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2011 July 13 [Wednesday]

E-filing IncomeTax returns in india

The Indian government agency that runs the Income-Tax portal  "incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in" has very thoughtfully provided an electronic filing facility for its citizens which enables all tax-payers to file their Tax returns without a trip to the local Income Tax Office. However, their thoughtfulness only extends to Windows users as they have provided the e-forms only in the MSOffice .xls format which will not run any macros on a non-Windows platform. Now, I have not used Windows for many years now and having been forced to pay for a half-baked edition pre-installed on my laptop, I could not wait for my warranty to finish and free up that disk space.

Last week, I found two Open-Office hacks for the ITR forms 1 and 2 at:

However, the Open-Office  supported ITR-2 form from KSEB is borked -- has locked cells which will not work nor retrieve macros in Open-Office and many fields and cells are protected, making it impossible to enter data so that the Tax macros work properly. The ITR-2 form (available from the above link) has some errors in the conversion for Open Office --In Part B - TI in Computation of total income. It does not allow you to enter any figures in the following fields:

1. Salaries (6 of Schedule S)
2. Income from house property (C of Schedule-HP) (Enter nil if loss)
3. Capital gains
4. Income from other sources
This prevents the macro from tabulating the Total (Example: A + B +Total of (I) for all fields), due to which its not possible to tabulate the final tax payable.

Does anyone know how to get locked cell macros to work in Open-Office? All help and pointers to get these hacks working on Open-Office would be a big help. TIA.

PS: FWIW, I had asked this question on the local LUG list, which was a waste as one list member, who didnt read the question, chose to focus his undivided attention on the terrible mistake I made -- used the word  'company'. Thereafter, it was a fun exercise in "I-am-the-loudest-jerk-and-bully-here" ad hominem and logical fallacies. Yeah, total WIN on the technical help scale. The smartz knocked my socks off! 

2011 April 4 [Monday]

b0rked Broadcom bcm43xx drivers

Dear Broadcom, Despite your late gesture of opensourcing the bcm43xx wireless drivers, I continue to have issues -- Last week a kernel upgrade from lucid not only broke the driver but managed to kill the nvidia drivers for good measure -- it was easier to take a data backup and do a clean re-installation of Lucid than waste a lot of time figuring out how your bcm43xx driver broke the nvidia drivers killing my graphics display totally. 

However, I was mistaken about it being a kernel upgrade (to 2.6.35) issue as the peace lasted for hardly 3 days -- since I am blessed with having to start my monday morning troubleshooting your broken hardware drivers (on 2.6.32-21 generic kernel version) instead of getting actual work done.
 
lucid@ubuntu:~$ dpkg --list |grep b43
ii  b43-fwcutter             1:012-1build1          Utility for extracting Broadcom 43xx firmwar

lucid@ubuntu:~$ dpkg --list |grep bcmwl
ii  bcmwl-modaliases       5.60.48.36+bdcom-0ubuntu3       Modaliases for the Broadcom 802.11 Linux STA

So the "b43-fwcutter" utility package exists on my system (as I had installed and activated the drivers) but something between each reboot was blocking the drivers as the link would suddenly be hard blocked. This despite me taking the trouble to NOT upgrade from the 2.6.32-21 generic kernel version.

Then, I checked the B43 blacklisted file:

lucid@ubuntu:~$ cat /etc/modprobe.d/* | egrep '8180|acx|at76|ath|b43|bcm|CX|eth|ipw|irmware|isl|lbtf|orinoco|ndiswrapper|NPE|p54|prism|rtl|rt2|rt3|rt6|rt7|witch|wl'
# which ath5k cannot recover. To prevent this condition, stop
blacklist ath_pci
blacklist eth1394
# replaced by p54pci
blacklist prism54
# replaced by b43 and ssb.
blacklist bcm43xx
blacklist uart6850
blacklist twl4030_wdt

and sure enough, "bcm43xx" was indeed on the blacklist.....nice, girdle up for more yakshaving!

Next, I paid a visit to the "blacklist.conf" file and commented out the line "blacklist bcm43xx".

