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My letter to Government of Maharashtra on Real Estate Rules and Regulation Draft rules

While I try to minimize Politics and Economics as much as I can on this blog, it sometimes surfaces. It is possible that some people may benefit or at least be aware.

A bit of background is necessary before I jump into the intricacies of the Maharashtra Real Estate Rules and Regulation Draft Rules 2016 (RERA) .

Since ever, but more prominently since 2007/8 potential homeowners from across the country have been suffering at the hands of the builder/promoter for number of years. While it would be wrong to paint all the Real Estate Developers and Builders as cheats (we as in all tenants and homeowners hope there are good ones out there) many Real Estate Builders and promoters have cheated homeowners of their hard-earned money. This has also lessened the secondary (resale) market and tenants like me have to fight over morsels as supply is tight.

There were two broad ways in which the cheating is/was done –

a. Take deposits and run away i.e. fly by night operators – Here the only option for a homeowner is to file an FIR (First Information Report) and hope the culprits are caught. 99% of the time the builder/promoter goes somewhere abroad and the potential home buyers/home-owners are left holding the can. This is usually done by small real estate promoters and builders.

b. The big boys would take all or most money of the project, may register or not register the flat in your name, either build a quarter or half-finished building and then make excuses. There are some who do not even build. The money given is used by the builder/developer either for his own needs or using that money in some high-profile project which is expensive and may have huge returns. They know that home-owners can’t do anything, at the most go to the court which will take more than a decade or two during which time the developer would have interest-free income and do whatever he wants to do.

One of the bigger stories which came up this year was when the Indian Cricket Captain, M.S. Dhoni (cricket is a religion in India, and the cricketers gods for millions of Indians) had to end his brand engagement and ambassadorship from Amrapali Housing Group. Apparently, his wife Sakshi was on the Board of directors at Amrapali Housing and had to resign

The Government knew of such issues and had been working since last few years. Under the present Government, a Model Agreement and a Model Real Estate Rules and Regulation Bill was passed on 31st March and came into force on 1st May 2016.

India, similar to the U.S. and U.K. follows a federal structure. While I have shared this before, most of the laws in India fall in either of three lists, Central List, Concurrent Lists and State Lists. Housing for instance, is a state subject so any laws concerning housing has to be made by the state legislature.

Having a statutory requirement to put the bill in 6 months from 1st of May, the Government of Maharashtra chose to put the draft rules in public domain on 12th December 2016, about 10 days ago and there were efforts to let it remain low-key so people do not object as we are still in the throes of demonetisation. By law they should have given 30 days for people to raise objections and give suggestions.

The State Government too could have easily asked an extension and as both the State and the Centre are of the same Political Party they would have easily got it.

With that, below is the e-mail I sent to suggesstionsonrera@maharashtra.gov.in

Sub – Some suggestions for RERA – biggest suggestion, need to give more time study the implications for house-owners.

Respected Sir/Madame,

I will be publishing the below mail as a public letter on my blog as well.

I am writing as a citizen, a voter, a potential home owner, currently a tenant . If houses supply is not in time, it is us, the tenants who have the most to lose as we have to fight over whatever is in the market. I do also hope to be a home buyer at some point in time so these rules would affect me also somewhere in the hazy future.

I came to know through the media that Maharashtra Govt. recently introduced draft rules for RERA Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 . I hope to impress upon you that these proposed Rules and Regulations need to be thoroughly revised and new draft rules shared with the public at large with proper announcement in all newspapers and proper time ( more than a month ) to study and give replies on the said matter.

My suggestions and complaints are as under –

a. The first complaint and suggestion is that the date between the draft regulations and suggestions being invited by members of public is and was too little 12 December 2016 – 23 December 2016 (only 11 days) for almost 90 pages of Government rules and regulations which needs multiple rounds of re-reading to understand the implications of the draft rules .

Add to that unlike the Central Building Legislation, Model Agreement which was prepared by Centre and also given wide publicity, the Maharashtra Govt. didn’t do any such publicity to bring it to the
notice of the people.

b. I ask where was the hurry to publish these draft rules now when everybody is suffering through the result of cash-crunch on top of other things. If the said draft rules were put up in January 2017, I am sure more people would have responded to the draft rules. Ir raises suspicion in the mind of everybody the timing of sharing the draft rules and the limited time given to people to respond.

E.g. – When TRAI (Telephone Regulatory Authority of India) asked for suggestion it gives more than a month, and something like housing which is an existential question for everybody, i.e. the poor, the middle and the rich, you have given pretty less time. While I could change my telephone service providers at a moment’s notice without huge loss, the same cannot be said either for a house owner (in case of builder) or a tenant as well. This is just not done.

c. The documents are at https://housing.maharashtra.gov.in/sitemap/housing/Rera_rules.htm under different sub-headings while the correct structure of the documents can be found at nared’s site
http://naredco.in/notifications.asp . At the very least, the documents should have been in proper order.

Coming to some of the salient points raised both in the media and elsewhere –

1. On page 6 of Part IV-A Ext1.pdf you have written

” Explanation.-The registration of a real estate project shall not be required,-

(i) for the purpose of any renovations or repair or redevelopment which does not involve marketing, advertisement, selling or new allotment of any apartment , plot or building as the case may be under
the real estate project; ” – RERA draft rules

What it means is that the house owner and by the same stroke the tenant would have absolutely no voice to oppose any changes made to the structure at any point of time after the building is built. This means the builder is free to build 12-14-16 even 20 stories building when the original plans were for 6-8-10. This rule gives the builder to do free for all till the building doesn’t get converted into a society, a process which does and can take years to happen.

2. A builder has to take innumerable permissions from different authorities at each and every stage till possession of a said property isn’t handed over to a home buyer and by its extension to the tenant. Now any one of these authorities could sit on the papers and there is no accountability of by when papers would be passed under a competent authority’s desk. There was a wide belief that there would be some
rules and regulations framed in this regard but the draft rules are silent on the subject matter.

3. In Draft rule 5. page 8 of Part IV-A Ext1.pdf you write –

“Withdrawal of amounts deposited in separate account.-(1) With regard to the withdrawal of amounts deposited under sub-clause (D) of clause (l) of sub-section (2) of section 4, the following provisions shall apply:-

(i) For new projects which will be registered after commencement. – ”

Deposit in the escrow account is from now onwards. So what happens to the projects which are ongoing at the moment, either at the registration stage or at building stage, thousands of potential house owners would be left to fend for themselves. There needs to be some recourse for them as well.

3b. Another suggestion is that the house-owners are duly informed when promoters/builders are taking money from the bank and should have the authority to see that proper documents and procedure was followed. It is possible that unscrupulous elements may either bypass it or give some different documents which are not in knowledge of the house-owner, thus defeating the purpose of the escrow account itself.

4. On page 44 of Pt.IV-A Ext.161 in the Model Agreement to be entered
between the Promoter and the Alottee you have mentioned –

“(i)The Allottee hereby agrees to purchase from the Promoter and the Promoter hereby agrees to sell to the Allottee one Apartment No. ………….. of the type ………….. of carpet area admeasuring ……………….. sq. metres on ………… floor in the building __________along with (hereinafter referred to as “the Apartment”) as shown in the Floor plan thereof hereto annexed and marked Annexures C
for the consideration of Rs. ………………. including Rs. ………………. being the proportionate price of the common areas and facilities appurtenant to the premises, the nature, extent and description of the common/limited common areas and facilities which are more particularly described in the Second Schedule annexed herewith. (the price of the Apartment including the proportionate price of the limited common areas and facilities and parking spaces should be shown separately).

(ii) The Allottee hereby agrees to purchase from the Promoter and the Promoter hereby agrees to sell to the Allottee garage bearing Nos ____ situated at _______ Basement and/or stilt and /or ____podium being
constructed in the layout for the consideration of Rs. ____________/-

(iii) The Allottee hereby agrees to purchase from the Promoter and the Promoter hereby agrees to sell to the Allottee Car parking spaces bearing Nos ____ situated at _______ Basement and/or stilt and /or ____podium and/or open parking space, being constructed in the layout for the
consideration of Rs. ____________/-.

The total aggregate consideration amount for the apartment including garages/car parking spaces is
thus Rs.______/- ” – Draft rules.

What has been done here is the parking space has been divorced from sale of the flat . It is against natural justice, logic, common sense as well-known precedents in jurisprudence (i.e. law)

In September 2010, the bench of Justices R M Lodha and A K Patnaik had ruled in a judgement stating developers cannot sell parking spaces as independent real-estate units. The court ruled that parking areas are ‘common areas and facilities’. This was on behalf of a precedent in Mumbai High Court as well.

http://www.reinventingparking.org/2010/09/important-parking-ruling-by-indias.html

This has been reiterated again and again in courts as well as consumer
forums http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Cant-charge-flat-buyer-extra-for-parking-slot/articleshow/22475233.cms

and has been the norm in several Apartment Acts over multiple states –

http://apartmentadda.com/blog/2015/02/19/rules-pertaining-to-parking-spaces-in-apartment-complexes/

5. In case of dispute, the case will high court which is inundated by huge number of pending cases.

As recently as August 2016 there was a news item in Indian Express which talks about the spike in pending cases. Putting a case in the high court will weigh heavily on the homeowner, financially and
mentally http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/more-cases-and-increased-staff-strength-putting-pressure-on-bombay-high-court-building-2964796/

It may be better to use the services of ‘National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission'(NCDRC) where there is possibility of quicker justice and quick resolution. There is possibility of group actions taking place which will reduce duplicity of work on behalf of the petitioners.

6. There is neither any clarity, incentive or punitive action against the promoter/builder if s/he delay conveyance to the society in order to get any future developmental and FSI rights. To delay handing over conveyance, the builders delay completion of the last building in a said project. there should be both a compensatory and punitive actions taken against the builder if he is unable to prove any genuine cause for the same.

7. There needs to be the provision with regard to need for developers to make public disclosures pertaining to building approvals. This while I had shared above needs to be explicitly mentioned so house-owners know the promoter/builder are on the right path.

8. There needs to be a provision that prohibits refusal to sell property to any person on the basis of his/her religion, marital status or dietary preferences.

9. There is lot of ambiguity if criminal proceedings can be initiated against a promoter/developer if s/he fails to deliver the flat on time.

The developer should be criminally liable if he doesn’t give the flat with all the amenities, fixtures and anything which was on agreement signed by both parties and for which the payment has been given in
full at time of possession of a flat.

10. Penalties for the promoter/builder is capped at 10% in case of any wrong-doing. Apart from proving the charge, the onus of which would lie on the house-owner, capping it at 10% is similar to –

A teacher telling a naughty student, do whatever you want to do, I am only going to hit you 5 times.

Such a drafting encourages the Promoter/builder to play mischief. The builder knows his exposure is pretty limited. Liability is limited so he will try to get with whatever he can. Having a high penalty clause will deter him.

11. There was talk and shown in the Center’s model agreement the precedent of providing names, addresses and contact details of other allot-tees or home-owners of a building that would have multiple dwelling units . This is nowhere either in the agreement or mentioned anywhere else in the four documents.

12. An addition to the above would be that the details provided should be correct and updated as per the records maintained by the Promoter/builder.

13. Today, there is no way for a potential house-owner to know if the builder had broken any norms or has any cases in court pending against him. There should be a way for the potential house-owner to find out.

14. A builder can terminate a flat purchase agreement by giving just a week’s notice on email to the buyer who defaults on an instalment. But the developer can refund the money without interest to the
purchaser at leisure, within six months.Under MOFA (the earlier rules), the developer could cancel the agreement after giving a 15 days’ notice, and the builder could resell the flat only after refunding money to the original buyer. Under the new draft rules, a builder can immediately sell the flat after terminating the agreement.

15. The new draft rules say a buyer must pay 30% of the total cost while signing the agreement and 45% when the plinth of the building is constructed. The earlier state law stipulated 20% payment when the
agreement is signed with the developer.

16. The Central model agreement and rules proposed a fee of INR Rs 1,000 for filing complaints before housing authority; the state draft has proposed to hike this fee to Rs INR Rs. 10,000/-

17. Reading the Central Model Agreement, key disclosures under Section 4 (2)and Rule 3 (2) of the Central Model Rules have been excluded to be put up on the website of the Authority. These included carpet area of flat, encumbrance certificate (this would have disclosed encumbrances in respect of the land where the real estate project is proposed to be undertaken), copy of the legal title report and sanctioned plan of the building.

Due to this house-owner would always be in dark and assume that everything is alright.

There have been multiple instances of this over years –

Some examples –

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/140920/nation-current-affairs/article/builder-encroaches-%E2%80%98raja-kaluve%E2%80%99

http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/surat-builder-grabs-tribal-land-using-fake-documents/

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/bmtf-books-exmayor-wife-for-grabbing-ca-site/article7397062.ece

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thane/24-acre-ambernath-plot-usurped-with-fake-docus/articleshow/55654139.cms

18. The Central rule requires a builder to submit an annual report including profit and loss account, balance sheet, cash flow statement, directors’ report and auditors’ report for the preceding three financial years, among other things. However, the Maharashtra draft rules are silent on such a requirement.

While the above is what I could perceive in the limited amount I came to know. This should be enough to convince that more needs to be done from the house-owner’s side.

Update – Just saw Quint’s Op-Ed goes in more detail.

The wine and dine at debconf16

For the wine connoisseur

FOR the Wine Connoisseur

All photos courtesy KK . If any deviations, would put up labels sharing whose copyright it is.

Before I get into all of that, I was curious about Canada and taking the opportunity of debconf happening there in a few months, asked few people what they thought of digital payments, fees and expenses in their country and if plastic cash is indeed used therein.

