Saturday, September 24, 2005

I want my CDMA! How my rights were violated.

Last Wednesday, I went to pick up a CDMA phone from Bell after hearing all good about it and how fast it was. I had been using Bell for now over 5 years, primarily to surf the Internet. Sure it wasn't fast at 33.6, but atleast it was the next best economical thing until ADSL shows up.

Naturally when CDMA came along with a lower rental and a 5x claimed speed, it did raise my eye browse. But I had already invested 15,000/- on my current phone, which included paying the old owner his phone deposit of 7500 and another 7500 for the phone transfer.

Still, I was paying 600+ on rental alone and wasn't using the two lines that came with it that much. After waiting and rethinking for about two months and checking on ADSL, I decided to bite the bullet and go for CDMA, while disconnecting the old line.

Boy! was I in for a surprise as I left to the Bell head office It seemed as if I had committed the ultimate sin, by asking that they disconnect the old phone, while I buy another brand new phone from them. The very rude customer support lady told me "Your CDMA request will most probably be turned down!". I asked "why?, I checked if you were still giving out CDMA with internet with some one who works here.", to which she replied, "because we can't have you disconnect one for the other. We can't maintain multiple technologies. This phone has been in use since 1997 (the original customer used it then)."

I told her that I was switching because I didn't need a phone, all I want is a faster net connection, to which she replied, "When ever a new technology comes we can't have you switch". By now I was a bit annoyed and insisted that I wanted to disconnect. She told me that I needed to pay another 1,500 for disconnection and that I should pay another 1,500 (which I had paid for the current phone) for activating Internet on it. She also demanded I give a written letter stating a reason other than switching to CDMA.

She also asked me who had told me CDMA was faster. She said CDMA was much much slower than the regular phone, which I found quite amusing since it was a measure of desperation.

Instead of arguing and fighting over a couple of thousand rupees, I decided to pay it off, even though my human rights were violated. Paying at the counter took a good 20 minutes as the incompetent cashier tries to punch in my credit card number and verify it. I didn't say a thing and just smiled and waited patiently as she struggled, to what seems like her first week on the job. I guess we've all been there.

Once I had paid everything including my total pending bill + disconnecting charges, I asked the customer support lady if I could now pay and take a CDMA phone home. "No!. You must wait till your old phone is completely taken out of the premises", she replied. "But you advertise it as an off-the-shelf phone, how come I have to wait a couple of days and come back?", I asked. "Because your disconnecting your phone. Now if you were getting the new phone without disconnection, we could have given it to you!".

I had been patient, quiet and calm but when some one just wants to screw you because your already their customer - I had to loose a bit of control. While I didn't turn the place upside down with my kung-fu, I did have to make a loud scene unfortunately to get some attention.

By now everyone was looking and a kind gentleman approached me and wanted to talk to me. It turns out he too worked there. He told apologized for the inconvenience and said he would set off the disconnection charge. He also gave me a CDMA phone and told me that it will be activated in an hour. He even got someone to call me later that day as they activated the net connection, free of charge (so far). Finally he told me that indeed CDMA has become oversubscribed and that he can't guarantee the speeds I want. I told him from what I am hearing I don't see a sudden degrade but a slow and gradual one or perhaps only during certain times.

He offered me to try out CDMA, even though I paid for it and if I am unhappy, to transfer the paid amount to the fixed line. We both agreed to hold off on disconnection for another week.

I came home and got online using an OSI, I am not much fond of. The speeds were awesome, 15kB/sec - 20kB/sec. The next day (Thursday), I connected and it was a whole different story. Just as the Bell people had discouraged me, now the speed had come down from 15k to 3 -4k. Must be the bad weather I thought. I tried again on Friday morning and evening and it was still slow. Was it just me? or has other been lying. I checked today with a couple of other people who has CDMA. They've also noticed a sudden speed drop.

Was this coincidental? Did the network reach its ultimate capacity to suddenly drop speeds to modem speeds? Is this a conspiracy to keep me from disconnecting? Am I the cause for a slower CDMA network?

I could now feel the pain and suffering a divorce could bring; an experience I'd never want to go through again!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Taprobane hits Distrowatch!

Today is a happy day for all of us who started working on our very own GNU/Linux distribution, appropriately named Taprobane GNU/Linux, as it gets accepted as a Linux distribution worth listing at Distrowatch. It is remarkable to see that Taprobane was approved by for listing at Distrowatch in just 30 days since appearing on the waiting list, especially considering the standard 90 day waiting period.

