The Advisory Boar (page 2)
Many years ago, I bought a Lexmark E323N laser printer (600dpi, 19ppm)
because it was the cheapest printer I could find that came with Ethernet
and PostScript support. I used it for a long time and was happy with it.
When I moved away from home, I left it connected to my switch—along with
a DSL modem and a wireless access point—so that my mother could use it.
Fast forward a few years. The DSL modem had died and been replaced. The
switch had died and been replaced. The WAP died, and the Netgear WGR614
bought to replace it had four Ethernet ports, and could thus replace the
switch as well. But it was a router, not a bridge, and so it wanted its
internal and external networks numbered differently. The upshot was that
the printer's IP address needed to change from 10.0.0.4 to 192.168.1.4.
No problem. I added a 10.0.0.0/8 address and host route to my netbook's
eth2, which let me connect to the printer's administrative interface
and change its address in the network settings menu. Alas, I forgot all
about the separate "access control" menu, which was set to deny requests
from outside 10.0.0.0/8. When the printer came back up, it would respond
to ping from 192.168.1.x but discard TCP packets because of the access
filter. If I used a 10.0.0.x address, it threw away all packets because
they were from a source that did not match the printer's own IP address.
(I can't decide which is more stupid: that I chose to enable an IP-based
packet filter on the printer in the first place, or that the
printer did not protest at a configuration that rendered it unusable.
I have a sinking feeling that it was the former.)
No problem. I went to the Lexmark web site and downloaded a user manual.
I followed its description of the occult ritual to reset the printer's
configuration settings, which involved opening the printer, switching it
on, hopping in a clockwise half-circle on one leg, holding some buttons,
staring at blinkenlights, and so on. I did it once, then twice. Nothing
changed. Then I found
this web page,
which explained that the "reset to factory defaults" procedure
didn't actually reset the network settings. I tried the NVRAM
tweaking procedure described on that page (which involved pressing the
continue and cancel buttons a gazillion times while watching blinking
LED patterns for feedback), and it didn't seem to work either.
Despair set in. I tried the configuration tweaks again. So did Hassath.
Nothing changed. My mother was muttering in the background about buying
a new printer. After two or three more attempts, Hassath also gave up,
and they both went downstairs to make coffee. I sat down to repeat the
process. With tcpdump running, I went through the sequence once, twice,
then ten times, then fifteen, then I lost count. Suddenly, just as the
page said might happen, the printer emitted "several BOOTP packets and
a burst of ARP probe packets". The Netgear answered its DHCP request,
and just like that, the network settings were reset and everything
I can only guess that changing the network settings so many times so
quickly triggered some bug in the firmware; perhaps the settings were
saved incorrectly, leading to a checksum error when they were loaded,
and thus forcing the printer to discard the saved settings. (I used a
similar trick to fix my WAP54G.)
You need to continue tweaking the printer until a
sensible IP address appears.
I ran "service ssh restart", and got the following error message:
restart: Rejected send message, 1 matched rules; type="method_call", sender=":1.75" (uid=1000 pid=3409 comm="restart) interface="com.ubuntu.Upstart0_6.Job" member="Restart" error name="(unset)" requested_reply=0 destination="com.ubuntu.Upstart" (uid=0 pid=1 comm="/sbin/init"))
It turns out this is how
Upstart (Ubuntu's init(8)
replacement) says "you're not root".
I just received a Nigerian scam email sent through some "forward this
article" feature on The Hindu
web site. Here's the message, slightly edited:
Received: from web1.hinduonnet.com (web1new.hinduonnet.com [127.0.0.1])
by web1.hinduonnet.com (8.13.5/8.13.5) with ESMTP id
o7SMbdhC026146; Sun, 29 Aug 2010 04:07:39 +0530
Received: (from apache@localhost)
by web1.hinduonnet.com (8.13.5/8.13.5/Submit) id
o7SMbRAc026122; Sun, 29 Aug 2010 04:07:27 +0530
Date: Sun, 29 Aug 2010 04:07:27 +0530
Subject: Article from The Hindu: Sent to you by Virtosos Chulks.
