I own a Nokia E72 mobile phone. While I have not owned mobile phones longer than five years, I have in that time span been through two mobile brands. My very first mobile phone, gifted to me by father when I was early on in the University, properly convinced that I didn’t need a mobile phone, was a Sony Ericsson. It was a small mobile phone, the name of which escapes me now. I may still have it, somewhere, in some drawers, lost but not forgotten. I used it until it nearly died out. The engravings on the buttons grew muddled, colour on the handset faded out, the battery dead, replaced and dead again, etc. It would be safe to say, in hindsight, that I used it heavily.

My second mobile phone was another Sony Ericsson. It was the first mobile phone I bought. I was immensely excited the night I bought it, on way from work. The excitement of buying a new gadget is one that doesn’t ever diminish in its intensity, never goes away, no matter how many gadgets you buy. It is there right around the time you decide to buy a new gadget, and lasts well until after you’ve bought it. That was my second Sony Ericsson phone, and would be my last.

After I had made heavy use of it, I slowly moved away from it over to Nokia. I had a mammoth but reliable Nokia E61 lying around, which I was using for testing Symbian applications. Yes, this was roughly the time when I worked on Symbian application development. And that is all I am going to say of it.

My fourth and current mobile phone is a successor to E61: Nokia E72. I loved that phone when I bought it. I still love it in some ways. While E61 could be said to be too, E72 is what you would call a proper smart-phone. It features a lot of things that could help you do all sorts of things on the Internet, besides the usual functions of phone. It also has a full QWERTY keyboard. While I had owned an iPod Touch, I’d not been a big fan of touch screen and touch phones. I strongly believed that I could never be able to reliably use a phone with touch screen as the only form of input. This bias was in part due to my reliance on and affinity for physical QWERTY keyboards on phones.

Over the past couple of months, I was growing a little frustrated with my E72. While it worked as anyone would expect of it, I found that as far as applications that let me run wild on the Internet were concerned, it was severely limited. Sure, there were applications to do anything from using Facebook to Twitter to Foursquare. But I felt stifled. There were browsers but I didn’t feel the urge to browse anything on my mobile, unless it was an absolute emergency. I could post tweets on Twitter, but I didn’t enjoy interacting with others’ tweets. The same could be said of my experiences with Facebook (as far as I can tell, there is no native, official application for Facebook from Facebook for Symbian S60) or Foursquare applications. It just wasn’t fun, or even comfortable.

So for the past couple of months, I had been strictly debating getting an iPhone. iPhone 4S was out by then and it made no sense to get anything below that model. Some friends suggested time and again to go for the iPad instead. Where I was almost convinced that iPhone 4S would be my fifth phone, the recommendations for iPad threw my mind back in a state of confusion. Naturally, I compared the pros and contrasted the cons of both devices. Of course, one is a phone, the other a tablet, but when I compared the iPhone to the iPad, I actually compared it with iPad and my E72. That is, if I were to get an iPad, I would continue to use my E72 for the phone needs. There was a big difference in price as well, with a factory unlocked iPhone 4S coming at an exorbitant 67k PKR locally, while an iPad2 with WiFi cost only 48k PKR.

I still remember clearly the night I was at the club on the courts, playing tennis with my partner. He had finally bought the iPhone 4 a day before, after having looked for the white one for under a week. That night, I came home, and finally made up my mind.

The next afternoon, I was at the Apple Store I regularly buy from, purchasing an iPad2 WiFi with 16GB disk space. I had decided it. As I would find out, it was one of the best decisions I had made in my life in a while.

Those familiar with the different iPad2 models available will know that there’s a WiFi + 3G one available. Apart from having to pay under 10k PKR more, the main reason why I decided against getting the 3G model was the unavailability of 3G in the country. I know that you don’t necessarily have to have 3G to be able to use the connection, because any type of data-plan from your provider, such as GPRS or EDGE, will work. However, as I will explain, iPad is a content consumption device. When I say that it is a content consumption device, I mean it in a massive way. It has been designed for consuming a lot of content, including in the form of video, audio, and text. When I decided to buy it, I imagined myself using the iPad like I do my laptop. And I can’t ever imagine using my laptop over EDGE/GPRS in a way that satisfies me. Similarly, I didn’t think the iPad would shine on an EDGE/GPRS connection.

In the next post, I will explain exactly how the arrival of iPad has changed my life, how it has affected it, how I use it, where and when I use it. I will also list down the wonderful apps I use frequently, and make an argument for iPad being an awesome device for reading books/content in particular.


There is more to life than …

I came across this short but extremely powerful post on the gapingvoid blog. It not only moved me but forced me to question myself, to ask myself what is it that I’ve done in my life. I thought it needed to be reproduced in full here, with proper attribution.

To paraphrase Seneca, the tragedy isn’t that life is short, the tragedy is that we waste so much of it.

The other types of tragedy, the more violent kind, never worry me too much, thankfully. I never lost much sleep, worrying about wars or serial killers or whatever.

But the thought of getting to the end of my life and realizing that I had wasted most of it, that froze my blood.

