Monday, September 22, 2008

A networker's delight


ONE of the major problems with technology documentation is that the writers appear to sing oodles of praise over applications which don’t quite work out their way. From time to time you will be plagued with lines of code that look okay in print but refuse to compile, books that promise to make you a master in a particular field or application but won’t chalk out its limitations, and the most important areas apparently getting such less notice in volumes that you wonder whether the authors actually knew what the thing was intended for. The situation gets particularly critical for specialized fields where you are forced to buy multiple titles and download tons of web pages to gather information that queerly remains unbound in a single dependable edition.

Sufi Faruq Ibne Abubakar’s ‘ISP Setup Manual’ aims to particularly address the issue. A well-known local tech guru, his book is subtitled ‘(A) Step by step guide for ISP and corporate network’, and easily qualifies as a first-hand guide to implementing Linux and networking.

The manual, or ‘black book’ as Sufi calls it (who intends to bring out ‘red’ and ‘blue’ books for intermediate and advanced users in future) is divided into ten sections. The sections are meant to be read sequentially while further relevant information, including documentation, software (and even pictures of the hardware) come bundled with the free CD, which is a wealth of information in itself.

The book itself starts off with the amateur user in view who is eager to move on to sophisticated training in networking. Everything is clarified from the very start and you even come across occasional jokes and smileys when you’re reading, which definitely keeps your journey alive. A book called ‘ISP Setup Manual’ and weighing over 400 pages could always be expected to attract readers with a genuine professional interest or a geekish strain; nevertheless the language is easy to follow, and the format maintained is consistent and simple. But what’s probably most significant about the book is that all the issues and discourses in it relate specifically to the Bangladeshi context, which makes it an indispensable reference.

Indeed, all possible supplementary sources are cited throughout, including the relevant hyperlinks relating to every single piece of software and hardware to the current norms in the business and even contacts of local experts whom you can turn to for suggestions.

There were a number of things I liked about the black book. First of all, this is probably one of those very few titles that actually convey the message throughout that yes, everything shall work fine. And they do. It’s this true down-to-earth expertise that triggers your eagerness and confidence as a reader.

Again, the content management and structurization is excellent. Sufi knows exactly where to draw line and before you know it you’ve moved on to the next chapter. The sheer amount of support provided is also nothing short of amazing: there’s the CD, the hyperlinks and contacts, the list of hardware vendors and means of procurement (including eBay!) – and what’s more, you can register at the publisher’s website for feedback and solutions.

Apart from all that, you can’t help but admire the author’s penchant for aesthetics. The book looks beautiful in its black cover which actually features a scene from a Prachyanat play. All the section and chapter illustrations are vivid and attractive as well.

Of the negatives, I didn’t like the fonts that were used. TNR and Courier are too commonplace and unqualified for serious publication, and I feel such printing etiquette played a major role in making pages appear brimful and lame which were otherwise an uncomplicated and interesting read. I’m not much of a fan of Sufi’s grammar either, which often drops an article here and there and often highlights terms unnecessarily.

For his second edition of the black book, I’d strongly advise him to look into these issues. I’d also suggest the first few chapters to be extended with a view to providing some more breathing space for interested beginners who aren’t adept in Linux but would like to go through the whole contents of the book. The glossary could actually cover all the terms and key topics mentioned throughout, and appending a current price list of all the tools used at the end of the book could also go a long way.

All in all Sufi’s black book is a highly standard publication and recommendable source of information for anybody with an academic or professional background in computers and networking. If you deem yourself a seasoned techie who’s taken a different path, well, I had long forgotten which organization in Bangladesh is for what in communication, and what DVB is for, and how to protect radio towers from lightning. Having all that come back in a simple, easy-going readthrough was a pleasant experience.

Regional Microsoft boss stresses copyright issues


Chris Atkinson, president, South-East Asia region, Microsoft Asia Pacific, repeatedly urged strict implementation of the Intellectual Property Law in the country in order to expect increased activity and investment from the world’s reigning software corporation.

Acknowledging the delay in efforts to localise computing good-humouredly, he said: ‘Everywhere I went (in Bangladesh) everyone was talking about why Microsoft has been so late to come to Bangladesh. All I can say is, well, better late than never.’

In an exclusive interview with New Age following the launching ceremony of the Bangla Language Interface Pack (LIP) for the upcoming Windows Vista operating system and Office 2007 suite, he revealed that a version of Microsoft’s flagship Operating System software geared at first-time Bangladeshi computer users would be released as soon as in a few months’ time.