International Commercial Bank Ghana
First Light Branch
I got your contact during my search for a reliable, trust worthy and
honest person to introduce this transfer project with. My name is Mr.
Virtosos Chulks. I am the manager of the International Commercial Bank
Ghana, First Light Branch Accra. I am a Ghanaian married with two kids.
I am writing to solicit your assistance in the noble transfer of
No, that's not a mistake—there really are two From: fields. But that's
probably the least broken thing about a feature that allows
people to send arbitrary email messages (with no reference to an article
in The Hindu, by the way) through their site.
I wrote to email@example.com (which is also the contact address given on their
web site) to report the problem. At least my mail did not bounce. I wonder if
anyone will pay attention to it.
Our UPS is hooked up to three Exide Powersafe EP65-12 SLA (Sealed Lead
Acid) batteries. Normally, that gives us about six hours of backup time
for my desktop, monitor, and a few assorted peripherals. It's not often
that the mains power is off for so long (less than half a dozen times a
year, I'd guess), but that capacity has proven invaluable in the past.
For the last few months, however, the UPS has lasted for half an hour at
most, even when the batteries were fully charged. Using a multimeter, I
found that the voltage across one of the batteries fell rapidly to 10.5V
just before the UPS died, while the other two remained above 12V. Since
the batteries were still under warranty, I contacted the vendor to ask
about having them replaced (which I have had to do in the past)
Unlike last time, the vendor told me to register a complaint with Exide,
which I did after some delay due to external circumstances. An engineer
was dispatched to visit me a couple of days later, and after testing the
system, he agreed with my diagnosis: one battery was bad. He wrote up a
report and went on his way after telling me that the replacement should
arrive in a few days. Unfortunately, what did arrive the next day was
email from his supervisor, saying they couldn't
replace the battery because the charging current was "too low". (The
mail also said that I didn't have the original invoice for the purchase
of the batteries, but that was just the engineer trying to cover his ass
after forgetting to ask me for it.)
What are the regulations governing the use of cryptography and the
development of cryptographic software in India? The answer is either
"there aren't any" or "nobody really knows".
One of the few official documents to discuss the subject is
("Guidelines and general information for setting up of international
gateways for internet") published by the Department of
Telecommunications (DoT) in 2001. It is not clear why an informative
document inviting proposals from ISPs to set up international gateways
should have anything to say about the use of cryptography in general, or
whether this amounts to a rule, but here's the relevant section:
II. LEVEL OF ENCRYPTION
Individuals/Groups/Organisations are permitted to use encryption
upto 40 bit key length in the RSA algorithms or its equivalent in
other algorithms without having to obtain permission. However, if
encryption equipments higher than this limit are to be deployed,
individuals/groups/organisations shall do so with the permission
of the Telecom Authority and deposit the decryption key, split
into two parts, with the Telecom Authority.
There has been plenty of criticism of this section as being "too weak",
but the real problem is that it's stupid and wrong (as I have
explained in email one too many times; hence this post).
My server acts as a secondary nameserver for primate.net, in which zone
it is named ns.de.primate.net. I set that up long ago for a friend, and
forgot all about it. Until now.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered the other day that Google crawled
various pages on my site as "http://ns.de.primate.net/whatever", and was
happily presenting (some of) those results in preference to their proper
It's true that the site is reachable as ns.de.primate.net, and Apache
will—since it doesn't recognise that name—serve the default VirtualHost,
which is toroid.org. But I can't imagine why Google ever decided to use
that name. I've never used it in a URL, public or otherwise. As far as I
know, it's never been used for anything but name service for primate.net
(and certainly not in a PTR record for my server's address).
I hope Google doesn't take it upon itself to use any of the other names
by which my server happens to be accessible. Just in case, I added the
following as the first (i.e. default) virtualhost in my httpd.conf. Now
any request to a not-explicitly-configured name will be redirected to
Redirect permanent / http://toroid.org/
We can't have
running around, after all.
