Reviewing Agent 6

The city I come from, Pune has been experiencing somewhat of a heat-wave. So I have been cutting off lot of work and getting lot of back-dated reading done. One of the first books I read was Tom Rob Smith’s Agent 6 . Fortunately , I read only the third book and not the first two which from the synopsis seem to be more gruesome than the one which I read, so guess there is something to be thankful for.

Agent 6 copyright - Tom Rob Smith & Publishers

While I was reading about the book, I had thought that MGB is a fictious organization thought of by the author. But a quick look in wikipedia told that it is what KGB was later based upon.

I found the book to be both an easy read as well as a layered book. I was lucky to get a big print version of the book so I was able to share the experience with my mother as well. The book is somewhat hefty as it tops out around 600 pages although it’s told to be 480 pages on amazon.

As I had shared previously I had read Russka and how had been disappointed to see how the Russian public were disappointed time and again for democracy. I do understand that the book (Russka) itself is/was written by a western author and could have tapped into some unconscious biases but seemed to be accurate as to whatever I could find from public resources, that story though I may return to in a future date but this time would be for Agent 6 .

I found the book pretty immersive and at the same time lead me thinking on so many threads the author touches but then moves on. I was left wondering and many times just had to sleep, think deep thoughts as there was quite to chew on.

I am not going to spoil any surprises except to say there are quite a few twists and the ending is also what I didn’t expect.

At the end, if you appreciate politics, history, bit of adventure and have a bit of patience, the book is bound to reward you. It is not meant to be a page-turner but if you are one who enjoys savoring your drink you are going to enjoy it thoroughly.

A random collection of thoughts

First of all couple of weeks back, I was able to put out an article about riot-web. It’s been on my mind for almost a month or more hence finally sat down, wrote and re-wrote it a few times to make it simpler for newbies to also know.

One thing I did miss out to share was the Debian matrix page . The other thing which was needling me was the comment . This is not the first time I have heard that complaint about riot-web before and at times had it happen before.

The thing is its always an issue for me when to write about something, how to say something is mature or not as software in general has a tendency to fail at any given point of time.

For such queries I haven’t the foggiest idea as to what to share as the only debug mode is if you have built riot from source and run the -debug tests but can’t say that to a newbie.

One of the things which I didn’t mention is if any researchers tried to get data out of riot-web because AFAIK twitter banned lot of researchers who were trying to get data out of their platform to do analytics etc.

This I sort of remembered as I read an open letter couple of days before by researchers about independent oversight over facebook as a concern as well.

It would have been interesting if there were any new interesting studies made from riot-web implementation, something similar to how a study of IRC I read some years ago. The mathematical observations were above my head but still some of the observations were interesting to say the least.

There has been another pattern I have been seeing in the newer decentralized free software services. While in theory, the reference implementation is supposed to be one of many, many a times, it can become the defacto implementation or otherwise you have the irc way where each client just willy-nilly did features but still somehow managed to stay sane and interoperate over the years but that’s a different story altogether for a different day.

While I like the latter, it is and can be hard as migration ia a huge headache from one client to the other irrespective of whatever the content is. There is and could be data-loss or even meta-data loss and you may come to know only years later (if you are ‘lucky’ what info. it is that you lost.)

The easiest example is contacts migration. Most professionals have at least a hundred or two contacts, now if few go missing during migration from either one version to the other or from one platform to the other, they either don’t have the time or the skills to figure out why part-migration succeeded and the rest didn’t. Of course there is a whole industry of migration experts who can write code which would have all the hooks to see that the migration works smoothly or point out what was not migrated.

These services are wholly commercial in nature and also one cannot know in advance how good/bad the service is as usually issues come to bite much later.

On another note altogether, had been seeing the sort of java confusion from a distance. There’s a Mars Sims project I have been following for quite sometime, made a few bug-reports and for reasons unknown, was eventually made a contributor. They are also in a flux as to what to do. I had read the lists.debian.org/debian-java off-and-on the web and was glad to point out the correct links.

I had read the rumors sometime back that Oracle was bull-charging Java so that it would be the only provider in town and almost everybody would have to come to it for support rather than any other provider. I can’t prove it one way or the other as it’s just a rumor but does seem to have sense.

At the end, I remember a comment made by a DD Praveen at a minidebconf which happened a month ago. It was about how Upstreams are somewhat discouraging to Debian practices and specifically more about Debian Policy . This has been discussed somewhat threadbare in the thread What can Debian do to provide complex applications to its users? in Debian-devel. The short history I know is about minified javascript does and can have security issues, see this comment in the same thread as well as see the related point shared in Debian Policy. Even Praveen’s reply is pretty illuminating in the thread.

