Carbon Neutral – Be Greener

I am quite surprised on how ignorant many people (like I was) are about understanding how the day-to-day activities contribute to Global Warming and the issues we face on this planet. As much as we wishes, unfortunately there is no backup or Undo feature Sad. To understand how our daily lives contribute towards global warming check out the Carbon Calculator and then read up on how you can offset those emissions and be Carbon Neutral.

However, personally I am not a believer of offsetting, while it is a step in the right direction it is not the solution.

Affect vs Effect

Yes, it is one of the simplest rules of grammar, but I still get confused – I call it Writers Block Wink

Technically my mother-tongue is Hindi, and I can speak the “street version” of it and while I can read it – you honestly don’t want me to. The fact that most fellow Indians around at that time are in splits and rolling on the floor might give you a clue. Well I am not particularly proud of that, the fact remains I suck at Hindi and no matter of dressing can fix that. On the flip side, my English is quite strong and for the most part I can read and write it just fine, some of my spellings and grammar sure can do with a refresher (hey but Word helps).

This grammar usage (or rather the lack of it) was highlighted by two things – one writing a book and two, Meenakshi actually starting to read this blog (more on that another day).

I did find these two sites which help people like me in helping find out the difference between Affect v Effect:

  1. Blue Book of Grammar
  2. Writing Tips

If you want to hone your Hindi skills then check out BBC Hindi.

An Inconvenient Truth

It is quite unusual for me to blog about non-technical things (other than the usual crappy joke), but there are certain thing which have a profound affect on me and global warming is one of those. Maybe it is the fact that I have seen the shortages first hand while growing up in India (and back then things were better that now, and they are just going to get worse), or maybe I have seen such a huge cultural difference between the Europeans and the Americans (having lived both in California for many years and for a couple of years now in London), or maybe I am just getting old – I don’t know.

If you have not seen this movie by Al Gore called An Inconvenient Truth, then make sure you go and see it. It is a documentary on global warming with sound science behind it and cuts through the political hype. Simply put, is a hair raising experience. It is a must watch! (you can see the trailer here)

After you have seen it, then you don’t sit on your ass, but actually do something about it. Firstly, calculate your contribution to the Global Warming and then try and reduce it. It is not very difficult to do, and you can reduce the impact at home, work, while commuting, etc.

More Information:

Blogging Engine

The software that one uses for blogging is interesting – if you are a “serious blogger“ (now there is an oxymoron), then you are tied to one platform or “engine“. What if you want to move from that, what do you do then? Either you give up your existing blog and move to the new one (in the process losing all your old posts, etc), or you somehow convert the data from one to the other. For example. right now I am running a modified version of .Text on my blog. Never really bothered to upgrade to Community Server 1.0 (CS), now that CS 2.0 is out, I am thinking of moving to that, but there is no official path to move my data from .Text to CS 2.0. I could try and move it to CS 1.0 and then from CS 2.0 – a process which seems quite clunky. Alternatively, I could write a took myself which does that, but then do I have the time? Another interesting option seems to be Logahead, which boasts of the first AJAX blogging and does seem to have a few cool features, has anyone taken it out for a spin? (You can play with the demo here.) The problem though remains the same, how do I move my existing data to that new “platform”.

Turning OFF Comments

I have gotten so much spam using the comments that the only way for me to manage them is to turn them off. Yes I know there is an easy way to fix it where I ask for confirmation before a comment is posted but I have not had the time to change the code, test it and then upload it to the server. I might just upgrade to CS 2.o when it RTM’s. Till then continue using the the Contact page and mention the post in there as well.

House Hunting!

We have just started to look for a house – why build someone else’s equity when you can build your own. I got to admit its a drag! And the fact we just started and people go on for months doing this, I don’t know how. It is just a big pain in the butt. My sympathies to all those going through the same thing. If you do know good areas in London where we can live please let me know? I need it to be close to Tube and preferably within Zone 2.

Delhi Airport, Fog and Dilbert

I don’t know if I should laugh or be worried (when I fly into Delhi next month), but it seems the brand-spanking-new ILS landing system for Delhi Airport is not only setup correctly, there is no one trained to use it (yet), with some people in the government claiming success. It seems like a page out of Dilbert and seems like déjà vu when it comes to IT projects.

How Microsoft changed the way it builds software with Vista

WSJ has a very interesting story on how Microsoft had to restart a lot of Vista features from a clean code base and throw away a lot of work done on existing windows code base over the years; and from my point of view, the fact that it took this long is surprising, but as they say better late than never.