The first to answer was Tyler McDonald (no idea if he is anyway related to the fast-food chain McDonalds which is a worldwide operation.) This is what he had to say/share –

You can use credit / debit cards almost everywhere. Restaurant waiters also usually have wireless credit / debit terminals that they will bring to your table for you to settle your bill.

How much your bank charges depends on your Canadian bank and the banking plan you are on. For instance, on my plan through the Bank Of Montreal, I get (I think) 20 free transactions a month and then after that I’m charged $0.50CDN/piece. However, if I go to a Bank Of Montreal ATM and withdraw cash, there is no service fee for that.

There is no service fee for using *credit* cards, only *debit* cards tend to have the fee.

I live in a really rural area so I can’t always get to a Bank Of Montreal machine for cash. So what I usually end up doing, is either pay by credit and then pay of the balance right away so I don’t have to pay interest, or when I do use my bank card to pay for something, I ask if I can get cash back as well.

Yes, Canada converted to plastic notes a few years ago. We’ve also eliminated the penny. For cashless transactions, you pay the exact amount billed. If you’re paying somebody in cash, it is rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents. And for $1 or $2, instead of notes, we’ve moved over to coins.

I personally like the plastic notes. They’re smoother and feel more durable than the paper notes. I’ve had one go through a laundry load by accident and it came out the other side fine.

Another gentleman responded with slightly more information which probably would interest travellers from around the world, not just Indians –

Quebec has its own interbank system called Interac (https://interac.ca/en/about/our-company.html). Quebec is a very proud and independent region and for many historical reasons they want to stand on their own, which is why they support their local systems. Some vendors will support only Interac for debit card transactions (at least this was the case when I stayed there the beginning of this decade, it might have changed a bit). *Most* vendors (including supermarkets like Provigo, Metro, etc) will accept major credit and debit cards, although MasterCard isn’t accepted as widely there as Visa is. So, if you have one of both, load up your Visa card instead of your MasterCard or get a prepaid Visa card from your bank. They support chip cards everywhere so don’t worry about that. If you have a 5 digit pin on any of your cards and a vendor asks you for a 4 digit pin, it will work 90%+ of the times if you just enter the first 4 digits, but it’s usually a good idea to go change your pin to a 4 digit just to be safe.

From the Indian perspective all of the above fits pretty neat as we also have Pin and Chip cards (domestically though most ATMs still use the magnetic strip and is suspected that the POS terminals aren’t any better.) That would be a whole different story so probably left for another day.

I do like the bit about pocketing the change tip. As far as number of free transactions go, it was pretty limited in India for few years before the demonetization happening now.

Few years before, I do remember doing as many transactions on the ATM as I please but then ATM’s have seen a downward spiral in terms of technology upgradation, maintenance etc. There is no penalty to the bank if the ATM is out-of-order. If there was significant penalty then we probably would have seen banks taking more care of ATM’s. It is a slightly more complex topic hence would take a stab at it some other day.

Do hope though that the terms for ATM usage for bank customers become lenient similar to Canada otherwise it would be difficult for Indians to jump on the digital band-wagon as you cannot function without cheap, user-friendly technology.

Cash machines: Uneven spread, slowing growth - Copyright Indian Express

The image has been taken from this fascinating article which appeared in Indian Express couple of days back.

Coming back to the cheese and wine in the evening. I think we started coming back from Eagle Encounters around 16:30/17:00 hrs Cape Town time. Somehow the ride back was much more faster and we played some Bollywood party music while coming back (all cool). Suddenly remembered that I had to buy some cheese as I hadn’t bought any from India. There is quite a bit of a post where I’m trying to know/understand if spices can be smuggled (which much later I learnt I didn’t need to but that’s a different story altogether), I also had off-list conversations with people about cheese as well but wasn’t able to get any good recommendations. Then saw that KK bought Mysore Pak (apparently she took a chance not declaring it) which while not being exactly cheese fit right into things. In her own words “a South Indian ghee sweet fondly nicknamed ‘the blocks of cholesterol’ and ‘reason #3 for bypass surgery’.” – KK

So with Leonard’s help we stopped at a place where it looked like a chain of stores. Each store was selling something. Seeing that, I was immediately transported to Connaught Place, Delhi

Connaught Place, Delhi

The image comes from http://planetden.com/food/roundabout-world-connaught-place-delhi which attempts to explain Connaught Place. While the article is okish, it lacks soul and not written like a Delhite would write or anybody who has spent a chunk having spent holidays at CP. Another day, another story, sorry.

What I found interesting about the stores while they were next to each other, I also eyed an alcohol shop as well as an Adult/Sex shop. I asked Leonard as to how far we were from UCT and he replied hardly 5 minutes by car and was shocked to see both alcohol and a sex shop. While an alcohol shop some distance away from a college is understandable, there are few and far around Colleges all over India, but adult shops are a rarity.

Unfortunately, none of us have any photos of the place as till that time everybody’s phone was dead or just going to be dead and nobody had thought to bring a portable power pack to juice our mobile devices.

A part of me was curious to see what the sex shop would have and look from inside, but as was with younger people didn’t think it was appropriate.

All of us except Jaminy and someone else (besides Leonard) decided to stay back, while the rest of us went inside to explore the stores. It took me sometime to make my way to the cheese corner and had no idea which was good and which wasn’t. So with no idea of brands therein, the only way to figure out was the pricing. So bought two, one a larger 500 gm cheap piece and a smaller slightly more expensive one just to make sure that the Debian cheese team would be happy.

We did have a mini-adventure as for sometime Jaminy was missing, apparently she went goofing off or went to freshen up or something and we were unable to connect with her as all our phones were dead or dying.

Eventually we came back to UCT, barely freshened up when it was decided by our group to go and give our share of goodies to the cheese and wine party. When I went up to the room to share the cheese, came to know they needed a volunteer for cutting veggies etc.

Having spent years seeing ‘Yan Can Cook’

and having practised quite a bit tried to do some fancy decoration and some julian cutting but as we got dull knives and not much time, just did some plain old cutting 😦

The salads

The Salads, partly done by me.

I have to share I had a fascinating discussion about cooking in Pressure Cookers. I was under the assumption that everybody knows how to use Pressure Cookers as they are one of the simplest ways to cook food without letting go of all the nutrients. At least, I believe this to be predominant in the Asian subcontinent and even the chinese have similar vessels for cooking.

I use what is called the first generation Pressure Cooker. I have been using a 1.5 l Prestige Pressure Cooker over half a decade, almost used daily without issues.

http://www.amazon.in/Prestige-Nakshatra-Aluminium-Pressure-Cooker/dp/B00CB7U1OU

Prestige 1.5 L Pressure Cooker

1.5 Litre Pressure Cooker with gasket and everything.

There are also induction pressure cookers nowadays in the Indian market and this model

https://www.amazon.in/Prestige-Deluxe-Induction-Aluminum-Pressure/dp/B01KZVPNGE/ref=sr_1_2

Induction base cooking for basmati rice

Best cooker for doing Basmati Biryanis and things like that.

Basmati is long-grain, aromatic rice which most families used in very special occasions such as festivals, marriages, anything good and pure is associated with the rice.

I had also shared my lack of knowledge of industrial Microwave Ovens. While I do get most small Microwave Ovens like these , cooking in industrial ovens I simply have no clue.

Anyways, after that conversation I went back, freshened up a bit and sometime later found myself in the middle of this –

Collection of Wine Bottles

Random selection of wine bottles from all over the world.

Also at times found myself in middle of this –

Chocolates all around me.

CHOCOLATES

I tried quite a few chocolates but the best one I liked (don’t remember the name) was a white caramel chocolate which literally melted into my mouth. Got the whole died and went to heaven experience :). Who said gluttony is bad πŸ˜‰

Or this –

French Bread, Wine and chaos

French Bread, Wine and chaos

As can be seen the French really enjoy their bread. I do remember a story vaguely (don’t remember if it was a children’s fairy tale or something) about how the French won a war through their french bread.

Or this –

Juices for those who love their health

Juices for those who love their health

We also had juices for the teetotaller or who can’t handle drinks. Unsurprisingly perhaps, by the end of the session, almost all the different wines were finito while there was still some juices left to go around.

From the Indian perspective, it wasn’t at all exciting, there were no brawls, everybody was too civilized and everybody staggered off when they met their quota. As I was in holiday spirit, stayed up late, staggered to my room, blissed out and woke up without any headache.

Pro tip – Drink lots and lots and lots of water especially if you are drinking. It flushes out most of the toxins and also helps in not having after-morning headaches. If I’m going drinking, I usually drown myself in at least a litre or two of water, even if I had to the bathroom couple of times before going to bed.

All in all, a perfect evening. I was able to connect/talk with some of the gods whom I had wanted to for a long time and they actually listened. Don’t remember if I mumbled something or made some sense in small-talk or whatever I did. But as shared, a perfect evening πŸ™‚

Eagle Encounters, pier Stellenbosch

Before starting, have to say hindsight as they say is always 20/20. I was moaning about my 6/7 hour trip few blog posts back but now came to know about the 17.5 hr. flights (17.5x800km/hr=14000 km.) which are happening around me.

I would say I was whining about nothing seeing those flights. I can’t even imagine how people would feel in those flights. Six hours were too much in the tin-can, thankfully though I was in the aisle seat. In 14 hours most people would probably give to Air rage .

I just saw an excellent article on the subject. I also came to know that seat-selection and food on a long-haul flights are a luxury, hence that changes the equation quite a bit as well. So on these facts, it seems Qatar Airways treated me quite well as I was able to use both those options.

Disclaimer – My knowledge about birds/avian is almost non-existent, Hence feel free to correct me if I do go wrong anywhere.

Coming back to earth literally πŸ˜‰ , I will have to share a bit of South Africa as that is part and parcel of what I’m going to share next. Also many of the pictures shared in this particular blog post belong to KK who has shared them with me with permission to share it with the rest of the world.

When I was in South Africa, in the first couple of days as well as what little reading of South African History I had read before travelling, had known that the Europeans, specifically the Dutch ruled on South Africa for many years.

What was shared to me in the first day or two that ‘Afrikaans‘ is mostly spoken by Europeans still living in South Africa, some spoken by the coloured people as well. This tied in with the literature I had already read.

The Wikipedia page shares which language is spoken by whom and how the demographics play out if people are interested to know that.

One of the words or part of the word for places we came to know is ‘bosch’ as is used in many a places. ‘Bosch‘ means wood or forest. After this we came to know about many places which were known as ‘somethingbosch’ which signified to us that area is or was a forest.

On the second/third day Chirayu (pictured, extreme left) shared the idea of going to Eagle Encounters. Other people pictured in the picture are yours truly, some of the people from GSOC, KK is in the middle, the driver Leonard something who took us to Eagle Encounters on the right (pictured extreme right).

Update – I was informed that it was a joint plan between Chirayu and KK. They also had some other options planned which later got dropped by the wayside.

The whole gang/group along with Leonard coming from eagle encounters

It was supposed to be somewhat near, (Spier, Stellenbosch). While I was not able to able to see/figure out where ‘Eagle Encounters’ is on Openstreetmap, somebody named Firefishy added Spier to OSM few years back. So thank you for that Firefishy so I can at least pin-point a closer place.

I didn’t see/know/try to figure out about the place as Chirayu said it’s a ‘zoo’. I wasn’t enthusiastic as much as I had been depressed by most zoos in India, while you do have national reserves/Parks in India where you see animals in their full glory.

I have been lucky to been able to seen Tadoba and Ranthambore National parks and spend some quality time (about a week) to have some idea as to what can/happens in forests and people living in the buffer-zones but those stories are for a different day altogether.

I have to say I do hope to be part of the Ranthambore experience again somewhere in the future, it really is a beautiful place for flora and fauna and fortunately or unfortunately this is the best time apart from spring, as you have the game of mist/fog and animals . North India this time of the year is something to be experienced.

I wasn’t much enthused as “zoos” in India are claustrophobic for animals and people both. There are small cages and you see and smell the shit/piss of the animals, generally not a good feeling.

Chirayu shared with us also the possibility of being able to ride of Segways and range of bicycles which relieved me so that in case we didn’t enjoy the ‘zoo’ we would enjoy the Segway at least and have a good time (although it would have different expenses than the ones at Eagle Encounters).

My whole education about what a zoo could be was turned around at Eagle Encounters as it seems to be somewhere between a zoo and what I know as national parks where animals roam free.

We purchased the tickets and went in, the first event/happening was ‘Eagle Encounters’ itself.

One of the families at Eagle Encounter handling a snowy eagle

Our introduction to the place started by two beautiful volunteer/trainers who were in charge of all the birds in the Eagle Encounters vicinity. The introduction started by every one of us who came for the ‘Eagle Encounter’ show to wear a glove and to have/hold one of the pair of snowy owls to sit on the glove. That picture is of a family who was part of our show.

Before my turn came, I was a little apprehensive/worried about holding a Owl -period. To my surprise, they were so soft and easy-going, I could hardly feel the weight on my hand.

While the trainer/volunteers were constantly feeding them earthworm-bits (I didn’t ask, just guessing) and we were all happy as they along with the visitors were constantly playing and interacting with the birds, sharing with us the life-cycle of the snowy Owl. It’s only then I understood why in the Harry Potter Universe, the owl plays such an important part. They seem to be a nice, curious, easy-going, proud creatures which fits perfectly in the HP Universe.

In hind-sight I should have videod the whole experience as the trainer/volunteer showed a battery of owls, eagles, vultures, Hawks (different birds of prey) what have you. I have to confess my knowledge of birds is and was non-existent.

Vulture at the Eagle Encounters show

Vulture, One of the larger birds we saw at the Eagle Encounters show. Some of the birds could be dangerous, especially in the wild.