Rebooted for it to take effect. Nada, Zilch, still no wifi.

lucid@ubuntu:/lib/firmware/b43$ ls
a0g0bsinitvals5.fw  a0g1bsinitvals13.fw  a0g1initvals5.fw     b0g0bsinitvals9.fw  lp0bsinitvals13.fw  lp0initvals14.fw    n0initvals11.fw  ucode14.fw
a0g0bsinitvals9.fw  a0g1bsinitvals5.fw   a0g1initvals9.fw     b0g0initvals13.fw   lp0bsinitvals14.fw  lp0initvals15.fw    pcm5.fw          ucode15.fw
a0g0initvals5.fw    a0g1bsinitvals9.fw   b0g0bsinitvals13.fw  b0g0initvals5.fw    lp0bsinitvals15.fw  n0absinitvals11.fw  ucode11.fw       ucode5.fw
a0g0initvals9.fw    a0g1initvals13.fw    b0g0bsinitvals5.fw   b0g0initvals9.fw    lp0initvals13.fw    n0bsinitvals11.fw   ucode13.fw       ucode9.fw

lucid@ubuntu:~$ cd /lib/firmware/brcm
bash: cd: /lib/firmware/brcm: No such file or directory


Then, a sudo ln -s bcm43xx-0-610-809-0.fw bcm43xx-0.fw and sudo ln -s bcm43xx_hdr-0-610-809-0.fw bcm43xx_hdr-0.fw should have loaded and activated the drivers after a reboot. It did not, forcing me to switch to a wired connection on a laptop. WTF!

Broadcom, fiddling with "bcm43xx" is a sure-fire way to kill time. Thankyou very much for the Yak-shaving experience --it serves as a constant reminder to me, why I will never (unknowingly) buy another Broadcom driven product in future, ever! KTHXBAI.

UPDATE:: Its a "networking disabled on boot" bug in Ubuntu-Lucid and Maverick that has a fix (but not yet committed for Maverick):
[0] http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1594577
[1] https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/network-manager/+bug/524454
[2] https://help.ubuntu.com/community/WifiDocs/Driver/bcm43xx#Installing%20b43%20drivers
[3] http://www.qc4blog.com/?p=857

I've tried everything mentioned in the above threads to no avail. Wifi is out cold!

2011 February 22 [Tuesday]

beware of spammers asking for your account password

If you've got a mail with the subject line "Account System Update", asking for your "Passvvord" (gee, atleast spell it right :/), because they are shutting down your account, .... Simply delete it.

Notice the headers, its not from Google or Gmail and you would be safer not responding to them. I'm not sure if google has a feedback system where I can submit this so I thought its better to blog and tell the whole world.

Delivered-To: s***@gmail.com
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We are shutting down some accounts due to congestion in our database system and your account was chosen to be deleted automatically. To avoid permanent lockup, kindly click reply and fill in the space below for verification purpose:-

Account ID
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Note: This email is only for Gmail users (Users should reply within 48 hours to avoid "Permanently Lockup" Account)

Thank you for using Gmail !

2010 October 5 [Tuesday]

The Sparsh BPO's Intelenet way to defraud BSNL

20131012-Update: I changed the title of this blog post as I just came to know via Valorie that the term "gyp" has racist connotations.

I've been having DNS issues since last weekend and since my ISP has been happily outsourcing its customer service obligations to Sparsh India, so whenever the DNS conks off (which is once a month at the very least), I get to have interesting conversations very often.

[after our initial conversation when I've tried explaining the DNS problem, in vain.]

ME: I've tried changing the DNS to point to 208.67.222.222, saved and rebooted the router, etc... , can ping "random" server, can use IRC, etc...BUT cannot connect to some websites like "www.zareason.com", which gets redirected to "http://searchportal.information.com/?a_id=92438&domainname=www.zareason.com". Please reboot your DNS server as it does not resolve some domains properly.
CSR: Click on 'start button', click on 'internet explorer', ...
ME: Excuse me ...Sir/M'am, I told you I dont have windows on this machine. I use a Linux-based operating system so if you tell me what information you require to troubleshoot, I can check for it locally.



