Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Category: Life

Final thoughts

I need to write this down just to sort it out. Everyone says it’s not a “big deal” and that “life will go on”. I don’t know. In elections prior, I have been disappointed but I never grieved. I thought America was headed, or at least heading (however haphazardly) in a direction where we didn’t care about each other’s race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation. I thought that we were poised and ready to tackle the problems of this new century. Then this happened. Instead of policies, we were literally debating a candidate’s fitness for being President. Instead of merely deciding the direction of this country, we were deciding its character. I never thought that we would elect a man who categorically stated that he wanted to ban an entire religion from this country. I never thought that we would elect a man who is a bully. I thought that we valued experience, knowledge, and intelligence in this country. I never thought we would elect an inexperienced man, who, based on all we know, is not even a successful businessman. I thought we valued pragmatism, poise, and compromise, if not in Congress, at least in the President. I never thought we would elect an immature, thin-skinned man, who goes into an apoplectic fit just from a mean word.

Growing up, we’re taught things by our parents to help us become civil, productive members of society. We are taught to say “Please”, “Sorry”, and “Thank you”. We are taught to respect each other. We are taught not to bully each other. We are taught not to discriminate against each other. We are taught not to take advantage of each other. We are taught not to lie. We are taught to work hard. We are taught to be good people. This election changed all of that. How can a man who disregards the social contract of a society ever be fit to lead that very society? I think those on the other side think I’m sad or disappointed because my party lost. No; it has nothing to do with being Republican or Democrat. But it has everything to do with deciding who we are as a country. Our principles. Our values. Hillary may have been a flawed candidate, but I don’t think that she is fundamentally a bad person. Think about someone you disagree with; an acquaintance, friend, or even a family member. Simply because you disagree with them, do you consider them a bad person? This is how I have felt about every candidate I didn’t support. I disagreed with Bush, but I never thought he was a bad person. I disagreed with McCain and Romney, but I never thought that they were bad people. They never did anything that ever made me feel that way. Think about Bush’s statement to Cindy Sheehan, his statement about Muslims after 9/11, or McCain’s response to a woman attacking Obama. They were respectful — that is how the people who want to be leaders of this country should behave. As much as I disagreed with any of them, I was confident that they have the best interests of the country at heart; but not Trump — he only cares about himself.

How do you explain something like this to a child? If you voted for a person who does everything you tell your child not to do, how do you explain yourself? A Trump supporter told me that one shouldn’t look to politicians for moral guidance. I’m not sure if they understood my original argument. This is not about having a source of morality; it is about an example. Think back to our earliest lessons in morality — fables — if you do bad things, you get in trouble. If you do good things, good things happen to you. Trump contradicts this most basic axiom. His character contradicts it, and now so does our national character apparently, in that a significant part of the country is not just fine with,but wanted a man like this to be president.

As a rebuttal I often get questions as to how I could support someone shady like Hillary. This usually comes with a gish gallop of numerous conspiracy-theory articles. But in general you can sum it up to the following: she lied about Bengazhi, she is corrupt, and of course, her emails. None of those paint her in a flattering light and in isolation they may be concerning. But it turns into a matter of priority. This is what Trump supporters need to understand: she is flawed, but she isn’t talking about banning a whole religion from the country. She may have made shady deals, but she isn’t talking about how it is ok to sexually assault a woman. She is establishment, and she may care more for establishment interests, but she isn’t talking about inciting violence or questioning the foundations of our democracy; she isn’t talking about using nukes or blowing ships out of the water.

I have never felt scared in this country before. That’s different now. Trump’s senior-most advisers are alt-right fanatics. He has regularly courted the white-nationalist and white-supremacist segments of society. He refuses to disavow them as well. I’m not white and I’m an immigrant. How is that supposed to make me feel?

My opposition to Trump is not simply policy. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was on a Republican ticket. It is something far more fundamental; it is about what it means to be an American and a good human-being. It is about how we treat each other. It is about transcending our differences instead of magnifying them. It is about who we are as a society. It is about staying true to the principles that founded this great nation. It is about the statement that we make to the world about who we are as a country. It’s not just about the next 4 years, but the next 400 and where we need to go as a civilization. I really thought we were there. I really thought we were close this time. I really thought that we could start fixing some of the brain-dead decisions that got us here. I really thought that we could actually tackle climate-change. I really thought that we could do it right this time. The irony of all this, is that Trump supporters will never realize that they not only voted against my interests, but theirs as well. And that is why this hurts so much.

An alarmist future?