As a user I recommend Debian to my friends, clients because of the stability as well as security tracker but with upstreams in a sort of non-cooperative mood it just adds that much more responsibility to DD’s than before.

The non-cooperation can also be seen in something like PR, for instance like the one which was done by andrewshadura and that is somewhat sad 😦

getting libleveldb1v5 fixed

Please treat this as a child’s fantasy till the information is not approved or corrected by a DD/DM who obviously have much more info and experience in dealing with below.

It had been quite a few years since I last played Minetest, a voxel-based game similar and yet different to its more famous brethren minecraft .

I wanted to install and play it but found that one of the libraries it needs is libleveldb1v5, a fast key-value storage library which according to #877773 has been marked as grave bug report because of no info. on the soname bump.

I saw that somebody had also reported it upstream and the bug has been fixed and has some more optimizations done to the library as well. From the description of the library it reminded me so much of sqlite which has almost the same feature-set (used by mozilla for bookmarks and pwd management if I’m not mistaken).

I was thinking as to if this has been fixed quite some back then why the maintainer didn’t put the fixed version on sid and then testing. I realized it might be because the new version has a soname bump which means it would need to be transitioned probably with proper breaks and everything.

A quick check via

$ apt-rdepends -r libleveldb1v5 | wc -l
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
195

revealed that almost 190 packages directly or indirectly will be affected by the transition change. I then tried to find where the VCS is located by doing –

$ apt-cache showsrc libleveldb1v5 | grep Vcs-Git
Vcs-Git: git://anonscm.debian.org/collab-maint/leveldb.git
Vcs-Git: git://anonscm.debian.org/collab-maint/leveldb.git

Then I cloned the repo to my system to see if the maintainer had done any recent changes and saw :-


b$ git log --graph --pretty=format:'%Cred%h%Creset -%C(yellow)%d%Creset %s %Cgreen(%cr)' --abbrev-commit | head -15
* 7465515 - (HEAD -> master, tag: debian/1.20-2, origin/master, origin/HEAD) Packaging cleanup (4 months ago)
* f85b876 - Remove libleveldb-dbg package and use the auto-generated one (4 months ago)
* acac71f - Update Standards-Version to 4.1.2 (4 months ago)
* e281654 - Update debhelper level to 11 (4 months ago)
* df015eb - Don't run self-test parallel (4 months ago)
* ba81cc9 - (tag: debian/1.20-1) Update debhelper level to 10 (7 months ago)
* cb84f26 - Update Standards-Version to 4.1.0 (7 months ago)
* be0ef22 - Convert markdown documentation to HTML (7 months ago)
* ab8faa7 - Start 1.20-1 changelog (7 months ago)
* 03641f7 - Updated version 1.20 from 'upstream/1.20' (7 months ago)
|\
| * 59c75ca - (tag: upstream/1.20, origin/upstream) New upstream version 1.20 (7 months ago)
* | a21bcbc - (tag: debian/1.19-2) Add the missing ReadMemoryBarrier and WriteMemoryBarrier functions for mips* (1 year, 5 months ago)
* | 70c6e38 - Add myself to debian/copyright (1 year, 5 months ago)
* | 1ba7231 - Update source URL (1 year, 5 months ago)

There is probably a much simpler way to get the same output but for now that would have to suffice.

Anyways, there are many variations of the code I used using git log --pretty and git log --decorate etc. Maybe one of those could give the same output, would need the time diff as shared above.

Trivia – I am usually more interested in commit messages and time when the commits are done and know a bit of git to find out the author of a particular commit even if abbreviated commit is there and want to thank her(im) for the work done on that package or a particular commit which address some annoying bug that I had. /Trivia

Although the best I have hankered for is to have some sort of visualization tool about projects that I like

something like Andrews plot or the C-Chart for visualization purposes but till date haven’t found anything which would render it into those visuals straightway. Maybe a feature for a future git version, who knows 🙂

I know that in itself is a Pandora’s box as some people might just like to have visualization of only when releases were made of an upstream project while there will be others like who would enjoy and be fascinated to see amount of time between each commit on a project. I have seen quite a few projects rise, wane and have a rise again but having such visualizations may possibly help out in getting people more involved with a project/library whatever.

Andrews plot example - Wikipedia - CC-0

All the commits for the said library are done by the maintainer Laszlo Boszormenyi so it seems that the maintainer is interested in maintaining it. At least all the last 10-12 messages going almost 1.5 years shows that he is/was active till at least 4 months back, which brings me to another one of my pet issues.