At this point I'm put on hold, ...CSR returns after a few minutes to ask if I can connect to 'google.com'. I answer in the affirmative and he/she proceeds to say the problem is because I use Linux and there is nothing they can do about it. Simply stunning.

Asking to speak to another person who knows "linux+networking" or a team leader results in them disconnecting your call. That isnt surprising. A Business line article says "Sparsh BPO, which is the domestic arm of Intelenet Global Services, put in a bid at Rs 1.15 a call for providing contact centre services...." -- The higher the number of calls to the BSNL toll-free numbers will result in more income for Sparsh. I'm not aware of the finer points in their SLA but the pattern I have observed is very very common. Calls are always dropped, sometimes mid-way, etc...

Sparshindia is a subsidiary of Intelenetglobal, meant to handle the pan-India BPO business. I am curious to know if Intelenet provides similar poor service to their US clients. Would a CSR disconnect an overseas call mid-way without solving the customers problem? Will they get to bill clients simply on the basis of number of calls handled without actually solving the problem.

http://www.sparshindia.com/opration_quality.html, states they monitor calls and have a good QA process. I beg to differ. If I call back and go through the whole discussion for the N'th time and insist on speaking to a TL, I'll be put on hold, and the same person pretends to be another person. Oh well, it takes more than changing voices and giving a fake name -- the 'trying too hard to fake it' bit that gives them away. Nine out of ten times the conversation has gone downhill when the CSR insists that you are having a DNS issue because you are using Linux.

https://www.zareason.com/  was also unable to connect and dig @8.8.8.8 zareason.com returns the correct IP address. While I grok that every ISP out there uses a transparent proxy to save on bandwidth. Using an anonymous proxy gives me the zareason website but what if its a site you want to order something. How can the user know or trust the site if the ISP has borked DNS which just redirects you to a phishing site?

On multiple occasions I have requested to speak to any technical person who understands "linux + networking" as the DNS issue has a simple solution -- Probably the DNS server used by the proxy is broken and its is caching incorrect data. The backend technical team (whom i've spoken to just once in so many years) can reboot the server and clear the cache. This is all it takes, all of 5 minutes to reboot the appropriate server and solve the DNS issue. BUT its easier to do a shirsasana (head-stand) than get the sparshindia agents to reboot the darn dns server.

UPDATE: I called Sparsh India yet again. This time I refused all the request to give the mobile number so the outbound process would call me. Erm...I would hold on forever until the DNS problem was solved. As of writing this, its been 2 hours that i've been talking to a TL (he claimed so), who finally booked my complaint which I checked here: 'http://bangaloretelecom.com/' --it has no details of the problem. The excuse this guy gives me is 'BSNL must have blocked the site" ...hilarious, why would bsnl want to block one site peddling computers? If it were a p0rn site that argument might atleast make sense. We retraced the steps of changing the routers WAN settings and other tasks which didnt help.

Which part of the sentence "I can access websites and surf online, only some sites like zareason dont work, reboot your DNS server and solve the problem" does a person not grok?  He even pretended to not know how to spell "cache" and i could hear his co-worker giggle in the background. So I politely told him that while he was busy 'pretending to not understand basic tech terms', he was not harassing me, rather, he came across as a dumb person with zero technical knowledge. That got his attention real quick and he didnt seem to enjoy harassing me anymore. Oh, the joys of being a sexist troll !!

At the moment it seems that Sparsh India is only interested in increasing their revenue by billing BSNL INR1.15 for each call that customers make --Not solving the problem in one phone call definitely helps Sparsh and Intelenet gain more revenue. Rebooting the server means the problem gets solved, hence less revenue.

2010 July 17 [Saturday]

SoftwareHardware fails

Ever been in a situation where you are trying to solve one problem but have more hoops to jump than necessary!?
This rant has been building up this past week and it all started with bzr: ERROR: Unknown branch format: 'Bazaar Branch Format 7 (needs bzr 1.6)\n'

Seems that bzr has to be upgraded on hardy {--And now this? --after I had purged and re-installed bzr because the earlier installation was giving weird errors and I didnt want to waste time going off on a tangent. argh, I was wrong about wasting time with bugs!