If Trump gets elected, I think humanity as a species has failed. Not to sound dramatic, but the choice should be obvious. It’s like you’re offered two bottles: one labeled water and the other labeled Ebola. Which one do you choose?

This probably sounds stupid. But ever since I first saw Star Trek, I knew I had found a goal. My goal was to do everything I could as an individual, to make that kind of future a reality. I know that I will never live in such a future, but I wanted to do my part to get us as a species, ever so much closer to that reality. I looked forward to a world where the only label we assign to each other is “Human”.

Trump is the antithesis of all of that. He stands at the polar opposite of such a future. If Trump gets elected I have very little hope for the future. Ronald Reagan saw America as a “shining city upon a hill” (a phrase from John Winthrop, an early Pilgrim) – it was a place where “if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here”. Ronald Reagan’s America is inclusive; not exclusive. He described it as a proud city, built on rocks stronger than the ocean; a country built on principles that have sustained it for over two centuries.

I have felt that America, even with its numerous flaws, has largely been a force for good in this world. When America decided to take on the mantle of being the world’s superpower, it also inherited the responsibility to do so wisely. As a nation America has made many missteps in this regard, but has also had many successes. Whether nations may admit it or not, many do look to the United States for direction. Trump’s vision threatens all of that. Europe is seeing the resurgence of extreme right-wing nationalism. There are disaffected people everywhere. Feeding into this is rising xenophobia and the desire to blame circumstances on outsiders. This is driven by a migration crisis, which by the way, will be nothing compared to the future ones we will see once the full effects of climate hit us within the next decade or so. Electing Trump will only legitimize and give further traction to these extreme right-wing movements in Europe. This is not a joke; no one saw Brexit coming, and it was largely driven by the same sentiments that are driving right-wing nationalism in mainland Europe.

In the early 1930’s there were a few fascist groups in United States. One of them was the German-American Bund. It was universally rejected by Americans who were repelled by their first exposure to European fascism. How different would the world be today, if a significant fraction of the nation had accepted it? What if there was someone like Trump at this point in time? Imagine a World War II with the United States on the side of the Axis Powers; imagine the outcome.

I am not trying to be alarmist. I honestly feel that we are at a critical point in the history of our civilization. I don’t want to assume the worst, but it’s hard not to. Is our cultural memory really so short that we are going to repeat the same mistakes from more than seven decades ago?

If Trump gets elected, aliens may one day come upon a dead planet and say “See, here’s actual proof that having intelligence doesn’t make you smart. These guys were intelligent, but they still killed themselves anyway because they were stupid.” I’d rather we find them first to disprove that notion.

A Trump presidency does not seem outside of the realm of possibility. That terrifies me. Even if he is elected, I hope the worst does not come to pass. It’s not just the future of America itself that is at stake; it’s the future of our global civilization.

Sci-Fi Fever Dreams

Yesterday when I finally fell asleep, I was running a fever of 102.5 (it broke last night and I feel much better today – I think I’m over whatever I got). I then had a dream I was in a TV show – something like Stranger Things. At least that’s how it started out. Something weird was going on at some house where there was a hole to a parallel dimension and a team of investigators had shown up to check it out. I was part of this team. For whatever reason I had a sweet pair of polarized sunglasses with me. Don’t know where I got them from, but they looked really cool and they most definitely didn’t belong in the 80’s. Everyone kept talking about how cool my shades were and I agreed; they were cool.

We were looking at the lawn where there was a burn mark due to the paranormal occurrences at this house, when I noticed that I would see a strange pattern on the lawn only when I wore the shades. No one else could see it. I lent my sunglasses to the other investigators and then they could see the pattern too. When they wondered why, I said “Well, my glasses are from 2016” (as if that would explain everything). They laughed because it was only 1986. I think at that point I realized that I had somehow time-traveled to 1986 and ended up as part of this team. Anyway, I then realized that the pattern I was seeing on the lawn was basically a series of gears; kind of like what you would see in a clock. Furthermore, the gears were moving. That’s when I realized that what I was looking at was time itself! The glasses helped me view the entire dimension of time using this metaphor. But not just view it…

I decided to say “Go back 10 seconds” while wearing the glasses, and I went back 10 seconds in time! So apparently that was how I had arrived in 1986, but I had forgotten that critical piece of information. I don’t recall what else I did with my new-found power but I vaguely remember time-traveling to 1991 and ending up in my old house in Darsait, Muscat as my younger self. So it appeared that the glasses had a sort of Quantum Leap-esque power too. Unfortunately at this point I either woke up or the dream transitioned into something else because I don’t remember what happened next.