The other trainer showing off a Black Eagle at Eagle Encounters

That was the other Volunteer-Trainer who was showing off the birds. I especially liked the t-shirt she was wearing. The shop at Eagle Encounters had whole lot of them, they were a bit expensive and just not my size 😦

Tidbit – Just a few years ago, it was a shocker to me to know/realize that what commonly goes/known in the country as a parrot by most people is actually a Parakeet. As can be seen in the article linked, they are widely distributed in India.

While I was young, I used to see the rose-ringed parakeets quite a bit around but nowadays due to probably pollution and other factors, they are noticeably less. They are popular as pets in India. I don’t know what Pollito would think about that, don’t think he would think good.

Trainer showing off a Hawk at Eagle Encounters

As I cannot differentiate between Hawk, Vulture, Eagle, etc. I would safely say ‘a Bird of Prey’ as that was what he was holding. This photo was taken after the event was over where we all were curious to know about the volunteer/trainer, their day job and what it meant for them to be taking care of these birds.

Update – KK has shared with me what those specific birds are called, so in case the names or species are wrong, please take the truck with her and not me.

While I don’t remember the name of the trainer/volunteer, among other things it was shared that the volunteers/trainers aren’t paid enough and they never have enough funds to take care of all the birds who come to them.

Trainer showing Hawk and background chart

Where the picture was shot (both this and earlier) was sort of open-office. If you look closely, you will see that there are names of the birds, for instance, people who loved LOTR would easily see ‘Gandalf’ . that board lists how much food (probably in grams) did the bird eat in a day and week.

While it was not shared, I’m sure there would be a lot of paperwork, studies to get the birds as well as possible. From a computer science perspective, there seemed to be lot of potential for avian and big-data professionals to do lot of computer modelling and analysis and give more insight into the rehabilitation efforts so the process could be more fine-tuned, efficient and economic perhaps.

Hawk on stand

This is how we saw the majority of the birds. Most of them had a metal/plastic string which was tied to small artificial branches as the one above.

I forgot to share a very important point. Eagle Encounters is not a zoo but a Rehabilitation Centre.

While the cynic/skeptic part of me tried to not feel or see the before and after pictures of the birds bought to the rehabilitation centre, the caring part was moved to see most of the birds being treated with love and affection. From our conversations with the Volunteer-Trainer it emerged that every week they had to turn away lots of birds due to space constraints. It is only the most serious/life-threatening cases for which they could provide care in a sustainable way they would keep.

Some of the birds who were in the cages were large, airy. I wouldn’t say clean as what little I read before as well later is that birds shit enormously so cleaning cages is quite an effort. Most of the cages and near those artificial branches there were placards of people who were sponsoring a bird or two to look after them.

From what was shared, many of the birds who came had been abused in many ways. Some of them had their bones crushed or/and other cruel ways. As I had shared that I had been wonderfully surprised by seeing birds come so close to me and most of my friends, I felt rage about those who had treated the birds in such evil, bad ways.

What was shared with us that while they try to heal the birds as much as possible, it is always suspect how well the birds would survive on their own in nature, hence many of these birds would go to the sponsor or to some other place when they are well.

The Secretary birds - cage- sponsors-adopted

If you look at the picture closely, maybe look at the higher resolution photo in the gallery, you will see that both the birds have been adopted by two different couples. The birds as the name tag shows are called ‘Secretaries’.

The Secretaries make a typical sound which is similar to the sound made by old typewriters. Just as woodpeckers make Morse Code noises when they are pecking with their beaks on trees, something similar to the sound of keys emitted by Old Remington typewriters when clicked on was done by the Secretaries.

One of the birds in the cage,

This is one of the birds in one of the few cages. If you see a higher-resolution picture of the earlier picture, the one which has ‘Secretaries’. Also as can be seen in the picture, there is wood-working happening and they are trying to expand the Rehabilitation Centre.

All in all, an excursion which was supposed to be for just an hour, extended to something like 3 odd hours. KK shot more than a 1000 odd pictures while trying to teach/converse in Malyalam to some of the birds.

She shot well over 1000 photos which would have filled something like 30 odd traditional photo albums. Jaminy (KK’s partner-in-crime) used her selfie stick to desired effect, taking pictures with most of the birds as one does with celebrities.

I had also taken some but most of them were over-exposed as was new to mobile photography at that time, still am but mostly it works.

Lake with Barn Owls near Eagle Encounters

That is the lake we discovered/saw after coming back from Eagle Encounters. We had good times.

Lastly, a virtual prize distribution ceremony –

a. Chirayu and KK – A platinum trophy for actually thinking and pitching the place in the first place.

b. Shirish and Deven Bansod – Metal cups for not taking more than 10 minutes to freshen up and be back after hearing the plan to go to Eagle Encounters.

c. All the girls/women – Spoons for actually making it to the day. All the girls took quite sometime to freshen up, otherwise it might have been possible to also experience the Segways, who knows.

All-in-all an enjoyable day spent in being part of ‘Eagle Encounters’ .

Day trip in Cape Town, part 2

Debconf16 logo

The post continues from the last post shared.

Let me get some interesting tit-bits not related to the day-trip out-of-the-way first –

I don’t know whether we had full access to see all parts of fuller hall or not. Couple of days I was wondering around Fuller Hall, specifically next to where clothes were pressed. Came to know of the laundry service pretty late but still was useful. Umm… next to where the ladies/gentleman pressed our clothes, there is a stairway which goes down. In fact even on the opposite side there is a stairway which goes down. I dunno if other people explored them or not.

The jail inside and under UCT

I was surprised and shocked to see bars in each room as well as connecting walkways etc. I felt a bit sad, confused and curious and went on to find more places like that. After a while I came up to the ground-level and enquired with some of the ladies therein. I was shocked to know that UCT some years ago (they were not specific) was a jail for people. I couldn’t imagine that a place which has so much warmth (in people, not climate) could be ‘evil’ in a sense. I was not able to get much information out of them about the nature of jail it was, maybe it is a dark past that nobody wants to open up, dunno. There were also two *important* aspects of UCT which Bernelle either forgot, didn’t share or I just came to know via the Wikipedia page then but nothing else.

1. MeerKAT – Apparently quite a bit of the technology was built-in UCT itself. This would have been interesting for geeks and wanna-be geeks like me πŸ™‚

2. The OpenContent Initiative by UCT – This would have been also something worth exploring.

One more interesting thing which I saw was the French council in Cape Town from outside

The French Council in cape town from outside

I would urge to look at the picture in the gallery as the picture I shared doesn’t really show all the details. For e.g. the typical large french windows which are the hall-mark of French architecture doesn’t show its glory but if you look at 1306×2322 original picture instead of the 202×360 reproduction you will see that.

You will also the insignia of the French Imperial Eagle whose history I came to know only after I looked it up on the Wikipedia page on that day.

It seemed fascinating and probably would have the same pride as the State Emblem of India has for Indians with the four Asiatic Lions standing in a circle protecting each other.

I also like the palm tree and the way the French Council seemed little and yet had character around all the big buildings.

What also was interesting that there wasn’t any scare/fear-build and we could take photos from outside unlike what I had seen and experienced in Doha, Qatar as far as photography near Western Embassies/Councils were concerned.

One of the very eye-opening moments for me was also while I was researching flights from India to South Africa. While perhaps unconsciously I might have known that Middle East is close to India, in reality, it was only during the search I became aware that most places in Middle East by flight are only an hour or two away.

This was shocking as there is virtually no mention of one of our neighbours when they are source of large-scale remittances every year. I mean this should have been in our history and geography books but most do not dwell on the subject. It was only during and after that I could understand Mr. Modi’s interactions and trade policies with the Middle East.

Another interesting bit was seeing a bar in a Sprinbok bus –

spingbok atlas bar in bus

While admittedly it is not the best picture of the bar, I was surprised to find a bar at the back of a bus. By bar I mean a machine which can serve anything from juices to alcoholic drinks depending upon what is stocked. What was also interesting in the same bus is that the bus also had a middle entrance-and-exit.

The middle door in springbok atlas

This is something I hadn’t seen in most Indian buses. Some of the Volvo buses have but it is rarely used (only except emergencies) . An exhaustive showcase of local buses can be seen here . I find the hand-drawn/cad depictions of all the buses by Amit Pense near to the T.

Axe which can be used to break windows

Emergency exit window

This is also something which I have not observed in Indian inter-city buses (axe to break the window in case of accident and breakable glass which doesn’t hurt anyone I presume), whether they are State-Transport or the high-end Volvo’s . Either it’s part of South African Roads Regulations or something that Springbok buses do for their customers. All of these queries about the different facets I wanted to ask the bus-driver and the attendant/controller but in the excitement of seeing, recording new things couldn’t ask 😦

In fact one of the more interesting things I looked at and could look day and night is the variety of vehicles on display in Cape Town. In hindsight, I should have bought a couple of 128 GB MMC cards for my mobile rather than the 64 GB one. It was just plain inadequate to capture all that was new and interesting.

Auditorum chair truck seen near Auditorium

This truck I had seen about some 100 metres near the Auditorium on Upper Campus. The truck’s design, paint was something I had never seen before. It is/was similar to casket trucks seen in movies but the way it was painted and everything made it special.

What was interesting is to see the gamut of different vehicles. For instance, there were no bicycles that I saw in most places. There were mostly Japanese/Italian bikes and all sorts of trucks. If I had known before, I would definitely have bought an SD specifically to take snaps of all the different types of trucks, cars etc. that I saw therein.

The adage/phrase ” I should stop in any one place and the whole world will pass me by ” seemed true on quite a few South African Roads. While the roads were on par or a shade better than India, many of those were wide roads. Seeing those, I was left imagining how the Autobahn in Germany and other high-speed Expressways would look n feel.

India has also been doing that with the Pune-Mumbai Expressway and projects like Yamuna Expressway and now the extension Agra Lucknow Expressway but doing this all over India would take probably a decade or more. We have been doing it since a decade and a half. NHDP and PMGSY are two projects which are still ongoing to better the roads. We have been having issues as to should we have toll or no toll issues but that is a discussion for some other time.

One of the more interesting sights I saw was the high-arched gothic-styled church from outside. This is near Longstreet as well.

high arch gothic-styled church

I have seen something similar in Goa, Pondicherry but not such high-arches. I did try couple of times to gain entry but one time it was closed, the other time some repairing/construction work was going on or something. I would loved to see it from inside and hopefully they would have had an organ (music) as well. I could imagine to some extent the sort of music that would have come out.

Now that Goa has come in the conversation I can’t help but state that Seafood enthusiasts/lover/aficionado, or/and Pescatarianism would have a ball of a time in Goa. Goa is on the Konkan coast and while I’m eggie, ones who enjoy seafood really have a ball of a time in Goa. Fouthama’s Festival which happens in February is particularly attractive as Goan homes are thrown open for people to come and sample their food, exchange recipes and alike. This happens around 2 weeks before the Goan Carnival and is very much a part of the mish-mashed Konkani-Bengali-Parsi-Portugese culture.

I better stop here about the Goa otherwise I’ll get into reminiscing mode.

To put the story and event back on track from where we left of (no fiction hereon), Nicholas was in constant communication with base, i.e. UCT as well as another group who was hiking from UCT to Table Mountain. We waited for the other group to join us till 13:00 hrs. We came to know that they were lost and were trying to come up and hence would take more time. As Bernelle was with them, who was a local and she had two dogs who knew the hills quite well, it was decided to go ahead without them.

We came down the same cable-car and then ventured on towards Houtbay. Houtbay has it all, a fisherman’s wharf, actual boats with tough-mean looking men with tattoos working on boats puffing cigars/pipes, gaggle of sea-gulls, the whole scene. Sharing a few pictures of the way in-between.

the view en-route to Houtbay

western style car paint and repair shop

Tajmahal Indian Restaurant, Houtbay

I just now had a quick look at the restaurant and it seems they had options for veggies too. Unfortunately, the rating leaves a bit to be desired but then dunno as Indian flavoring is something that takes time to get used too. Zomato doesn’t give any idea of from when a restaurant is in business and has too few reviews so not easy to know how the experience would have been.

Chinese noodles and small houses

Notice the pattern, the pattern of small houses I saw all the way till Houtbay and back. I do vaguely remember starting a discussion about it on the bus but don’t really remember. I have seen (on TV) cities like Miami, Dubai or/and Hong Kong who have big buildings on the beach but both in Konkan as well as Houtbay there were small buildings. I guess a combination of zoning regulations, feel of community, fear of being flooded all play into beaches being the way they are.

Also, this probably is good as less stress on the environment.

Miamiboyz from Wikimedia Commons

The above picture is taken from Wikipedia from the article Miami Beach, Florida for comparison.

Audi rare car to be seen in India

The Audi – rare car to be seen in India. This car has been associated with Ravi Shastri when he won it in 1985. I was young but still get goosebumps remembering those days.

first-glance-Houtbay-and-pier

First glance of Houtbay beach and pier. Notice how clean and white the beach is.

Wharf-Grill-Restaurant-from-side-and-Hop-on-Hop-off-bus

You can see the wharf grill restaurant in the distance (side-view), see the back of the hop on and hop off bus (a concept which was unknown to me till then). Once I came back and explored on the web came to know this concept is prevalent in many a touristy places around the world. Umm… also By sheer happenchance also captured a beautiful looking Indian female πŸ˜‰ .

So many things happening all at once

In Hindi, we would call this picture ‘virodabhas’ or ‘contradiction’. this is in afternoon, around 1430 hrs. You have the sun, the clouds, the Mountains, the x number of boats, the pier, the houses, the cars, the shops. It was all crazy and beautiful at the same time.

The Biggest Contradiction is seeing the Mountain, the beach and the Sea in the same Picture. Baffled the mind. Konkan though is a bit similar there as well. You have all the three things in some places but that’s a different experience altogether as ours is a more tropical weather although is one of the most romantic places in the rains.