There aren’t any ways to figure out how recently a DD or DM committed on Debian somewhere. People usually try the MIA team (Missing in Action) and many a times you feel you are taking the team’s time especially when it turns out to be a false positive. If users had more tools than probably MIA’s workload would be much lesser than before.

The only the other way is to look at all the packages a particular DD/DM is maintaining and if you are lucky then s(he) has made a release of a package or something that you can look into and know for certain that the person is active.

The other longer way is to download all the VCS repositories of a DD/DM, cycle through all of them using something like above to see when was the last commit done on all her(is) repos. and then come to conclusion one way or the other. If s(he) is really MIA then tell them to MIA team so they can try to connect with the person concerned, and if s(he) doesn’t respond in a reasonable time-frame then orphan the packages.

If a DD/DM has not committed for more than a year or two for any of her(is) projects I guess it’s reasonable to expect that the person concerned is MIA.

Anyways, it would be nice if the present maintainer is able to get the new release out so the other 190 packages which are probably installable could also work. When I was churning this on my head, I thought why couldn’t the DD’s have some sort of CI infrastructure which may automate things a bit and make life somewhat easier.

I have seen the Debian travis ci instance but know that’s limited to upstream projects hosted on github.

For those who might not know Travis CI is one of many such solutions. They are continuous integration software and they are quite a few of them.

What they do is they try to build the project/application/library etc. after each and every commit taking into account any parameters told/programmed into it. There may be times when upstream make an incompatible change or make some mistake while committing, because it’s autobuilds the application or whatever automatically, if it fails to build it forces the developer to see where they messed up. At the end you have a slightly better application at the end as at least obvious bugs are ironed out.

I do remember reading about gitlab-ci somewhere, maybe in the thread where DD’s were discussing about various alternatives to alioth or somewhere else. I dunno if would be just a matter of turning it on or that part is still not open-sourced yet, no idea.

If that happens, it would probably save the DD’s/DM some computational time apart from being able to know if things are going well or not.

I know gitlab had shared (paraphrasing here) they may make some of the things more open-source if Debian were to adopt the product, now that Debian has, I and guess most of the community would be hoping as lot of hard work, tears have gone into getting things ported from alioth to salsa especially in the last one month or so.

I do know that we have the autobuilder network but from what I understand, it’s for a slightly different use-case. This is more to see if the package builds on all the 10-11 official architectures and maybe some of the unofficial architectures.

While I was reading it, I was unable to find if just like people all around the world are doing mirrors (full or partial depending on the resources they have and the kind of pickup they are seeing) can people be part of autobuilder network to give additional computational power to the network. The name does say ‘autobuilder network’ so maybe that possibility exists, maybe it does not.

I did consult the documentation on the topic and it seems it’s a bit of work, see the workflow shared in wiki for transitions.

After reading that, you really wonder the patience of the people who slog through all this.

I did try to connect with him on the bug mentioned but he hasn’t got back, perhaps he’s busy IRL.

https://bugs.debian.org/cgi-bin/pkgreport.cgi?package=release.debian.org#_0_17_4

Till later.

Note – I have not talked about */debian/control or */debian/changelog.Debian, */debian/changelog or any of the files because once those are made, they are probably just need to be fiddled around a bit. The control file will probably list newer version of dependencies and may or may not have newer build dependencies. Changelog.Debian would document the changes the DD/DM had to do in order for the binary to be built successfully and in the archive and changelog will just document the time till where upstream’s work was taken.

cleartext passwords and transparency

I had originally thought of talking about the recent autonomous car project which killed a homeless lady in Tempe but guess that would have to wait for another day. I saw Lars Wirzenius’s blog post which led me to change the direction a bit.

So let me just jump in with Lars blog post where he talks about cleartext passwords. While he has actually surmised and shared what a security problem they are, the pity is we come to know of this only because the people in question tacitly admitted to bad practises. How many more such bad actors are there, developers putting user credentials in cleartext god only knows. There was even an April Fool’s joke in 2014 which shared why putting passwords in cleartext is bad.

This is one lesson which web developers are neither taught nor learnt. Most web development courses in India may talk about web frameworks, CSS, front-end and back-end web development and even may talk about UX but security will be something which is supposed to be magically gained while you do the above things. Please note I said most, not all but yes there is needed a whole lot of awakening in terms of safe web development practices but that’s time for another day and another tale. Casual interactions with course publishers has been that most students are looking for buzz words and neither the employers look for ‘security’ as a strong point.

