feel that no amount of b/w can circumvent the need
for proper monitoring of where the b/w really goes. My assessment is
that there are infected systems on the network which are hogging up the
b/w due to which the browsing speed has gone down. These should be
monitored, identified and treated. Besides, IIIT is dependent on a
single ISP link now, which means that mails cannot be routed through an
alternate path if this link is down.

7. Phishing: Proper monitoring of logs is are required to make sure that
our servers don't end up getting phished. The last phishing event went
unnoticed for 2 days, before I accidentally discovered it. No such
security-related logs are monitored currently.

8. Proxy crash: I had known from the proxy server logs that its hard
disk was about to crash in due course. I had informed this in the server
room and had prepared a backup system to be used. Unfortunately, this
backup system was recklessly formatted. Days later, proxy really
crashed, and it took quite some time before we set things up from scratch.

9. CDROMs in teaching labs: Whereas the systems in teaching lab #333
don't have cdrom drives even though they have hard disks, the disk-less
thin clients in the new teaching labs have cdroms each even though they
will never ever be used. For the 100 thin-client systems this adds up to
a straight misuse of Rs 1 lakh.

10. Gateway server: A gateway firewall was put in place to prevent
research server labs from getting hacked (LTRC server was hacked once
because of this reason). Besides, it also improves the internet
bandwidth. This server is missing now thereby posing security threats.

I will conclude by saying that the server room currently lacks a system.
Things happen ad hoc. I can best describe the current system as:
clueless, irresponsible and acting in damage-control mode.

General issues:

Mails: If configured properly, mail protocol is so versatile that
there's absolutely no possibility of mails getting lost or even getting
delayed. But proper configuration is required nevertheless, and slight
DNS misconfiguration can wreck havoc for all mails. Students have
started shifting to gmail. Not only is this shameful for an institute
such as ours, it causes a waste of costly internet bandwidth. (Blocking
gmail is not the solution, though. Instead, our mail servers should
function reliably enough)

ISP/Internet: IIIT should have at least two ISPs. The second one can be
low-cost, low b/w one. This is critical for 24x7 mail or internet
access. Besides, the internet traffic from the ISPs needs to be
monitored, since they often end up cheating. At the 4 Mbps b/w that IIIT
has, it is possible to have an excellent browsing and download speed, if
monitored properly to weed-out b/w-hogging infected systems.

Responsibility: Several institutes (even in India) have well-managed
system administration, along with websites as help-pages. We lack such a
thing altogether. Students and faculty often don't know how to configure
things and they don't know where to get help from. Having a web-page not
only eases things out, it ensures that the solutions can be reused for
recurring problems. This is not the case with the current server room

I see the following 3 steps as necessary to ensure a reliable,
responsible and smart system administration.

1. System

Set up a planned system along which the server room works. The staff
need to be allocated jobs and be held accountable. I see three types of
jobs to be dealt with:
a) Routine: this involves all common monitoring and related activities
like managing accounts, managing network, checking logs, backups,
grievances, etc. This works in damage-control mode currently.
b) Development: this involves developing and automating ways to make the
working of the server room more efficient. This is missing currently.
c) Security: this involves maintaining the security of the network, the
servers and privacy-related issues. This requires expert-level
understanding. This is missing currently.

2. Have Student Sysadmins

There has to be at least one expert-level administrator who understands
the system throughout and can take quick actions. IIIT students are (and
will always be) better than any of the sysadmin staff or perhaps even
more costly sysadmins. This is why the model of having student-sysadmins
was ideal for IIIT. I feel that getting rid of student sysadmins is
suicidal because it leaves the server room with no one who understands
the system. All servers till date have been configured by student
sysadmins only. The notion of the baton being passed on to the successor
student-sysadmins has been carried out effectively in the past.