As it should…

To this day, I remember that day in the summers of 2008 when I decided to pack and seal my laptop inside my cupboard, and board a one-way plane to Quetta to spend a month with relatives away from everything I did at home, far, far away from any form of technology. All I had when I reached the airport were a bag full of clothes, a book, and my cellphone (I decided to carry so that I could keep in touch with parents).

One month later when I returned, I had an incredibly painful realization dawn on me. I felt I had wasted an entire month of my life doing absolutely nothing. I thought of all the ways in which I could’ve spent that month that would’ve meant something meaningful to me, or of all the productive things I could’ve done that would’ve helped me and/or my never ending quest for knowledge and for doing things that matter. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I had wasted over thirty days, doing nothing more than resting, reading a book that was purely fiction, and socializing with limited relatives.

People take breaks, vacations, to cut themselves away from their hectic lives in order to refresh themselves, to revitalize themselves, to save themselves from the risk of burning out. When they come back to their lives after such breaks, they feel energized  and ready to again take on the mountains that lay before them.

I took a vacation, I took a break. I took rest, I cut myself away from technology, from the usual things that made up my hectic life. But when I came back, I didn’t feel energized. I didn’t feel revitalized. I felt regret. I felt slow and lethargic. I felt angry at myself for having wasted so much time doing nothing.

To this day, I live with that regret. I understand that regrets are harmful and best thrown away, but that’s one of those things that are easier said than done.

Of bubbles and bitter experiences!

When it comes to procrastination (and therefore exaggeration), I stand unparalleled among the many circles I am known to be a part of. It has been a little over a year since my writing about the procedure to follow to disconnect PTCL DSL service and my undeniably firm resolve to sever off the connection, and I have only very recently finally managed to get around to getting my act together.

The exchange building, where I found the DSL office, was anything but a pleasant sight. Dilapidated, the inordinate building worn down through constant neglect over the years recalled similar sights of government offices that I had had the misfortune of being an audience to. Every wall, every floor, every desk and chair, and every roof mounted fan that appeared to be dysfunctional, I could lay my gaze on was layered with dirt and gunge, but what startled me the most was the sight of the two staffers in the small DSL room sitting on chairs that could fall apart any minute and working on two dust-covered computers lying on an old, worn-out desk. My heart sank. I was sweating from the already sizzling weather outside. The room felt hellish. A dusty, half torn portable standing fan was as close as it got to having any hope of relief in the heat. Throughout the ten minutes I had to sit in that room, except for the few moments I spent answering what was asked of me, I kept looking about, reflecting thoroughly.

It is easier if one can phase out and shield oneself from unsavoury, unpleasant circumstances, by maintaining a bubble around oneself. It is an uphill struggle keeping that bubble intact alone, for there are many places and many moments where the frailness of it becomes perceptible.

I digress. The steps I described in the post before remain the same for applying for discontinuation of service, with the exception that I did not have to surrender the equipment as it had been well over a year. Folks from their call centre called me twice the next day to enquire into my reasons for cancelling the connection.

To toss a wrapper out the window

No matter how depressing a picture the newspaper paints every passing day without fail, despite to what alarming heights corruption in the country is reaching, notwithstanding the growing number of people who continue to die like cockroaches every day and fall pray to countless forms of acts of crimes and injustices, there is always a small fire of patriotism glowing somewhere deep within an individual. I know, and I admit, amidst all that has been happening, you can only do so much to make a difference.

It is pitifully sad to find that we live in times where the motivation to do a good deed comes from what if any personal gains can be achieved as a result in the end. This puts the phrase, the means to an end, in a shady light: if the means is ignored for a bit, what constitutes the end? The personal gains which ultimately drive the means to achieve the end, or the ideal end for which the pristine means were acted out?

Patriotism, even if a wee, is too much to ask for in the times we live. I give you that. But being responsible is not something you can opt out of. I staunchly believe that every individual should do their part in being responsible humans. But, then, I am repeatedly told that the ends do not justify the means?

Need they?

Change can only begin from within you. If you can bring yourself to justify a good deed when there is nothing in there for you in the end, that is where you start to become responsible. That is where you start to embrace change. Keeping that wrapper or empty pack of juice in your pocket and disposing off in a waste bin later on, instead of pulling down your window and throwing it out on the road, may not get you anything in return. But what you would be doing is playing your part, as a responsible citizen and good human. And playing your part is after all your moral responsibility.

I’ve long given up on talking this into people’s minds. It is almost completely hopeless. Even if I can get in, I can’t drive the point anywhere except out across the other side. However, I do have found little success in leading by example. By playing my part, and by hinting ever so slightly, I can get people to notice and to think about it. The end is marginally different from before, but even if it isn’t, I could not care less. I merely try to play my part alone, in my capacity and when and where ever I can. If only more people would think alike.

Is your Gmail session encrypted? No? You’re in trouble!

OK, this is a bigger problem than it may sound or look. If you are one of those many who do not use a secure (encrypted) session (SSL, that is) to not only authenticate to but read and write your emails on Gmail, you are in trouble. At the time of writing, I suspect Mike Perry, a security researcher and reverse engineer who has been complaining about cookie hijacking and SSL sessions over at defcon.org and elsewhere, may have already released a tool to the public at large that will make taking over anyone’s unencrypted Gmail session as easy as stealing a candy from a baby — maybe even easier.