We were supposed to go on a short cruise to seal/dolphin island but as we were late (as had been waiting for the other group) didn’t go and instead just loitered there.

Fake-real lookout bar-restaurant

IIRC the lookout bar is situated just next to Houtbay Search and Rescue. Although was curious if the Lookout tower was used in case of disappearance. lost people, boats etc.

Seal in action

Seal jumping over water, what a miracle !

One of the boats on which we possibly could have been on.

It looked like the boat we could have been on. I clicked as I especially liked the name Calypso and Calypso . I shared the two links as the mythologies, interpretation differ a bit between Greek and Hollywood culture πŸ™‚

Debian folks and the area around

Can see few Debian folks in the foreground, next to the Pole and the area around. Also can see a bit of the area around.

Alone boy trying to surf

I don’t know anything about water sports and after sometime he came out. I was left wondering though, how safe he was in that water. While he was close to the pier and he was just paddling, there weren’t big waves still felt a bit of concern.

Mr. Seal - the actor and his handler

While the act was not to the level we see in the movies, still for the time I hung around, I saw him showing attitude for his younger audiences, eating out of their hands, making funny sounds. Btw he farted a few times, whether that was a put-on or not can’t really say but produced a few guffaws from his audience.

A family feeding Mr. Seal

I dunno why the birds came down for. Mr. Seal was being fed oily small fish parts, dunno if the oil was secreted by the fish themselves or whatever, it just looked oily from distance.

Bird-Man-Bird

Bird taking necessary sun bath

typical equipment on a boat to catch fish-lot of nets

boats-nets-and-ropes

People working on disentangling a net

There wasn’t much activity on the time we went. It probably would have been different on sunrise and would be on sunset. The only activity I saw was on this boat where they were busy fixing and disentangling the lines. I came up with 5-15 different ideas for a story but rejected them as –

a. Probably all of them have been tried. People have been fishing since the beginning of time and modern fishing probably 200 odd years or so. I have read accounts of fishing companies in early 1800s onwards, so probably all must have been tried.

b. More dangerous one, if there is a unique idea, then it becomes more dangerous as writing is an all-consuming process. Writing a blog post (bad or good) takes lots of time. I constantly read, re-read, try and improvise till I can or my patience loses out. In book you simply can’t have such luxuries.

hout-bay-search-and-rescue-no-parking-zone

No parking/tow zone in/near the Houtbay search and rescue. Probably to take out emergency vehicles once something untoward happens.

hout-bay-sea-rescue-with-stats

Saved 54 lives, boats towed 154 – Salut! Houtbay sea rescue.

The different springbok atlas bus that we were on

kraal-kraft

The only small criticism is for Houtbay – there wasn’t a single public toilet. We had to ask favor at kraal kraft to use their toilets and there could have been accidents, it wasn’t lighted well and water was spilled around.

Road sign telling that we are near to UCT

For us, because we were late we missed both the boat-cruise as well as some street shops selling trinkets. Other than that it was all well. We should have stayed till sunset, I am sure the view would have been breath-taking but we hadn’t booked the bus till evening.

Back at UCT

Overall it was an interesting day as we had explored part of Table Mountain, seen the somewhat outrageously priced trinkets there as well as explored Houtbay sea-side as well.

The Anti-Pollito squad – arrest and confession

Disclaimer – This is an attempt at humor and hence entirely fictional in nature. While some incidents depicted are true, the context and the story woven around them are by yours truly. None of the Mascots of Debian were hurt during the blog post ;). I also disavow any responsibility for any hurt (real or imagined) to any past, current and future mascots. The attempt should not be looked upon as demeaning people who are accused of false crimes, tortured and confessions eked out of them as this happens quite a lot (In India for sure, but guess it’s the same world over in various degrees). The idea is loosely inspired by Chocolate:Deep Dark Secrets. (2005)

On a more positive note, let’s start –

Being a Sunday morning woke up late to find incessant knocking on the door, incidentally mum was not at home. Opening the door, found two official looking gentleman. They asked my name, asked my credentials, tortured and arrested me for “Group conspiracy of Malicious Mischief in second and third degrees” .

The torture was done by means of making me forcefully watch endless reruns of ‘Norbit‘ . While I do love Eddie Murphy, this was one of his movies he could have done without :(. I guess for many people watching it once was torture enough. I *think* they were nominated for razzie awards dunno if they won it or not, but this is beside the point.

Unlike the 20 years it takes for a typical case to reach to its conclusion even in the smallest court in India, due to the torture, I was made to confess (due to endless torture) and was given summary judgement. The judgement was/is as follows –

a. Do 100 hours of Community service in Debian in 2017. This could be done via blog posts, raising tickets in the Debian BTS or in whichever way I could be helpful to Debian.

b. Write a confessional with some photographic evidence sharing/detailing some of the other members who were part of the conspiracy in view of the reduced sentence.

So now, have been forced to write this confession –

As you all know, I won a bursary this year for debconf16. What is not known by most people is that I also got an innocuous looking e-mail titled ‘ Pollito for DPL ‘. While I can’t name all the names as investigation is still ongoing about how far-reaching the conspiracy is . The email was purportedly written by members of ‘cabal within cabal’ which are in Debian. I looked at the email header to see if this was genuine and I could trace the origin but was left none the wiser, as obviously these people are far more technically advanced than to fall in simple tricks like this –

Anyways, secretly happy that I have been invited to be part of these elites, I did the visa thing, packed my bags and came to Debconf16.

At this point in juncture, I had no idea whether it was real or I had imagined the whole thing. Then to my surprise saw this –

evidence of conspiracy to have Pollito as DPL, Wifi Password

Just like the Illuminati the conspiracy was for all to see those who knew about it. Most people were thinking of it as a joke, but those like me who had got e-mails knew better. I knew that the thing is real, now I only needed to bide my time and knew that the opportunity would present itself.

And few days later, sure enough, there was a trip planned for ‘Table Mountain, Cape Town’ . Few people planned to hike to the mountain, while few chose to take the cable car till up the mountain.

First glance of the cable car with table mountain as background

Quite a few people came along with us and bought tickets for the to and fro to the mountain and back.

Ticket for CPT Table mountain car cable

Incidentally, I was thinking if the South African Govt. were getting the tax or not. If you look at the ticket, there is just a bar-code. In India as well as the U.S. there is TIN – Tax Identification Number –

TIN displayed on an invoice from channeltimes.com

Few links to share what it is all about . While these should be on all invoices, need to specially check when taking high-value items. In India as shared in the article the awareness, knowledge leaves a bit to be desired. While I’m drifting from the incident, it would be nice if somebody from SA could share how things work there.

Moving on, we boarded the cable car. It was quite spacious cable car with I guess around 30-40 people or some more who were able to see everything along with the controller.

from inside the table mountain cable car 360 degrees

It was a pleasant cacophony of almost two dozen or more nationalities on this 360 degrees moving chamber. I was a little worried though as it essentially is a bucket and there is always a possibility that a severe wind could damage it. Later somebody did share that some frightful incidents had occurred not too long ago on the cable car.

It took about 20-25 odd minutes to get to the top of table mountain and we were presented with views such as below –

View from Table Mountain cable car looking down

The picture I am sharing is actually when we were going down as all the pictures of going up via the cable car were over-exposed. Also, it was pretty crowded on the way up then on the way down so handling the mobile camera was not so comfortable.

Once we reached up, the wind was blowing at incredible speeds. Even with my jacket and everything I was feeling cold. Most of the group around 10-12 people looked around if we could find a place to have some refreshments and get some of the energy in the body. So we all ventured to a place and placed our orders –

the bleh... Irish coffee at top of Table Mountain

I was introduced to Irish Coffee few years back and have had some incredible Irish Coffees in Pune and elsewhere. I do hope to be able to make Irish Coffee at home if and when I have my own house. This is hotter than brandy and is perfect if you are suffering from cold etc if done right, really needs some skills. This is the only drink which I wanted in SA which I never got right 😦 . As South Africa was freezing for me, this would have been the perfect antidote but the one there as well as elsewhere were all …bleh.

What was interesting though, was the coffee caller besides it. It looked like a simple circuit mounted on a PCB board with lights, vibrations and RFID and it worked exactly like that. I am guessing as and when the order is ready, there is an interrupt signal sent via radio waves which causes the buzzer to light and vibrate. Here’s the back panel if somebody wants to take inspiration and try it as a fun project –

backpanel of the buzz caller

Once we were somewhat strengthened by the snacks, chai, coffee etc. we made our move to seeing the mountain. The only way to describe it is that it’s similar to Raigad Fort but the plateau seemed to be bigger. The wikipedia page of Table Mountain attempts to share but I guess it’s more clearly envisioned by one of the pictures shared therein.

table mountain panaromic image

I have to say while Table Mountain is beautiful and haunting as it has scenes like these –

Some of the oldest rocks known to wo/man.

There is something there which pulls you, which reminds you of a long lost past. I could have simply sat there for hours together but as was part of the group had to keep with them. Not that I minded.

The moment I was watching this, I was transported to some memories of the Himalayas about 20 odd years or so. In that previous life, I had the opportunity to be with some of the most beautiful women and also been in the most happening places, the Himalayas. I had shared years before some of my experiences I had in the Himalayas. I discontinued it as I didn’t have a decent camera at that point in time. While I don’t wanna digress, I would challenge anybody to experience the Himalayas and then compare. It is just something inexplicable. The beauty and the rawness that Himalayas shows makes you feel insignificant and yet part of the whole cosmos. What Paulo Cohello expressed in The Valkyries is something that could be felt in the Himalayas. Leh, Ladakh, Himachal , Garwhal, Kumaon. The list will go on forever as there are so many places, each more beautiful than the other. Most places are also extremely backpacker-friendly so if you ask around you can get some awesome deals if you want to spend more than a few days in one place.

Moving on, while making small talk @olasd or Nicolas Dandrimont , the headmaster of our trip made small talk to each of us and eked out from all of us that we wanted to have Pollito as our DPL (Debian Project Leader) for 2017. Few pictures being shared below as supporting evidence as well –

The Pollito as DPL cabal in action

members of the Pollito as DPL

where am I or more precisely how far am I from India.

While I do not know who further up than Nicolas was on the coup which would take place. The idea was this –

If the current DPL steps down, we would take all and any necessary actions to make Pollito our DPL.

Pollito going to SA - photo taken by Jonathan Carter This has been taken from Pollito’s adventure

Being a responsible journalist, I also enquired about Pollito’s true history as it would not have been complete without one. This is the e-mail I got from Gunnar Wolf, a friend and DD from Mexico πŸ™‚

Turns out, Valessio has just spent a week staying at my house πŸ™‚ And
in any case, if somebody in Debian knows about Pollito’s
childhood… That is me.

Pollito came to our lives when we went to Congreso Internacional de
Software Libre (CISOL) in Zacatecas city. I was strolling around the
very beautiful city with my wife Regina and our friend Alejandro
Miranda, and at a shop at either RamΓ³n LΓ³pez Velarde or Vicente
Guerrero, we found a flock of pollitos.

http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=17/22.77111/-102.57145

Even if this was comparable to a slave market, we bought one from
them, and adopted it as our own.

Back then, we were a young couple… Well, we were not that young
anymore. I mean, we didn’t have children. Anyway, we took Pollito with
us on several road trips, such as the only time I have crossed an
international border driving: We went to Encuentro Centroamericano de
Software Libre at Guatemala city in 2012 (again with Alejandro), and
you can see several Pollito pics at:

http://gwolf.org/album/road-trip-ecsl-2012-guatemala-0

Pollito likes travelling. Of course, when we were to Nicaragua for
DebConf, Pollito tagged along. It was his first flight as a passenger
(we never asked about his previous life in slavery; remember, Pollito
trust no one).

Pollito felt much welcome with the DebConf crowd. Of course, as
Pollito is a free spirit, we never even thought about forcing him to
come back with us. Pollito went to Switzerland, and we agreed to meet
again every year or two. It’s always nice to have a chat with him.

Hugs!

So with that backdrop I would urge fellow Debianities to take up the slogans –

LONG LIVE THE DPL !

LONG LIVE POLLITO !

LONG LIVE POLLITO THE DPL !

The first step to make Pollito the DPL is to ensure he has a @debian.org (pollito@debian.org)

We also need him to be made a DD because only then can he become a DPL.

In solidarity and in peace πŸ™‚

Air Congestion and Politics

Confession time first – I am not a frequent flyer at all. My first flight was in early late 2006. It was a 2 hour flight from Bombay (BOM) to Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore, BLG) . I still remember the trepidation, the nervousness and excitement the first time I took to air. I still remember the flight very vividly,

It was a typical humid day for Bombay/Mumbai and we (me and a friend) had gone to Sahar (the domestic airport) to take the flight in the evening. Before starting the sky had turned golden-orange and I was wondering how I would feel once I would be in air.We started at around 20:00 hours in the evening and as it was a clear night were able to see the Queen’s necklace (Marine Drive) in all her glory.

The photographs on the wikipedia page don’t really do justice to how beautiful the whole boulevard looks at night, especially how it looks from up there. While we were seeing, it seemed the pilot had actually banked at 45 degrees angle so we can have the best view of the necklace OR maybe the pilot wanted to take a photo OR ME being in overdrive (like Robin Williams, the Russian immigrant in Moscow on the Hudson experiences the first time he goes to the mall ;))

In either way, this would be an experience I would never forget till the rest of my life. I remember I didn’t move an inch (even to go the loo) as I didn’t want to let go of the whole experience. While I came back after 3-4 days, I still remember re-experiencing/re-imagining the flights for a whole month each time I went to sleep.

While I can’t say it has become routinised, but have been lucky to have the opportunity to fly domestic around the country primarily for work. After the initial romanticism wears off, you try and understand the various aspects of the flight which are happening around you.

