Sunday, September 30, 2007

Occupational hazards

If someone walks into your house with a gun how would you possibly react?
First reaction would be ,of course, panic (well.. in most of the cases). Hardly any of us would try to analyze the intention of the guy before panicking.. thats human nature. Why am I talking about this?

A week ago I asked my landlord to forward a port to my machine. He seemed hesitant. I thought he was tired and would sooner or later do it.. I asked him again this week and he seemed hesitant again. I looked at him inquiringly and he asked: "How would you react if a guy fresh out of college with a Masters degree in computer science, specializing in security, working as an anti-spam engineer, with a lock picking tutorial on his blog asks you to open a port on your network?". I had nothing to say to him.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Note :Do not try this at home without adult supervision

I have been using linux for the past 5 years and use it as my primary OS.. but once a while I have the "OOPS" moment. (No.. this does not mean that there is a problem with linux, just means that if it was any other OS I would have just done a boring clean install because there was nothing else I would be able to do).

I have got so used to larger disk space that when I installed Debian Etch on my "new" 900Mhz machine with 10 GB hard disk, I never put any forethought while partitioning the harddisk. I just went for the default 2G root partition and ~8 G /home partition. As expected, with my rampant abuse of the apt-get command, I pretty much filled the root partition. Now my 500G external disk was mounted on home folder and I did not need any space in there, so it made real sense to redistribute the space. Complication 1: The /root was on a primary hard disk partition and /home was an extended one so I could not use gparted and do any easy cut paste operation.

The right thing a sane person would have done was to cpio the whole disks, repartition and then cpio the stuff back and fix the tiny inconsistencies along the way..but no. I was crazed beyond imagination. I created two disk images with dd and tried to restore them after repartitioning. This wouldn't be a problem for the root partition as the size of the formatted drive was bigger than the disk image..not so with the /home partition. /home didn't have anything anyway, so I thought that even if the image got partially copied, I would be able to fix the number of blocks in the superblock. (Now you know the meaning of the phrase: Little knowledge is a dangerous thing). I had never used dd earlier and had no idea whether this would work.. but what the heck, its all about keeping the spirit of adventure alive.

So after copying the larger disk image onto the smaller /home partition. I ran mkefs2 -S to fix the superblocks and ran e2fsck -y to check the filesystem and fix the errors automatically. It cleaned out my /home directory.. by that I mean it deleted everything.(btw I also tried dls and foremost before performing the step.. these are industrial strength forensic tools.. courtesy of Debian repositories).

Finally I did a clean install but fell asleep half way while configuring it. After waking up I discovered that I had deleted the font files, X, gdm, and few other gnome packages while asleep. I couldn't figure out the packages I had deleted while asleep (may be I wanted to get rid of them at a sub-conscious level :) and no amount of apt-get seemed to startup gdm.. I gave up and did another clean install. Hopefully this should be the last install.. today. All the software mishaps predicted by Murphy's law have already happened.

This exercise made me realize how rusty my sysadmin skills have become since linux became all "user-friendly".. ah the good old rh6 days.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Developed country..

I ran out of disk space, so I purchased a 500G external harddisk. This disk was big enough for a file server, so I purchased a second hand PC from my room mate (Laptop cant be kept permanently on). I needed a monitor for my PC(and of course I hate CRTs).. so I purchased a 22'' HD LCD monitor.. but all my room had was a futon so I got a table to keep the LCD on. This is where my story begins:

My roomate took me to a thrift store to get me a cheap second hand table(of course I was gonna pay.. he had the truck to lug the table).. the cheapest one was for $100. Across the street was an Office Max. I got a decent table for around $50, which along with a stupid 3 year warranty(on a stupid friggin table) and service tax cost me around $75.. thats not it. Apparently you have to assemble the table yourself in USA!! I got a bunch of weird looking plywoods, different types of screws and a manual to put it all together. The salesman (with shining teeth and a thumbs up) retorted that it should be a child play for a computer whiz like me(yes.. if you are an Indian with specs in Silicon Valley.. people assume that you have something to do with computers).

5 hours, one broken screw driver, a swollen arm and a million curse words later, the table was finally assembled.

Fours years ago when I needed a table in Bangalore, I just went to the market and picked up a Rs 75 table(completely assembled) and paid the auto rickhaw Rs 30 to deliver it to my place. Is it just me or have people really misunderstood the meaning of a developed and developing nation.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Bitter truth

Anyone who knows me, knows that I used to loathe MBAs/Marketing guys (well Marketing ppl I didn't know). Yes.. I was prejudiced, sort of envious of their life and had a feeling of being hoodwinked everytime I dealt with them. I think it's time for me adapt to nature of the world rather than question it. So here's my open apology to all you MBAs out there..

I never was and probably never will be a glib, suave, sophisticated salesman. What one wants to be in life depends on his priorities..its a binary choice; either one aims to be highly creative or one aims to be extremely rich. There is no middle ground. Although your priorities can change over time. You cant be rich and creative.. and mind you the rich will mostly take the credit for the work done by the creatives.

I'll restrict my domain to engineering as a creative work as I can relate well to it. An engineer creates great product, a salesman sells "not so good" products but it sells better than the "great" product. You could call the salesman evil for selling a "not so good" product or you could call an engineer incompetent for not being able to sell his product. The truth is that it does not matter and is not going to change anytime in the future. The salesman will always be on the deck of the cruise sipping a martini while the engineer would be in the engine room doing a performance study of the isothermal combustion inside the turbine... you get my drift. And at the end of the day, when the engineer comes up with a new design for an efficient engine, the salesman takes most of the credit just by doing a presentation (and mind you.. does better than the engineer).

Lemme support my verbiage above with some examples:
  • We all know Shah Jahan built Taj Mahal... who was the architect?
  • Windows was built by Microsoft(most people assume its Bill Gates :P )... who designed it?
  • Did you know who Ted Hoff is? (inventor of Microprocessors)
  • Did you know who Per Brinch Hansen was? (Inventor of OS)
Unless you are a "fact geek".. you might not know the answer to any one of them... and you know what, these guys didn't care. They are necessary for the well being of human race. We should be thankful to each one of them.. from the one who made fire to the ones who are making laser propelled space crafts. We should also be thankful to the salesmen.. they are the ones who are bringing these products to the masses. How would the world now be if we didn't have a Bill Gates mass producing and selling PC softwares? Each product defines a milestone in technological evolution and there is no looking back (Think iPhone, iPODs etc).

In conclusion when a large corporation speaks to you (urges you to buy its product), the voice behind the loudspeaker is that of an engineer.. the loudspeaker itself is the salesperson. You need both of them to convey a message to 10+ billion people in the world.

So all the MBAs out there.. if I have ever judged you by your good looks, smooth talk, a balanced life and money, I realize that it was not your fault.. it was and is my choice. Accept my humble apologies...