I was suggested a PPA but for that was not an optimal path for me. Besides, here I was trying to pull a MM revision from LP, but instead have to build bzr and then work on MM..... ~fun.

Alan (thanks :)) suggested I edit the sources.list and add "deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/bzr/ppa/ubuntu hardy main" and then do an apt-get update, then apt-get upgrade which would upgrade bzr to the version in the ppa without all the compiling and building hoop jumping.

$ sudo apt-get upgrade
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
The following packages have been kept back:
bzr
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 1 not upgraded.

What a killjoy !!

$ sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
Calculating upgrade... Done
The following NEW packages will be installed:
python-configobj
The following packages will be upgraded:
bzr
[.....................]
Setting up bzr (2.1.2-1~bazaar2~hardy1) ...
removing incorrectly installed bash example /etc/bash_completion.d/bzr

Finally.... I upgraded bzr which allowed me to pull the branch: $ sudo bzr branch lp:mailman/2.1. An hour later.......gee, where was I now? The download was still 'in progress' and was'nt all this supposed to be incidental to testing Mailman...!? That was the night before. The next morning after yet-another-regular-unscheduled-power-outage, it was LaunchPad going down for an hour or so --some twit was DDOSing their server. What an incredibly productive activity!

LP returns and the development machine decides to die with a "/dev/sda1 error : fsck died with exit status 4". Now I knew this was my lucky day!!

Dug out a liveCD and ran 'fsck -f /dev/sda1' manually, where:

-f = force fsck even if filesystem seems clean
-cc = run badblocks check with a non-destructive test
-k = write new list of badblocks to current list
-p = automatically repair errors if possible without requiring human input
-v = verbose output

It found 5 inodes containing multiply claimed blocks and repaired it but for a while everything was in slow-motion --  I panicked about it taking ages to check a mere 40 gb of inodes and blocks. Colourless did the math on why it will take ages "just consider the sustained transfer rate of the drive which will probably be in the low 10s of mb/s. lets say you are getting 20mb/s second transfer, that is still going to be 2000 seconds to scan the disk, or 33 minutes".

Ah, talk of collective agida!

Earlier today fsck.ext1: No such file or directory while trying to open /dev/hda1. The superblock could not be read or does not describe a correct ext2 filesystem -- the hdd would not be detected and system refused to boot, refused to detect partitions. I spoke too soon earlier. It was super lucky saturday, not lucky friday!! This time the LiveCD was an arm's length away after last night's use and I checked out "fsck", "e2fsck" ...zilch, No response.

There is a good utility called TestDisk, which is available as a package for both debian and ubuntu -- sudo apt-get install testdisk, and you can run it from liveCD if your disk ever fails. It goes without saying that TestDisk will be useful only if your disk is detected by BIOS and hence alive.

Now, the worst I could think was "bad sectors==dead disk" but before that I had to check for loose wiring and then see if the BIOS detected the drive. The disk was spinning as I could hear the 'whrr' sound. Unplugged and re-plugged the wires a few times ...Nada...Bios would not detect the hdd. Convinced that it was the worst "bad sectors==dead disk", I shut everything down. A few hours later I switch it it on and voila the disk was detected and grub was soon asking which OS I wanted to boot into. That means it was just a loose connection (HOPEFULLY :)).

A BIG 'thanks' to ALL the folks who helped out with suggestions and listened to my kvetch. Much appreciated :)  If I'd ever have to calculate "productive time" sans all the idiocy around then its scary to note the amount of time that is wasted scheduling my day around a power outage, hardware issues and software bugs, and then there is this mundane thing called 'life'. I wish I had 10-days of silence instead.


2010 May 17 [Monday]

zen of computerisation

Only we can introduce computers at banks and at the same time increase the paperwork by making the customer fill out one form to open an account, a second form to get a debit ATM card, a third form to get a cheque book and so on..... Sans pushing paper around it would seem the government babu's dont do any work...No can do, one has to look busy atleast!