On the upside, on the bottom of the settings page of your Gmail account, Gmail folks have made it possible for users to switch Gmail to always use a secure session (which is commonly known in geek circles as “over HTTPS”). If you have not done that, definitely waste no time and get on and over with.

If you are one of those who log into their Gmail account in the morning, and keep logged in throughout the day, it would be less convenient but well worth it, if you have not already turned off the ‘always use https’ setting on Gmail, to access the Gmail page by manually typing the following address: https://mail.google.com/ Before Gmail got around to realising how big a problem this all is, using the manual link I have mentioned was, I believe (but I may just be wrong), the only way to keep your entire Gmail session encrypted. Otherwise, before, Gmail would only use an encrypted session during authentication (which is common and until now was sufficient in terms of providing reasonable security), and settle back to a normal, non-encrypted session for the rest of the email reading/writing operations (which, simply, means that anyone sniffing your network, while not in a position to make heads nor tales of what went on when you logged into your Gmail, could easily read all your emails). This was of course done to cater to the users at large that have a slow Internet connection, because clearly having an SSL or encrypted session poses a burden on Internet bandwidth.

However, now, we do have a big problem, and it is worse than someone eavesdropping on your emails. It is all too technical to explain, but, let’s just say (and I am being way way over-simplistic with this), anyone with malicious intent or coming off a bad day can fool your non-encrypted Gmail session into sending them all the information they need to take over your Gmail account. If that doesn’t scare you, hats off to you.

As a general rule, whenever authenticating to any website, please always, always try to use the secure authentication mechanism provided by the website (almost all sane websites that require any sort of authentication provide it). Most security-conscious websites will go one step further and automatically switch your session to an encrypted one. The easiest way to spot that is to look at the address bar and ensure that instead of “http://”, you have “https://” (note the ‘s’ there). Additionally, browsers also display a coloured lock icon somewhere on the status bar indicating that the session is encrypted. If a website is not courteous enough to automatically do that, chances are good that it may provide a link to the effect of ‘use secure login’ that will take you over a secure channel for you to safely authenticate with the website. If it does not, well, that is just too bad.

Have fun, and be safe.

Note to self: How not to light a BBQ fire!

It is barely past two in the afternoon. I am still struggling with the hangover from last night’s BBQ party. The lower part of my torso aches like it has never ached before, in part from sitting on my knees and in an uncomfortable position for hours at a stretch while grilling and cooking the BBQ meat. Also, I drove a lot that night too.

It took Ammar and I just a little less than an hour to make a fire. It wasn’t until this morning that mom told me that we would have been more successful with making the fire had we used oil instead of the gratuitous amounts of petrol we poured in. Not only does the fire, that way, last long enough for the coal to do its magic, using oil leaves an after taste and smell in what is being cooked that simply make the stuff more delicious.

Practice makes perfect, now. However, as I soberly told Rakesh when he had asked how to do BBQ while standing next to me watching me move the grilled meat over and sideways, there is really no future in it.

On a more serious note, someone should really teach Munir how to blow a sheesha.

Your eyes are precious!

For those of us whose work involves staring at a flickering screen for hours at end, Web Worker Daily has an insightful post titled “Five Ways To Be Nice To Your Eyes’’ that is a must read.

I spend hours sitting in front of and staring at a screen on a daily basis, be it for work or anything else. I am addicted to computers. If I don’t get to use my laptop, my day turns sour. I fail to figure out why, but it just does.

Despite having horribly weak eyesight, persistent headaches and all round eye strain, I neglect the little things you should do to avoid damage to your health when you strain yourself and your eyes to the same extent as I do. I am so absorbed in whatever I do on a computer that I turn numb to the otherwise crushing burden-like sensation that’s falling down through the eyebrows and the spiralling headache pulling the head.

My uncle once told me, having had a look at the small spot of dead skin that develops at one end of the wrists of those who work on computers excessively, that when you do something that takes a good part of your day repeatedly, you must ensure that you take every precaution to avoid inflicting any damage to your body and health, and that there is hardly any kind of work that you cannot do without hurting yourself. (He advised me to use a wrist band or support. Months after I joined the place I work for currently, I discovered a mouse-pad with wrist support that has made using a mouse for long hours a less hurtful and wrist damaging experience.)

There can be no better advice to inhibit the strain that builds up on the eyes while staring at a screen for long than to take breaks every fifteen or twenty minutes, close the eyes for a few seconds and look at something far off. It is by far the best and most feasible exercise one can afford to do. However, as anyone who is usually lost in their work will tell, it is a tad bit difficult to remember to take a break and perform this little exercise. You could do it once or twice, a couple of days with strict frequency, but soon you’ll find yourself neglecting your eyes more and more. It just happens.

I know how major a pain weak eyesight can be, so much so that I usually whine over not having better eyes (something people close to me would tell you). Whether you wear thick glasses or not, if you use computers a lot, please pay attention to little things like these and save yourself from ruining your eyes.