This is what Distrowatch had to say on it's front page:

Taprobane is an ancient name for the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka and a Debian-based Linux live CD built by a group of developers at the Lanka Linux User Group (LKLUG). The new version 0.4.1 is the project's first public release. What's in it? "X.Org 6.8.2; official NVIDIA driver support out of the box; KDE 3.4.1; 2; Linux; SquashFS and Unionfs; Apache, PostgreSQL, MySQL, Zope, started and stopped from the K-menu; excellent hotplug support; saving data to persistent media; educational software such as Stellarium and Octave." More details can be found in the announcement on the project's home page. Download: taprobane-gnu-linux-0.4.1.iso (689MB, MD5); also available via BitTorrent.


As a result, Taprobane GNU/Linux now has its own profile page at Distrowatch. Since hitting Distrowatch, more people are downloading Taprobane both via the standard weblink as well as BitTorrent.

Finally I'd like to end by saying that I am extremely happy, not only because we are creating _another_gr8_distro, but also because as a result we are bringing recognition to Sri Lanka (Taprobane) as a FOSS savy, geeky nation :)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Colombo goes crazy over books!

Reader discretion: This post is long. Try not to fall asleep and crash your monitor

Yes! It certainly has to be the biggest exhibition in Colombo, if not the Sri Lanka, when you consider the long car strip that extends a couple of hundred meters, just waiting to get in to BMICH. The International Book Exhibition happens every year and it seems to be getting bigger and bigger each year!

This morning (if you consider 11AM as morning that is), as I was approaching the Book exhibition, I thought to myself - "I'm not waiting in that queue to checkout a couple of books!". So I temporarily lost hope, especially after seeing that both sides of the road were pretty much occupied by parked cars, but much to my delight the public park down Longdon Place had plenty of space.

The exhibition was just jam packed! So much that the main entrance to the BMICH was temporarily closed off to encourage us to visit stalls at the SBMICH and come back later. I decided to walk over to the University of Moratuwa's IT exhibition that was happening within the main exhibition.

Mortauwa IT Exhibition

Though paying a 40 rupees entrance fee is a bit of a turn off, considering the main book fair is free, after seeing it, I reckon it was worth it.

There were many interesting projects that were primarily dominated by micro-controllers. There were several robots that were either walking around colored blocks and taking pictures, walking around without hitting obstacles or trying to play soccer. Besides micro-controllers, they used infrared to detect obstacles, sonar sensors to detect obstacles as well as the distances to it, and a webcam coupled with OpenCV for Computer Vision.

Unfortunately if not surprisingly, one of the things that was lacking was a single project that was being demoed using a GNU/Linux platform. I find this as unbelievably shocking as UNIX based Operating Systems are generally more popular among academics. Sure there were one or two projects that used an Open Source library
here or there, but it just didn't cut it. The lack of FOSS knowledge, for example was seen in few projects such as one that was built from scratch to map streets and then later display once hooked up to a GPS receiver. When I asked the inventor if he had looked at GPSDrive, it was clear he didn't even know of its existence.
I also constantly kept getting a commercial vibe coming out of the inventors. For example, I heard one person talk about “bringing the product to the market", to which I enthusiastically asked, “Has anyone or company approached you?". The answer was either a no or that few have but there certainly wasn't anything concrete. I overheard one inventor talk about patenting the design and then looking to selling it off. Also when asked the price spent for a project, several times, I felt a reluctance getting a complete answer. Few would give the hardware cost and then pause a little and make a remark such as “Well, we haven't figured out the price for the software and design".

While its good to be entrepreneur minded some of the time, I don't believe people, especially at the academics level should for example invent for the sake of making money. May be its just me, but I felt there was a lot of commercial vibe coming out, perhaps as a result of ties with commercial companies. Nevertheless, this was a really good talented exhibition, I had seen in a while.

Back to the Books

After walking from about 11AM to about 4PM, I ended up buying a LOT of books. Most of them, as you would have guessed were plain old geeky. Here is the list.

  • PHP/Perl Cook Books – I've been putting off buying these, but since there were some good discounts of 200/- to about 500/- per book, I simply couldn't resist!

  • Hardware / Home / Wireless Hacking – Thats three books on fun hobby projects by O reilly. I hope to work on some of the projects as both a means to get back into some electronics and have lots of fun with gadgets.

