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One year ago, today, Aaron Swartz died. He deserved to live more than any of us  and it’s shameful that I could sit in my room, comfortable and well rested, while Aaron was forced into a downward spiral and freed himself from the trouble. Lawrence Lessig put it better than everyone else.

Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.

One word, and endless tears.

Stop wasting your time reading this pointless bullshit of a post and go read Lessig’s account of what had transpired.

Aaron, I’m sorry I’m alive and you’re not. May you rest in peace. Your legacy will live on.

The visionary

I don’t exactly know how to start this post, I’ve been trying to write this since Morning. Steve Jobs is dead, and I’m lost in misery.  Steve has been an inspiration, a childhood hero and has been a huge influence in what I do today. I may very well say that my life and career have profoundly been affected by Steve and his works.  I looked up to Steve and believed that someone as insignificant as I am is capable of great things. People who know me know very well what my thoughts on Apple products are. I don’t think I will ever own an Apple product, but that doesn’t stop me from lamenting Steve’s death.It’s a choking feeling nonetheless and I feel devastated. The moment I heard Steve is resigning from his post as Apple CEO, I was lost and I wished that Steve should be fine. I never ever gave any thoughts about his resignation is in light of an imminent death. My brain actively refused to think so. Somehow I wished Steve would be there, a bit ill and unable to act as usual, but will be there. Universe loves screwing people’s wishes it turns out. I owe you much Steve, Thank You. Rest in peace, you will linger on in the memories of millions of us. Without you, Apple will, just like its logo, be incomplete forever.

😥

Recently I had the pleasant opportunity of reading my friend chanux’s blog post titled 10 Reasons why You should migrate your system to Gnu/Linux. His reasons are true to the last word, and the post is an interesting read. So I thought I should write a post regarding that topic in a “Me Too” manner.Although his post is more like persuasive, mine is purely for the purpose of boasting how I fell in love with Linux.

I came across Linux around 2002 when visiting my father’s friend at Jaffna University computer Science Department. He had a huge book on Linux which had everything from downloading/compiling Linux kernel to systems administration on a RedHat distribution. Me and my friend who accompanied me were instantly attracted to it because for us ( for me at least) there was no world outside Windows 98, ME and XP which just arrived. I didn’t really understand the difference between Software and Hardware back then. For me it was just the computer, I switch it on, and things just pop up on the screen and that’s all I ever cared.

But seeing the screenshots on the Linux book, I was thrilled to know that I can actually change my computer to run entirely new stuff other than Windows which I often had to reinstall because of unknown and incomprehensible problems. It had drastically different appearance, different names for programs and altogether nothing like I ever used to imagine a computer to be. The thrill of knowing the unknown was the initial motivation behind my decision to try Linux on my machine. I didn’t think twice, it was decided then and there that I should give it a try. My friend bought a RedHat installation disc from Jaffna town and all was set.

My friend I mentioned earlier happened to be a Computer Engineering undergraduate from the University of Waterloo, Canada. So he had better understanding of things than I did, but Linux was completely new, even for him. We started off with the RedHat Graphical installer and had the Linux book ready at our side. The installation was a complete disaster. It wiped the entire hard drive and it never booted up. Linux kernel back then didn’t have much support for hardware devices. The problem was that kernel couldn’t automatically gauge the frequency range and resolution of my monitor. So every time we booted it up, it will load LILO and then right when the graphical login prompted, X will die and fall back to command line. So there I learned my first ever CLI command from the Linux book, startx to restart the X-Server. This command pretty much remained the only Linux command I knew for a long time.

Problem was that you had to manually specify resolution and refresh rate right at the end of the installation since kernel couldn’t recognise my VGA adapter. If we specified a wrong combination, the OS will not boot and all we knew to solve this was to reinstall from the start. My friend gave up on Linux on this point because he had some other stuff to finish up. The installation was a tedious task, it took about 3 hours to complete and I ended up installing it many times until I figured the correct resolution and refresh rate that didn’t kill the X.