These experiences are what lead to file/share today’s blog post. Yesterday, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, one of the leaders of the Opposition cried wolf because the Aircraft was circling the Airport. Because she is the Chief Minister she feels she should have got precedent or at least that seems to be the way the story unfolded on TV.

I have been about 15-20 times on flight in the last decade for work or leisure. Almost all the flights I have been, it has been routine that the flights fly around the Airport for 15-20 minutes before landing. This is ‘routine’. I have seen Airlines being stacked (remember the scene from Die Hard 2 where Holly Mclane, John Mclane’s wife looks at different aircraft at different altitudes from her window seat) this is what an Airport has to do when it doesn’t have enough runaways. In fact just read few days back MIAL is going for an emergency expansion as they weren’t expecting as many passengers as they did this year as well as last. In fact the same day there was a near-miss between two aircraft in Mumbai airport itself. Because of Ms. Mamata’s belligerence, this story didn’t even get a mention in the TV mainstream media.

The point I wanna underscore is that this is a fact of life and not just in India, world-over it seems hubs are being busier than ever, for instance Heathrow has been also a busy bee and they will to rework air operations as per a recent article .

In India, Kolkata is also one of the busier airports . If anything, I hope it teaches her the issues that plague most Indian airports and she works with the Government in Center so the Airport can expand more. They just got a new terminal three years back.

It is for these issues that the Indian Government has come with the ‘Regional Connectivity Scheme‘ .

Lastly, a bit of welcome news to people thinking to visit India, the Govt. of the day is facilitating easier visa norms to increase tourism and trade to India. Hope this is beneficial to all and any Debian Developers who wanna come visit India πŸ˜‰ I do hope that we also do get reciprocity from those countries as well.

The Iziko South African Museum

This would be a bit long on my stay in Cape Town, South Africa after Debconf16.

Before I start, let me share the gallery works, you can see some photos that I have been able to upload to my gallery . It seems we are using gallery 2 while upstream had made gallery 3 and then it sort of died. I actually asked in softwarerecs stackexchange site if somebody knows of a drop-in replacement for gallery and was told/shared about Pwigo . I am sure the admin knows about it. There would be costs to probably migrate from gallery to Pwigo with the only benefit that it would be something which would perhaps be more maintainable.

The issues I face with the current gallery system are few things –

a. There is no way to know how much your progress your upload has taken.
b. After it has submit, it gives a fake error message saying some error has occurred. This has happened on every occasion/attempt. Now I don’t know whether it is because I have slow upload speeds or something else altogether. I had shared the error page last time in the blog post hence not sharing again.

Although, all the pictures which would be shared in this blog post would be from the same gallery πŸ™‚

Another thing I would like to share is a small beginner article I wrote about why I like Debian.

Another interesting/tit-bit of news I came to know few days back that both Singapore and Qatar have given 96 hours visa free stopovers for Indians for select destinations.

Now to start with the story/experience due to some unknown miracle/angel looking upon me I got the chance to go to Debconf16, South Africa. I’m sure there was lot of backend discussions but in the end I was given the opportunity to be part of Debcamp and Debconf. While I hope to recount my Debcamp and Debconf experience in another or two blog posts, this would be exclusively the Post-Debconf Experiences I had.

As such opportunities to visit another country are rare, I wanted to make the most of it. Before starting from Pune, I had talked with Amey about Visas, about Debconf as he had just been to Debconf15 the year before and various things related to travel. He was instrumental in me having a bit more knowledge about how to approach things. I was also lucky to have both Graham and Bernelle who also suggested, advised and made it possible to have a pleasant stay both during Debcamp and Debconf. The only quibble is I didn’t know heaters were being made available to us without any cost.

Moving on, a day or two before Debconf was about to conclude, I asked Bernelle’s help even though she was battling a burn-out I believe as I was totally clueless about Cape Town. She accepted my request and asked me to look at hostels near Longmarket Street. I had two conditions –

a. It should not be very far from the airport
b. It should be near to all or most cultural experiences the city has to offer.

We looked at hostelworld and from the options listed, it looked like Homebasecapetown looked to be a perfect fit. It was one of the cheaper options and they also had breakfast included in the pricing. I booked through hostelworld for a mixed dorm for 2 days as I was unsure how it would be (the first night effect I have shared about previously) .

When I reached there, I found it to be as good as the pictures shared were, the dorm was clean (most important), people were friendly (also important) as well as toilets and shower were also clean while the water was hot, so all in all it was a win-win situation for me.

Posters I saw at homebasecapetown

While I’m not much of an adrenaline-junkie it was nice to know the activities that could be done/taken.

Brochures and Condoms just left of main hall.

This was again interesting. While apologies for the poor shaky quality of the picture, I believe it is easy to figure out. There were Brochures of the city attractions as well as condoms that people could discreetly use if need be. I had seen such condoms in few toilets during and around Debconf and it felt good that the public were aware and prioritizing safety for their guests and students instead of having fake holier than thou attitudes that many places have.

For instance, you wouldn’t find something like this in toilets of most colleges in India or anywhere else for that matter. There are few vending machines in what are termed as ‘red light areas’ or where prostitution is known/infamous to happen and even then most times it is empty. I have 2-3 social workers as friends and they are a source of news on such things.

While I went to few places and each had an attraction to it, the one which had my literally eyes out of socket was the ‘Iziko South African Museum‘ . I have been lucky to been quite a few museums in India, the best rated science museum in India in my limited experience has been the ‘Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum, Bengaluru – India‘. A beer from me if a European can get it right.

Don’t worry if you mispronounce it, I mispronounce it couple of times till I get it right πŸ™‚ .

Looking up the word ‘Iziko’ the meaning of the word seems to be ‘the hearth’ and if you look at the range of collections in the museum, you would think it fits.

I was lucky to find couple of friends, one of whom was living at homebase and we decided to go to the museum together.

Making friends on the road

So Eduardo, my friend on the left and his friend, we went to the museum. While viewing the museum, there were no adjectives to describe it other than ‘Wow’ and ‘Endless’ .

See –

fossils of fish-whale-shark ?

OR

Giant fish-whale-dolphin-shark some million years ago.

and

Reminder of JAWS ;)

While I have more than a few pictures, the point is easily made. It seems almost inconceivable that creatures of such masses actually were on earth. While I played with the model of the jaws of a whale/shark in reality if something like that happened, I would have been fighting for my life.

The only thing I missed or could have been better if they had some interactive installations to showcase the now universally accepted Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species‘ I had never seen anything like this. Sadly, there was nobody around to help us figure out things as I had read that most species of fish don’t leave a skeleton behind so how were these models made? It just boggles the mind.

Apart from the Science Museum I was also introduced to the bloody history that South Africa had. I saw –

The 1913 native land act which was not honored .

I had been under the impression that India had got a raw deal when it was under British rule but looking at South African history I don’t know. While we got our freedom in 1947 they got rid of apartheid about 20 years+ . I talked to lot of young African males and there was lot of naked hostility for the Europeans even today. It was a bit depressing but could relate to their point of view as similar sentiments were echoed by our forefathers. I read in the newspapers and it seemed to be a pretty mixed picture.

I can’t comment as only South Africans can figure out the way forward. For me, it was enough to know and see that we both had similar political histories as nations. It seemed the racial divide and anger was much more highly pronounced towards Europeans and divisive then the caste divisions here between Indians. I also shared with them my limited knowledge and understanding of the Indian history (as history is re-written all the time) and it was clear to them that we had common/similar pasts.

As a result, what was surprising (actually not) is that many South Africans have no knowledge of Indian history. as well otherwise the political differences that South Africa and India has in the current scenario wouldn’t have been.

In the end, the trip proved to be fun, stimulating, educative, thought-provoking as questions about self-identity , national identity, our place in the Universe kinda questions which should be asked all the time.

Thank you Bremmer and the team for letting me experience Cape Town, South Africa, I would have been poorer if I hadn’t had the experience.

The long tail in a common’s man journey to debconf16 – 2

This is an extension of part 1 which I shared few days ago. This would be a longish one so please bear.

First of all somebody emailed me this link so in the future a layover at Doha Airport will be a bit expensive from before, approx INR 700/- added to the ticket costs 😦

Moving on, Let me share an experience I shared one of the last few days I had while I was in Cape Town –

Singer singing some great oldies from 60's , 70's till 90's.

Singer singing some great oldies from 60’s , 70’s till 90’s.

I had booked a place near Long Street, Cape Town using Bernelle’s help. What I had not known at that time that near Long Street there are free walking tours every couple of hours. I took part in all the tours and those were nice experiences. Where they start the walk, there was the gentleman pictured above. I was amazed by this gentleman’s rich voice. He strummed lot of classics from the 60’s, 70’s till the 90’s . I had two coffees and thought I was at a premium rock concert. It was a bitter-sweet experience for me because I could see that he has such prodigious talent and still he had to struggle to survive to make ends meet. I did my 2 bit but wish I could have done something more.

Side note – Before I forget there is one trick of feh which I use to view images without it getting very high-resolution (especially on my low-end systems) –

β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [/run/user/1000/gvfs/mtp:host=%5Busb%3A001%2C006%5D/Card/DCIM/Camera] - [4621]
└─[$] feh -g 1350x1000 .

This actually makes it far far easier to traverse through the 1000 odd photos of the trip that I have in my personal archive without doing any sort of conversion methodology. Btw, it took me time but finally was able to create an album at gallery.debconf.org . Haven’t been able to upload photos as came across an error which I have shared at https://lists.debconf.org/lurker/message/20161113.215659.fce58823.en.html

Moving on, here’s the funny story/experience I wanted to share –

could have been arrested ;)

What happened was this. This is from the Doha Airport. I had seen big buggies (ones similar to golf carts) which was ferrying people from end of the concourse to the other. I had been walking the whole day and even with the horizontal escalators and everything, it takes a toll. I was half-tired, half-sleepy and saw a buggy stationed. From behind it looked like the buggies I had seen. As there was no place to park my behind there, I entered into the buggy and sat there. Around 15-20 minutes later a Doha cop in another buggy came to me and asked me if something had happened ?

I had no clue what he was talking about. He told/shared/asked me in friendly tone whether I had committed a crime or wanted to report a crime. When I replied in negative to both, he asked then why I was sitting there. I replied it was for stretching my legs and it was the buggy which was being used to transport people from A. to B. He gently told me I had entered into the wrong one and it was actually a cop buggy. I couldn’t believe it. He did go his own way as he saw I was dead-tired. After 10-15 minutes, half-believingly I came out of the buggy and to my shock the gentleman was right. There was nothing to do but solder on to find a spot in this big airport. I shared this with few friends and family and managed to elicit few laughs hence sharing.

The somewhat sad one was I had met a couple with a baby. Now as shared before, Most Airports including the Doha Airport is Air-Conditioned/Climate-Controlled and is probably in mid-20’s so it was more than cold for me. The couples with the baby were from Asian sub-continent. From their clothes and the way they were, they were not very well off. I do remember them sharing that they had a death in the family and hence were going. I didn’t know at that point in time that there was something called bereavement fares and if they were able to take opportunity of those tickets. But this is besides the point . The issue was that their baby had been running a high-fever and the A/C was making matters worse. I had seen a pharmacy but no clinic in the airport. It was much later I came across http://dohahamadairport.com/airport-guide/facilities-services/medical-emergencies but as can be seen on the web-page it doesn’t tell whether the services are chargeable or not. I assume it would be paid, although in some of the ‘developed/industrialized’ countries it is rumoured not to be for simple ailments such as the baby was going through. Have no idea if that’s true or not. I also don’t know how it equates with travel insurance as well as most travel insurance is also supposed to help you in situations like these. I was concerned as it was a baby and babies as all know are very very fragile. If anybody has an idea or had similar experience would like to know specifically related to International Airport environment as it has ‘transit’ issues unlike in domestic airports where I don’t think it would be a bit more easy.

Now coming to my own inadequacies/lack of foresight which I had mentioned I will share, I had asked/queried and got to lead a Debian-installation workshop on the Open Debian Day. I had done a few earlier and had installed it a few times on my system and for my friends, relatives and some clients. The only bad experiences I had were to do with UEFI but even those in the jessie releases had got resolved quite a bit, so was pretty confident. The day before the Installfest was to happen, ‘Mensah Nyarko Yaa Dufie’ (one full name) of Ghana approached me to install Debian on her system. I had some older version of the Debian DVD either 8.1 or 8.3 and had known that 8.5 had been released just a few days back. Had seen pretty fast internet (as far as downloading Debian DVD) is concerned hence asked her to wait a bit while I downloaded the newest image. I sha256summed it to make sure that the image was bit-to-bit perfect.

Now I hadn’t bought a pen drive/disk from India as I was under the impression that in such conferences, pen drives should not be an issue. I had asked Bernelle privately before via e-mail as well and she had assured me that some pen-drives would be available. She gave me a handful of HP pen drives. The pen drives as we came know during our usage were somewhat flaky. It would pop out/lose connection even with the slightest nudge to the lappy.

Somehow I was able to transfer the image to the usb disk. As people say hindsight is 50:50 maybe it was not such a smart move on my part to download the big DVD image and maybe I should have got the netinstall iso . Be careful, the link I have just shared is of the old version, if you have good web link and want to try the newest stable netinstall head to cdimage.debian.org . Apart from that goof-up I dunno (still) of anyway to know if a copy from an .iso image to usb was successful or not and did it do correctly –

I did the following command –

sudo dd if=/path_to/debian-dvd.iso of=/dev/usb-mount-point

which is usually /dev/sdb on all of my systems . Her system was a brand new HP (don’t remember the model details) which she had bought just a few weeks/months before debconf. We tried a few times but it failed at installing the boot-loader stage. I asked Ritesh Raj Saraff (a friend and DD) and while he had some ideas, none of them worked. Ritesh later pointed out Steve McIntyre and shared he is part of the Debian-Installer team. At that point in time, I had no clue who Steve McIntyre was otherwise I probably would not have approached him. He quickly acquiesced to my request and shared that he would be there for the workshop. With load of my mind little bit, I apologized to mensah and asked her to be at the workshop the following day. I had no clue what was wrong at this point in time, whether it was the iso image in the usb disk or a UEFI issue. This also wasn’t good for my confidence but as somebody from the Debian-Installer team was there, I was somewhat relaxed.