Only we can create an online reservation system to book rail tickets whose website after 11:30 pm will show the following notice when you try to book tickets:

Booking (I-ticket and E-ticket ) is allowed from 5.00 to 23.30 Hours (Indian Standard Time) on all days including Sundays.
Greenwich Mean Time 23.30 and 18.00 Hours
Cancellation of E-ticket is allowed from 5.00 to 23.30 Hours (Indian Standard Time) on all days including Sundays (before chart preparation of the train).
Greenwich Mean Time 23.30 and 18.00 Hours

24x7? eh, what? do IT the Indian way!

2010 May 8 [Saturday]

chaturanga

Sexual assaults involving ministers mixed with never-ending power-cuts make a heady summer mix. Its not surprising that the frequency of water cuts and power cuts has spiked the moment local Municipal elections voting got over. People have filed PIL's but KPTC/BESCOM cant seem to curb the power theft that occurs right under its nose, which is self-evident when you take a walk around any main street with shops and direct your gaze skyward to see the criss-crossing wires from each electricity pole situated on the roadside--all illegal but under the benign gaze of the officials. The shopkeeper will tell you why you could not get away with it without the connivance of the employees of inefficient BESCOM whose palms they regularly grease, lest its converted into "commercial rates" which is four times higher than the residential rates....and thus residential power theft continues. The powers that be are aware of the irregularities and yet dont care. What would it take to turn things around?

If that is the local state of affairs, the national level is no better. Nope, Sonia Gandhi, a woman at the helm has not changed things for the better. Its not uncommon for women to bear the brunt and pay the price when it comes to law-making policies. India has always had women politicians and yet the scams continue to tumble out of the closet catching the players on a sticky wicket, and we continue to live with corruption, lobbying for power while the money-making games continue, resulting in tacit compromises instead of clean governance. If anything politicians lack the will to root out corruption and a citizen has no choice when it comes to choosing a clean political party to represent them. Today, corruption and crimes are committed by politicians from just about every party and ideological frame of mind --Quid pro quo.

2010 March 23 [Tuesday]

flightnetwork.com

Last week, I had to urgently fly back to North America on a personal emergency and given the urgency of the situation, at around 08:10 hrs IST on Mar17, I logged onto flightnetwork.com to book two tickets, one departing from Chennai in the wee early hours of Mar18 and planned to do the BLR-MAA route by car. 

IME, the e-tickets are usually emailed within an hour but when both credit cards were debited multiple times, with no sign of the e-ticket until noon, I tweeted and dented and also filled out a customer service form with dimming hope on the Flightnetwork website.

The easier option was to call the airline before leaving Bangalore, so I called up JetAirways to confirm that I _was_ booked and confirmed to fly out within 12 hours. I didnt want to reach Chennai and learn that I didnt have a confirmed ticket.  But, as I suspected, Jet said that flightnetwork.com had not sent them the booking details --This despite my credit card being debited in Dollars by flightnetwork.com, within one hour after booking via their search engine/travel portal for both tickets actually.

The Jet Airways staff understood the emergency and were kind enough to issue me a PNR despite the flightnetwork.com not sending them the booking details on time. I explained that I could not call the portal office as it was outside of their office hours and left BLR for MAA hoping that it was just a software glitch and the email would arrive en-route.

Nothing of that sort happened.

We reached Chennai at 7:30pm, my flight a mere four hours away from departure and the portal had still not sent me the e-ticket. Jetair kept insisting that even though they had issued me a PNR, the portal had to send them the details.  In desperation, I called the Flightnetwork.com help desk from Chennai only to be connected to Ms.AM after 3-4 multiple attempts. I gave her the reservation code and when asked why my bookings were not confirmed after 12 hours had passed, she yells back "do you want to argue or let me book it now?".  Err...what was she and flightnetwork.com doing for 12+ hours then?

Ms.AM was rude, belligerent and argumentative, despite the emergency situation being explained to her, after much prodding gave me the wrong e-ticket booking number, blamed the delay on "quality checks", etc ... and disconnected the line when I asked to speak to the manager.

Pft$@^$... puhleze, a quality check when my flight was leaving in around 4 hours and I didnt have a ticket? Kidding me? Strangely, the flightnetwork.com software system was prompt enough to issue instructions to debited both credit cards as soon as the tickets were booked (more than 12 hours earlier) but failed to issue tickets--especially since their TOS clearly states 'no refunds' for missed flights. What a scam!

