Whirled – SecondLife in 2D

Whirled – which is an interesting mix of casual games, social networking, online role-playing and user created content by Three Rings (the people behind Puzzle Pirates) went public beta a couple of days ago. It was in closed beta for more than one year (I got an invite through my Puzzle Pirates mates pretty early). Check it out – I will update this post later.

Rumor of a Bomb Found at National University / FAST Lahore

I was just told that a bomb (or something that looked like a bomb) was found at the reception of National University (aka FAST) Lahore a couple of hours ago, and they will keep the university closed for four days. I haven't verified the news from another source yet, but if this is true, then at this rate, this generation of kids will either graduate a few years late, or will have a degree that does not actually cover the required years of study. On the other hand, the distant learning market looks like an attractive business option.

UPDATE: I just got the verification from two more people – there were phonecalls about two bombs, and apparently the institute has been receiving threat calls the whole week.Surprisingly, there is no news yet about the incident online (its been three or four hours now). The calling party demanded to close the college for a week – I do hope it is an early April's fool joke.

Make More Movies like Fitna

As we all know by now, the movie 'Fitna' was taken down from LiveLeak after some threats to their staff today, and is now available on Google Video (watch out Brin and Page).

I was truly disappointed after watching the movie (yes, I watched it, out of curiosity) – it had the same old arguments, partial ayaat, cherry-picked and quoted out of context, mixed with music and select imagery mixed with the beheading videos that have already been milked for all their worth – in an attempt to associate 'terrorist' with 'Islamist'. I was expecting something phenomenal but all I got was 15 minutes of boredom… guess I'm just jaded. I was also looking forward to the debates that the movie was supposed to have elicited, but I guess that isn't going to happen either.

What I don't understand is, why can't the defenders of Islam (extremists or whatchamacallum) realize that nothing better can happen to further their cause than movies like Fitna?!

We keep complaining about how the Western culture is slowly taking over and changing our muslim values… but when a western producer actually stands up and tells the world "honestly" about what he and his supporters think of the jew-hating, brainwashed killing machines that we Muslims are, and that too in a video that is somehow getting world-wide media coverage and can potentially serve to alienate and estrange the muslim population from the rest of the world (something which is a top priority of our 'Islamist' brothers) … our religious superheros miss this golden opportunity by threatening and removing the videos from the internet. That just does not make any business sense, at least to me! I wouldn't be surprised if the threats were a stunt by Gert Wilder himself, just to prove his point.

Like every other muslim, I don't want anyone to draw the prophet's image – either with love or in ridicule, but every time some such incident happens, I can mark the person/entity/group of people as 'bad', 'wrong' or 'evil', depending on my level of faith. This makes hate movies like Fitna excellent tools – wedges that the 'Islamists' can use very effectively to widen the chasm between 'us' and 'them'. Any muslim who watches the video (and is frustrated by the distorted and skewed picture that Wilders paints) and cares enough to research the quotes from the video is bound to become a little less "tolerant" and a little more "extremist" – which is exactly what AlQaida wants. Our terrorist brothers should appreciate Gert Wilders for this honest and public broadcast of his true feelings instead of doing it the KKK way.

To borrow a concept from Richard Dawkin's "The God Illusion", if we are really right and they are really wrong, they are going to hell anyway, and if hell really is all that it is purported to be, isn't that enough of a punishment for them already?

Actually, if I were an AlQaida media representative of some sort, I would have gone one step further and would have sent ALL the Taliban propaganda movies that I could buy from Hall Road, Lahore (they must be in dozens, if not hundreds) to Mr. Wilder as a gift. He surely won't be able to find better raw material for his next "documentary" – or better – a whole TV series. Your infidel enemies bearing the cost of your PR campaigns, and earning some more sins in the process – it can't get any better than this, AlQaida!

If you have come this far in reading this, do also check out the comments here about the pictures of our prophet. I like the way these average 'ferangis' make fun of my religion/ideology, it helps me 'stay awake'. So Al Qaida, please let Wilders make more movies like Fitna, and Mr. Wilders , the next time you make a documentary, please tear a page from the Quran and not some telephone book – we know you want to.

