A friend of mine wrote a blog entry about Hillary and I felt like writing a response because there are a lot of things I don’t agree with.

Hillary’s campaign has not been one waged on ethics and grassroots support but rather one that is based on entitlement, poor ethics, and poor planning to boot. A brief note about each follows.

As much as she tries to distance herself from Bill, there’s no doubt that Hillary would be a nothing without him and she’s riding on his coattails.

Women are supposed to identify with her because of what happened to her in the Whitehouse, but would that experience make her a good President? I don’t see why it would.

Poor Ethics
When she’s down, she hits out with negative comments about other candidates and turns the campaign into a cursing match instead of focusing on any substantive issues.

When she’s down her campaign preys on Islamophobia by releasing pictures of Obama in “muslim garb”, that is more African than Muslim anyway. Not to mention totally irrelevant.

When she’s down she wants to throw away the rules and make up new ones so that delegates from states that broke all the election rules get seated anyway. Especially in states where Obama was not even on the ballot.

Sounds like she’s teaching the next generation to denigrate those who disagree with you, if that doesn’t work, make people afraid of them, and if that fails as well, just subvert the playing field.

Poor Planning
How in the world is she going to balance the budget and reverse the trend of mounting debt when she couldn’t even achieve the relatively much simpler task of balancing her campaign budget.

We already know that her solution to debt is to borrow, borrow, and borrow more. Can you say sinking US dollar?

There’s just so much wrong with her campaign and so little that’s right with it that sometimes I wonder how blind some Americans are not to be able to see it.

Mailing Lists and Email Deliverability

I subscribe to a number of moderated lists, and one of the poor practices that I see is untimely moderation of email. When list messages are not moderated quickly, there are two major pitfalls that end users can experience of which many list moderators may not even be aware.

The first of these is that most users sort their mailboxes by the Date: header, not the date that the message was received at the user’s inbox. This means that messages which are a few days old and have just been let through the moderation queue may show up a couple of pages above the newest messages in the user’s email client or webmail. This means that if a message that is 3 days old is approved, it shows up near other messages that are 3 days old that have already been read, not near the most recent messages. It is very easy to miss these messages and not read them, especially if the user’ unread mail count is consistently greater than zero.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, if the Date: header on mail is significantly (usually 24 hours or more) older than the current time, this can actually affect deliverability of email because spam filters use the difference between the Date: header and the current time as a criteria to evaluate the likelihood that a message is spam. A common characteristic of spam messages is that the Date: header is incorrect. Here is a real world example:

X-Spam-Status: No, hits=2.3 required=3.5 tests=DATE_IN_PAST_96_XX autolearn=disabled version=3.002004

The above message was moderated more than 4 days after it was sent into the queue, and you can see that SpamAssassin gave it a score of 2.3 (out of a required 3.5 to categorise as spam). Another single rule triggered could have caused the message to get sent to the spam folder. Here’s an example of where that happened:

X-Spam-Status: Yes, hits=4.4 required=3.5 tests=DATE_IN_PAST_96_XX,HTML_IMAGE_ONLY_32,HTML_IMAGE_RATIO_06,HTML_MESSAGE,HTML_TAG_BALANCE_BODY autolearn=disabled version=3.002004

Had this message been moderated quickly, it would not have incurred a point score of 2.3 for being so old, and would have been below the threshold of 3.5 required to classify it as spam.

In short, the lesson to mailing list administrators is that it is crucial to moderate messages in a timely manner so that users can easily notice the mail, and also so that the mail actually gets delivered to an inbox rather than to a spam folder.

Is Apple Wireless Friendly?

With the great success of the iPhone and iPod Touch, you’d think Apple would be sitting pretty as the king of wireless networking. Plus, Apple has a reputation for making relatively complicated tasks more user friendly by having more streamlined UI than the competition.

However, my experience with Apple’s networking products has been pretty disappointing. Not because they don’t work well (they do), but because they are the most confusing and user-unfriendly wifi products I have used, ever.

My first foray into Apple’s wifi products was the Time Capsule. The idea behind this is excellent, to have NAS built into the router so that backup for Mac users is painless by just having to flip a switch to turn Time Machine on. Whether the user is plugged in or not, this still works behind the scenes, eliminating the biggest barrier to having regular users back up.