Dubbed the ‘Windows Vista Starter Edition’, the OS will have the Bangla LIP pre-installed and is expected to dominate the country’s PCs. Microsoft is also hoping the raise amount the revenue earned from the land with the software — which currently is nowhere near the company’s yields in the West. Atkinson urged, however, that Bangladesh would have to work harder on implement IPL in order to expect increased investment from Microsoft.

‘There is this idea that developing countries can’t pay for software,’ he said. ‘But developing countries cannot but pay for software. If you don’t pay for software, there won’t be any software industry.’

‘Countries like Korea and Malaysia have made significant progress in reducing piracy in the last few years and venture capitalists are going there. In a study in Indonesia, we found that if you reduce piracy by 10 points, the software industry increases threefold, the tax amount paid is increased 5 times and the number of jobs is increased by 7 times.’

He also downplayed any possibilities of Open Source initiatives forcing Microsoft to resolve to such collaborative measures. ‘Microsoft is a company that is 31 years old and we are maturing. Choices are good. People can check out their options and find out what is best for them. People like our software for their quality,’ he said.

When asked how important the Bangladeshi ICT market was to Microsoft, he said that it is a populous country and there are many opportunities. He cited the fact that there are around 400 software companies here and was in high praise of local developers. ‘When talking about this region, most people only talk about India, but there are many skilled people and there are also many opportunities here.’

The venture, partnered with BRAC University and Bangladesh Computer Council, is geared at making computing a more relevant experience for the local population and creating opportunities for education, public and private services and addressing the digital divide.

The LIPs will also be available for download for genuine Windows XP (service pack 1 required) and Office 2003 Standard editions.

Have a byte!


‘STOP!’ my mom bellowed. ‘Don’t you dare bite on that sandwich anymore. Don’t you even watch TV?’ Comfortably couched in front of my monitor, I stare back at her feigning innocence, wondering whether to gulp down the remains of the local food joint specialty behind her back or wait a little longer. But alas, she chooses to keep guard. ‘Haven’t you read all those reports in the newspapers? Do you really work for a newspaper in the first place? Can you even read?’ And in that kind of context, I just had to do what any journalist with an assignment would. Yep, you got it right: I figured out the most comfortable means of collecting information, yawned, and logged on to the Internet.

So what’s really happening online? I did a little searching on all the major search engines, and the food adulteration issue in Bangladesh came in the top 10 search entries every time. Suddenly, everybody from Mama (of Mama Haleem fame) to Chacha (who cooks up Hajir Biryani - how could you?) to Bombay (not Mumbai, it’s the local guys who make chanachur) is a food adulteration star born overnight. At this point I came across Zaman bhai’s editorial at /edit.html, and decided to dig up a few more webpages.

With all the major dailies having their own websites, it’s not surprising that almost all of them host mobile food court reports that leave you with a sour taste in the mouth. Search engines do have a habit of citing completely irrelevant information, and in this case, the only actual food adulteration cases were the ones hot and happening in Bangladesh. In case you want to look into existing theory, ‘adulterated food’ is defined in terms of US law at, a blazingly fast website managed by Cornell University. Imagine whitening bread with alum and chalk, and using mashed potatoes, plaster of Paris (calcium sulphate), pipe clay and sawdust to increase the weight of the loaves. Sounds pretty much ‘us’, doesn’t it? Well, this was actually a common food adulteration practice in the nineteenth century. The Royal Society of Chemistry, subtitled ‘Advancing the Chemical Sciences’, has a nice article on the anti-adulteration movement at /2005Mar/Thefightagainstfoodadulteration.asp . It reads great, but as long as we’re dealing with food, let’s look up something that tastes better, shall we?

There are practically zillions of websites in existence which give away free recipes. Even if you’re not much of a cook, you might want to check out (‘epicure’ stands for a person refined in tastes in Medieval Latin). You’ll be amazed at the sheer detail gone into making a killer gourmet dish, er, website. There are all sorts of recipes that you can get your hands on, and also tips for students and wannabe chefs, recipe contests, a fantastic recipe search feature and a friendly, colorful interface that you’ll fall in love with. I’m hailing this website as the one-stop gourmet destination on the Web.

But then again, the Web is huge – and just take a look at what got caught in it. If you’re familiar with polar expedition novels, you’ve probably heard of Pemmican. It generally consists of a mixture of pounded beef with beef fat, and was invented by the Hudson Bay Company and based on traditional native North American Indian recipes. As expected, it’s compact, nutritious and can remain edible for a very, very long time. Hop off for the recipe at science/food2.htm . Want to taste Viking bread, the way it was really prepared 1,000 years back? Follow the directions on and you can make it in your very own kitchen in no time. Caution: just don’t hit anybody with it.