Installing Microsoft Reader on Linux (and why Microsoft Reader rules)

As I suddenly found myself using Linux as my primary OS last year, I had to do something about my bookworm’ey itch, and tried a few solutions to the lack of Microsoft Reader on Linux.

  • I tried using a second computer as my “book computer” – 50 minutes of work, one chapter of a book is what works for me. Too much fan noise (my PCs, like me, are pretty old by now) and sheer waste of electricity.
  • I tried a virtualbox XP installation – the problem with a virtual OS is, if I run it fullscreen, I can’t use the linux software, and if I run it windowed, the Microsoft Reader window is too small. I can dedicate my second monitor to the XP virtual installation, but that is plain inefficient.
  • I tried keeping my pocket pc with me while working, but what is the use of a large LCD when you end up reading on a 3.5 inch screen.

This weekend, I finally managed to make Microsoft Reader work on Linux with Wine. I had to waste use a couple of hours doing so, but at the end, it was worth it. So here is the fast and clean way of installing Microsoft Reader on Linux, what you need is:

  • Have a Linux installation (obviously) – I’m on Kubuntu, this should work with *buntu.
  • The following software installed: wine, msttcorefonts, cabextract – You can install it with the usual: sudo aptitude install wine msttcorefonts cabextract
  • IE for Linux – for some reason, this is a pre-requisite of Microsoft Reader on Wine.
    • Instructions on how to install IE6 for Linux can be found here: http://howtoforge.com/ubuntu_internet_explorer_p2
    • You might need mfc42.cab – in which case, just follow the link on the page, and copy the cab to the folder used by ies4linux, which was /home/rv/.ies4linux/downloads
      for me.
  • Now you need to visit the Microsoft Reader download page in IE6, and when prompted, “Open” the file from its current location. If everything goes well, you should end up with Microsoft Reader installed – now you just need to run it.
  • To run the program, you can either tinker with the Wine configuration settings to export the required wine prefix or you can create a shell script containing:
    • #!/usr/bin/env bash
      # Script to run MS Reader
      export WINEPREFIX=”/home/rv/.ies4linux/ie6″
      wine “/home/rv/.ies4linux/ie6/drive_c/Program Files/Microsoft Reader/msreader.exe”
    • Save it as something like msreader.sh, modify the /rv/ part (which is my username), set the file rights to a+x via: chmod a+x msreader.sh and perhaps, create a shortcut to the file on your desktop.
  • Running the msreader.sh should run MS Reader now!
  • There is the small problem of actually opening .lit files in it – you have two options. You can either:
    • Modify the script above so that the filename/complete path is passed to the shell script and used in the wine… line. This can also be set up with the ubuntu file associations so that you can open .lit files directly by clicking them. Or, you can
    • Copy the .lit files you have in your “My Library” folder (which is what I did).
    • I ended up with a library folder at: /home/rv/.ies4linux/ie6/drive_c/windows/profiles/rv/My Documents/My Library
  • Start the reader, and the new .lit files should be automatically detected and populated inside your library!

UPDATE: June 2009 One year later, things are a lot simpler with Jaunty Jackalope and Wine 1.0.1! Here are the rough steps to follow:

  • Make sure you have wine 1.0.1 – 1.1.x has issues that I was too busy to debug. If you have a later version or have the wine repository added to your sources.list. You might want to “Force Version” for that.
  • Install ie4linux using the instructions here. Ignore the wine version warning. You may have to run the script multiple times if it crashes, but you’ll get ie6 installed eventually. I had to uncheck the Flash plugin installation option.
  • Make sure you have the wine-gecko package installed (this may be a redundant step)
  • Download the MSReaderSetup.exe file from the Microsoft site using your regular browser and save it somewhere.
  • Run the installer .exe via double-clicking, or right clicking, or via command-line
  • The reader should install. The first time, try running it via command-line after going to ~/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Microsoft Reader and typing ./msreader.exe
  • If you get an msvcirt.dll error, download the dll from here and extract the dll to your ~/.wine/drive_c/windows/system32 folder.
  • Now running the .exe again should work, and you should also be able to run it after searching for it by ALT+F2.
  • To be able to open .lit files by double-clicking, you need to set up the file associations. To do so
    • Right-click any .lit file in Dolphin and select ‘Properties’.
    • Click the settings icon besides the line Type: Unknown
    • Press the Add button to add the associated application (msreader) and use the file dialog to browse to the msreader.exe file. You will need to enclose the path in double-quotes or escape the spaces. For me it was:  “/home/rv/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Microsoft Reader/msreader.exe”
    • Unwind the open dialogs’ stack
  • At this point, you should be able to open a .lit file by double-clicking it. If you encouter any issues or had to follow a different path, do share in the comments to help out others.