The idea is great; the implementation, well, not so smooth. Out of the box, the Time Capsule seemed to work okay, until I tried connecting via wifi. This didn’t work at all, no matter what I did. It would connect, and then drop, and I’d then have to reset the router and then rinse, repeat, ad infinitum. I found others on forums had the same problems, with no solution. In the end, this magically started working a few weeks later with a firmware update to 7.3.1. That’s nice, but you’d think that basic wireless connectivity would have been better tested before release.

Today I picked up an Airport Express so that I could extend the range of the network to cover our entire apartment. This device also shipped with what I would consider broken firmware, and I had to upgrade to 7.3.1 before it would do anything useful. It’s now working okay (I think), but only after about an hour of tinkering.

My main beef with Apple is that the documentation is so simple. When it works, it works great. When it doesn’t work, you just have to scratch your head and go to Google, because God forbid Apple have any useful troubleshooting resources online to scare the non-tech saavy users away.

One point which I find thoroughly confusing is that the Airport Express has an option to either participate in a WDS or to “Extend wireless network”. Both of these options appear to be variations of the same thing, but I can’t figure out what the difference is between the two of them. A lot of people are asking the same question.

After a lot of searching, I still don’t know what the difference is, except that maybe the option to “Extend wireless network” is sort of like WDS on steroids. However, I have no idea and there’s no information on this that I can find. Apple doesn’t explain this anywhere either, even though both the options are obviously different.

The most important question I have which is as yet unanswered is whether either of the two options supports seamless handover of clients between different access points on the same network.

Long story short: Apple wifi products work great once they’re configured. Good luck trying to get them configured correctly.

Planet Bohra – The Bohra Pulse

As an experiment, I’ve set up a website called Planet Bohra. This website contains all the Dawoodi Bohra owned blogs that I’m aware of, and aggregates them into a single page that shows them in reverse-chronological order, newest first.

My intent in doing so is to create a site that lets the reader get a feel for the “Bohra pulse”. Our community is so diverse and community members have such varied talents and interests that it’s often both interesting and inspiring to read about others’ thoughts, experiences and views about their areas of interest or expertise.

At the moment the site is new and I don’t have a large number of blogs listed. I therefore ask you to comment with your full name and blog URL if you’d like your blog to be added to the Planet Bohra website and aggregated there.

I hope that it can be a useful resource and invite any comments or suggestions. On my friend’s blog, some comments regarding the setup have already been made, and I do agree with the general sentiment that it’s too disorganised. I’ve not figured out a way to solve this, but at the same time I think that part of the beauty of the site is to breathe in the diversity of thought.

Islamophobia at Election Time

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for some time now, and it’s really long overdue given how rapidly things are forgotten and how quickly new issues come up. Between the trio of McCain, Hillary, and Obama, I think I’m pretty clear in my mind that Obama has the best vision for the country.

I hate to use the cliché, but McCain really would be just another four years of Bush. And let’s be honest here, I’m pretty unhappy with how the last eight years went, politics wise. Between the two democrats, Hillary is the “republican” and Obama is the “democrat”. What does this mean? First I refer you to the NYT Decision Tree, which I think is an excellent piece of work. What does it tell us? That the well educated vote for Obama, and the less than well educated vote for Hillary.

In short, educated democrats vote for Obama, and uneducated democrats vote for Hillary. That’s no surprise really, Hillary tells great sob stories. People identify with that. Especially uneducated people who don’t know any better.

I might be considered an elitist for saying this, but I strongly believe that educated people make better policy decisions and that Obama’s vision is one that appeals to this crowd for good reason.

This is why I was especially disappointed with the handling of Obama’s “Muslim identity crisis”. He could have handled it so much better. It’s said that one shows their true colours when they’re cornered, and when Obama was cornered his campaign put out statements that were disappointingly anti-Islam and borderline racist.

Instead of playing clean and saying “I’m a committed Christian, but there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim in our secular country,” his campaign went all out denouncing Islam as an evil that is anathema to Obama. That anybody who insinuates that he is a Muslim is insulting the core of his very being. From someone who is looked up to as a visionary, I expected a lot better.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have. Conservative Christians and Jews are too important a demographic in American politics and anybody who upsets them doesn’t have a real shot at the presidency. After all, what good is a visionary who is unelectable?

All things considered, I’d still take Obama over the others, by a long shot. But what used to be unadulterated admiration is now tempered by a wariness about his character. He’s not been tested so far; and when push comes to shove, how will he react? I’d venture still better than the others, but should ‘better than Hillary and McCain’ really be America’s benchmark?

