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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Signal Tampering? Matt Cartoon

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

iThink. Therefore iPod.

I have been following the charges that have surfaced against Apple Computer about the poor working conditions its iPod plant in China offers its workers because it involves Apple, but - more to the point - because of my interest in the working conditions and the exploitation of labour in the majority world by corporations from developed and civilized countries. Outsourcing is merely a euphemism for this exploitation and we fall for it hook, line and sinker!

The ultimate monstrosity, of course, has been that of Outsourcing Torture. Some of the countries have even tortured their own citizens for a 'suitable' fee from the USA, or even the turning of a blind eye to the tyrannous rule in those places.
The philosophy behind this outsourcing of torture reminds me of a tale from Manto's Siyaah Haashiyay ('Black Borders' - a collection of vignettes unparalleled in Urdu) in which some people find a Muslim family hiding in the basement of one of the houses they have occupied during the 1947 Indo-Pak Partition massacre. They debate among themselves about the diposal of these Muslims: They cannot kill them because killing is forbidden by their Jain faith. So, they finally 'settle' the problem by deciding to hand them over to some other sect whose faith would allow them to kill.
I doubt if Apple should be expected to be better or worse than any other corporation in its pursuit of money. To be fair, it has never, to my knowledge, claimed a moral high ground. While it has not yet fallen foul of the law for the strong-arm tactics and illegalities that Microsoft has, that doesn't 'guarantee' that it never will. One can only hope. Who knows what goes on inside all these big companies? Corporate greed is a killer disease.

That said, I have been a Mac user since 1984 and, like all its previous versions, Apple's OS (Current version: Tiger) remains my favourite by a long shot over all else. And the next version (Leopard) is drool-cool! [Wintel users: If you switch and find that you do have an occasional masochistic pang for Windoze, the new Intel Macs run that, too. And fast.]

Aesthetically Apple is still the best in terms of Hardware and Peripherals, as well as its own suites (iWork & iLife) based on the original philosophy of being 'the computer for the rest of us' (although Trott finds it fun, too)! And its innovations, from the iPod and the iTunes Store to the MacMini and even the Apple Stores are blatantly copied by everyone else, as was its GUI. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of acknowledging lack of creativity!

My favourite or not, its impact has never lessened ever since it launched the personal computer revolution. Despite a comparatively miniscule marketshare, it makes ripples throughout the media everytime Jobs so much as sneezes. When did you last see Michael Dell's address to his Developers[?] shown in the TV News section? The iPod has even been the source of adding a word - Podcasting - to the English Language. It was, in fact, named the word of the year.

I am as unlikely to excuse, much less defend, Apple's malpractices as I am the Holocaust. On the other hand, as an activist, I have seen such charges levelled against many companies by Greenpeace and Animal Rights groups, but have - apart from the usual unsupported denials by the guilty parties - yet to see many other companies offer such a quick and fair response.

I must admit, though, that my love of Jobs's products is somewhat enhanced by a common affinity for the movements of the 60s - a fact that, to many of you, may not amount to much ... but means the world to me!

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Farewell Friend!

Full story

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Diabetics have one track minds!

"Say something soft and sweet to me, Jughead", she said.
He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "Marshmallows!"

Even in in a family with a hereditary (on both sides) love for sugar, my passion for it bordered on a level that, in any other case, could have put me in trouble with the Law.

And then I married Nuzhat, who, along with her brothers, also shared my psychological disorder of never being able to pass the sideboard or the tea-trolley without grabbing and gulping down a spoonful of sugar. In fact, my mother-in-law used to say that she'd given birth to ants!

I recall Eeds where 3 different types of Sivayyaañ were cooked in our house. One for visitors, who found the sweetness of our regular dish difficult to handle; one for my mother, my wife, and anyone feeling adventurous; and one for me (and for my father, when he was alive) - The Chaogünee - in which the ratio of Sugar to Vermicelli was 4:1 ... honest!

I also admit to having been guilty (in my pre-Type II days) of secretly sprinkling sugar on my portions of desserts served at friends' houses. Or, inadvertently, shocking them, as I did at my sis-in-law's house, by drinking the left-over sheera from the pot that the gulaab-jaamans had been served in.

So to end up with Diabetes (Puhleez! Excessive sugar does NOT cause Diabetes! That's one of the most common misunderstandings!!!) has been a terrible personal tragedy. Or was, in the beginning. Fortunately(?) there are enough diabetics to target as a market segment. And, thus, as one of the benefits of Capitalism, we have a host of Sugar-Free products.

