Category Archives: General

Who’s the VIP?

Us or Them?

I think India needs to seriously reexamine the concept of VIPs. Currently, a politician, a government official or a Bollywood celebrity are the VIPs. They get away with murder, they get away with scams, they make obscene amounts of money and yet want all the freebies and priveleges. On the toll roads they want an exemption, at the airport they want the parking closest to the terminal and of course they don’t want to pay!

The weird part is they make their pots of money from the tax that you and I pay. Yet when it comes to the priveleges, all we get is barked at by the police, the security forces and the rest of them, all of whom are paid only because we paid tax!

You tell me who’s the VIP?


News gone wrong

News in the post-PC era.

For a while now many of us read our news on a tablet of some sort. The apps available for news reading are many and varied as well. From the publishers of print papers to a totally customised and personalised news magazine lots of choice exists.

But there are times when I find that these news apps, get things wrong. It might be because the content is still formatted for a PC but displayed on a tablet or might be something else all-together. The biggest of these issues seems to be inappropriate images with the headlines.

Here are a few examples:

In the image above, the headline, the story and the image had very little to do with each other.

Another common issue is the overuse of TLAs:

At first glance, this seemed like a news item about a leading Indian political party, in which case the news is hilarious, it turned out to be a photography journal instead so all is well:

At times, it can also be really sad and insensitive. India for some reason is always shown with a sense of mysticism but in this case a little sensitivity was needed:

Have you come across such items while reading news on your tablets?






Raj Mathur

What a very very sad day. I lost a dear friend, Raj Mathur.

People who knew and have met Raj will always remember him as a lively and humourous person – brutally honest and a man of principles.

Raj was a founder member of the Indian Linux Users Group and a very active member of the Free and Open Source community. Well respected and extremely knowledgable, he was often sought after for advice which he readily dispersed.

Raj loved to have fun and encouraged everyone around him to do the same. He loved his food, his movies, his music and being with friends and family.

A brilliant hacker and much respected for his pioneering work, he will be missed by one and all.

Raj’s IM status always stated “Permanently out to lunch”, this is one time he will not return 🙁

Rest in peace, Raj “Oldmonk” Mathur.

Content is King…

…and it is not confined to the corridor!

Ever wondered what happens at FOSS.IN? Well wonder no more, just head out the official website and take a look at this post.

Conferences happen all the time, but few provide the excitement and more importantly the quality of content that FOSS.IN provides.

Come be a part of it. See you in Bangalore.

Date: November 29 – December 1, 2012
Venue: NIMHANS Convention Centre, Bangalore


Honey, there’s a bug in the system

Have a problem? Need it fixed? Learn to report it the right way!

Do you ever get calls telling you “It’s not working” leaving you totally perplexed about what exactly is not working. If it’s not a call it could be a cryptic SMSspeak message “Sir, its nt wrkg” or even worse an email with the entire message in the subject line and only the company disclaimer in the actual body! Part of my job does get me several of these calls, SMSs and emails and I have a really tough time keeping my cool in such situations. Biggest reason for my irritation is that the calls and messages are coming from the on-site engineer. These guys are trained in problem solving, one would expect at least reporting the problem accurately, but no it does not happen. Not only is the problem not reported accurately, absolutely no research is done. God forbid if they came on to a mailing list and asked a question in this manner, they would be electronically whacked till they went home crying to their mommies! We do have Google, Bing and a host of resources to check on before giving up, or taking the lazy way out. When I am in a somewhat kind mood I would just send the complainer to this most wonderful site –

Coming back to the real issue, to illustrate let me walk you through a very simple problem. Let us assume for a moment that your Internet connection has gone down. How would you go about checking? I would start at the most obvious of places and first go and check if the router or incoming device is actually plugged in and has power. It really does work better when it’s plugged in. Often over the weekend an over enthusiastic housekeeping staff will come around and clean the rooms and sometimes even the server rooms and in the bargain a few cables may just get pulled a little more than they should and will be dislodged. Monday’s are bad days for SysAds primarily for this reason. Docking stations with no power cables or no network cables, monitors which are disconnected etc.

Good,so now that we have determined that we have power, the next thing to check would be the network cable. Is the network cable plugged in and more importantly if it is plugged in are there any activity and link lights are that glowing? If you cross this point successfully, you would like to do some basic network checks, can I PING my gateway, can I PING my ISP’s DNS, along with PING you may also want to do a TRACEROUTE, sometimes the issue is still within your network and these commands are essential in tracking down where the problem actually lies.

Now while you are doing all of this, please instead of calling me, call the ISPs help-desk and log a complaint. I already know you have a problem because my monitoring system tells me that. Your call of “It’s not working” is totally redundant for me.