To cut a long story short, I managed to travel that day because the Jet Airways staff were polite, understood what customer service was about in an emergency, were prompt enough to issue my tickets (against just a PNR) after taking the portal name and booking reservation numbers.

Flightnetwork.com's CTO had seen my tweets, emailed me and apologised, I had replied, and that was that. I thought it sums up my stressful 12-hour experience with flightnetwork.com and I travelled on. Wrong....there was more ...read on.

However, later that day, an employee from the sales team sends me this email:

Thank you for sending us your email. In regards to your concern that you had not received your electronic tickets, kindly note our office hours are between 9:00am EST to 10:00pm EST, so we were unable to send you your electronic ticket until we were open. When emails are sent to sales there is also a message generated to advise we will answer within 24 to 48 business hours as they do take time to distribute.

Please note we have sent your ticket this morning however I have just resent it to you in case you did not receive it. The ticket was issued last night, which means if you were to cancel there would be a cancellation fee of $200.00 CAD and then you would receive a refund to your credit card.

If you would still like to cancel please call us at 1-800-671-5032 as our agents would be happy to assist you. We are open until 9:30pm EST tonight.

24 to 48 business hours? WTF? seriously, what if I am in an emergency and my flight leaves within 12 hours of booking? What is the traveller supposed to do? ... wait for your operational 24 to 48 business hours to travel? 

Its the "I dont care a damn about you" attitude reflecting in his email and scant regard for the paying traveller that prompted me to blog about my lousy experience doing business with flightnetwork.com.

I'd rather stick to cheaptickets.com or my local travel agent --the latter, besides getting me the same route for 100 dollars less, would never use weasel words like 'quality checks', non-office hours and TOS. He just delivers sans the marketing jargon and crappy excuses. Period.

2009 November 8 [Sunday]

Mining for money and power

This entry is an ode to our shining political servants (pun intended).

#0#. After 17 days of hardcore bargaining, Mumbai finally hosted the swearing-in of a government for Maharashtra state.

#0#.Down South, Karnataka's politicians are busy playing with the tax-payers money, while the US thinks its getting Bangalored with competition.

President Barack Obama has exhorted schools in the US to develop globally competitive standards to help students take on `folks in Beijing and Bangalore'..........engage in intrigues, mud-slinging, backstabbing and witch-hunting. They throw ideologies to the winds, ditch friends and join hands with foes. They use money and muscle power to bulldoze their way to the seat of power....

#0#. A Ranchi resident files a PIL on Koda and Co. who had de-frauded 3.6 crore rupees per day for 3 years to bid for South African mines while his wife sacrifices goats for his well-being as the ED is hot on his tail with an imminent arrest.

#0#. China sees RED when the Dalai Lama visits an Indian state while many Indian states have Naxals and Maoists on a killing spree and our national song, Vande Mataram, has been issued a fatwa by Muslim clerics.

Mera Bharat Mahan - Indians are ironically a blessed lot!

2009 February 8 [Sunday]

Sita in an ice cube

Indian women are indeed blessed !! We now have a convict of the 1993 Bombay blasts contesting elections for a parliament membership, who opines that every Indian woman should give up her identity and take her husbands name after marriage. Pearl's of wisdom indeed ... from a man who has had multiple adulterous relationships whilst being married (thrice if you must know), an ex-drug addict who never bothered to care for his young daughter Trishala or wife Richa Sharma, both of whom were conveniently abandoned although he knew for years that Richa suffered from cancer. Morally inspiring for all those women in his life who hanker for dutt (pun intended) lastname, provided they manage to stick around dutt long.