Someone sent me a link to
a story in the Indian Express
that creatively distorts quotes extracted from my
informal report on Harike to
try and make the case that the survey was a waste of time and money. The
article is by a Dharmendra Rataul, dated today. I can't figure out if it
was published in the newspaper, or only online.
I just love how terribly official the article makes everything
sound. Instead of saying “Some chap who was at Harike wrote email
to a public list, and someone sent me a copy”, the article begins
The controversy over the census of migratory birds at Harike wetland
took a new turn on Monday when a member of the Census Committee
constituted by the state wildlife department traced serious lacunae in
the process. Abhijit Sen, a bird watcher who was on the census panel,
has stated in a letter (sent via e-mail) to the Chandigarh Birds Club
(CBC), the nodal agency that helped conduct the survey, that he was sad
that the entire exercise was like a “free vacation”.
Nobody told me that a Census Committee (or was it a panel?) had been
constituted, much less that I was a member of it. The Chandigarh Birds
Club (which, as far as I know, is just a mailing list) becomes a "nodal
agency" with its own acronym. Email becomes a letter, which The Indian
Express has mysteriously obtained a copy of. But the best part is that
my trip report is made to sound like some weighty official critique
(lacunae!), when I wrote right at the beginning that:
My memories of the time I spent at Harike are already fragmented, and I
don't feel up to writing another exhaustive report. Instead, here's a
selection of the more vivid moments that I will remember the trip by—not
in any particular order, and with no attempt to fill in the fuzzy grey
areas in between.
Having selected such a solid foundation for his news report, Mr. Rataul
goes on to disingenuously reorder two carefully-selected sentences from
my (approximately four thousand word) report.
“Sadly I noticed that many people who had volunteered to help with
the survey treated the entire exercise as a little more than a free
vacation,” he has stated in the letter, a copy of which is The
Indian Express (sic). He said he noticed a similar attitude during
surveys at the Pong Dam (Himachal) too. “A total count (of birds)
was impossible in the circumstances,” he stated.
In my report, the second sentence is in a different paragraph from the
first one, and refers to a completely different set of circumstances,
which I enumerate: “…because a total count was impossible in the
circumstances (distance, rocking boat, lots of movement in the flocks),
we sampled parts of the flock…”. Anyway, I was using "total count"
in its technical sense where bird surveys are concerned. A little basic
research would have told Mr. Rataul that total counts of flocking birds
in large areas is often not possible, no matter how many scientists are
I notice, too, that "I was sad that P treated X as Y” has been
summarised as “I was sad that X was Y”. But the article does
not, of course, mention what I said in a subsequent "letter" in response
to a comment about the "free vacation" bit.
It is true that there were people at Harike who did not take the survey
seriously, but that is a potential risk with any volunteer-based survey
effort. It is regrettable, and I hope that steps can be taken in future
to make participants more aware of the methodology and implications of
the work they're doing, and thus take it more seriously.
But I can also say that there were serious, interested birders
at Harike who did their sincere best during data collection, and I don't
think that the funds have "gone down the drain" at all. Every census,
whether conducted by volunteers or professionals, has sources of error
and scope for improvement. Just because I pointed out one problem does
not mean that the entire effort was a waste.
I had never heard of Mr. Rataul, so I looked at some of the other
he's written for IE. In an earlier story
the Harike survey, he says: “The majority of the birds are
gray-legged geese, though bar-headed geese, mallard duck, pin-tale duck,
porchid, varieties of avifauna, pelicans, flamingoes and teals have also
I realise it's unfair to expect a journalist these days to know anything
about the subject he's covering, but really, where on earth did he find
a word like "porchid"? And does he think "avifauna" is a specific kind
of bird, like "geese"?
Anyway, with all the integrity and competence evident in Mr. Rataul's
articles, I should consider myself fortunate that he at least managed to
get my name right… oh, wait, scratch that. I guess correctly cutting and
pasting my name from an email was also beyond him.
(I sent a complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org, but my mail
bounced because "Database disk quota exceeded".)