But here's the most important part: The best of these come from someone who started producing the stuff, or introduced this as a line, because s/he was a diabetic and missed the erotic delights of good sweets. Everyone else delivers a bland piece of excreta with no sugar (or, more frequently, with really bad sugar substitutes). No one else can even begin to understand our need.
BTW, the idiots in a restaurant off ZamZama - I forget the name; it's a first-floor coffee shop - have no idea of the serious risk they are putting diabetics through: I asked the waiter which sugar substitute they use in the drinks they advertised as sugar-free and was informed that they "use regular sugar but do not charge for the sugar in these drinks." I swear this is true ... I have a witness!
Just in case some of you are still unaware, sugar substitutes come in two different versions. Most types cannot be used for cooking (the heat breaks them down into something that is vile-tasting and could be bad for health, too. Who knows ...). Make sure you choose the ones that clearly state that they are meant for cooking and baking.

Here are some of my favourite sugar-free thingies: Ice Creams, Banana Splits, and Milk Shakes at Gelatto Affair (be sure to try their Coffee Milk Shake with sugar-free Chocolate ice cream); Ice creams at Snoopy may also work, depending upon your taste or wallet state. BTW, Gelatto Affair is in Karachi, Lahore & Islamabad. And, of course, Chill-Out in Lahore deserves prominent mention: Their Sugar-Free Mocha and Butter Walnut are out of this world! The Delite Diet Ice-Cream tubs can, as a last resort, be used. Hico has a Vanilla that's useful for topping up other delights and mixing with mangoes.
Speaking of mangoes, they are poison for diabetics, I know. I changed my first diabetician almost immediately, because she suggested that I could have "half a mango at mealtime. " --- HALF????? I mean why bother? You either don't eat mangoes or you eat them. Them. Plural! She also said to me that for each year I skipped mangoes, I'd live two more years. Two more years without mangoes? What a daft idea! And sinful, too! Mangoes, Music, and Macs are the closest things I have to religion, really. In fact, my vision of Heaven has always been of London lined with mango trees.
Desserts (also off ZamZama) and a couple of other bakeries offer reasonable cheesecakes for diabetics. Pester them often and they'll soon add other items.

More stuff is beginning to show up on shelves at supermarkets. Some of the cookies and biscuits are really good, but you'll need to explore. Chocolates: I shall leave that to your judgement, entirely. If you are travelling, buy them abroad. The ones you get here are usually stale, frozen-defrosted-refrozen, or unknown brands that are too expensive to experiment with. And, please, if you wish to give some diabetic a gift of love, do not get Dark or Bitter Chocolates (with or without sugar): The poor soul is missing the sweetness, most of all.

As for sugar-free mithaaee, Nirala's Barfee is great and, if you are in Lahore, their Laddoos are wonderful, too. Karachiites are deprived of the latter treat for 'technical' reasons, I was told. But their gulaab-jaamans are simply unbelievable ... and better, really better, than the standard fare. Most of my non-diabetic friends prefer them. Even those not conscious of their expanding waist-lines.

There's a little corner shop on Burns Road in Karachi - next to the famous Kabab eatery recognizable by its overwhelming green colour - that sells superb sugar-free rab∂ee to which I usually add a teeny bit of milk (sweetened ;-) with sugar substitute). The milk makes it easy to have the sweetness penetrate all of the contents of a large bowl of rab∂ee. Yes! In matters of desserts, size counts.

Finally, if you are diabetic and really, really have a sweet-tooth, maybe you can drop in this Eed and taste a bit of the stunning stuff that Nuzhat still whips up for me with Splenda, including the most splendid kheer this side of the Gomti.
Additional note in response to some comments: MedicineNet's Diabetes Section is among the best sources of info on the subject. I would strongly suggest using the xml/rss feed option to make sure you are kept updated.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's Book Week in Blogland

... and only because I want it to be one :-)

Here's my list of books:

  • One that changed my life: My father's short story collection - Naee Paud (now out of print)
  • One that I've read more than once: Alice in Wonderland
  • One I'd want on a desert island: Tilismé Hoash Rübaa (An Urdu classic of Fantasy and Fiction)
  • One that made me laugh: Catch-22
  • One that made me cry: Catch-22
  • One I am currently reading: Irshad Manji's The Trouble With Islam Today
  • One I have been meaning to read: The Tariq Ali Quartet
  • One I think everyone should own: MacBook
  • One that I wish had never been written: Everything ever written by William Bennett.
  • One that I wish had been written: Ships and Shoes and Sealing Wax - The book I have been trying to write for 5 years now!

Now I look forward to seeing yours.
Have a nice week!

PS: The meme for this idea comes from Sage

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

It's pouring memories ...


She said she liked the rain

sometimes. I, that the only thing

I have against it is it makes

you wet. Anyway on hot summer nights

the sound of it is cool. She said

when you are crossed in love

you listen to the words of the songs.

I said that being in love is bad

for the stomach; no one

should be in love after thirty.