Once you have logged a complaint with the service provider, do remember to ask how long it will take for resolution of the problem. Many times I get “Sir the net was not working and I called ‘put the name of your favourite isp here’ and logged a complaint”. Very good is my reply, however, my next question will always be, “How long will they take to fix it?” at which I normally get complete silence, a blank look or a sheepish “I did not ask…”. Not only is it important to get a fix on how long it will take to resolve the issue, but also a good idea to pull out that contract and check the terms on the SLA. And of course the escalation matrix, cause if you don’t get an answer or fix in the committed time, the next step would be to start climbing the complaint ladder.

Great, now that we have the Internet connection restored and the problem successfully resolved, what should we do next? NO you can’t sit easy it is time to document the issue so that if it ever occurs again you have a good starting point. Build a collection of problems into a little knowledge base. If possible run an internal wiki and maintain the issues there. It is of great value when you need to share with your colleagues or handover to another SysAd. While you are at it, write a blog post, tweet about or share on some of the social Q&A sites and earn some serious brownie points.

Seasons Greetings and all the best for the coming year!


Happy Diwali

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A very Happy Diwali and prosperous new year ahead. Be safe!

Celebrate the Genius

Photograph: Wired Magazine

What does one say at a time like this that has not already been said. Between the social media networks and the conventional media a lot has been stated. What comes out strongly is the great respect that everyone had for the man. You may love or hate Apple as a company, but nobody has anything to say against Steve Jobs. Not his arch rivals, competitors nor those who disagreed with his methods. Respect for his genius is universal.

He is right up there with all other geniuses past, present and future. Be it Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Alva Edison or Albert Einstein and everyone in between. Not to mention those who will soon join the fray in the future. While he is considered an icon of the technology industry, touched the music and movie industries in ways that few had imagined, the true genius is the magical effect that his work brings. People laughed when he called the iPad a magical device, yet it transformed the life of a 3 year old autistic boy who uses it to communicate with his world. The 10 year old girl who was at the bottom of her class due to impaired vision, now has a new lease of life because of her iPad. Old age homes where senior citizens are now using several of these devices to keep themselves entertained, communicative and back on the path to recovery are not aspects of the technology that people had even imagined. They mocked it, and yet it is doing just what Steve Jobs had intended it to do. It is being magical and transforming lives. Only a genius would have realised that this could happen.

It is impossible to pay a fitting tribute to such a great man. The Apple website put it so elegantly and simply just like his designs and philosophy. People would have expected Google to make a doodle for the man, yet their tribute was subtle. Amazon was discrete in their tribute. Wired magazine in their tradition of design and excellence has one of the best tribute pages out there. I do believe that the best homage would be subtle and sombre. Steve Jobs was a very private family man and despite being remembered for his achievements and genius, he will always be remembered as a great human being.

The one quote that sums it all up brilliantly —

Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it — President Barack Obama.

May God bless his soul and give his family, friends and the millions of fans, the strength to bear this great loss.

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

Social Media for Outreach

A brief behind-the-scenes look at what goes in to setting up a workshop.

Camp – Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi (July 6-8,2011)

A large part of this week was spent by me at CSE. Initially setting up for the workshop and then conducting it. While I am no social media expert or consultant, I normally like to show users some of the technology behind the tools they use or would like to use. Of course, I have to do this in such a way that the session does not seem technical but seems rather human and understandable. Not an easy job, I can vouch for that. My plan was actually a very simple one. I would introduce the participants to some of the things happening on the social media scene and then move on to a completely hands-on workshop getting them to develop a simple website using a CMS, using Mediawiki and hence having the ability to contribute to Wikipedia and finally end with some analytics to measure their success or fine tune their online presence. The CSE website had a very impressive course outline explaining what the course would be about and the intended audience.

However, when I landed up to setup my workshop server I found that a sudden burst of interns having descended upon CSE meant that all desktops and spare computers (there’s no such thing as a spare computer) were immediately deployed. This meant that I did not have a machine for the workshop. After a minor struggle, a hard disk swap and some bruised egos I did finally get my machine. For the setup I needed WordPress and Mediawiki. For really quick installs and virtual servers I tend to use Turnkey Linux I already had the WordPress appliance downloaded with me and had it up and running in a few moments. The problem was I needed this installation to work in multi-site mode so that the participants could make sites working in groups or individually as they preferred. In the past, I have used WordPress MU, but for some time now this functionality has been available in the newer versions (3.x) of WordPress and I was keen to try that. I live dangerously, no point doing something if you are not going to try something new and learn in the process. For some strange reason, my initial configuration for multisite did not work and I finally had to scrap the appliance and start afresh. Must go back and investigate what happened but in the meantime work had to be done.

I went back to the trusted old Centos and did a minimal install, this normally takes less than 10 mins. I added the Centos-Testing repo to get the latest version of PHP and with that installed the rest of the process went rather smoothly. The wordpress “network” was ready. I installed a bunch of themes and a few plugins and network enabled them and we were set.