My data-recovery story

I was looking through wayback machine at snapshots of my website, when I came across one from 2005. It reminded me of something I had almost forgotten. At some point in 2005, the network card in my FreeBSD server started to die. I got myself a new card and set about replacing the dying one. I can’t recall why anymore, but I guess I had needed to disconnect the hard-drive at some point. I remember that after I plugged it back in and booted up, I was greeted by a screenful of terrifying error-messages. Something horrible had happened to the drive that held my home directory, my website source-code, and my database. I had lost about 6 years worth of posts and images on my website. My first instinct was to power down the machine to prevent anything more being written to the drive, which I immediately did. After that I think I tried a bunch of disk-recovery tools to try and recover my data. But this was difficult because the filesystem was UFS. I can’t remember if there were any UFS recovery tools at the time, or if I tried them, but I remember having tried almost everything I could think of.

Out of desperation, I think I finally decided to use dd. I started dumping the data from the drive using the lowest size-setting possible in dd (I want to say it is a byte, but I don’t really remember). I then piped this into a perl script that would examine each byte, looking for magic numbers. The drive had been corrupted so badly that there wasn’t even any trace of a coherent filesystem anymore. I knew that the data I was getting were most-probably fragmented, but I didn’t care at this point. I would guess the file-type by looking for magic numbers, and then I would start dumping that data into a file until I found an ending marker, or if the file-type didn’t have one, until the start of another magic number. I remember having various settings in the script so that I could tune its behavior, especially when dealing with false positives. My priority was to retrieve my pictures, website, programming projects, and database. For my source-code I only had to look for ASCII data. For pictures I looked for file markers for JPG, PNG, and GIFs. The database was difficult though, because I was using MySQL. By sheer chance, I had decided to take a SQL dump of my website’s database the day before for backup purposes (ironically, on the very drive that would die the next day). This was ASCII data, and so it was one of the first things my script found.

I ran this script over a couple of hours I think, and then for most of the next day for good measure. Then I began the tedious process of sifting through these files, weeding out false positives. All said and done, I retrieved a good chunk of my data. I think I got back around 80% of my pictures, and almost all of my code and website source. It was a scary few days, but I’m glad that my desperation drove me to try something like this!

Comments were broken for a while

Commenting on this blog was disabled for a while… I think it was due to Akismet misbehaving or something. I’m not sure. Either way, you should be able to comment now. I will be slowly adding anti-spam stuff back in.

Sweet, handsome doggie needs a home

My wife and I found a dog that was wandering Hunt Highway between Lindsay and Val Vista. He was pretty scared and shy and after chasing him for about .5 mi we eventually caught up with him at the ranch on Val Vista and Hunt Highway. The folks at the ranch said that they have been seeing him for the past few days but weren’t able to catch him. After spending almost 30 minutes coaxing him with treats, I was finally able to get him into the car. My wife works for a no-kill shelter and we were hoping to get him in there but they can’t take him because they are full. My wife is looking for other shelters in the area, but we’re not sure what we can do.

He’s a normal-sized dog and is probably at most a year old. He’s very much a puppy and a very sweet boy. He was scared at first but then warmed up to us very quickly. He’s very friendly and seems to be at most a year old, but quite possibly younger (maybe 9-10 months) because his adult teeth are just coming out.

He’s either a bulldog/dane mix or a pit/dane mix. He hasn’t displayed any signs of aggression and seems to be in good health. Not sure how he is around kids.

He didn’t have a collar on and we’re taking him in today to see if he is chipped. If this is your dog, please let us know!

We would love to adopt him, but we already have two dogs of our own and can’t afford to keep another one. If anyone is interested in a good family dog, please let us know!

Or, if you know a no-kill shelter or a rescue that has room and can take him, please let me know also!



Remembering a great teacher

1995 was a difficult year for me. I had finished the 8th grade at Indian School Muscat. However, instead of joining the 9th grade with my friends, I had to move to an entirely new school, Indian School Al-Ghubra, which was much further away and worse, was our arch-rival. My first few weeks at the new school were horrible. I missed my friends terribly; everyone was a stranger and I had a hard time adjusting to the way things were done at the new school. My first mid-terms were a disaster. While I had consistently scored in the 80’s to 90’s in my old school, here it was a different story. My grades were pretty bad. Looking back, I think it was mainly due to the stress of moving to a completely new environment. I was unsure of myself and I simply wasn’t used to the way things were done.