It’s pretty weird, but for some reason amateur physicists these days are intent on demonstrating ‘kitchen science’ online - laboratory tricks which mostly have nothing to do with cooking (now that’s what we call a mean fry!). Some of them, however, do involve stuff like getting electricity out of a lemon using two strips of metal. If you’re interested, try out The site also has lighter sections, such as one called Bizarre Yolks and featuring egg tricks from the kindergarten days: how to tell a raw egg from a hardboiled egg, making an egg float, and the sorts.

In the meantime let’s get health conscious. To my mother’s delight, I push away the sandwich and head off for with the sole mission of creating a diet chart that I can manage online. For your information, there are many software and websites available to do the job. is unique: first of all, it’s a paid service (you can try it out for a few days though) and makes sure it raises the stakes high enough for its genre. The site boasts an exhaustive set of features, including different approaches to help you keep in shape: diet control, weight reduction, workout directives and so on. Go pick the strategy you like most.

But hey, ‘edible’ is relative too. If you are allergic to certain kinds of foods, you should better be wary of them. I came across an interesting article on which provides an informative insight into food allergies children often suffer from and how they can be overcome (I’d never have guessed that the most common allergen for kids is milk!). Again, if you have diabetes you’ll need a customized diet control program with all the medical information chalked out. Unfortunately, despite the abundance of such services offered on the Web, almost all of them are hardly relevant in our part of the world, where eating habits differ greatly from the West. The closest match I could get for a Bangladeshi context was, India’s premium website for diabetes patients. Let’s get this straight: the site isn’t great, but does the job fairly well; and in the end you simply can’t help wondering how come this kind of thing hasn’t been developed in our country yet.

It’s time I signed off now, but not without taking a look around at And isn’t it the icing on the cake: this gem of a site has tons of features you won’t find together under the same roof anywhere else. There’s trivia, recipes, articles, food history, and even magazines, poems and reviews of books on food! There’s also a ‘cooking tips’ section, the best I’ve come across (which also provides you with all sorts of facts, such as how to preserve ‘zebra’ tomatoes and that cocoa butter is used widely in soaps and cosmetics), and a section on ‘food quotes’ (ranging from NY Times Restaurant Critic Bryan Miller’s ‘square meals, not adventurous ones are what you should seek’ to Oscar Wilde’s famous ‘an egg is always an adventure; the next one may be different’).

Creative, to say the least; nonetheless, enough for a day’s food for thought! I lazily terminate the network connection and reach out for the homemade delicacies that my mother has just served. Thankfully, some things will always be unadulterated.

Google gems


I'll never forget the day I first went online. It was on a Friday morning, and I decided to start off my browsing with something I was familiar with, so I hopped off to the CNN website. A couple of minutes of click-on-every-link-you-see later, I stumbled on a website that seemed anxious to ship me a Ford truck that I had supposedly just won at an online lottery. Half an hour of sluggish and unfairly expensive dial-up time later, I discovered that I needed a credit card. Ah, childhood memories.

Of course, special offers and prizes are still out there. But imagine finding the perfect deal only to forget the website address… If perchance such mishap befalls you, just enter the name or keywords relevant to the website you wish to look up in Google's search field, and instead of clicking on Search or hitting Enter/Return, click on the I'm Feeling Lucky button. The site that Google deems the best match for your keywords will now start loading, and it’s usually the page you’re looking for. This is also a great way of weighing your online presence – key in your name and try it, and if you’re popular enough you should be looking at your Facebook page or most popular blog entry. (My digital ego just got deflated 45 seconds ago.)

You could also customize your Google homepage (if you have a Gmail account) at It’s cool and clean, and features daily weather projections, a quote of the day section, and tons of other widgets to choose from. If you have neither the Google toolbar (http:// toolbar., nor a Gmail account ( – well, I just provided you with the links, didn't I? The toolbar is currently in version 5.0, and frankly, it’s so useful that I’ll refrain from any spoilers here, and let you discover it and go bonkers on your own time.

And if you have do have lots of time to spare, why not use it to put some space to good use? Hop off to http:// code/gmail.htm to download Gmail Drive, a tiny application that lets you use your Gmail account storage like a remote hard drive. Just back up your work at office to your Gmail account using the tool and comfortably download the files when you get home or whenever you feel like it. But it's been enough Google for a day, right? Trust me, it’s got tons of goodies. I've only touched the surface here (if not less). Hop off to if you’re feeling curious.