3. Strict accounting mechanism overseen by a faculty (that is CRC)

A faculty's involvement is the most critical to ensuring that the server
room functions properly, instead of in a clueless damage-control mode.
This would be too much pressure on the faculty, which is where the
student sysadmins come helpful. But accounting from a faculty is
necessary to ensure that the decisions are implemented by the server
room staff.

I have in the past tried several measures with the server room staff to
streamline the activities, but in vain. My current activities are like a
last-resort effort. If corrective actions are not taken immediately, I
can foresee severe inconsistencies and problems arising in immediate future.

I hope I could be helpful.

Thank You

Respose to a "Hi"

There's no dearth of mails/scraps that one gets with the subject "hi". It gets even more painful when that's all the content that there is. And I'm left at my wits' ends trying to figure out how to respond to such mails/scraps. Though I'm not overly social, I still want to respond so that I don't sound rude. But the point is what?

My interpretation of "hi.. wassup?" is: "I don't know what to write. But still I want to write. So, here's my mark". Now, I don't know how I could respond to such a scrap. Some options I ponder over are:

1. "Listen dude/dudie, I understand that you have had nothing to do and want to see some movement on your orkut scrapbook. But I'm not nearly the correct person. Try someone else and you might actually strike a conversation out of thin air."

2. "Do you know that you can self-scrap on orkut? (Yes, really, I've tried it.) Why don't you self-scrap?"

3. "See, I hardly even remember who you are. Accepted that we might have spent a wonderful evening one day but come'on."

4. Respond back with a "hi" or "hello" or a similar monotonic salutation (essentially throwing the ball back into his/her court)

5. Give a pointer to my blog

Acts 1, 2 and 3 are overly rude. Act 4 doesn't have a purpose, other than symbiotically incrementing the scrap-count. Act 5 requires that I update my blog regularly, a condition almost never met.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I know the mole

All eyes are focussed towards Jaswant Singh as he claims of a mole in PMO ever since the 90's. The unanimous question everyone is asking is: "Who is the mole?"

Given the reputation of Jaswant Singh as a high-profile diplomat, I do expect he has something up his sleeve rather than merely embarassing the NDA. But still, it's such a simple question to answer. Who doesn't know the mole? Any self-respecting person who passed high-school without cheating would know it. Here it is:

"A mole is the amount of substance of a system which contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 12 grams of carbon 12, where the carbon 12 atoms are unbound, at rest and in their ground state."

Jaswant Singh is correct. He knows the mole.

To Panchgani

I was at Panchgani for the weekend. And I must say: what a weekend it was! How do you feel when wind is so strong that you almost get blown off, literally? Or what if you are thouroughly drenched and all you can see is beautiful cliffs. Or what if rain falls like needles into your face, not from top but horizontally, and sometimes even from below! That's Panchgani.

At one spot, called Table-top, we were on the top of a cliff and the rain was heavy. The weather was so foggy that visibility was limited to a few metres only. Off an on this would clear up so that we could see down the cliff. We were in the arms of nature, literally. Now, to reach the edge of the cliff was not a mean job. At least not as easy as we thought it would be. We walked and walked and walked while it poured and it poured and it poured and the wind blew and blew and blew and we shivered and shivered and shivered. The edge seemed like a mirage since it distanced itself every time. We finally made it, and it was a feat. One slip, and that would be the end of any of us. One step at the wrong place, and that would be the last step on earth! The feeling was exotic.

Near Panchgani is the place called Mahabaleshwar. Now, this place has a beautiful waterfall (actually, it has many, but all others are closed at this time of the year). Every now and then the fog would clear up so that we could see down till the brook forming out from where the water fell. The greenery was relaxing -- the mind was all cleared up, not taxing thoughts, nothing. We went till the source of the waterfall. Some of us paddled into it.

The next stop was Pratapgarh fort built by Shivaji. The severe weather rendered it interesting. The serpentine roads leading to the fort illustrated nature's face at its full glory. There were several small waterfalls along this road.

If only all weekends could be as refreshing as this.