Next day, some more people came for the Installfest. While I had made 2-3 copies, clearly it was not enough as more people came. I was in a frenzy and asked Deven Bansod, Keerthana Krishnan, Prabaharan Jaminy (the whole GSOC and Outreachy attendees) to volunteer to help out in making more iso images on usb disks. I introduced mensah to Steve McIntyre and we tried 2-3 times to get debian installed on the system but it didn’t move from the same place. Ritesh shared that dd had a memory leak and hence cat was a better way to do it. So we did –

$ cat debian.iso > /dev/sdb
and soon other machines had debian sporting on their desktops.

But mensa’s lappy wouldn’t get move from the boot-loader stage. Suddenly Steve had the bright idea (light bulb moment) that maybe the .iso is corrupted/usb disk is bad or something is incomplete. We started on another usb disk.

Now this is where I have a query – While I don’t want to compare, in Ubuntu there was an image self-checking mechanism where probably behind the scenes (backend) the checksums published in a file are compared with checksums generated by apps. which are on the .iso image. While it does extend your time, the end result is you know if there is some issue on the decompressed image on the usb disk. AFAIK we don’t have anything similar. The only two things I know is the wiki page and of course the various checksums of the image as shared at http://cdimage.debian.org/debian-cd/8.6.0/amd64/iso-cd/ or http://cdimage.debian.org/debian-cd/8.6.0/amd64/iso-dvd/

If anybody knows of any movement or a bug in the BTS which I can follow for the above issue please let me know.

This time Steve was able to install it without any issues. I asked him whether he had to make some specific FAT/Ex-FAT/NTFS partitions as some new UEFI-based lappies need one or more but he replied in the negative. While mensa did get her debian install, the GUI didn’t come while command-prompt was available. Then Steve added backports to the sources.list, got the new kernel, new Intel/Nvidia drivers (think it was one of those hybrid models IIRC) and she was able to boot into GNOME-Debian.

I didn’t saw any bug-reports about checksumming state of the applications before installation but did couple of reports about badblocks support and memory checking and from action on both bug-reports it is also need of the hour (although the earlier one has been marked as won’t fix :().

In this whole thing, I liked/appreciated the way Steve handled things, I intuitively understood/knew that he wasn’t just part of the Debian-installer team but someone better. I can’t explain it but it was there. A little investigation in the evening and it turned out that he had been Debian Project Leader for two consecutive years (2008 and 2009) . In hindsight it probably was a good thing I didn’t know that before otherwise I probably wouldn’t have interacted with him and it would have been my loss. To have been the DPL and still being so humble while technically being so proficient, I was amazed and didn’t know what to make of it.

Here i.e. in India, if somebody wins even the mohalla elections (neighbourhood elections) the person carries a big chip on her/is shoulder not just till he is on the seat but even beyond, and here was an example of a previous DPL asking time from one of the developers in a video if it’s possible in the next couple of days.

Lastly,last week have able to report 2 bugs upstream. The first one is of youtube-dl . It’s somewhat complicated hence will not go there atm. The second and more surprising one was from ‘nano’ our esteemed text-editor- Hopefully the bug will be fixed once a new version comes.

The long tail in a common’s man journey to debconf16 – 1

I was going to put a technical post but saw the discussion of one of the meetings of the debconf meets and decided to share a novice’s travel experience.

Before I start here’s the discussion log http://meetbot.debian.net/debconf-team/2016/debconf-team.2016-10-20-20.01.log.html

and specifically this part which hit me (using fake names for discussion as haven’t taken permission from the folks to cite them by name.) –

20:36:52 abcd: $100 CAD is a lot for some, but you’d only need it if you won’t sleep in sponsored accom, which arguably is acceptable.
20:37:04 it would, efgh, fixed sponsorship sum for everybody and allocation of rooms completely decoupled. Hotel gets the money from everybody and the “base fee” from DebConf.
20:37:15 people who can’t afford also have special needs and may be uncomfortable in sharing rooms. That’s quite frequently in our community. Managing each case will be much more complicated.
20:37:31 hijk: we could set aside budget for such special needs, for sure.
20:37:43 I’m talking about managing each case
20:37:46 hijk: yes, but we’ll have the special cases no matter what.
20:37:48 yes, and the special cases need to be catered for regardless of how everybody else is housed
20:38:06 hijk: room allocation already includes this.
20:38:19 people having to expose their personal problems to have us permitting them staying in the hotel
20:38:23 that’s just too weird

It just goes on. I dunno whether I’m weird or not or the experience I would share is just normal, this I would leave for you to decide.

As have shared before, some friends of mine from the free software community had cajoled me last year to apply for debconf bursary (debconf15), which surprisingly got approved, but as it was late and my pre-conceived myths/notions of visas taking a looooong time decided not to go further. Many things take a long time to happen in the Indian bureaucratic maze. For instance have been in a civil case for almost a decade now among other things so know and accept that things take their own sweet time otherwise known as ‘Indian patience’ πŸ˜‰

Did the application and again, surprise, surprise this time too I was approved. Luckily, had done the application for bursary early so was a bit positive on the visa-front. There was a goof-up at the embassay but thanks to people at travel.stackexchange.com where I asked quite a few questions, I was a bit informed and travel was relatively hassle-free. Internally though, I was nervous as hell. I had been feeling like a ‘conman’ or a ‘fraud’ or being an ‘imposter’ because I knew before-hand that the project is so huge and had done the mistake of putting up a talk and a workshop where the big guns would be, which again was accepted (not good). The only thing I was thinking of as a saving grace is that there might be some newbies who don’t know about the project at all (on Open Day) and hopefully I could help with that but as you will see, even there I was fully inadequate.

I live in Pune which is around 3.5 hours from Mumbai (BOM) from where international flights take off. While Pune has an Airport, due to defence considerations, there cannot be much improvement either for domestic or International carriers. There have been attempts to have an exclusive civilian Airport for a long time (almost a decade) and would still take a decade or more.

Hence had decided to take an early morning train from Pune to Mumbai, change couple of locals and finally land up at the Mumbai International Airport. Hind-sight as they say is 50:50, while I do have friends in Mumbai, I also found about a homestay which is closer to the Airport and still relatively budget-friendly.

Anyways, met few friends but as was paranoid about missing connections found myself in front of the Airport at 20:00 hrs. with about 7 hours + to go before my flight. While there is nothing to do around the airport rather than hanging around, just hung around outside the airport as knew that inside the airport will be chilling and once you go in, you cannot come out or at least it’s an inconvenience to the security therein. The International Airport in on three levels, the basement is for vehicles, the first level to receive International and Domestic passengers and the upper-most level exclusively for people flying internationally. This again, came to know when I tried to enter into the ones meant for Domestic and International Passengers coming into the city.

Came to the check-in counter at around 02:00 hrs, did the security thing and just had to wait as the flight was of 0400 hrs (from my limited search experience, the cheapest flights are at such times when nobody else (i.e.civilized people) wants to fly). Entered Doha around 5:15 Doha time and saw a much much bigger airport than either the Mumbai International Airport or/and the Delhi International Airport . While I have written some negative stuff about Doha, there were two positives that I am sure, I had forgotten to share –

a. There were no transit Visa Fees that I had to pay. Most countries and airports I researched have something called transit visa and that can really get expensive, so saved money on that.

b. The free ride into the city and back with voluntary tipping the driver or/and guide (approx. 3-4 hours)

While the second from what I could tell/know is a gimmick, this is something I wish other countries and airports emulate.

There are hotels in the airport and I could have had hotel accommodation if I had booked a slightly more expensive ticket, roughly INR 5k/- each way which would have given me a bit more legroom as well as stay as my layover was more than 24 hours. But this information was known at last minute. Qatar Airways has just a toll-free number and trying more than a few times gave up. They don’t have an office in the city. When I reached the check-in counter they said if I had upgraded to ‘Y’ class I would have had the hotel thing. Changing tickets at the last moment was too expensive and anyways for hotel accommodation for layovers they required at least 24 hours notice.

Had to make do with recliners and chairs which are not really comfortable. There were only a couple of waiting rooms on air-side which had a view of the aircraft and hence were a bit more pleasing than those which were on the land-side and were fully blocked without a view. I wish there was a map of the Airport from within the Airport as even with the single terminal it is really easy to get lost.

Somehow the day and night went by and took my second flight and reached Cape Town, South Africa. Throughout the journey had been stressed as had to be awake at all times and make sure that nothing gets stolen. Having attendants at toilets were also good so that there is no possibility of any violence there. So it had been 2 days, no shower and no sleep.

Later also came to know about Airport Sleeping Pods and shower stalls but these also seem to be less in number, at few airports and there always be a bit of premium attached to them as airports are a monopoly business.

Anyways, reached the venue. Throughout the travel there was quite a bit of unnamed fear which I later came to know after seeing Dr. Ramanujan’s ‘The Man who knew Infinity‘ . It was/is the fear or unknown, while in the movie it is articulated as fear of crossing seven seas, symbolically it is the fear or unknown.

Now while I was dead tired, I still pushed myself as I didn’t want to have the effects of jet lag interfere with the normal sleeping and waking patterns. I did freshen myself but didn’t allow myself the luxury of the bath-tub as I knew that if I went in, I would not come out that day. Met all the people, learnt who’s who, where things are happening etc. and slowly night came. Night came and I was so-looking forward to sleep but sleep was not to be. I later learnt it could be either of the two reasons, it could either have been ‘travel-induced insomnia‘ or/and what is known as the first night effect‘.

It was only on the second day when I was in bath-tub for about 2/3 hours I could feel the tension leaving my body. I finally realized that I am in Cape Town, South Africa and could enjoy and be surprised at seeing birds within few feet of me πŸ™‚ .

Now I don’t know whether I’m the only weird/paranoid one, I do know that it would not have been easier for me at least for the first night as I was turning and twisting throughout the night. I opened the lights, read for some time hoping for sleep to take over but that didn’t work. Tried quite a few things but sleep didn’t come. If I had been sleeping with other people I dunno how they would have reacted. I myself am a light sleeper (most of the time) and if I had sleep coming and somebody else acted or been the way I was, I wouldn’t been able to sleep. However much you try, whatever is the natural reaction is, will be. There are still some bits to share but that would be in part 2.

Using JOSM and gpx tracks

This would be a longish post. I had bought a Samsung Galaxy J-5/500 just a few days before Debconf16 which I had written about a bit earlier as well. As can be seen in the specs there isn’t much to explore other than A-GPS. There were a couple of temperature apps. which I wanted to explore before buying the smartphone but as there were budget constraints and there weren’t any good budget smartphones with environmental sensors built-in had to let go of those features.

I was looking for a free app. which would have OSM support and came across osmand . I was looking for an app. which would have support for OSM and support for the gpx format.

I was planning to use osmand in South Africa but due to the over-whelming nature of meeting people, seeing places and just being didn’t actually get the time and place to try it.

Came back home and a month and a half passed. In-between I had done some simple small tracks but nothing major. This week-end I got the opportunity as I got some free data balance from my service provider (a princely 50 MB) as well an opportunity to go about 40 odd kms. from the city. I had read about osmand and was looking if the off-line method worked or not – from the webpage

β€’ Works online (fast) or offline (no roaming charges when you are abroad)

So armed with a full battery I started the journey which took about an hour and half even though technically it was a holiday. On the way back, got a different route and recorded that as well. The app. worked flawlessly. I was able to get the speed of the vehicle and everything. The only thing I haven’t understood till date is how to select waypoints but other than that I got the whole route on my mobile.

What was cool to see that on most roads, at least through the app. there were speed limits. Now I don’t know from where the data was getting there. Most city roads had 65 and some roads had 55 at the maximum. I am assuming that it was at km/hr as also shared later.

Just for fun I also looked at the gpx file after copying it from mobile to hdd (an extract) https://paste.debian.net/853231/

While it’s not a complete extract, What was interesting for me to note here is the time was in UTC . What was also interesting is that in the gpx tracks I also saw some entries about speed as can be seen in the paste above. Although it doesn’t say whether it was in km/hr or mph, I believe it probably is km/hr. as that is the unit I defined in the app.

Anyways, the next step was trying to see which tool was good enough to show me the tracks with tiles underneath and labels of places, paths etc.

I tried three tools –

1. jmapviewer – this didn’t work at all.
2. gnome-maps – this worked remarkably well but has numerous gtk3.0 warnings –

β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [~/osmand] - [10149]
└─[$] gnome-maps 2016-10-01_08-11_Sat.gpx

(gnome-maps:21017): Gtk-WARNING **: Theme parsing error: gtk.css:63:28: The :prelight pseudo-class is deprecated. Use :hover instead.

(gnome-maps:21017): Gtk-WARNING **: Theme parsing error: gtk.css:73:35: The :prelight pseudo-class is deprecated. Use :hover instead.