  • UNIX concepts & applications – A real bargain for this book that was marked as 200/- and sold for 150/-. Only if they knew that most of Unix is still alive and kicking!

  • GENOME – No I didn't mean GNOME, a popular desktop environment. This is actually a popular science book on genes, subtitled as “The autobiography of a species". I actually bought this book about 4 years ago for my X-Girl friend when I was flying down from UK after a short project. Unfortunately we didn't last long enough for me to borrow the book :)

  • Men are from Mars, Women from Venus – Though I've read the book a couple of times, I still feel it impossible to understand Venusians now and then. So I might as well buy the book and keep it under my pillow, just so I see the cover first thing I wake up in the morning.

  • Stories from the History of Ceylon – Shameful as it is, I barely know or remember any! “Only if they could make feature films or animated movies of them." Oh well, at least I got myself a bedtime story book.

Besides buying books, I was lured into buying a 1GB Kingston memory stick with a 5year warranty for just under 8,000/- Guess I'll be installing a full fledge GNU/Linux distro on this baby! to be used as an on the move mini computer.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Phew... Did we pull it off?

After months of going to planning meetings and running around organizing "The biggest FOSS conference", ever in SL, well the FOSS week has finally come to end today. Hopefully we can now sleep a bit longer and breath a little easier.

I'm not going to waste any longer, but just before I hit the sack, I thought I'd recap some of the events for those who'd like to read by refering to blogs and news items.

Keep tuning to this page as I hope to update it as I find more links.



Sunday, September 11, 2005

De ja vu at the Installfest

Today was the last day at the Installfest and my first day attending it. Yesterday my time was totally killed repairing my car A/C and then I had to conduct a lecture at the committee room.

Anyway today as I got to the Installfest De ja vu striked! A guy had brought a mini PDA to install GNU/Linux on to it. Now if you had watched Revolution OS, where coincidently most of us heard of the concept of an Installfest to in the first place, a similar guy comes hoping to install Linux on to tiny machine.

It seemed I was the chosen one to play the person who would have helped that person in the movie (except its never actually shown).

The PDA was an HP Jornada 680. After searching on the net, I came across its hardware specifications and a Linux distribution that was made to put on a Compact Flash (CF) disk. Lucky for me I had a 128MB CF card with me, which I recently bought for my digital camera that only came with 8MB ram.

Jornada 680/690 specifications:
CPU: 133MHz Hitachi SH3
RAM: 16MB(680) or 32MB (690)
Screen: Color, 640x240 pixels
Input: touch screen, laptop-like keyboard
Expansion slots: 1x type I CF and 1x type II PCMCIA
Expansion ports: serial (sync) port
Modem: Internal 56k (not on 680e/690e models)
View image

The steps on the site was quite straight forward except for two problems.

1. There didn't seem to be a CF card reader on the PDA but seemed to only have a PCMCIA slot.

2. I didn't seem to have a CF card reader.

After searching on the net, it didn't take long to discover the hidden CF slot under the PCMCIA slot which can be accessed through a door under the PDA.

After backing up my existing digital photos, I tried to mount the CF card when inside the camera as a normal USB device, but my model doesn't seem to emulate usb-storage. And then I remembered that I had my 30GB USB external hard drive/mp3 player that also had a CF card reader.

After getting that and plugging it to the notebook, I was able to format the CF disk and create 3 partitions using the fdisk utility. The first partition was a 8MB fat 32 which held the boot loader exe (shlo.exe) along with its config file slho.txt and a precompiled kernel for the SH architecture.


The second partition which was 100MB, was formatted to ext2, and the precompiled root file system was extracted to it. The third partition was formatted as a swap partition.

Once the CF card was installed to the PDA, it showed up in the WinCE explorer. Booting Linux was easy as double clicking the shlo.exe file. Initially it did hang the machine for about 45 seconds and then suddenly the display went all black for a beautiful tux logo on a framebuffer console display.



By this time, it was already 5'O clock and time to wrap up the installfest.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Chillin' with the Stars

Picture of me posing with MySQL(David Axmark)/(me) and PHP (Rasmus Lerdorf)

The last two days have been absolutely wonderful hanging out, driving around, chit chatting and going out to dinner with some of the most respected people in FOSS. Most of them were also really good speakers and were a delight to listen to.

Michael Tiemann on G++

Here we are now at the last day of the conference and although there is still a Tutorial on Saturday, I think most of us feel sad that its all coming to an end. I for one may not be attending the Tutorial on Saturday as I will be busy with the Install fest.