I still remember when I got my Math paper. I had scored a dismal 37.5 out of a 100. I was shell-shocked. I had never scored that low on a math paper. As I stared at the paper, tears welling up in my eyes, I heard a gentle voice tell me, “It’s only the first exam. You’re new here and I’m sure you’ll do better next time…” I looked up to see my Math teacher, Mr. Vida, looking at me with a little smile on his face. I didn’t believe him then, of course. More urgent things were at hand, namely soon-to-be irate Indian parents whom I would have to answer to, at home. It seemed rather insignificant and pointless to me at the time. But looking back, I can see it for what it truly was: a concerned and kind teacher taking the time to comfort an obviously-distraught student.

Over the next few years I became very familiar with Mr. Desmond Vida, and his wife Mrs. Pushpa Vida, or as they were known around ISG, “The Vidas”. I used to go to after-school tutoring sessions for Math at his place, which in addition to being extremely helpful were also quite simply, fun. A lot of my classmates were there and our study sessions regularly had less-serious interjections were we all laughed and joked, along with Mr. Vida. Those four years at ISG were formative and extremely important since they played a huge part in molding me and shaping me into the person I am today, and the Vidas were a huge part of that.

Mr. Vida didn’t simply teach us Math. He did more than that. He was a mentor and a guide who helped his students realize their potential. He consistently encouraged us. This was especially poignant to me, a student who never really fit in with the “learn-by-rote” mentality of the Indian system of education. Oftentimes while I was wondering if something was wrong with me, he would remind me that no, there was nothing wrong, I was a smart kid, and that I was simply better at applying knowledge than regurgitating it (an opinion that was vindicated years later when I finally moved to the US for college and started acing my Math classes).

After 10th grade, Mr. Vida taught us English. He was as effective in English, as he was in Math. He didn’t limit himself to the syllabus, but deliberately went outside it. We would hold long discussions in class about the subtleties and nuances of the prose or poem we were examining. To help us understand our lessons better, he had us present plays on some of the subject matter. I fondly recall those after-school rehearsals, still.

I graduated high school in 1999 and Mr. Vida was there to congratulate me and everyone else. He told us how proud he was of us and that we would all go on to do great things. That was over 13 years ago. Over the years we kept in touch intermittently through email and eventually, Facebook. Mr. and Mrs. Vida moved to Australia and continued doing what they do best: teaching.

Then this morning I found out that Mr. Vida had passed away due to an accident. I read the words, but they didn’t register. The kind, intelligent, jovial man in my mind’s eye didn’t jive with what I was reading. I was shocked. Fate snatched an exceptional man away from us, before his time. Like I said before, Mr. Vida wasn’t just a teacher. He was an exceptional human being. He guided us without telling us what to do. He encouraged us and helped us along when we faltered. He was never one to patronize either. Even though we were still somewhat childish, he understood that we were on the cusp of young adulthood and treated us with respect, and without passing judgement. He was always there for us to turn to if we needed help. When I heard the news, long-dormant memories came flooding back: the laughs, the jokes, late-night Math tutoring sessions before exams, and especially before the 10th grade board-exams. The play rehearsals where we’d end up fooling around (much to Mr. Vida’s consternation) rather than doing anything useful. Cruel irony then, that these fond memories were now tinged with sorrow.

Mr. Vida, you were a wonderful teacher and you were an inspiration. I am honored to have been taught by you. You will be missed, but not forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with Cruz and Mrs. Vida in this difficult time.


Guru Brahma Gurur Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshwaraha
Guru Saakshat Para Brahma
Tasmai Sree Gurave Namaha

Translation:
Guru is verily the representative of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
He creates, sustains knowledge and destroys the weeds of ignorance.
I salute such a Guru.

Pictures from our anniversary balloon-ride

I booked a balloon-ride for my wife and I for our second anniversary. It was the first time that both she and I had even been on a balloon. It was an awesome experience and a whole lot of fun. These are a few pictures from that trip. I’ve touched up some of these pictures with Picasa. I’m still learning and so I occasionally I’ll shoot something where the composition is ok, but the colors are all off. Still figuring out how to shoot things in different lighting conditions!

A few pictures from my vacation to Oman

Here are a few pictures from my vacation to Oman. I only wish I had longer that two weeks! I traveled with my wife, my best friend Michael, as well as my sister and her husband. We visited Nizwa, Muttrah, the Grand Mosque, as well as friends and family. The following pictures were taken with my Nikon D3000. I’ve made minor edits like straightening, or converting images to black and white. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

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