An Alternative Universe

Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) has been working the right side of his brain hard over the last couple of weeks. Aside from making the ludicrous claim that HRC is better poised than Obama to win a general election against McCain because the states she won count for more electoral votes, he’s been using creative math elsewhere too.

Senator Bayh, along with two others, has sponsored the China Currency Manipulation Act of 2008. If passed, this ominous sounding act is poised to coerce the Secretary of the Treasury into finding that China is manipulating their currency and that the IMF should be consulted regarding what remedies can be sought to correct or stop this evil manipulation.

On 3 April 2008, Bayh’s office shoots out a press release where he says:

American companies and workers are put at a major competitive disadvantage when China engages in massive intervention to lower the value of its currency and lower the cost of Chinese goods…This legislation will force the Treasury Department to stop turning a blind eye to Chinese attempts to gain an unfair trade advantage by undervaluing their currency.

This guy is so out of touch with reality that the mind boggles as to where his statistics come from. Let’s take a look at some hard numbers. A year ago today, one US dollar was worth 7.72 Chinese yuan. Today, the Chinese yuan is trading at around 6.98 to the US dollar. While the yuan has appreciated against the dollar by about 10%, this guy complains that China manipulates their currency to undervalue it.

His other claim is that China is working to lower the costs of Chinese exports. I work in the manufacturing industry and get information first hand about what is going on in China. There is not a shred of truth to what Bayh says, and in fact the opposite is true. Between mandating that workers are only allowed to work 5 days per week, or else receive excessive overtime pay, and requiring employers to enroll them in umpteen different types of social insurance, to cutting electricity on certain days of the week, to tightening controls on pollutants, there is nothing going on in China that reduces the cost of anything. The only price pressures are upwards and these are all artificially created by the Chinese government.

Bayh’s facts are so incredibly wrong and at odds with the truth that the only explanation is that he’s living in an alternative universe. The sad truth is that most Americans won’t know the difference and will accept as fact that China is evil and America is the only country willing to stand up to it.

Goodbye Movable Type, Hello WordPress

I’ve moved my blog over from Movable Type to WordPress. The main problems I’ve had with Movable Type are that the comment and trackback handling is confusing and sub-par, and the theme interface is god-awful. I’ve been thinking about making the switch for more than a year but never got around to it because of the daunting task of making sure that all my old permalinks, category and date archive pages have an HTTP 301 redirect to the new WordPress pages.

The most common method for doing this seems to be to maintain the old MT install in parallel with the new WP install and have MT publish pages that have HTTP 301 redirects to the new WP pages. Another alternative is to use mod_rewrite in a .htaccess file. However this is complicated when the MT dirify directive is used because there is no systematic way to translate from the old links to new. So the only “automated” way of doing this was to maintain the old MT install and publish HTTP 301 redirects through that.

I really didn’t want to do this, and wanted to deprecate MT immediately. So I opted for the “low-tech” method of manually coding just over 200 redirects in my .htaccess file. This covered the 186 individual entries, plus the date-based and category-based archive pages.

I assume that having over 200 redirects in my .htaccess file will incur some kind of performance penalty during pageloads, but it’s not noticeable to me. The main advantage is that I can now forget that MT ever existed on my blog and Google and other search engines will transfer whatever SEO karma I had on my old links to the new ones automatically.

Windows Vista Readiness

We’re buying some new PCs for a couple of new hires at work. We buy through Dell and for the first time we’re buying PCs sold with Windows XP preinstalled but under the Windows Vista Downgrade plan. The way it works is that the PCs have XP SP2 preinstalled but we get OEM media and … Continue reading “Windows Vista Readiness”

We’re buying some new PCs for a couple of new hires at work. We buy through Dell and for the first time we’re buying PCs sold with Windows XP preinstalled but under the Windows Vista Downgrade plan. The way it works is that the PCs have XP SP2 preinstalled but we get OEM media and OEM license keys for both XP Professional and Vista Business. This way when we want to upgrade OS we can do so without paying for a new license.

I’m guessing in another year or so this option may disappear and we’ll be stuck with Vista only. So to prepare I asked our office IT technician to call Microsoft and ask them to send us a 180-day eval copy of Windows Vista Business so that we can install and smoketest all of our office software and make sure it works.

Turns out that Microsoft stopped giving out 180-day eval copies of Vista last year. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Seems like they’d want businesses to move to Vista and would want to make it easy by providing time-limited eval licenses for testing. Car dealers let you test drive the car before you purchase. Why not with an OS too?