The day ended with a panel discussion with different views on the role of Government in promoting and/or adapting FOSS, Women's role in FOSS and how to get more women involved as well as cool thinks each of the panel members like to tinker around with these days.

Finally with a few more snapshots the day came to an end. I must say that even though sometimes I was amazed to be around great people and to see how others were benefiting (including myself ofcourse), most of the time it was just so natural and somewhat normal. Now that we have lit the LAMP in Sri Lanka, its time to make sure it keeps burning.

agenda budandstars
Best of all you get to meet good friends from way back then

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Code Fest

The codefest got on to a somewhat good start with people showing up pretty much on time. WHat we are stuck with now is what problems to solve. Some of the more obvious ones are ofcourse localization issues and writing an installer for Taprobane.

There are some renowned hackers such as NIIBE Yutaka who is a kernel hacker, Kuniyasu Suzaki who maintains the Japanese version of Debian Jr and Kazuki Ohta who works on qt-im.

We killed some time in the morning setting up the machines, connecting to the Wi-Fi network and eating pizza. We also had a visit and a couple of interviews from ETV for the wired program.

Now we have just started introducing each other.

selfintro selfintro2

The pizza finally arrived, a bit late for the international hackers, who had already gone out for food. Oh well, that just meant we had to have more slices than usual. No one complained.


Finally the guys (and girls) settled in for some quality programming:

coding1 coding2

More people walked in to the codefest to checkout what these hackers were upto including the Martin Michlmayr from Debian, Asai from CICC and our very own Ven Mettavihari with a camera crew.

asai_nibee martin_chamindra

Anuradha did a small presentation on the reasons behind building the new Taprobane distributions and what we are currently working on and future improvements. Some plans to improve the kudzu by taking the best of both discover and kudzu was mentioned as well as coming up with a light weight Taprobane version based on iceWM was discussed.


During the Q&A session, Anuradha's claim that Taprobane booted faster was put to the test by Kuniyasu Suzaki. After booting Taprobane and then the Japanese version of Knoppix Jr., Taprobane won by a minute!


Martin was kind enough to give us some Debian stickers to decorate our notebooks. After sticking mine on the front cover, only did he discover I actually ran not Debian but Gentoo! Convincing him that I ran Debian more often on other machines finally kept him from ripping off my sticker :)

debian_logo debian_logo2

At about 7 'O clock most of hackers went to Galle Face hotel for dinner which was sponsered by the CICC. Myself and Martin had a good chat about Debian and the forces supporting and annoying it. There was also several interesting chats on Coconuts and related alcholic drinks as well as banana species. Desert was quite interesting with rice pudding and other familiar courses designed as deserts.


When we got back, Niibe got settled with the group porting Taprobane to the 64bit architecture using a 32bit machine (due to unavailability of a x86_64 machine) by using a cross compiler. Niibe seemed to enjoy discribing the build tool chain required inorder to cross compile as it is his area of expertise.

I went Digital and now I am back..

I've gone silent on the blog since I got DVB cable, and been falling a sleep watching cable more often than not.

But during the day, I have been extremely busy going through some major transformations in my life. Here is the Reader's Digest of what's been happening:

  • I left Virtusa to join another startup building GNU/Linux based devices

  • I've been trying to study for my Msc second semester finals. Sat one exam, two more to go

  • Been extremely busy organizing for the first ever FOSS week happening now (5th - 11th). The scale of this event is gigantic!

  • Been working with schools in and around Colombo on a pilot project to install GNU/Linux and train teachers on FOSS

  • Started a new GNU/Linux distribution with Anuradha called Taprobane. We hope to address some of the issues that are missing on some more popular distros, and make it a convenient and pleasant one to use.

  • A lot of other tweaks to my desktop as usual. I now run Enligtenment

Yesterday we had a very successful FOSSchool's event for both School students and Universities that was held at the UCSC auditorium. The place was jam packed with about 350-400 students and teachers, when there was only room for 240. We had to bring additional chairs and really pack up the place.

The evening session for the University crowd wasn't as packed but we were blessed with some great speeches by the former project lead Martin Michlmayr and Dr.(Mrs.) Shahani Weerawarna who enlightened the students on the vocational/higher educational prospects and how involving in FOSS will help.

Which brings us to today: the Codefest. I am currently sitting at the codefest happening at TransAsia and we hope to code non-stop for 36 hours trying solve different problems on improving GNU/Linux.

I will try to blog more on this as things start happening.