There even have been casual studies which shared that 0.01 of financial crimes are reported in India . I myself am guilty of this when a bank mis-appropriates or does something stupid, my only thing is to get the transaction rectified or get it corrected rather than worry about if some small, medium or large-scale conspiracy is happening in the bank. But that malaise has to many factors to put in this small blog post.

Few years back EFF did a tremendous job of pursuing and getting everyday users and vendors like mozilla, chromium to adopt https globally, but to my knowledge many Indian websites including some of the biggest behemoths in India with whom we have day-to-day activity keep all their user passwords in cleartext. What perhaps may or may not be a shocker to many people that many ATM’s at least in India don’t work on https even today. Is there even a wonder why skinners are still able to cheat honest people and taxpayers .

The reasons for all of the above could be ranging from sheer incompetence to being lazy to not being regulated at all. Rather than sharing anecdotes and also not having INR 100 crores or INR 1 billion rupees ( that statement will become clear in a while) with developers who under casual circumstances have shared they neither do one-way-encryption or salting or any of the methods of securing passwords either because financial companies don’t demand it or know about it even though they should know better.

I can however share an anecdote however which resulted in a suit of law which a media house won sometime back. It isn’t so much about unsafe web practices but more about companies lack of morals for financial web gains and our (the commons) own lack of understanding of such matters.

I had to search on my blog before sharing and turns out I didn’t share this anecdote before, surprise, surprise.

Since 2008, I know of a media house called moneylife which is run by a beautiful, very intelligent woman called Sucheta Dalal and her husband Debasis. I believe Debasis is more into the admin side of things while Sucheta bears both the investigative and editorial responsibilities on her shoulders. While I have never met her whole team, to have the kinds of breath and length of news you often find on moneylife.in you do need to have a strong and competent team which I guess she has.

Sucheta Dalal with the compensation cheque

Copyright – Moneylife.in

I have met her twice, and have been a fan of her work since she started reporting the frauds which were happening in SEBI in Indian Express from where she was consequently fired as she had too many ethics. I have been blessed to meet her couple of times but each time was dumb-founded as you meet someone whom you admired so much. I might have flustered and said thank you for the work you do but couldn’t ever muster the courage to say anything more than that to her face-to-face.

Anyways, fast forward a few years or back couple of years back, Sucheta wrote a column in moneylife that there was unauthorized algorithmic trading happening and some traders were profiting from it in National Stock Exchange. This was apparently done by a whistle-blower (A Singapore-based trader and hedge fund owner) and Sucheta and her team confirmed and then printed the same. Interestingly, SEBI which regulates how finance intermediaries (like brokers, stock analysts, stock exchanges and companies share their expansion plans or any news) didn’t say anything and chose to keep mum although this was happening right below their noses. Please keep this in mind, this happened under the present Government dispensation who had the mottos of ‘being the most transparent’ and ‘we will not eat and will not let corrupt people eat’ to paraphrase their election sloganeering.

Before starting with the story, it would also be interesting to state a bit about NSE. IIRC, BSE for a long-time was a monopoly for share trading, there was Kolkatta Stock Exchange also but due to political winds in Kokatta and many other factors they couldn’t keep up with change in technology and kind of faded on the national scene over the years.

Due to BSE’s bullish ways or being the only action in town, quite a few private and public institutions came together and formed NSE. The Harshad Mehta stock manipulation scandal probably also accelerated the formation of the institute. The goals at formation were laudable but as it happens in institutes which work and value money over everything else, it’s possible to be corroded as will be seen shortly.

NSE in many terms is a strange beast with having investors from Public and Private Companies who supposedly counsel and come under the finance ministry and SEBI (as most of their investors are Government Institutions including the finance ministry). There were also talks of taking NSE as a publicly listed company but dunno what happened about that.

What has never made been public if NSE filed the suit on its own behalf or was persuaded to do so either by finance ministry, SEBI or the traders who were doing the illegal trading, guess this is something we will ever know. The significance of this why will be known at the last of the blog post. AFAIK these algo traders control 40-50% of the daily trading so have a huge grip on the market.

I believe NSE filed the first case in Bombay small causes court which moneylife won and subsequently they even tried in Bombay High Court

Unfortunately for them, Sucheta and her teams were no cub reporters as she had years of experience working both with Times of India and then Indian Express hence she had hard documentary proof which she was able to show in the court to which as far as I know the Prosecutor had no answers.

To cut the long story short, NSE had to withdraw their suit and even pay damages of INR 50 lakh or INR 5 million rupees.