They suggested using the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor. Hardly a substitute for a real world test, though.

Pacnet’s poor support

Today between 11am-12pm Hong Kong time, Pacnet‘s routing tables got completely screwed up. How, I don’t know, but I was getting traceroute results like this: C:\Documents and Settings\Ali>tracert news.bbc.co.uk Tracing route to newswww.bbc.net.uk [] over a maximum of 30 hops: 1

Today between 11am-12pm Hong Kong time, Pacnet‘s routing tables got completely screwed up. How, I don’t know, but I was getting traceroute results like this:

C:\Documents and Settings\Ali>tracert news.bbc.co.uk

Tracing route to newswww.bbc.net.uk []
over a maximum of 30 hops:

1 <1 ms <1 ms <1 ms 2 20 ms 17 ms 19 ms crsall.pacific.net.hk [] 3 198 ms 242 ms 224 ms v152.tmhc1.pacific.net.hk [] 4 * * * Request timed out. C:\Documents and Settings\Ali>tracert www.ebrahim.org

Tracing route to ebrahim.org []
over a maximum of 30 hops:

1 <1 ms <1 ms <1 ms 2 23 ms 20 ms 18 ms crsall.pacific.net.hk [] 3 19 ms 17 ms 19 ms v152.tmhc1.pacific.net.hk [] 4 * * * Request timed out. C:\Documents and Settings\Ali>tracert blog.ebrahim.org

Tracing route to blog.ebrahim.org []
over a maximum of 30 hops:

1 <1 ms <1 ms <1 ms 2 19 ms 18 ms 18 ms crsall.pacific.net.hk [] 3 20 ms 20 ms 20 ms g2-1.tmhr7601.pacific.net.hk [] 4 20 ms 19 ms 20 ms Gi1-7.gw1.hkg4.asianetcom.net [] 5 18 ms 19 ms 23 ms gi1-0-0.cr3.hkg3.asianetcom.net [] 6 78 ms 81 ms 79 ms po13-0-1.cr1.nrt1.asianetcom.net [] 7 189 ms 192 ms 198 ms po1-0.gw1.sjc1.asianetcom.net [] 8 206 ms 204 ms 204 ms gige-g5-10.core1.sjc2.he.net [] 9 247 ms 247 ms 246 ms 10gigabitethernet1-1.core1.chi1.he.net [] 10 249 ms 250 ms 251 ms a1-0-3.br1.snjsca.us.lightning.net [] 11 * * * Request timed out. 12 254 ms 254 ms 253 ms blog.ebrahim.org [] Trace complete. What's the real kicker? That blog.ebrahim.org and www.ebrahim.org are hosted on the same machine, but that I can get to one and not the other. Judging by the vague similarity between the IP addresses of www.ebrahim.org and news.bbc.co.uk (both are 21x.x.x.x, which is very vague indeed), I figure that Pacnet has their routing tables all messed up.

At around 11:30 or 11:45am I call up their support to report the problem, and am asked to send them a traceroute report. That makes sense, and I do that. I ask when I can expect a resolution and the drone on the other end tells me that since today is a Sunday, nobody at their NOC is at work, and I can expect a resolution on Monday or Tuesday, up to a full 2 days later.

That’s really appalling support, Pacnet. If you have routing issues that are blocking off entire swaths of the internet, you need to fix this yesterday, not two days later. What kind of NOC goes on holiday on a Sunday? Does the internet take a rest day too?

In case anybody at Pacnet is keeping score, my ticket number is TEC3511 and it’s now 7:15pm and it looks like nothing has been done.

AP and Physics

Forgive the pun, but it seems that this AP writer never took AP Physics. SEATTLE, Washington (AP) — A critical-care nurse aboard an air ambulance fought to keep from being sucked out of the cabin when a window blew out of the aircraft at 20,000 feet. Even someone with the most elementary physics knowledge would … Continue reading “AP and Physics”

Forgive the pun, but it seems that this AP writer never took AP Physics.

SEATTLE, Washington (AP) — A critical-care nurse aboard an air ambulance fought to keep from being sucked out of the cabin when a window blew out of the aircraft at 20,000 feet.

Even someone with the most elementary physics knowledge would know that you get pushed out, not sucked out. I guess that’s what happens when people learn physics from watching movies.

It reminds me of of the Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics site, which is well worth a read. Honestly, I don’t know how anybody can sit through such drivel like The Core with a straight face. Movies like Star Wars are just as bad, but hey — at least they don’t pretend to be realistic.