(gnome-maps:21017): Gtk-WARNING **: Theme parsing error: application.css:14:30: The style property GtkButton:image-spacing is deprecated and shouldn't be used anymore. It will be removed in a future version

(gnome-maps:21017): Gtk-WARNING **: Theme parsing error: application.css:15:31: The style property GtkWidget:interior-focus is deprecated and shouldn't be used anymore. It will be removed in a future version

(gnome-maps:21017): Gdk-WARNING **: /build/gtk+3.0-Tod2iD/gtk+3.0-3.22.0/./gdk/x11/gdkwindow-x11.c:5554 drawable is not a native X11 window

(gnome-maps:21017): Gdk-WARNING **: /build/gtk+3.0-Tod2iD/gtk+3.0-3.22.0/./gdk/x11/gdkwindow-x11.c:5554 drawable is not a native X11 window

(gnome-maps:21017): Gdk-WARNING **: /build/gtk+3.0-Tod2iD/gtk+3.0-3.22.0/./gdk/x11/gdkwindow-x11.c:5554 drawable is not a native X11 window

(gnome-maps:21017): Gdk-WARNING **: /build/gtk+3.0-Tod2iD/gtk+3.0-3.22.0/./gdk/x11/gdkwindow-x11.c:5554 drawable is not a native X11 window

(gnome-maps:21017): Gdk-WARNING **: /build/gtk+3.0-Tod2iD/gtk+3.0-3.22.0/./gdk/x11/gdkwindow-x11.c:5554 drawable is not a native X11 window

(gnome-maps:21017): Gdk-WARNING **: /build/gtk+3.0-Tod2iD/gtk+3.0-3.22.0/./gdk/x11/gdkwindow-x11.c:5554 drawable is not a native X11 window

(gnome-maps:21017): Gtk-WARNING **: GtkClutterOffscreen 0x4c4f3f0 is drawn without a current allocation. This should not happen.

(gnome-maps:21017): Gtk-WARNING **: GtkImage 0x4ed4140 is drawn without a current allocation. This should not happen.

Now I’m not sure whether all of those are gtk3+ issues or me running them under Debian MATE. I know that there are issues with mate and gtk3+ as had been told/shared a few times in p.d.o.

Anyways, one of the issues I encountered is that gnome-maps doesn’t work in offline-mode, saw https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=708799 . Also saw ~/.cache/champlain/osm-mapquest and the listing underneath is gibberish in the sense you don’t know what it meant to do –


β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [~/.cache/champlain/osm-mapquest] - [10163]
└─[$] ll -h

drwx------ 6 shirish shirish 4.0K Jun 11 2015 10
drwx------ 26 shirish shirish 4.0K Oct 24 2014 11
drwx------ 10 shirish shirish 4.0K Jun 11 2015 12
drwx------ 11 shirish shirish 4.0K Jun 11 2015 13
drwx------ 12 shirish shirish 4.0K Jun 11 2015 14
drwx------ 12 shirish shirish 4.0K Jun 11 2015 15
drwx------ 27 shirish shirish 4.0K Oct 24 2014 16
drwx------ 25 shirish shirish 4.0K Oct 24 2014 17
drwx------ 4 shirish shirish 4.0K Mar 4 2014 3
drwx------ 5 shirish shirish 4.0K Mar 4 2014 8
drwx------ 9 shirish shirish 4.0K Mar 29 2014 9

What was/is interesting to see things like this –

maybe imagery offset

As I was in a moving vehicle, it isn’t easy to know if the imagery is at fault or was it app. , sensor of my mobile ?

Did see http://learnosm.org/en/josm/correcting-imagery-offset/ but as can be seen that requires more effort from my side.

The last tool proved to be the most problematic

3. JOSM – Getting the tracks into josm which was easily done. While firing up josm came across https://josm.openstreetmap.de/ticket/13735 which I subsequently filed.

One of the other first things which has been a major irritant for a long time is JOSM is, for a lack of better term, ugly. See the interface, especially the one having preferences, all cluttered look and specifically see the plugins corner/tab –

josm-preferences-plugin tab

The part about it being ugly, I dunno but have seen most java apps are a bit ugly. It is a bit generalist I know but that has been my experience with whatever little java apps. I have used.

I don’t know what the reasons for that are, maybe because java is known/rumoured to use lot of memory which seems true in my case as well OR it doesn’t have toolkits like gtk3+ or qt quick, although have to say that the looks have improved from before when I used it last some years ago –


β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [~] - [10340]
└─[$] ps -eo size,pid,user,command | awk '{ hr=$1/1024 ; printf("%13.6f Mb ",hr) } { for ( x=4 ; x<=NF ; x++ ) { printf("%s ",$x) } print "" }' | grep josm

0.324219 Mb /bin/sh /usr/bin/josm
419.468750 Mb /usr/lib/jvm/java-8-openjdk-amd64/bin/java -Djosm.restart=true -Djava.net.useSystemProxies=true -jar /usr/share/josm/josm.jar

This is when I’m just opening josm and have not added any tracks or done any work.

Now I wanted to explore the routing in good amount of detail on josm. This was easily said than done. When trying to get imagery I got the ‘Download area too large’ issue/defect . Multiple tries didn’t get me anywhere. Then hunting on the web came across the continous-download plugin which is part of the plugin infrastructure . This I found to be a very good tool. It downloads the tiles and puts them in ~/.josm/cache/tiles


β”Œβ”€[shirish@debian] - [~/.josm/cache/tiles] - [10147]
└─[$] ll -h

total 28M
-rw-r--r-- 1 shirish shirish 28M Oct 2 02:13 TMS_BLOCK_v2.data
-rw-r--r-- 1 shirish shirish 290K Oct 3 12:59 TMS_BLOCK_v2.key
-rw-r--r-- 1 shirish shirish 4 Oct 3 12:59 WMS_BLOCK_v2.key
-rw-r--r-- 1 shirish shirish 4 Oct 3 12:59 WMTS_BLOCK_v2.key

While unfortunately I cannot see this/make sense of it I’m guessing it is some sort of database with key and data files.

What did become apparent is that the OSM needs lots more love if it is to become something which can be used everyday. At the end I had to change the open-source gpx track file to a Google map kml file to be able to make sense as there are whole areas which need to be named, numbered etc.

One of the newbie mistakes that I did was trying to use the slippy map in josm (using Openstreetmap/Mapnik at the back-end) to move/pan using the left-hand mouse button. It took me quite sometime to figure out that it is with right-hand mouse button that you can make the slippy map pan. This is different from almost all maps, gnome-maps uses the traditional left-hand button, Google maps also uses the same. I have filed it in upstream as https://josm.openstreetmap.de/ticket/13751 .

So at least, in these rounds it is gnome-maps which has kind of won even though it doesn’t do any of the things that josm claims to do.

I am sure there might be some interesting tricks and tips that people might have to share about mapping πŸ™‚

mtpfs, feh and not being able to share the debconf experience.

I have been sick for about 2 weeks now hence haven’t written. I had joint pains and still am weak. There has been lot of reports of malaria, chikungunya and dengue fever around the city. The only thing I came to know is how lucky I am to be able to move around on 2 legs and how powerless and debilitating it feels when you can’t move. In the interim I saw ‘Me Before You‘ and after going through my most miniscule experience, I could relate with Will Taylor’s character. If I was in his place, I would probably make the same choices.

But my issues are and were slightly different. Last month I was supposed to share my debconf experience in the local PLUG meet. For that purpose, I took some pictures from my phone on a pen-drive to share. But when reached the venue, found out that I had forgotten to take the pen-drive. What I had also done is used the mogrify command from the imagemagick stable to lossy compress the images on the pen-drive so it is easier on image viewers.

But that was not to be and at the last moment had to use my phone plugged into the USB drive of the lappy and show some pictures. This was not good. I had known that it was mounted somewhere but hadn’t looked at where.

After coming back home, it took me hardly 10 minutes to find out where it was mounted. It is not mounted under /media/shirish but under /run/user/1000/gvfs . If I do list under it shows mtp:host=%5Busb%3A005%2C007%5D .

I didn’t need any packages under debian to make it work. Interestingly, the only image viewer which seems to be able to work with all the images is ‘feh’ which is a command-line image viewer in Debian.

[$] aptitude show feh
Package: feh
Version: 2.16.2-1
State: installed
Automatically installed: no
Priority: optional
Section: graphics
Maintainer: Debian PhotoTools Maintainers
Architecture: amd64
Uncompressed Size: 391 k
Depends: libc6 (>= 2.15), libcurl3 (>= 7.16.2), libexif12 (>= 0.6.21-1~), libimlib2 (>= 1.4.5), libpng16-16 (>= 1.6.2-1), libx11-6, libxinerama1
Recommends: libjpeg-progs
Description: imlib2 based image viewer
feh is a fast, lightweight image viewer which uses imlib2. It is commandline-driven and supports multiple images through slideshows, thumbnail
browsing or multiple windows, and montages or index prints (using TrueType fonts to display file info). Advanced features include fast dynamic
zooming, progressive loading, loading via HTTP (with reload support for watching webcams), recursive file opening (slideshow of a directory
hierarchy), and mouse wheel/keyboard control.
Homepage: http://feh.finalrewind.org/

I did try various things to get it to mount under /media/shirish/ but as of date have no luck. Am running Android 6.0 – Marshmallow and have enabled ‘USB debugging’ with help from my friend ‘Akshat’ . I even changed the /etc/fuse.conf options but even that didn’t work.

#cat /etc/fuse.conf
[sudo] password for shirish:
# /etc/fuse.conf - Configuration file for Filesystem in Userspace (FUSE)

# Set the maximum number of FUSE mounts allowed to non-root users.
# The default is 1000.
mount_max = 1

# Allow non-root users to specify the allow_other or allow_root mount options.
user_allow_other

One way which I haven’t explored is adding/making an entry into /etc/fstab. If anybody knows of a solution which doesn’t involve changing content of /etc/fstab. At the same time you are able to get the card and phone directories mounted under /media// , in my case /media/shirish would be interested to know. I would like the /etc/fstab to remain as it is.

I am using Samsung J5 (unrooted) –

Btw I tried all the mtpfs packages in Debian testing but without any meaningful change 😦

Look forward to tips.

The road to TOR

Happy Independence Day to all. I had been looking forward to this day so I can use to share with my brothers and sisters what little I know about TOR . Independence means so many things to many people. For me, it means having freedom, valuing it and using it to benefit not just to ourselves but to people at large. And for that to happen, at least on the web, it has to rise above censorship if we are to get there at all. I am 40 years old, and if I can’t read whatever I want to read without asking the state-military-Corporate trinity than be damned with that. Debconf was instrumental as I was able to understand and share many of the privacy concerns that we all have. This blog post is partly a tribute to being part of a community and being part of Debconf16.

So, in that search for privacy couple of years ago, I came across TOR . TOR stands for ‘The Onion Router’ project. Explaining tor is simple. Let us take the standard way in which we approach the website using a browser or any other means.

a. We type out a site name, say debian.org in the URL/URI bar .
b. Now the first thing the browser would do is look into its DNS Cache to see if the name/URL has been used before. If it is something like debian.org which has been used before and is *fresh* and there is content already it would serve the content from the cache there itself.
c. In case, if it’s not or the content is stale or something, it would generate a DNS lookup through the various routing tables till the DNS IP Address is found and information relayed to the browser.
d. The browser takes the IP Address and opens a TCP connection to the server, you have the handshake happen and after that it’s business as usual.
e. In case if it doesn’t work, you could get errors like ‘Could not connect to server xyz’ or some special errors with error codes.

This is a much simplified version of what happens or goes through normally with most/all of the browsers.

One good way to see how the whole thing happens is to use traceroute and use the whois service.

For e.g. –

[$] traceroute debian.org

and then

[$] whois 5.153.231.4 | grep inetnum
inetnum: 5.153.231.0 - 5.153.231.255

Just using whois IP Address gives much more. I just shared a short version because I find it interesting that Debian has booked all 255 possible IP Addresses but speculating on that would be probably be a job for a different day.

Now the difference when using TOR are two things –

a. The conversation is encrypted (somewhat like using https but encrypted through the relays)
b. The conversation is relayed over 2-3 relays and it will give a somewhat different identification to the DNS server at the other end.
c. It is only at the end-points that the conversation will be in plain text.

For e.g. the TOR connection I’m using atm is from me – France (relay) – Switzerland (relay) – Germany (relay) – WordPress.com . So wordpress thinks that all the connection is happening via Germany while I’m here in India. It would also tells that I’m running MS-Windows some version and a different browser while I’m from somewhere in India, on Debian, using another browser altogether πŸ™‚

There are various motivations for doing that. For myself, I’m just a private person and do not need or want that any other person/s or even the State should be looking over my shoulder as to what I’m doing. And the argument that we need to spy on citizens because Terrorists are there doesn’t hold water over me. There are many ways in which they can pass messages even without tor or web. The Government-Corporate-Military just get more powerful if and when they know what common people think, do, eat etc.

So the question is how does you install tor if you a private sort of person . If you are on a Debian machine, you are one step closer to doing that.

So the first thing that you need to do is install the following –

$ sudo aptitude install ooniprobe python-certifi tor tor-geoipdb torsocks torbrowser-launcher

Once the above is done, then run torbrowser-launcher. This is how it would work out the first time it is run –

[$] torbrowser-launcher

Tor Browser Launcher
By Micah Lee, licensed under MIT
version 0.2.6
https://github.com/micahflee/torbrowser-launcher
Creating GnuPG homedir /home/shirish/.local/share/torbrowser/gnupg_homedir
Downloading and installing Tor Browser for the first time.
Downloading https://dist.torproject.org/torbrowser/update_2/release/Linux_x86_64-gcc3/x/en-US
Latest version: 6.0.3
Downloading https://dist.torproject.org/torbrowser/6.0.3/tor-browser-linux64-6.0.3_en-US.tar.xz.asc
Downloading https://dist.torproject.org/torbrowser/6.0.3/tor-browser-linux64-6.0.3_en-US.tar.xz
Verifying signature
Extracting tor-browser-linux64-6.0.3_en-US.tar.xz
Running /home/shirish/.local/share/torbrowser/tbb/x86_64/tor-browser_en-US/start-tor-browser.desktop
Launching './Browser/start-tor-browser --detach'...