There are many things which I have not covered about the case, some of which can be understood by Shri Lokeshwarri SK’s excellent article which was posted in the Hindu Business Line years ago. He has framed many a questions which are still an open question even today.

The reason I shared this story is pretty simple, its only a very tiny amount of people who invest in the share market. I would say 1-2% of the population . Almost all of these people are highly literate and somewhat financially literate as well. If they didn’t know such things were happening then how can a common man/person on the road question or know if his data is being kept safe or not. All the contracts, terms of conditions especially those which either come in Population or finance or actually anything can come under ‘National Security’.

The best part, the irony is that algorithmic trading in India is now a legal activity and apparently was also legal in 2015 when the suit was done. AFAIK, that change could only be done by SEBI. The whole affair has also been framed in an article on Indian Legal Live which actually raises a whole host of disquieting questions. There seems to be lot of back-dating happening but as mere spectators we can’t even talk about that.

Even the judgement narrowly focussed on some of the questions raised as can be inferred from the article but in the present dispensation judicial activism is on the wane.

While I can’t help in the above, I can share about a tor meetup which probably may help in some direct or indirect way,

I do hope to go there and gain as well as much share whatever little I can.

meetup.com, summer cleaning and talking about creative writing-Taiwan

As around the week-end, took some time today to cleanup my mail inbox, replied some new and old mails which I had forgotten to and deleted the ones which were long past their expiry date. While doing it, came to know that I had joined meetup.com circa 2009. Almost a decade went by and didn’t even realize where it went.

Looking back, I realized I had forgotten what the early days were like on meetup.com. In those days, the only meetups were dating kind, now of course its much more of a fleshed out and caters from Information Technology, Writing, Cooking and even Salsa dancing. I just saw somebody start a salsa group in my hometown.

Anyways, last week after almost 6 months went to a meetup. I had seen How to start writing a short novel being hosted by my friend Dr. Swati Shome.

Interaction with Novelist Tanushree Podder

Copyright – Arun Paria

I had some other engagements and being a Sunday and knowing most Puneties and the laid back culture came at 11:30 . Meetup had shown me around 20 odd people so was expecting a small group of people but turns out there were few writers in making and many wanna-be hacky writers like yours truly, no offence meant to anyone 🙂

There were lot of interesting questions, anecdotes shared by Mme. Tanushree Poddar.

There were couple of young chaps who went to travels and had magical experiences. I was tempted to ask whether it was in Triund (Himalayas somewhere 😉 ) or Parvati Valley. There are lots of places out there where you feel the magic out there. Also if you are with friends and are safe, you can also try to heighten the experiences using hallucinogens like magic mushrooms. I can’t explain it but you really feel everything is communicating with you and it all makes sense. The best part is you don’t get addicted while understanding what some people who might be attuned to nature might be feeling. It’s a sacred feeling.

Coming to the meeting, I realized how much I missed talking and chatting with fellow writers, bloggers etc. I and probably few others helped Swati with reviewing and plugging holes in her non-fiction book on sexuality for teenagers. She showed me an initial print copy the publisher had shared with her, I guess it still has to go with few iterations as the final thing would be available in June.

While I love hardbacks, in this case I would make an exception. I do hope the publisher prices it properly and more and more children and their parents use the book to be able to talk about sex without shame etc. While in some spheres we, the Indian society have become bolder, talk between children and parents are still within the old boundaries while technology has marched on. I am talking here about the middle class only. Kids as small as 6-8 years know about sex which we didn’t know even after reaching majority (i.e. 18) but that’s Swati’s book will talk about.

Incidentally Swati chided me about sharing something like 8 A4 pages of feedback with her, what she didn’t know I probably shared less than half as sex is more a mental thing than anything else.

Anyways, during the interaction and talking with others, I re-realized again that there are so many people like me who feel the need to write. While everybody does pay homage to success, most of us driven by a need to explore ourselves through our characters. In a fictional setting, we could explore any character that we want, the only things that stops us from doing that is our own judgemental self.

Having access to a larger vocabulary also helps so I/we/you don’t become repetitive which is easy to happen as we are easily habituated to words, something like ‘comfort words’ which we use over and over.

At the interaction, I was also transported back to the South African wharf/dock which I had visited during Debconf 2016 as part of Day trip. I had read so many books where the dock and the people were described in great detail especially the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Going to the dock I could feel I was transported to that earlier era.