Dutt may have munnabhai'ed the media and even ruffled Renuka Chowdhary's feather's, but it was definitely not enough masala for the media spotlight to dwell on him for long. The confused-plastic-faced-ac(h)tor-wannabe-politician was quickly upstarted by the street-thugs "Shri Rama Sene" in Karnataka.  India now has its very own homegrown wannabe "Taliban-Sene" who orchestrated and videotaped the molestation and attack of women in Mangalore in the name of god. Apparently physical violence and a public molestation of women is the easiest way to be in the news. Tsk-Tsk ...dutt's what happens if you wash Pri(vate)ya Dutt(y) linen in public, Sanju baba. Politics is gonna be a steep learning curve for you. If the Muthalik-meets-Dutt scenario had occurred some years ago, how many times would Dutt have been married off on Valentine's day ?? :-D

All in a Go(o)d days work, given that Indian politicians have certainly run out of issues to solve in the run up to elections, where the mastermind of the Mangalore attacks is known but yet is allowed to abscond. Targeting 49% of your population is good enough to get eye-balls, never mind that politicians dont have the balls to address important issues like eradicating corruption, ensuring proper supply of electricity, proper public infrastructure, good primary education, water and so many other social issues which jostle for attention...but none of these silly issues are as important as women visiting a pub.

Any woman who visits a pub instead of making rotis at home, feeding her husband and pressing his tired legs at night, is fit to be called a prostitute according to the Rama Sene while enlightened souls (in the NCW too) went a bit further to justify the attacks in the name of stemming immoral activity in the Mangalore pub. Since the police and judiciary have outsourced their work to local thugs and hooligans its high time the government stopped wasting the tax-payee's money on maintaining a police force and judiciary, both of who cannot ensure law and order nor keep justice. Well if India can be the outsourcing manna for the world why cant we outsource the police's work to these self-appointed custodians of Indian culture ?!? Think of the Tax benefits!!

Fundamentalist Hindu bigots == fanatical Islamic radicals ?! If there is a logic to the methodical madness being unleashed across each state one has to give credit to their inspirational idol, the Taliban. Nothing less will do. If the ShivSena and MNS in Maharashtra can rail and rant against the South Indians and then drive away the North Indians, then why should the wannabe-power-grabbing-southern-politician be left behind. He can jump onto the "lets control the corrupt Indian woman" bandwagon which is a problem that has taken on global hues today, with gullible Indian woman being lured by the foreign hand... what sacrilege!!

  • Mytholog(icall)y

Not to be left behind, some women feel they should form a Sita Sene to counter the increasing attacks on women and the debate on "Indian culture" is ferociously raging on the idiot box and in the print media. Every person I have met thus far, has an opinion (or two or three) by which time my grey cells stop parsing the string "indian culture" correctly. The word "culture" tickles my phunny bone (and I've been told I have f3w of those) enough to delve into some mythology since religion is the thread that binds retrograde chauvinists across the world masking their selfish desire for control and power.

Kalpana Sharma summarized it more eloquently :

The Sri Rama Sene is a fringe element. But lurking under the skin of many men, irrespective of caste or community, is a similar view of what women should and should not do. Men fear women’s autonomy, for, it challenges their power. And they fear women’s sexuality even more. Hence, the desire of fundamentalists of all types to control women’s sexuality.

Is that why every river has a feminine name and Earth is called MotherEarth and the country is called motherland and not FatherEarth and Fatherland respectively !? Culture-vultures never miss an opportunity to letch on mytholog(ical)y to explain that women should be frozen into this ice cube of patriarchy, certainly fit to be seen and admired, but she can never stir or voice herself.

Were the women of yore beautiful icy figurines trapped in an ice cube?

Not Sita, Rama's wife, who left her husband when he asked her for an "agnipariksha" (trial by fire) to prove her chastity. She epitomises the courage (that many Indian women lack) of leaving her twin sons with her husband Rama and returning to her mother's (Earth) after around 20+ years of marriage. 

Draupadi practised polyandry, perhaps the only woman with 5 husbands at a time when it was more common for men to practise polygamy. She is the only woman in mythology over whom a war, the Mahabharata, was fought to avenge an insult to her. In that epic, she refused to tie her hair until her insult was avenged.

Mirabai had no compunctions about leaving her husband for Krishna and would the brainless religious fundamentalist idiot dare to brek the idols in the Radha-Krishna temples(?), since Radha was never married to Krishna and left her husband for Krishna. Its called  adultery in English, but for millions of Indians the name Radha-Krishna is synonymous with love, bhakti and devotion.