How to screw up your MCE?

Well on one  lovely weekend when there were clear blue skies (big deal here in London), I thought what better way to spend the day then mess up the MCE and stay indoors all day to fix it. And how does one go about doing that? Well here is what I did and lessons learned (hopefully) :).

Firstly, just because there is a new update for the BIOS don’t be compelled to update it (as I did), remember the age old advice, don’t fix it if it ain’t broken. So, when I update the BIOS, which of course was not required, Windows for some reason did not like that and it stopped booting up – I would get a blue screen. Could not even boot up in safe mode, and the recovery console did not help, so all in all the machine was hosed if I may say.

Now that the computer was effectively dead I was glad that the data was on a different drive than the OS itself, so when I reformatted and reinstalled Windows, I would not lose the data. But installing it and getting it to work was a pain in itself. I upgraded the OS on Sat morning and by the time this got up and running it was Sunday afternoon – and in between that time was three complete reinstalls!

So, what was the problem? Well, the OS was installed OK, but when I tried to configure my Tuner card for the TV, it just won’t work. Every time I got a decoder error. But I knew that the TV feed was OK. After the first time it did not work I wanted to roll back the BIOS update, and just the sound of that makes you cringe – assuming it was even possible. In my case it was, but it was quite tricky. Another thing to point out, I don’t think this was an issue just with my TV Tuner card (I have the Hauppage PVR-500 MCE), but I think its with other cards too and is probably more of a OS thing.

First thing I had to do was download the old BIOS and per their instructions boot up using a floppy, run the update and voila I am done. The only problem my computer does not have a floppy drive. After a lot of googling, the answer I came up with was downloading a boot image from Bootdisk, where I could also get a ISO for a floppy image called FlashCD that then I can burn to an CD and boot from that. But, then how do I add the bios updates to the ISO, so when in DOS mode I could update to the older version of the BIOS? The answer again was provided by Bootdisk and it was to use a program called UltraISO which did the amazing job as recommended. Finally I was able to boot in DOS and flash the BIOS to the older version.

Now, that the BIOS was in the old state, I was back to where I had started, but now I had to reinstall the OS a second time. After going to that, and fingers crossed, I was back to square one, I was still getting the Decoder error. By this time it was quite frustrating, and each install was more than the OS, it was also all the drivers (which was about 7-10 different CD’s for the various devices), patches, anti virus and more updates – all of this while sitting on the floor using the TV as the monitor since I was too lazy to unplug everything and move the MCE to the study and hook it up to the KVM switch.

To cut a long story short, after more googling and trawling through newsgroups, the third time I hit up the solution and got it back up and running OK. And the key difference was, once the base OS was installed, install all the device drivers to get all the devices up and running, but don’t install any of the updates and patches, instead configure Media Center and after checking your signal install the relevant patches and updates.

Here is the sequence I finally followed the third time (and by then it was the next day – remember started on Sat and already into Sunday – and I did not want to experiment more and see what else could happen) the advice that I found on this Australian site.

  1. Install the OS
  2. Install all the drivers
  3. For the TV Tuner card make sure you use the right version. E.g. for Hauppage they also make non-MCE compatible cards, make sure you install the MCE drivers for the card.
  4. In my case I got the nVidia display, so I made sure I got the MCE version of the drivers too.
  5. I got a nVidia DVD Decoder as well.
  6. Uninstalled any other DVD software such as Power DVD, etc.
  7. Rebooted (of course)
  8. Voila, we are back in business.

Here are some pictures from the ordeal:

Installing MCE

Tired after going through the painful process – this I think was the second time

This is what the MCE looks like – my earlier post did not show the finished case.

Very tired, to get this to work – looks like in the middle of installing from the looks of the screen.

That is surely a painful smile. 🙂

This was I think the third time.

Stack of driver CD’s and I was also eating there – no food breaks – had to get this back up.

All in all, the moral of the story was, one, keep your data on a different drive than the OS and don’t install updates for the heck of it. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it! Was an interesting weekend for sure. 😉

ATM alert from LA County Sheriff's Department

I got this via a colleague of mine and thought I should spread the warning. I don’t forward chain letters, but send this link to other folks, what helps is the pictures, so you know what to look out for.

UPDATE: Here is another story (by Guardian) send my a colleague which has pictures for the ATM for UK, where these scams have been around for the last couple of years. It is always good to see the pictures carefully and keep an eye out.