RedHat 7.2 Enigma was the distro I had and it came in a 3 CD set. It had both GNOME and KDE but for some reason GNOME login almost always failed. So I was left with KDE to experience Linux. It was a different experience altogether, everything was Freakish back then, even the names. KDE had a strong naming convention, every program had a K in the wrong place which made pronouncing them difficult and funny.I particularly liked the idea of having 4 desktops at my disposal. I had no real use for it, there was not much I could do with the installation, but nonetheless it occurred to me that 4 desktops is a good idea.

KDE had an about page which opened in a browser (Netscape Navigator I guess) which explained how and why KDE is made. It explained that KDE is a Free(dom) software and that it is made by volunteers who work on it without getting paid a cent and do it just for the fun of doing it. It also explained that commercial software are like wearing shackles even though you pay to get them. I neither paid any money to Windows nor I understood the terms and conditions of Microsoft’s License, but I was convinced, without any doubt,  that licensed software was not just wrong, it was evil.

On one hand KDE convinced me software licensing is against my free will and on the other I fell in love with the idea of people all over the world getting together to build a software just for the fun of doing it and distributing it free of any restrictions. All of a sudden the Operating system I thought was freaky, had funny names and hideously unusable started to look respectful and proper.

But my usage with Linux was not meant to last because it could not detect my dial-up modem thus I couldn’t connect to Internet. It also could not play any music because the mp3 decoder did not ship with the installation CD. I could live without music, but I was just getting the hang of Internet and no Internet was a huge deal breaker for me. Also, Linux back then was not for the faint-hearted. You had to be a command line Ninja just to get by daily stuff with it. I was neither CLI guy nor did I have the guts to switch to Linux completely. Thus ended my adventures in the Linux land.

Even though I could not use Linux, it forever changed the way I looked at software. Thereafter, every time I bought a pirated software CD, I felt proud that I am raising my middle finger against the big time software companies. I felt that’s the least I could do for them who steal other people’s freedom and make a fool out of every customer who pays for them. I was glad I wasn’t one of them and I was glad that there really are alternatives out there.

I almost never heard about Linux for a while until I came across Ubuntu 6.10 in Colombo around 2007 September which brought back good old memories. I started using 7.04 in a virtual Machine and was so glad to know that Linux has grown so much. everything I ever wanted was there and I could easily find more. Nothing was there this time to make the big switch and I went for it happily. I dual-booted Linux and Windows XP, almost exclusively using Ubuntu and switching to Windows to do some University work. Then I got a laptop of my own and made the big jump, ditched Windows for good, switched to Kubuntu permanently and never been more happier with my computer. As of now, I use Kubuntu and Debian CrunchBang. CrunchBang is a really sweet distro, but my love for KDE is so strong that I’m unable to make the next switch from KDE to OpenBox/Xfce.

I’m forever thankful for the KDE about page that changed my world for good. KDE community, I owe you my freedom and career. If not for you, I wouldn’t have understood the bliss of Freedom software and I wouldn’t have come to respect the free (as in freedom) software community so much. I am trying my best to get into KDE development so that I can pay back the debt. Let’s hope and pray I get there soon.

Here in Jaffna I recently came across an elderly relative complaining that all those values that we Natives of Jaffna held high once are completely lost and are beyond any recovery. no one can deny the truth behind it, but what I see is an exaggeration. Yeah we lost a lot, yeah we forgot a lot, but still there is hope left in people. In any war they say that the Truth is the first casualty. It is also fitting to say that moral values of a society too are first to fall victim to any war. War is nasty in the sense it brings out the primitive instincts that our civilisation and culture have smoothed out. War is brutal where the survival of the fittest is the only rule. People have no choice but to give in to it to survive. Expecting people to remain unaffected by three long decades of war is pure stupidity

But what I see in Jaffna is not a society ravaged by war and lost most of its values. I see a society whose very foundations are shaken violently, but still remains faithful to its origins. In bio-diversity we used to learn that each and every species is connected and is important for the continuity of the balance of nature. When an entire species is extinct, the earth doesn’t crumble. Instead it finds a new balance without the species. Lost species is lost, none can replace its role in the eco-system, but somehow the Earth ‘finds a way’. It’s same with our society. What is lost is lost, but we will find a way to balance us out.