She kissed me and ran naked
out in the rain, and indigestion

burned inside me like a fire.

- Henry Graham

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Space Wars

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Washed Out!!!

There are plus points, no doubt. Karachi hasn't smelled so beautiful in days. The air hasn't been cleaner, the dust more settled. The Malhaars have never sounded more apt, and even the pako∂aas that Fatima has made taste good. (Fatima is employed in the capacity of 'cook' - a term, that in her case, requires the use, in equal parts, of imagination and compassion).

But there are other realities to consider, unfortunately. In the past 48 hours the rains - though far from torrential - have played more havoc than they should have.

A shayr - by Syed Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari - keeps buzzing in my ears:
Barsaa to sahee abr ..... magar khül ke nah barsaa
Baethaa nah meray dil ka ghübaar ab kay baras bhee

On the home front:

We have had occasional electricity over these two day. Blackouts have lasted 16 and 14 hours at a stretch. The current one is in its 7th hour.

This has also meant that most food in the fridge has altered its physical state: Ice Cream is now Milkshake. Meat smells of the animal when it was alive and wallowing in its own doings.

The kitchen floor is only navigable on stilts. [The ants are all gone, though. Yayyyy!]

The lack of electricity means the water cannot be pumped up to the overhead tank and we are now sharing the experience of dry-cleaning with our garments.

Other, smaller, inconveniences include having to throw yesterday's newspapers (used for drying the puddles on the doorstep) out of the gate and hauling in today's drenched editions to salvage what we can, while singing Wring out the Old ... Wring in the New!

The already Work-to-Rule Model Generator has, in a sudden decision to pay homage to Murphy's Law, conked out! (For those of you who do not live in 'developing countries' - where the term 'developing' applies to the bank accounts of its leaders - Electricity Generators are de rigeur here, as soon as one can save enough money. In fact they have shifted above Umrah on many priority lists, except for government officials who perform that pilgrimage at our expense and probably get a free generator through devious means, too).

On the City front:

It's best to let this morning's email from activist/warrior/friend Naeem Sadiq speak for itself:

The Clifton Underpass Lake
As a citizen I protest at the criminal negligence exercised during the design and construction of the Clifton Underpass. Just twenty-four hours of rain has converted this underpass into an 18 feet deep lake, causing untold misery and chaos, and literally washing away 180 million rupees of tax payers' money. Not surprising that a foreigner, after taking one look at [it], said that in his country whoever designed such an underpass would be in jail in no time flat (but what do you do, when, in the words of Habib Jalib, "Darj thay jin kay naam thaanoñ mayñ / Aaj shaamil haeñ hükmaraanoñ mayñ" - ?- Zak), and would be banned from all government contracts. Whoever approved that project would also be serving time alongside. Even the Mohenjodaro era artisans did a far better drainage job. The other great monstrosity gifted to the citizens of Karachi, the 225 million rupees of wasteful water-fountain has already packed up in its first 3 months of operation and closed down under the pretext of maintenance. Would the government account for this blatant squandering and hold the concerned (haah! you mean 'unconcerned', NS. - Zak) individuals accountable? Would the citizens of Karachi, for once, unite and form a group to demand action. (Frantic United Citizens of Karachi? - Zak)
On the Work front:

Fortunately, for me, b.i.t.s. runs superbly without my going there. In fact, the COO (pronounced coup) will probably say it's because of my not going there. But the generally amazing Sabeen - even now more up to the challenge than many others - is going bonkers!

Her house is Flooded. Yes. With a capital F.

She is running a team of people that can't (or won't, given the national work ethic) make it to the office in this weather.

Unlike what a technology-based company should be able to do - she and the team cannot work out of homes, since most ISPs are incapable of providing reliable services under these conditions.

And I am being no help, glued to my iPod Shuffle and Kesarbai's 78 RPM transfers! (No, it's not Apathy, guys. I am recovering from surgery.)

Oh what I would give to be a Solipsist (although some think I come close!)

The fact is that, for a small company, trying to do an honest (remember this word from some strange past, fellow citizens?) job, while getting brow-beaten by everyone and their uncles (who always seem to be employed at Powers That Be, Inc.), this place is near-impossible. And getting worse.

Anyway ... I haven't just been sitting idle all day. I've been working out an exit strategy. I have had 3 career changes in my 65-year life and, partly because of these disasters and partly to satisfy the wanderlust that's beginning to rear it's head again, I am thinking of a new direction for b.i.t.s. --- Clothing and Accessories: gear@bitsonline. Here are 3 initial offerings:

The Lippman Cap
The Edison Tote
The Goethe T-Shirt

These should make the business model transition easier, since they do represent the b.i.t.s. philosophy.

[Finally, a word of cheer to The Last Man Leaving the Country: You don't have to worry about switching the lights off!]

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