The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

Resetting the Lexmark E323N network configuration

2010-09-12

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 worked again.

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.)

Remember: You need to continue tweaking the printer until a sensible IP address appears.

Incomprehensible upstart error messages

2010-09-06

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".

Spam sent through The Hindu web site

2010-08-29

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:

Return-Path: <thehindu@vsnl.com>
…
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
Message-Id: <201008282237.o7SMbRAc026122@web1.hinduonnet.com>
From: thehindu@web1.hinduonnet.com
Reply-To: virtososchulks@yahoo.com
Subject: Article from  The Hindu: Sent to you by Virtosos  Chulks.
From: The.Manager@web1.hinduonnet.com
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

International Commercial Bank Ghana
First Light Branch
Accra, Ghana.

Sir,   

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
US$5.500.000.00.
…

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 thehindu@vsnl.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.

Exide warranty nightmare

2010-07-26

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.)

Read more…

Nonsensical DoT crypto restrictions

2010-06-15

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 this one ("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).

Read more…

It's a toroid, not a primate!

2010-05-12

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 toroid.org versions.

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 toroid.org.

<VirtualHost *:80>
    Redirect permanent / http://toroid.org/
</VirtualHost>

We can't have evil primates running around, after all.

Harike survey reporting: responsible journalism at its finest

2010-02-16

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 thus:

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 present.

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 articles he's written for IE. In an earlier story about 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 been spotted.”

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 editor@expressindia.com, but my mail bounced because "Database disk quota exceeded".)

Missed Opportunities

2010-01-27

I'm not sure if anyone reads the articles in The Hindu's four-page "Opportunities" 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 faqs@cnkonline.com).

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 expressing them:

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 and plans.

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 new colleagues:

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.

Public Transport in Delhi

2009-12-19

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.

Update (2010-01-08): 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.

Bloomin' Health: courses in flower therapy

2009-11-24

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 Bad 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 "Bloom 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, breathlessly) 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.

Having 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 adds, 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.