There was even a bar just next to the wharf and entering there did see quite a few people with tattoos. The only thing missing was perhaps a black eye patch, a peg leg and a talking parrot and I would have been left wondering whether I am in a Peter Pan movie 🙂 Even the shingle on top of the bar was something I had read in dozen of books, rusted, sea birds sitting on top of it as if was they were the rightful owners of the shingle and so many things. It was one of those times where you are perplexed whether you should take a photo or leave it because your mind captures it in so much essence, vitality that the photo or even a video would be pale copies at the best.

I don’t think any experience is going to top that. Of course never say never but still 🙂

Isn’t it fascinating how words, associations, ideas and images relate with each other and take you on a journey.

Talking of journeys, in a couple of months from now, I may or may not travel to Taiwan for a technical conference. While whatever happens is in the future, I have been having a ball of time exploring Taiwan on the web.

One of the things which puzzled me when starting to read about Taiwan I heard the term ‘formosa’ over and over again. Sometime later I opened the wikipedia page and learned that Formosa means ‘beautiful island‘. What has been interesting to read and find how Taiwan sees itself, some people feel it’s part of China and while many don’t. Of course the name ROC or Republic of China doesn’t make it any less confusing. Also the two countries share the same language (Mandarin) and it does fall into the Chinese sphere of influence.

What has made it more fascinating that if China thinks of Taiwan as being part of China, then why don’t any of the Chinese travel books mention Taiwan. I have had more luck finding books of English counties like Chesterfield and many other English counties then finding books about Taiwan. I usually look in seconds sale as nowadays you have lot of seconds sale in my hometown.

Two of the books I would like to read is ‘Forbidden Nation

Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan - Jonathan Manthorpe

and From Far Farmosa.

FROM FAR FORMOSA: The Island, its People and Missions - George Leslie. Mackay 1895

Apparently both these books supposedly give an idea to a lay reader how Taiwan came about.

For practical matters, did come to know that Taiwan has an embassy in New Delhi and perhaps one in Chennai if one needs to pursue Visa matters.

As somebody shared long time, we are indeed living in some interesting times 🙂

At the very end, somebody had asked me to share a hindi rock song. So if you want to impress your girlfriend or boyfriend with an Indian rock song here goes nothing

For p.d.o. people https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SncLwWFrJ0

We are all racists

This is going to be in response of Russel’s blog post about Racism. But before I delve into that, I just want to take a side track towards audio in the PC world because –

a. It’s an easy story and maybe people can help me.
b. Racism is a tough subject to broach or talk about without possibility of hurting others feelings.

Few months back, I had shared about how I bought an Asus Intel motherboard .

Asus motherboard

Copyright – Amazon.in

One of the reasons which I probably didn’t mention probably at the time were some of the specs. which the motherboard had which sort of won me over. One of those features was the audio part .

From Asus’s own manual about the motherboard –

Audio – Realtek ® ALC887 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
– LED-illuminated design: Brighten up your build with the gorgeous illuminated
audio trace path
– Audio Shielding: Ensures precision analog/digital separation and greatly reduces
multi-lateral interference
– Dedicated audio PCB layers: Separate layers for left and right channels to guard
the quality of the sensitive audio signals
– Premium Japanese audio capacitors: Provide warm, natural and immersive
sound with exceptional clarity and fidelity
– Supports jack-detection, and front panel jack-retasking

– Reference Asus

While I knew that the audio codec is somewhat middle of the road and has an analogue output as can be seen from green colored port which has been since the beginning I used a computer system. I was suggested to go for a dedicated sound card but as am not an audiophile decided to use the ALC887 connected to my 2 speaker setup from years ago.

I was expecting a better sound but couldn’t find any difference between the new system and the old system which left me a bit bewildered. I was/am under the impression that the newer generation DAC and the audio codec would have generated a slightly better output than the old system/motherboard but was not to be.

As luck would have it, the old speaker setup which served me for about 7 years (a low-end Philips 2 speaker setup) stopped working one fine day leaving me with no option but to get new speakers. I was looking for a 2 speaker setup when suddenly was offered a Creative SBS A120 at a pretty stealish price. The two speakers standalone unit were around 1k while the 2.1 speaker setup was for 1.3k/- . With having a sub-woofer and a wired remote control, it was too sweet a deal to ignore. I did see the SBSA120 was the most basic model in the SBS stable it was still an upgrade to the existing setup. I know that many people nowadays have 10 or more speakers and dual sub-woofers to go at their own homes. The whole positional audio is supposed to be the next big thing.