I'm not sure if anyone reads the articles in The Hindu's four-page
supplement on Wednesdays. Most of the space is taken up by job
advertisements, and my uncharitable suspicion is that the articles are
meant only to provide a veneer of respectability and fill the remaining
space. The articles have such insightful titles as
Path to dream
job not usually smooth and
Identify, groom employees with
high potential early on, and are always written by one of the
same four or five people (with contact address
Sometimes, I'm not fast enough on Wednesday mornings to get my hands on
the main newspaper over breakfast, so I scan the first couple of pieces
in Opportunities while biding my time. One thing I've noticed
over and over again is the tendency of the authors to drop names
indiscriminately (sometimes complete with made-up quotes).
Here's today's example, from
Share your ideas, but be humble in
Anand was almost irritated with this new entrant into his team. This guy
joined just a couple of days ago and actually had the courage to go up
to the team leader to provide some inputs on a new strategy they could
implement. Wasn't there ever a rule as to when a new employee could
actually start involving himself in ‘improving’ team
affairs? Apparently not, because this person had pushed himself to do
just that and now, he was recognised not just as ‘Mr.
Congeniality’, but also as someone who could envisage new concepts
Anand, alas, is never again mentioned in the article, and nothing more
is said about his almost-irritation with his enterprising colleague. But
he's not the only one with problems:
I am often called the ‘enthu cutlet’ for being
overtly enthusiastic and coming up with new ideas. I do feel this sends
across the wrong message to my colleagues that I am attention-seeking
and nothing else, rues Kamala.
Kamala, too, receives no further mention, but the article offers the
following as part of a strategy to avoid provoking resentment in your
If you are a newbie, it is best to ask your team if you could contribute
a fresh perspective on what already exists. This would be welcome, since
they would automatically understand that it is imperative to procure
this fresh perspective from a person who until recently was an outsider
to the organisation, since it helps them gain knowledge of what the
world thinks of what they have been doing.
Why do I find it just a touch difficult to believe that the mysterious,
brooding Anand and Kamala's grumpy old (since nobody under fifty would
call someone an "enthu cutlet") colleagues are brimming with automatic
understanding of the greater good?
It becomes quite clear by the end of the article that Anand and Kamala
were named only to satisfy some style guide's belief that mentioning
"real" people makes it easier for readers to relate to situations
described and advice offered. That may be true, but unfortunately for
Opportunities, its fabricated case studies are usually quite
transparent to the (only?) reader, and gratuitously detract from the
point of the article.
I'm sorry, Anand, but you're a loser.
Thanks to the recent increase in bus fares, we calculated that it would
cost about the same to drive twelve kilometres to and from Ammu's doctor
as it would for the three of us to take a bus both ways—and that is only
if we walked from our home to the bus stop, and from the bus stop to the
doctor's and back, for a total of about three kilometres (as opposed to
taking, say, a cycle rickshaw, which would more than double the fare).
Combine that with the fact that the doctor sees patients in the evening,
and that it's difficult to find a bus with any space going towards home
afterwards (and the auto-rickshaw fare would be at least twice the bus
fare, assuming we could find one willing to take us home at all), and
we have a powerful argument to brave the evening traffic in the car.
(There's a Delhi Metro station about 3km from our house, but there's no
convenient way to get to it, and the Metro doesn't extend towards Ammu's
doctor's office anyway. If it did, the fare would be a little less than
twice the bus fare each way, and auto-rickshaw fare to and from the
station would be half as much again.)
Before the bus fare hike at the end of October (followed soon afterwards
by a Metro fare hike), the maximum fare in a public bus (one operated by
the Delhi Transport Corporation) was INR10. Private buses (the so-called
"blue line" buses, although they are no longer blue) ply the same routes
and charge the same fare as DTC buses, but some charge extra to take
less-congested toll roads. Fake "chartered buses", which pretend to be
reserved by some company for the exclusive use of its employees, but
which anyone can get into in practice, have even higher fares.
The maximum fare is now INR15, and fares for smaller distances have also
increased by a few rupees. For people who commute long distances to work
and have to change buses once (which is quite normal), that represents
an increase of about INR500 per month; considering that many people earn
between INR3000–5000 per month, that's a substantial chunk of a family's
monthly income, especially given the increases in food prices this year.
