A tale of unfortunate coincidences and incidents

This would be a biggie so please relax as this is going to be a really long one. So make sure you have something to chill out with.

People talk about ‘ease of doing business’ or what not for quite sometime. From last few months, there has been a slow-down and due to certain issues I had to make some purchases. This blog post will share the travails from a consumer perspective only as the horrors from the other side are also well-known But for this blog post, will share the series of unfortunate coincidences and incidents which happened with me.

APC UPS

For quite few months, my old UPS had been giving issues hence I decided to see what is available in the market. As my requirements are small, two desktops and a laptop sometimes, I settled on APC BR1000G-IN . Instead of buying it from Amazon I decided to try my luck at the local vendors. None of them had this specific UPS which I wanted. Before I continue I want to share the trivia that I had known that Schiedner Electric was buying APC the last time I bought an APC UPS. That was the big news at the time, 2007. At that time when I bought the APC UPS I was given 5 years warranty and the UPS worked till 7-8 years so was pretty happy with it. I also had a local brand I used which worked but didn’t offer anything special such as LED interface on the UPS.

Anyways, with those factors in mind, I went to the APC site and saw the partner list and saw that they were something like 20-25 odd partners in my city, Pune. I sent one or two e-mails to each of the partners of APC, while some were generic with my requirements while in others I was more specific in what I want. I was hoping that at least a few would respond. To my horror, most e-mails bounced back and some were in black-hole which means no one answered. I even tried calling some of the numbers given of the partners and even they turned out to be either fake or not working, which of the two it is I don’t know.

Luckily, I have been to Mumbai quite often and have few contacts with some people who are into IT sales. One of them, had numbers of some of the people in Mumbai, one of which worked, who in turn directed or shared number of a vendor in Pune. One thing led to another and soon I had BR1000G-IN at my place. Sadly, the whole process was draining and took almost a week to get it at my end. I read the user guide fully, did all the connections and found that the the start/reset button of the UPS is depressed, it doesn’t connect well with my stubby fingers. I asked mother and even she was not able to push the button.

APC Back-UPS Pro 1000 Copyright – APC

As can be seen while it is at the upper corner when trying to on it and do the required settings, it just wouldn’t work. I was not sure whether it was the UPS at fault or my stubby finger at fault. As shared, even my mom was not able to push it. After trying for a day or two, turned to the vendor, had to escalate it up and finally was assigned an engineer who came to check it. When you buy a unit for around INR 10k/- this is the least they can do. Somehow his finger was able to penetrate. For both mum and me, the start/reset button was a design fail. While I can understand it why the original design might have been so, I am sure lot of people like me would have problems with it. Coincidentally, the engineer was from one of the vendors whom I had e-mailed earlier. I showed him the e-mail I had sent to the firm. Sadly, till date the e-mail address hasn’t been corrected. vishal@modularelect.com is still a blackhole while I was told this will be corrected soon but two months and it has still not been corrected 😦

Sadly, my problems still continue somewhat. While I’m thankful to whoever the apcupsd Debian wiki page for some reason it doesn’t work for me. While I have asked the good people at apcupsd-users mailing list I am hopeful will get an answer in a day or two. The good part is that the cable at least is working and giving some status information as shared. Hopefully, it will be some minor thing rather than something major but that only time will tell.

Another bit of trivia – While some of you may have known, some might not, I was also looking if APC bought out the Li-Ion batteries too. As fate would have it, the date I bought the UPS, the same date the Li-Ion batteries were launched or shown on youtube.

While it probably will take a few years, would be looking forward to it. There is also possibility of supercapacitors as well but that is well into the future.

Cooler Master G650M

I remember writing about having a better SMPS about a year back. At the time I was having power problems I also thought it would be prudent to change the SMPS as well. While it didn’t take me much time, while I was looking for 700-750W SMPS I finally had to settle for Cooler Master G650M Bronze SMPS as that was the one which was available. There were others too, 1000W ones (gold) but out of my price range. Even the 650W SMPS costed me around INR 7.5k. This also worked for few months and then shorted out. I was highly surprised when the SMPS conked out, as the warranty is supposed to run for five whole years. While buying I had checked the labelling and it was packed only couple of months before purchase, so not that old. What is most peculiar is that now that product is no longer in the market and in fact had been replaced by Cooler Master MWE Bronze 650 which has 3 year warranty 😦 . Why is it so is beyond me. Usually Products which have 5 year warranty or more are usually in the market for a much longer time. Unlike other brands, Cooler Master doesn’t believe in repair but offer replacement but takes anywhere between 2 to 3 weeks which I didn’t knew at the time of purchase 😦

Just to be clear, I wasn’t sure what was wrong. I had bought the ASUS Prime Z270-P motherboard which has LED lighting all around it. I have blogged about it before last year in the same blog post above. What was peculiar that the stock fan above the CPU was not running and nor the cabinet power button, although rest of the motherboard it was showing power so it was peculiar as to what could the problem might be. I have an old voltage detector, something like this from which I could ascertain that I was getting power at points but still couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I did have the old stock SMPS but as have shared before it has lot lesser wattage, says 400 on the label but probably more like 300-325 watts. I removed few of the components from the system before taking it the vendor so it would make it easier for the vendor to tell what is wrong. I assumed that it most probably might be the switch as I usually use reboot all the time whenever I feel the need for reboot, usually after I have some updates and need to refresh my session. The vendor was able to diagnoze within few minutes that the fault lay in the SMPS and not in the switch or anywhere else and asked me to take the unit to the service center for RMA.