Few hours later, I was able to feel the difference that the sub-woofer bought to the whole sound experience. And this is while I am experiencing a slight hearing loss in my left ear for some reason. The tests told me I would have to re-listen at least quarter of century of music and movies all over again. I had my first brush with Dolby sound in a cinema theater in 1991 when the theater near my place ‘Mangala’ had the dolby sound with the film ‘Saajan‘. There was a bit of controversy which hasn’t been mentioned in either the article or the talk page. One of the major reasons for the enormous popularity of the movie was the Dolby sound, not taking the talent the playback singers and others did to make the music. There was lot of talk and rumors that ‘Saajan’ would not have been such a big hit if the Dolby sound wasn’t used as it bought the bass, the tonal quality that Dolby bought in.

It was then about few years later when I first heard about the ‘Osho Ashram’ which was in my own city. A chance trip and few experiences in the Ashram and heard the terms ‘noise cancellation’ , ‘shielding’, ‘sound engineer a profession I never knew existed’ both former terms of which I would hear amplified over the years 🙂

Needless to say they were using ‘Marshall which as I could come to know years later as one of the best amplifiers and probably never own. I was just impressed that none of the speakers emitted noise or static as they did then and are common even today in most public gatherings, even many technical events held in the city. While most people know the sub-woofer or mistake it as ‘booster’ as its known in common parlance most people are simply unaware about noise cancellation and EM shielding and how much that could help in how we hear things.

The only thing which I’ve yet to fix on the audio setup side is to get the sub-woofer on a separate stand or something as the woofer vibrates quite a bit. With that comes whole crazy train.

Unless I someday own my own pad and even then I probably would never get a second sub-woofer although hearing Eagles, Metallica, Aerosmith, GNR is never going to be same again 🙂 I did find a page somewhere where it shared how to make custom stand for the sub-woofer filled with sand something which would open the sub-woofer a bit more though but forgot to bookmark it and hence lost it. If somebody knows something like that, please share.

Now for the hard part.

Taking over from Russel’s blog post a bit, I think Racism is not just a color thing but also needs to be redefined and add casteism, sexism also into it. Over the years I had to make difficult choices and choose my own battles, some in which I had to acquiescence or agree for personal safety and other times where I could hold my ground. But I do see both people (the supposed victor and the loser) from ever growing or learning about the other.

There are just too many examples to share –

1. One of the first experiences I had was when I was in my mid 20s to take a workshop at a somewhat remote place. It was one of those early mashup unconference type of things where people from different backgrounds and shared the work so everybody shared something or the other and everybody learnt a little about themselves. One of the ‘presenters’ asked me if I knew my caste. My upbringing was not particularly religious as most people in my family were not strict about that. The only times we did idol worship was if there was an occasion like Diwali or something but otherwise we were content with trying to figure out everyday life details.

So naturally my answer was my surname which I thought was good enough. It was commented by the gentleman that I probably belonged to a forward caste. I asked why ?

In response he took me, turned around and gave the same question to a bunch of people who were part of the group, apart from one two persons who probably also were from forward castes, all the rest were highly aware of the caste, sub-caste and gotra and lot more details which left me completely clueless. Coincidentally or otherwise, all of them were Dalits . My schooling was done in Children’s Academy excuse for the fb link but there was never any casteism as far as I remember. The only casteism which was practiced was you were sent back if your shoes were not correct or the tie we wore was not of the proper shade. As I had shared earlier elsewhere and I had asked mother after seeing the soaring fees in today’s schools and we didn’t pay much. Hence it never entered my/our vocabulary at all. Hence I was under probably mistaken belief that racism wasn’t practiced in India, probably clueless about what was happening around me. Most of my school-mates and me looked up to ‘Robin’ a Christian but he was looked up for being honest, forthright, getting the best grades and of course was tall. I do know that lot of the girls were smitten by him as some of them did ask me to find a way to get introduced to him.

Similarly, the college I went to was an average college MMCC ours was the first or second batch when the commerce stream was opened so not so much of a hot college as its supposed to be now.

Few years later, I went to the Himalayas, partly for a project and partly because I wanted to travel. The work wasn’t much so the work afforded me to travel around a bit. In many places I saw that because I was from a certain caste I was allowed. This actually left a very bitter taste in the mouth as this was not something I had experienced in my hometown or surroundings. One incident in particular left such a bitter taste that even today I have no idea what would have been the right way.

I was in one of these family lodges. They were of the same ‘caste’ and hence I was given accommodation. They had questioned me why I wasn’t married. In my ‘caste’ most people got married even before the legal age no matter whether you were working or not working etc. I knew intuitively I was emotionally not ready for commitment but didn’t have the understanding or the words to tell that. I gave some excuse and that was end of that.