As can be seen above, you basically download the tor browser remotely from the website. Obviously, for this port 80 needs to be opened.

One of the more interesting things is that it tells you where it installs the browser.

/home/shirish/.local/share/torbrowser/tbb/x86_64/tor-browser_en-US/Browser/start-tor-browser and then detaches.

The first time the TOR browser actually runs it looks something similar to this –

Torbrowser picture

Torbrowser picture

Additionally it would give you 4 choices. Depending on your need for safety, security and convenience you make a choice and live with it.

Now the only thing remaining to do is have an alias for your torbrowser. So I made

[$] alias tor

tor=/home/shirish/.local/share/torbrowser/tbb/x86_64/tor-browser_en-US/Browser/start-tor-browser

It is suggested that you do not use the same usernames on the onion network.

Also apart from the regular URL addresses such as ‘flossexperiences.wordpress.com’ you will also see sites such as https://www.abc12defgh3ijkl.onion.to (fictional address)

Now there would be others who would want to use the same/similar settings say as there are in their Mozilla Firefox installation.

To do that do the following steps –

a. First close down both Torbrowser and Mozilla Firefox .
b. Open your file browser and go to where your mozilla profile details are. In typical Debian installations it is at

~/.mozilla/firefox/5r7t1r92.default

In the next tab, navigate to –

~/.local/share/torbrowser/tbb/x86_64/tor-browser_en-US/Browser/TorBrowser/Data/Browser/profile.default

c. Now copy the following files over from your mozilla profile to your tor browser profile and you can resume where you left off.

    cert8.db
    chromeappsstore.sqlite
    content-prefs.sqlite
    cookies.sqlite
    formhistory.sqlite
    key3.db
    logins.json (Firefox 32 and above)
    mimeTypes.rdf
    permissions.sqlite
    persdict.dat
    places.sqlite
    signons3.txt (if exists)
    webappsstore.sqlite

and the following folders/directories

    bookmarkbackups
    chrome (if it exists)
    searchplugins (if it exists)

Once the above is done, fire up your torbrowser with the alias shared. This is usually put it in your .bashrc file or depending on whatever terminal interpreter you use, wherever the config file will be.

Welcome to the world of TOR. Now, after a time if you benefit from tor and would like to give back to the tor community, you should look up tor bridges and relay. As the blog post has become long enough, I would end it now and hopefully we can talk about tor bridges and relay some other day.

Doha and the Supreme Court of DFSG Free

Hi,

I am in two minds of what to write about Doha. My job has been vastly simplified by a friend when he shared with me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdrAd-44LW0 . That video is more relevant and more closer to the truth than whatever I can share. As can be seen it is funny but more sad the way Qatarians are trying to figure out how things will be and as can be seen it seems to heading towards a ‘real estate bubble’ . They would have to let go of the Sharia if they are thinking of wealthy westerners coming to stay put. I am just sad to know that many of my country-men are stuck there and although I hope the best for them, I dread it may turn out the way it has turned out for many people of Indians, and especially from Kerala in Saudi Arabia. I would touch about the Kerala situation probably in another blog post as this time is exclusively for legal aspects which were discussed in Debconf.

A bit of backgrounder here, one part of my family is lawyers which means I have somewhat notion of law as practiced in our land. As probably everybody knows, India was ruled by the British for around 150 odd years. One of the things that they gave while leaving was/is the IPC (Indian Penal Code) and is practiced with the common law concept. The concept means precedence of any judgement goes quite some way in framing rulings and law of the land as time goes on besides the lobbying and the politics which happens in any democracy.

Free software would not have been there without the GPL – The General Public License. And the license is as much a legal document as it’s something that the developers can work without becoming deranged, as it is one of the more simpler licenses to work with.

My own understanding of the legal, ethical and moral issues around me were framed by two-three different TV shows, books (fiction and non-fiction alike) apart from what little news I heard in family. One was ‘M*A*S*H* (with Alan Alda and his frailness, anarchism, humanism, civil rights), the ‘Practise’ and ‘Boston Legal’ which does lay bare the many grey areas that lawyers have to deal with (‘The Practice’ also influenced a lot of civil rights understanding and First amendment, but as it is a TV show, how much of it is actually practiced for lawyers and how much moral dilemma they are can only be guessed at.) . In books it is artists like John Grisham, Michael Connelly as well as Perry Mason – Agatha Christie. In non-fiction look at the treasures under bombayhighcourt e-books corner and series of Hamlyn Lectures. I would have to warn that all of the above are major time-sinks but rewarding in their own way. Also haven’t read all of them as time and interests are constrained but do know they are good for understanding bit of our history. I do crave for a meetup kind of scenario when non-lawyers can read and discuss about facets of law .

All that understanding was vastly amplified by Groklaw.net which made non-lawyers at the very least be able to decipher and understand what is going on in the free software world. After PJ (Pamela Jones) closed it in 2013 due to total surveillance by the Free World (i.e. the United States of America, NSA) we have been thirsty. We do get occasionally somewhat mildly interesting articles in lwn.net or arstechnica.net but nowhere the sheer brilliance of groklaw.

So, it was a sheer stroke of luck that I met Mr. Bradley M. Kuhn who works with Karen Sandler on Software Conservancy. While I wanted to be there for his presentation, it was just one of those days which doesn’t go as planned. However, as we met socially and over e-mail there were two basic questions which I asked him which also imbibes why we need to fight for software freedom in the court of law. Below is a re-wording of what he shared .

Q1. why do people think that GPL still needs to be challenged in the court of law while there are gpl-violations which has been more or less successfully defended in the court of law ?

Bradley Kuhn – the GPL violations is basically a violation of one or more clauses of the GPL license and not the GPL license as a whole and my effort during my lifetime would be to make/have such precedents that the GPL is held as a valid license in the court of law.

Q2. Let’s say IF GPL is held to be valid in the court of law, would FSF benefit monetarily, at least to my mind it might be so, as more people and comapnies could be convinced to use strong copyleft licenses such as GPLv3 or AGPLv3 .

Bradley Kuhn – It may or may not. It is possible that even after winning, that people and especially companies may go for weak copyleft licenses if it suits them. The only benefit would probably would be to those people who are already using GPLv3 as the law could be used to protect them as well. Although we would want and welcome companies who would use strong copyleft license such as the GPL, the future is ‘in future’ and hence uncertain. Both possibilities co-exist.

While Bradley didn’t say it, I would add further here it probably would mean also moving from being a more offensive mode (which GPL-violations is based upon where a violation occurs and somebody either from the victim’s side or a by-stander notices the violation, brings it to the notice of the victim and the GPL-volations team.) to perhaps it being defended by the DMCA people themselves, once GPL is held as a valid license in the eyes of law. Although should you use the DMCA or not is a matter of choice, personal belief system as well as your legal recourses.

I have to share that the FSF and the GPL-violations team are probably very discerning when they take up the fight as most of the work done by them is pro-bono (i.e. they don’t make a single penny/paisa from the work done therein.) and hence in view of scarce resources, it makes sense to go only for the biggest violators in the hopes that you can either make them agree to compensate and agree to the terms of license of any software/hardware combination or sue them and take a bigger share of the reward/compensation awarded by the Court to help the defendant and maybe some of the proceeds donated by the defendant and people like you and me to make sure that Conservancy and the GPL-violations team is still around to help the next time something similar happens.

Bradley Kuhn presenting at #Debconf 16

Bradley Kuhn presenting at #Debconf 16

Now, as far as his presentation is concerned, whose video can be seen at http://meetings-archive.debian.net/pub/debian-meetings/2016/debconf16/The_Supreme_Court_of_DFSGFree.webm , I thought it was tame. While he talked about ‘gaming the system’ in some sense, he was sharing that the system debian-legal works (most-of-the-time). The list actually works because many far more brilliant people than me take time to understand the intricacies of various licenses and how they should be interpreted through the excellently written Debian Free Software Guidelines and whether the license under discussion contravenes the DFSG or is part of it. I do agree with his point though that the ftp-master/s and the team may not be the right person to judge the license in adherence to the DFSG, or her/is not giving a reason for rejecting a package to not entering into the package archive.

I actually asked the same question on debian-legal and while I had guessed, it seems there is enough review of the licenses per-se as answer from Paul Wise shows. Charles Pessley also shared an idea he has documented which probably didn’t get much traction as involves more ‘work’ on DD’s without any benefit to show for it. All in all I hope it sheds some light on why there is need to be more aware of law in software freedom. Two Organizations which work on software freedom from legal standpoint are SFLC  (Delhi) headed by the charming Mr. Eben Moglen  and ALF (Bangalore). I do hope more people, especially developers take a bit more interest in some of the resources mentioned above.

Doha and the past year in APT

A week has gone by and another small sharing about Doha and one package that quite a few of us use everyday but don’t think much of them.

Let’s start with Doha with these two pictures which tells/shares a bit about what the Doha of today is like –

qatar-1

qatar-2

While I have more than a dozen snapshots of Doha, all of them show same thing, all are huge skyscrapers and overall Doha seems to be aping Dubai and is in a frenzy as World Cup 2022 is around the corner. We did see a few of the older places but these seemed to be more done for ‘tourists’ rather than the real thing. We saw stuff like –

wooden_ship

This was a picture taken by Ritesh Raj Saraff, a friend and a DD whom I met while I was going to Debconf. The place where this picture has been taken is known as a ‘Souk’ or what we know as market-place. This was a place where you could get spices. Quite a few of the spices that we get and use in India were bought from Middle-East in the olden times. In fact, it has been argued that the whole ‘Mughlai’ food that is part of Indian culture was imported from Middle-East when we were trading them before India or ‘Akhand Bharat’ was invaded. What was interesting to both of us is that we could perceive that most of the buildings had a sort of fakeness to it, they tried to show that it had a lot of detailed work on the buildings but we could see it was all done recently so not that old as being led to believe.

One of the other interesting bits that we came to know throughout our stay in Qatar that almost 80-90% of the staff we met inside Qatar airport as well as in the ‘Souk’ were people from Asian sub-continent and more specifically from South India.

I had few interesting conversations with some of the people who were managing the shops were that almost of them were just employees while the owners were ‘Qataris’ . I could understand this as the distance and flight between Qatar and India is hardly 3 hours. It seemed very similar to how Mexicans look for work in United States. The most expensive thing there was ‘water’ as it’s desert other than housing and most workers seemed to have shared accommodation from anywhere between 5-15 people in one room. It’s only the relative strength of the Qatari Rial which probably compels them to be there. The temperature was around 45 degrees with a bit of humidity as it’s next to the Ocean. For all the money in the world, I wouldn’t work there. It is true that you know your city’s worth only when you go outside πŸ™‚

I do have some more stories about Qatar but that would have to wait for another day now. Also, I really don’t want to talk much about this part as it’s part depressing but probably would explore it a bit in a further blog-post.

One of the more interesting topics that I attended was the ‘apt’ talk . There are 3-4 tools in the Debian world i.e. apt, aptitude, apt-get, dpkg and dselect. More often than not people know aptitude and apt-get whereas the rest of the packages are not thought so much about. What I somewhat suspected about the history of apt was revealed to be true today, courtesy David K.

julias-andreas-klose-year-in-apt

You can see the talk/video about apt at http://meetings-archive.debian.net/pub/debian-meetings/2016/debconf16/The_past_year_in_APT.webm.

I had been curious about apt,libapt,dpkg and the entire tool-chain which goes into updating packages and like. I had a couple of conversations here in India before on mail, in person and IRC as well as couple of conversations in South Africa as well before the APT talk where it was told that packages are not signed or it’s not easy to figure out the integrity. Being a Debian fan-boy I could not believe this to be true. Hence I asked and to my dismay found it to be true 😦 . I also then asked the same with a bit more background on the mailing list as well and got to know that this has been a concern since 2005. As I do not have the requisite skills and the person would require probably knowledge of dpkg internals as well as have probably good social skills to have at least 1-2 DD’s help her/im to work on it and have probably some server space where even some partial archive is re-built using debian packages which use dpkg-sig . I also had some concerns that even if somebody did do the work, it might come in the way of the reproducible builds concept where Neils shared ways in which it could be overcome. Having said the above, it is totally doable if somebody has the will, skills and the patience to do it.

Just look at the amazing work done by the team which re-built almost all the archive using clang. See clang.debian.net for the amazing work that they have done.

Now, one of the issues in India which comes in popularizing Debian or in fact any free software distribution in India is the bandwidth issue or rather the lack of it or how expensive it is. The situation for better lack of term is ‘pathetic’. While nothing can be done till the time the Govt. gives limited term oligopoly licenses to telecom operators and they have a cabal (cabal – closed team where decisions and policies are made without any knowledge of and to other stakeholders.) we need to find ways to make the best of the situation. Anyways, while there are some ideas to tackle that but that’s a long-term goal and I will share some aspects of it in probably another blog post. In the interim somethings can definitely be made better. Now one of the issues that is there for most people is getting the package updates. Before updating the packages, the package index needs to be updated. Now, both in home and work environments most people are cautious to update the package index. But many times, either due to bandwidth issues or some other issue which is outside your control,  your package index is corrupted. I have put both the possible reasons of why and how the package index corruption takes place and a probable work-around of in the deity mail post. I do hope to put in a more coherent state by probably making smaller bug issues so they could be tackled or answered one by one. Any improvements would be better for stability of debian infrastructure only. If anybody does do the required work and need a guinea pig for testing, count me in. Just holler and share you will be working on this aspect and at least one of my workstations would definitely take part in seeing if its better or not. Even if you are able to just provide a way to make a copy of /var/lib/apt/lists after every successful update and do the comparison with time-stamp on next run and only change the copy when a successful update occurs, that will be a huge help in itself.

Look forward to hearing form one and all.

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