While I sent it for RMA, thought could survive for the required time without any internet. But I was wrong. As news in most news channels in India is so stale and biased I found it unbearable to be without news in 2-3 days. I again wondered how people in Kashmir would be without all the facilities that we have.

GRUB 2 missing, UEFI and supergrub2

I went back to the vendor with my old stock SMPS and it worked but found that grub2 menu was missing. It was just plain booting to windows 10. I started a thread at debian-user trying to figure out if there was some issue at my end, maybe some grub variable had got lost or something but the responses seemed to suggest that something else had happened. I also read through some of the UEFI documentation on wikipedia and web, I didn’t go to much depth as that would have been distracting as the specification itself is evolving and is subject to change. I did find some interesting bits and pieces but that is for a later date perhaps. One of the things I remembered from my previous run-ins with grub2 issues is that supergrub2 had been immensely useful. Sadly though, the version which I tried as stable was dumping me to grub rescue instead of the grub menu when I used the ISO image on a thumb drive. I could have tried to make a go for it but was too lazy. On an off-chance I looked at supergrub2 support and did find that somebody else also have had the same exact issue and it was reported. I chimed in and tried one of the beta versions and it worked which made me breathe easier. After getting into debian, I tried the old $ sudo update-grub which usually fixed the issues. I again tried to boot without using the help of the usb disk but failed as it again booted me into MS-Windows environment.

Firmware update

I dunno how or where or how I thought it might be a firmware issue. While trawling via the web I had come across issues which stated similar issues especially either with dual-booting or multi-booting and firmware was one of the issues which was found. Apart from waiting 2 weeks and then perhaps getting a hdd I had no other option than to update the firmware.

Using inxi I was able to get firmware details which I also shared in the github issue tracker page before update.

$ inxi -M Machine: Type: Desktop Mobo: ASUSTeK model: PRIME Z270-P v: Rev X.0x serial: UEFI: American Megatrends v: 0808 date: 06/16/2017

I would ask you to look at the version number and the date. I used Asus’s EZ update utility and downloaded the new UEFI BIOS .pcap file . In EZ update, I just had to give the correct path and couple of restarts later I had the new version of UEFI BIOS as can be seen below.

Asus UEFI BIOS 1205 Copyright – Asus

One thing to note is that there is no unix way that I least I know of updating an UEFI BIOS. If anybody knows, please let me know. I did look for ‘unix .pcacp update’ but most of the tutorials I found out were for network packet sniffing rather than UEFI BIOS update. Maybe it’s an Asus issue. Does anybody know or can point to something ?

The update fixed the EFI code which was also not appearing, as can be seen now via efibootmgr.

$ efibootmgr
BootCurrent: 0004
Timeout: 1 seconds
BootOrder: 0004,0000,0003,0001,0002,0005
Boot0000* Windows Boot Manager
Boot0001* UEFI:CD/DVD Drive
Boot0002* UEFI:Removable DeviceBoot
0003* Hard Drive
Boot0004* debian
Boot0005* UEFI:Network Device

While I’m not going to go into more details but this should be enough –

$ efibootmgr -v | grep debianBoot0004* debian HD(2,GPT,xxxxx)/File(\EFI\DEBIAN\GRUBX64.EFI)..BO

I have hidden some details for privacy sake such as address space as well as GPT hash etc. Finally, Grub 2 menu came to me in all its loveliness –

Grub 2.04-3 debian-edu CC-SA-3.0

There are still some things I wanna fix through, for instance I hope to help out adrian in testing some of his code. I wasn’t able to do because nowadays we get cheap multi-level cell, see for e.g. this paper. I might have mentioned before.

Ending Notes – Powershell

To end I did try to make home even in MS-Windows but the usefulness of shell far outlives anything that is on MS-Windows. I used powershell 5 and even downloaded and installed powershell 6 and even manage to figure out how to get quite some of the utilities to behave similar to how they behave under GNU/Linux but still the Windowing environment itself was much of an irritant than anything else. One of the biggest letdowns was not being able to use touch. While somebody made a powershell module for it but it still needs to be imported for every session. While I’m sure I could have written a small script for the same, my time was beneficial in finding the solution to it. As shared I also learnt about UEFI a bit in the process. Sharing screenshots of powershell 5 and 6 .

Powershell 5 Copyright – Microsoft Corporation
Powershell-6 Copyright – Microsoft Corporation

Conclusion – While it doesn’t even cover probably even a quarter of the issues or use-cases but even if one person finds it useful, that is good enough. I have taken lot of shortcuts and not shared whole lot otherwise this would have been lot longer. One of the things I forgot to mention is that I did find some mentions of MS-Windows overwriting, this was in October 2018 as well as October 2019 Security Updates as well. How much to trust the issues that people posted don’t really know.

We are all racists

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

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

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

Asus motherboard

Copyright – Amazon.in

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

From Asus’s own manual about the motherboard –

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

– Reference Asus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the hard part.

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

There are just too many examples to share –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

matka kulfi

CC-0 Wikipedia.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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