During my stay, I got friendly with some of the locals. One kid in particular I grew fond of because we both liked ‘Kulfis

matka kulfi

CC-0 Wikipedia.org

It is one of the things that you should taste if you ever come to India. Anyway, there used to be a bicycle vendor and if I was around he would shout and we would both get our kulfis together and at least for me for those moments I would feel like a little boy. I still enjoy kulfis today but not that much.

Anyways, one day he shouted and for some reason I was a little late and the vendor had already gone. Seeing that I had come he offered his kulfi to me, I said no. After a bit of back and forth we reached a compromise that we would each lick a little. The kulfi was little different than the one I have shown above, sort of like candy stick and we would take turns. After takinc couple of licks I offered him back and he said no. When I asked him why, he wouldn’t tell why. I offered him the money in exchange, he quipped something and then ran away.

Later, late night the head of the family called me in front of his family and asked about what had happened. Apparently he had overseen the whole incident. In my innocence I narrated the whole thing. Thereby I was given a lecture as to how the kid knew his place and I didn’t. I couldn’t argue that minute otherwise I wouldn’t have a place to find at that time of the night. Needless to say though, the next day I left the place.

I wish I could have handled it better but how is still a mystery to me.

One another incident which I had shared earlier was about the South African women with mixed parentage of Indians and Africans and how they had a hard time being accepted by either community for marriage. This was shared to me by some of the women themselves. But this as I have discovered afterwards in popular culture is not just confined to South Africa but also Japan, Vietnam and few other places in Asia.

At least in Vietnam’s scenario as so many American GI’s married or had relations with Vietnamese women and the children either within wedlock or out of wedlock were neither accepted by the Vietnamese Govt. or the American Government.

In another incident, sometime back, at a technical workshop/gathering similar to unconferences a bunch of us were sharing our expertise with other attendees. As it happens, we all got friendly and one of the women in one of those alone moments shared that she was unhappy because she was black. I tried to tell her she’s good enough being highly aware that she was 20 years junior to me. What I probably could have said is that if she were 20 years elder, I would have pursued her both for her looks as well as her intelligence and personality. I wish I could give her peace of mind but probably she needs to figure that one out herself.

See also an article about Jesus and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong. It brings to my mind a TV movie I had seen few years back . In the movie, a gentleman is there who doesn’t seem to age in a decade. His friends are an oldish Catholic American woman, a University professor, a youngish woman who is obviously smitten by him and another young man. It was shared at the beginning of the movie that these five people have been close friends for over a decade, with the mysterious gentleman always being a bit of reserved and shy nature. One evening he asks all of them to come to his house.

Over the evening, as the conversation progresses, in a series of suppositions he reveals that he had been walking on earth through the dawn of time and was coincidentally ‘Jesus’ and the ‘Prophet’ at different times in period. He shared about the various professions he had over his extended life term and everything in that house was made by his two hands. From his perspective, he was the wrong man in the wrong place at wrong time. He did have healing powers but for those he has no explanations. Hearing the suppositions the old Catholic woman becomes highly aggravated and faints where our Jesus/Prophet uses his bit of power to heal her and come back. A sort of ‘Reiki’ healing as it looked in the movie. The University professor is amused and chuckles for he believes both in the possibility of him being the real thing and pulling a fast one. The young chap is excited with this supposed admission and tries to get the law, the papers so that he can get the record straight and even get some of attention on himself. Our hero has to make a quick getaway, the professor and the woman who is smitten by him help him to escape. They share a long embrace and a kiss before he has to go on for search of disguise and make a new identity for himself. Sadly, I don’t remember the name of the movie.

All of this just reinforces at least to me that the idea of religion, nation and state are partly if not fully responsible for racism to exist with companies co-opting with them for their own personal gain. To embellish my argument, I present a quora thread . And before anybody objects, I am aware that quite a few personalities alleged behavior doesn’t have enough citations looking from Wikipedia’s NPOV .

There is though another site which covers racism of all sorts with a slight satirical wit, for instance just today’s article . The reason for satire being not far-fetched as can be seen in couple of more mainstream articles such as Foreign hand in Sangh and the same happening across the border as well. From these articles it is evident that the same/similar forces are at work here which are elsewhere.

While I do hope for a Star Trek meritorious liberation model, am highly aware that presently the forces are quite strong. I do believe that the moment I think I’m better than a or b I might be falling into the same trap while at the same time by not speaking about what is happening around me, am also falling into the same trap.

Hence quite a bit of thanks to Russel to be able to get these thoughts off my chest.