Three years back I was riding my father’s motor bike without a license, got caught in the military checkpoint and was held there for a while. a lot of people who passed by came to me and asked if they could be of any help. some were willing to go to my home, fetch my License and bring it back, others were willing to lent me their mobile phones so that I could inform anyone at home about my situation. Some were even willing to talk to the military personnel and get me out of there. All of them were strangers to me, none of them knew me and the situation back then was very tense whereas you could get your butt in trouble if you intervene in military’s affairs. But the so called people who ‘lost their values’ didn’t just pass by minding their own business. They were willing to help an unknown guy with a nutty attitude.

Everyday I go outside and see people smile warmly and give a friendly greeting. But in Wellawatte never ever been greeted even by the apartment neighbour whom I’ve been seeing everyday for two consecutive years. Their faces are blank, emotionless and arid. You could find better emotions in a corpse. These people have everything. Rich, well settled and are having their best period of life. But none could smile a tiny bit. What’s the whole point of earning that much if you still can’t smile?

These are reminders that the hearts of our people have not turned to stone yet. That is pretty something given what most of them had to undergo in the past decades. Most of them were displaced at least twice, lost everything, rebuilt everything from scratch, lost everything all over again. None gave up hope, none quit trying. Blaming these people for giving up all traditions is not fair. Our society is healing itself, recovering from invisible wounds. We will find our way, we will find our balance. It will not be same as the one it used to be three decades back, but our foundations are still there, carved from the same stone. We may have lost some values which is irreparable and most unfortunate. But we will not lose what makes us ‘us’. For me, they are hereditary, embedded in genetic material.

Welcome to “Just another crap-ass blog”. Why on earth would I start a blog? That is a question that I have been trying to answer for a while now. The possible answers include “coz it’s trendy”, “coz the world is in need of my precious intellect”, “creative (?) time pass”, “coz I’m the next big thing that happened to web after…well, since its inception”, “coz I have something worth sharing”..the list is long guys, belive me. But here I am, blogging, period. I wanted this blog to be my virtual self on net. So what that means to you is that you can expect stuff from my professional opinions on the world changing affairs like “How to tip better” to my rants on FOSS, Java, Linux and everything in between. So you better stay at a safe distance and be prepared if you are allergic to reading nonsense :D. I used to have another blog at vettypayal623.blogspot.com. But the procrastinator inside of me just couldn’t live with the fact that I started a blog and posted some stuff on it. I named this blog “Think Libre” because I am a strong believer and an ardent fan of Free Software Movement. I believe that the principles of Free Software are a good place to find how people take their freedom for granted. Let’s just say I happened to have a distaste for taking things for granted. I believe the change should happen in individuals’ thinking. Richard Stallman (you know, the Free Software guy) once told that “Free Software movement will win when people value their freedom too much to go for proprietary software”. Yup you heard the long sentence, just know it has something to do with the title of this blog. I am not an intellect or a philosopher or a tech guru, whatever I post here would be as half baked as I personally am. There goes my disclaimer. That said, well let’s see how I battle my in-built procrastinator and actually blog once in a while. Thanks Tharshy, Janahan and Chanux for snapping me out of too much laziness, without whose constant annoyances, I wouldn’t even have thought of starting my own blog. There I said the names, if any of you readers have any vengeance against me owing to this blog, go find these dudes and whack the hell out of them!

P.S: I just realised I have the same theme for blog as Chanux.  Co-incidence dude, co-incidence 😛