I suppose all the money needed to prepare for the Commonwealth games had
to come from somewhere.
Arnt points out that it
makes no sense to compare the price of bus tickets with the cost of fuel
needed to drive the same distance in a car (and thus to treat the car as
being free to purchase and maintain). I wanted to say that the fare hike
has made bus travel very expensive for many people in Delhi, but that's
not related to the cost of travelling by car. I messed up while trying
to say that people who want to use their car less often have to think
twice about taking the bus (because they're as slow and inconvenient
as before, but no longer much cheaper); the comparison isn't valid.
Ben Goldacre's Bad Science
weblog is usually good for a quick dose of entertainment, but I have to
limit my consumption; there's only so much I can take before it begins
to depress me instead. On Sunday, a friend showed me his new copy of the
Science book. I didn't have the time to look through it properly,
but it did inspire me to notice an article in the newspaper today that
I might otherwise have missed.
The piece, written by Chetna Dua, is titled
in health", and it appears in the Metro Plus supplement to
The Hindu in Delhi on November 23,
2009, sandwiched between Rahul Verma's occasionally entertaining food
column and R. V. Smith's frequently annoying "Down Memory Lane". It's
about the great healing powers of flowers, as employed in treatment
since 1990 by the good Doctor Malti Khaitan of Delhi.
The flowers are plucked early morning in a special way so that
their nectar is retained and then energised by the powers of the sun and
proper meditation in Gangajal procured from Rishikesh. That is why they
have great healing powers, she believes.
How could flowers plucked in a special way (by ELVES!) fail to
have therapeutic value? I can't imagine they were happy about being
forced to meditate in water from the Ganges, though, even if it was
collected from Rishikesh (where the river enters the plains, and is not
yet as polluted as it becomes further downstream) and the power of the
sun was energising them at the same time.
But, Doctor, (one imagines the journalist asking,
how do these flower remedies differ from
other forms of medicine?
On how these concoctions differ from other forms of medicine, this PhD
from the Indian Board of Alternative Medicines in Kolkata says,
While most forms of medicine focus only on the physical element
of a person, my remedies work to achieve a balance of the body, mind and
soul in a human being, thus offering a complete healing of the person
from within. The flower essences help to melt the tension in different
chakras and subtle bodies of a person.
I wonder—does one have to eat the energised flowers, or is sniffing them
enough to initiate complete healing from within?
The Indian Board of Alternative
Medicine has a web site which serves up only a blank page. I presume
the PhD is actually from the allied
Indian Institute of Alternative
Medicine, which has a frighteningly long
list of alternative
therapies, including "Pyramid Healing", "Holotropic Breathwork", and
"Gem Therapy". Its
"about us" page has
photographs of its Founder and Principal with the last two Presidents of
India, the current Prime Minister, and a smattering of other smiling
dignitaries. Clearly an excellent place to learn about how to melt
tension in chakras and subtle bodies.
helped people suffering from all kinds of illness like
headaches, cold, asthma, depression, etc., she notes that the
results vary from person to person.
Somebody might get cured in
two months while for another it could even take six months. She
However, I don't stop the allopathic medicine of a patient.
This is an alternative therapy which has no side affects and can be
taken by a patient along with any other form of medication.
This reminds me of a favourite "Wizard of Id" strip, where the King
admires the Wizard for his tenacity:
He'll get that tide to turn,
even if it takes him twelve hours to do it! (Aside: the strip
should be somewhere in this
archive, but I have not been able to find it. If someone knows where
it lives, I would very much appreciate a link.)
But we learn that the good Doctor is not content merely with curing
people without side affects (sic):
After having put down the remedial powers of flowers in her book
Flowers That Heal, Khaitan now wants to spread her
knowledge and skill to more and more people so that it continues to live
after her. Keeping this in mind, she has launched a series of courses in
flower therapy at her studio in Lajpat Nagar.
In a country where Homoeopathy is not only wildly popular, but
officially recognised as legitimate medicine, I'm sure her courses will
do very well.