The participants who attended were from all over the world, we had two people from Nepal, two from Sri Lanka, one from the Republic of Congo, one from Nigeria and the rest were from all over India. All the participants were basically from the communications or media departments of their respective oragnisations and had little or no control over their current websites. In fact, they are dependent on either an internal IT team or an outsourced web design firm. They did feel a little trapped beacuse of this and were looking forward to being more in control.

[slideshow id=1 w=320 h=240]

Day 1 was WordPress day, by the end of the day we had seven websites with varying degrees of complexity, lots of nice designs, photos, features etc. Some even embedded videos and slideshows. Was totally great. Around lunchtime, I did overhear some of the participants say it was very technical, but by the end of the day the results were in front of them. I got them to make quick presentations and the rest to critique and they were all happy.

Day 2 was to be Wikipedia. So we started with some background on Wikipedia and how we are all happy consumers but rarely contributors. The problem came when they actually started using the internal Mediawiki server that we had setup to start creating and populating the wiki. The installation was a default install and had the basic editor, while the editor has buttons for some of the markup, it still displays the markup in the editor and that started confusing people tremendously. What seemed like “technical” the day before now seemed to be a breeze and this was way too complex! But the team from CSE worked hard and we finally had everyone back on track, by the end of the day the wiki was looking good, tons of information had been populated. We did have the scare of one of the users nearly wiping everything out, but did not have to deal with that. It ended rather well. Later in the day they got a session on using Photos and Videos for Advocacy from Sanjukta Basu which they all seemed to have enjoyed.

Day 3 was reserved for strategy and analytics. It started with the team from Blogworks featuring Rajesh Lalwani and Rajika Talwar on marketing and online media strategies, very insightful sessions and despite Rajesh’s promise of “boring sessions” the participants seemed to have really enjoyed themselves and found the sessions invaluable. We finally ended with some web analytics, I showed them statistics on the sites they had created and they were reasonably amused with that. Webalizer did a good job of collecting stats on the multi-site wordpress and the internal MediaWiki and it was interesting for them to see how quickly stats can be collated and interpreted. The last section was on Google Analytics and despite the fact that I was dealing with a new/changed interface using the stats from many of the CSE sites, we managed to show how useful looking at this information could be.

I did find some rather interesting stats on mobile usage. SymbianOS showed up as the number one mobile OS, with iPad lagging behind by just ONE hit! The carrier information too was quite fascinating to look at. I had not noticed how much mobile stats had been added to Google Analytics.

In all I would say a great workshop, fantastic time and as always lots of learning. I must also mention that I had some great help form the team at CSE, Kiran Pandey, Bobby, Saroj Sahoo, Gora Mohanty and several others at CSE.


TC Geeks And Blogsy

Much has been said about the iPad being a content consumption device. By and large it surely is. However, every now and then you come across some apps which make you feel that this device is equally great for content creation. The iPad2 launch had the introduction of GarageBand, which let’s you even create music on the iPad. Content creation is not limited to text, documents or other such boring stuff, but music, movies, artwork, your imagination is the only limit. I even came across some websites which are totally managed using an iPad.

In general, I am a lazy blogger, I’d like to write more and share more, but often the ideas get stuck in my head and never get written out. Every now then I do get the urge to write and sometimes when I am happy with what I have, I post it to my blog. One of the issues I face is being able to write anywhere and anytime and with minimum fuss. For this of course my laptop is the best resource, but sometimes one just needs a little scribble pad.

On a not so recent trip while returning from Mumbai to Delhi, the airlines I was on pissed me off so much that I needed to vent and what better way than to blog. What I had to say would certainly not fit in 140 characters. With the lack of space on our lovely low-cost carriers there is no room to open up a laptop, however, an iPad is certainly usable. So I promptly whipped out my iPad and started writing my saga. My fellow passenger was watching intently and kept egging me on as well. When we finally came to the point of take-off I switched off and waited patiently for the time I could continue my tirade. To my horror, even though I had set the file for local save, when I went back into the app, the text had all vanished. By then so had my anger and the desire to write faded away. The app I was using was WordPress. Turned out to be a bug which got corrected later, but my vent never saw the light of day.

Over the past few weeks, I came across this truly wonderful website which deals with tablet computing. At the moment, most of the articles/posts are related to the iPad and iPad2. But there are sections for RIM and Android, waiting to get off the ground. As more tablets start appearing, I am sure content for them will also start populating the site. Last week there was a post on a blogging app. Not only that, Shane who manages the site was generously giving away three copies of it. His terms were simple, come and read the post, comment and stand a chance to win the app. I am happy to state that with the two comments I made, I actually won! I received my copy of Blogsy yesterday and am raring to have a go at it.

While I will do a more detailed review of the app, for now I am just curious to explore the features it has and what it is capable of doing. Who knows this may be the push I need to get me to blog, with all excuses being taken away.

Humayun's Tomb

The photo was essentially a test of Blogsy to see what it does with images. In fact, truth be told, this entire post was just the first time I used Blogsy and I can tell you I already love it.

Now to go and explore Blogsy in more detail, and hopefully blog more often.


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