Bank ATM’s Converted to Steal IDs of Bank Customers

A team of organized criminals are installing equipment on legitimate bank ATM’s in at least 2 regions to steal both the ATM card number and the PIN. The team sits nearby in a car receiving the information transmitted wirelessly over weekends and evenings from equipment they install on the front of the ATM (see photos). If you see an attachment like this, do not use the ATM and report it immediately to the bank using the 800 number or phone on the front of the ATM.

The equipment used to capture your ATM card number and PIN are cleverly disguised to look like normal ATM equipment. A “skimmer” is mounted to the front of the normal ATM card slot that reads the ATM card number and transmits it to the criminals sitting in a nearby car.

At the same time, a wireless camera is disguised to look like a leaflet holder and is mounted in a position to view ATM PIN entries.

The thieves copy the cards and use the PIN numbers to withdraw thousands from many accounts in a very short time directly from the bank ATM.

1. Equipment being installed on front of existing bank card slot.

2. The equipment as it appears installed over the normal ATM bank slot.

3. The PIN reading camera being installed on the ATM is housed in an innocent looking leaflet enclosure.

4. The camera shown installed and ready to capture PIN’s by looking down on the keypad as you enter your PIN

Blogs and your Company?

This recent post on slashdot got me thinking again. As you may or may not be aware of I work for Avanade, a leading consulting company – a company to which I am fairly new and still learning about. We a few weeks ago, internally had a interesting debate about what a companies policies should be about letting their employees blog. This gets even more interesting, with all the interest with EntLibs – we built it after all and we would like to help other developers out there. As more and more employees are getting fired about writing work related stuff, what is the solution? Is it writing anonymously? Well I don’t think so. If you did want to write anonymously then write it in a notebook (not a laptop, but the old kind – you know paper and spiral binding and the likes), not online! But, I think your company should encourage blogging, if they don’t, then maybe its time to move on. I was happy to know after the end of our discussion, Avanade did not want to censor what I write, they value the freedom of expression of their employees and also their point of view. So while we have blogs internally, which I don’t know if we are ready to share publicly or setup public blogs like msdn, we don’t have a policy on blogging (yet I suppose). Having said that one must use common sense on blogging, e,g, I won’t blog about any financial  information, or anything about our Assets such as ACA.NET, etc – nothing which is not publicly available on the website, or any customer details, etc. But every now and them you do come across something which falls in a gray area – in such cases it is always safe to err on the side of safety – if you are not sure ask your legal and HR department. So, what is your companies take on blogs? Is there a policy? Are they encouraged like at Avanade or are they ignored completely, in the hopes they go away?

Still like NY?

I personally don’t like New York at all – especially New York city, it is a great place for a weekend, but that is it, I won’t live there for a million bucks! And this just makes it another reason on my “don’t like it” list.

A telecommuter who lives out of state while working by computer for a New York employer must pay New York tax on his full income, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday in a case that could have wide implications in the growing practice. The Court of Appeals said that computer programmer Thomas Huckaby who lives in Nashville, Tenn., owed New York income tax for his full salary, not just the time he spent working at his employer’s New York offices. Huckaby paid tax on about 25 percent of his income over two years for the time he spent working in New York state. But the court upheld a state tax department ruling that all his income should be taxed. That amounts to $4,387 plus interest. However, the ruling could lead to much greater income for the state as it is applied to the growing field of telecommuting.

Find a Human!

How many times have you wished you had someone to talk to when the order you placed online is botched? I know I had this recently, when Amazon screwed up and I was waiting to talk to someone and in the end had to email a general customer service account and go back and forth on that many times before it was fixed – something that would take only a couple of minutes on the phone. So, if you can relate to me, here are two sites that might be of help. The first one is specially for Amazon and eBay and the second one has a few companies such as Dell, Apple, Visa, Mastercard, United, American Airlines, T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, Sprint, etc. If you have any more information (numbers/links/etc) that you would like me to add here please let me know.

Live and Learn

Incase you have been extra vigilant you might have noticed a new category called Live and Learn. This as the name suggests is a category, where I can post my screw up of life be it technical in nature or anything else – the idea being I should be able to get back to it and reflect and hopefully learn from it! If not, then, well I would just be getting more creative in my excuses won’t I? 🙂 For those who know me, will know that most of my entries would probably fall in this category. Oh, ya, this ofcourse in true to tradition was inspired by a true life incident – which would be up here one of these days soon. 🙂

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