I was experimenting with tellico this weekend (which deserves its own post), and realized that in the last 20 years, I have read a lot more ebooks than paper books (which makes me happy when I think of all the trees I have saved). At this point in time, I can safely say that Microsoft Reader is the best ebook software around. Of course, you can read books in other formats, plain text, html, pdf or even doc, and there are lots of other readers (like Mobipocket) to choose from, but nothing beats Microsoft Reader so far. A few reasons why…

  • the Microsoft proprietary ClearType technology is simply the best option for long reading sessions on LCD/TFT screens. Once you get used to the lack of paper texture and the smell of an old book (one does miss it the first few months), you will probably find yourself reading more and more books on MS Reader.
  • The Microsoft .lit format works on Pocket PCs transparently, and the PPC version of Microsoft Reader comes pre-installed with most of the Windows Mobile versions. So, like an ipod, you can keep your library synchronized, and pick up on your PPC where you left off on your laptop/desktop. I can’t part with my ancient XDA II (now 5 years old), and iphone is a little bit less attractive due to Microsoft Reader – strange but true.
  • You can use the “Read in Microsoft Reader” plugin for Microsoft Word to convert most of the standard text formats that Word can open – to .lit format, and have a single interface for most of your digital library.
  • If you are comfortable with IRC and DCC, channels like #bookz, #ebooks etc. on Undernet is all you need to download and read sample hundreds of thousands of legal (and otherwise) books that are already converted to the .lit format.

It took me a couple of hours of search and experimentation (mixed with answering a few emails) to get all the steps right, so I hope this post saves somebody a few minutes of their lives.

Bomb Blast in Islamabad Today

An italian restaurant in Islamabad that had the misfortune to be a popular foreigner hangout was blown up by a planted bomb a few hours ago. You can read all about it on google [link] so I won't regurgitate the facts here, but I just need to get a few thoughts off my chest, that came to my mind after hearing the news.

Firstly, the terrorists are finally getting some common sense and not blowing themselves up – which is bad new for us. Secondly, how come nobody has taken the responsibility for the last few bomb blasts?! Normally, Taleban/Al Quaida etc. rush forward and tell why they did it, but unless I have missed some important news, these attacks are the work of an anonymous peace-hating terrorist entity. Why aren't Al-Quaida/Taleban etc. being blamed explicitly this time? I thought their sole purpose of existence was to take the blame for terrorist attacks, bombings, floods and earthquakes etc. Thirdly, can we please stop "strongly condemn"ing these attacks please, its getting irritating now.

Bell Canada was researching a possible outsourcing setup (which would have turned into a big thing eventually, them being Ma Bell and all) a couple of months ago, but they dropped the idea right after the GPO blast happened. I know of two small software shops whose investors have lost their confidence in Pakistan and are pulling out of here next month – and the security situation played a significant part in driving them out. The last time I saw a similar mass exodus was post-9/11, when Align Technology pulled out of Lahore and left 1000 or so odd people jobless in Lahore, with an expertise that had no other potential employers (virtual orthodontics treatment).

With this latest attack aimed at the foreigners, we won't exactly be attracting more international business, which is a real pity. Perhaps the indian IT industry has hired this new generation of freelance terrorists to push the tiny share of business that comes to Pakistan back into India. Yep, that's one good scapegoat.

We don't need to be bombed back to the stone ages by the US of A, they can save their bombs for Iraq and Afghanistan. We are a self-sufficient nation and will gladly do the job ourselves TYVM.