Wendy surmises the position of women in Vedic literature, especially the Chandayoga Upanishad where Jabala asks her son to take her name so he calls himself "Satyakama Jabala (the son of Jabala)". Interestingly, dutt (pun intended) may have been completely missed instances in Indian mythology where the children take on the mothers name and not that of the father (who was sometimes unknown, or got just a passing reference....).

Gowriputra (son of Gowri, an epithet for Parvati, Ganesha's mother who is supposed to have sprang from the scurf of her body) ;

Krishna was called "Devakiputra" (son of Devaki) ;

Skanda, one born of 6 mothers ;

Pandavas were called Kuntiputra's ; ... so on...

The Sene has surely not seen this aspect of Hinduism.  Moving on to the men who are commonly addressed with the prefix Sri/Shri which is the feminine subjunctive in Sanskrit. It is also an epithet for Lakshmi whose husband (Vishnu) is commonly referred to as "Lakshmipati/Shripati" (the husband of Lakshmi) as is Sitapati (Husband of Sita).

Shiva's epithet is "Umapati", the husband of Parvati or Shakti (the female energy) without whom he is considered to be a shava (corpse). Are there instances of Parvati/Shakti being addressed as "Shivapatni"? Not that I know of.

There may be more but I am not inclined to dig out lores of yore when I can blithely snore away the night, sans the pita-pati (pun wholly intended).

2008 October 6 [Monday]

Privately controlled FOSS.IN is not a community conference

My previous post, elicted a fairly long clarification from Tejas (thanks) and since a tiny comment box is insufficient for a reply, here goes...

TEJAS: I whole heartedly agree. FOSS.IN is one of many many many indian FOSS events. Many of these FOSS events have a completely different focus than FOSS.IN

ME: Right, different events should have different focus. As I wrote earlier "Maybe the intention is generate more blue-blooded kernel code from India. Good for them". Any private event organiser has carte blanch freedom to decide the focus for his event, even at the risk of alienating the same community which contributes to the distro he uses. I suppose the distro you use would indeed be very usable minus the artwork, translation and other assorted grunt work since they are NOT considered equivalent to "real code".

Freedom works both ways and the Libre community users, contributors, and other by-standers who do the grunt work will either decide to attend if they feel wanted, else boycott the event. It would be their choice, hence freedom (as in speech).

TEJAS: Team FOSS.IN, like the head of other major FOSS projects is a meritocracy. I joined the team after I volunteered in 2005, and was asked to lead the volunteers team in subsequent years. If someone wanted to be on Team FOSS.IN, they should have proven themselves in some way. And in fact, that is how every member of the team was picked up.

ME: Great to know that you have a wonderfully organised event, with due credit to all the organizers. BUT This is the kind of financial transparency one expects in any community event, especially if it is touted as the event of the Indian FLOSS community, because its not really a community event. Feel free to talk to folks across the world who are involved in organising and managing a LIBRE software community event, where openness and transparency is the norm. Be it Debconf, linux.conf.au, or any other Libre SW event, every part of organising the event is always discussed publicly (which usually includes the bidding, finance and sponsorship rates, etc...) within the community and public archived. From what I have heard of foss.in, this is not a practice that is followed -- no transparent financial or organisational election process exists. But being an organiser you would be in a better position to throw light on whether this was (or is) being done with foss.in. So please do provide links (and archive url's on the foss.in mailing list?) to those discussions and I shall update my blog entry to reflect your corrections.

[UPDATE : Being a community project the Gnome foundation openly discusses its budget on the mailing list whilst candidate elections to the board is yet another example of a transparent process. Fwiw, past foundation members include Indians too. Some upstream best practices are worth emulating locally too.]

TEJAS: It isn't elitist arrogance. We are focusing on FOSS development efforts. There are enough and more events all over india focusing on translation and bug fixing and so on and so forth.

ME: Please do define the terminology "FOSS development efforts" AND what they would entail? In your definition, where do people who manage servers, do bug testing, do packaging, backend work or maintain the online communication channels, help out with localization and translations and produce all those funky icons and beautiful artwork ; figure in the scheme of things?

For a lot of people the above is not a part of earning daily bread -- read, they are NOT paid but they do it nevertheless because _they want to_, not because foo-bar MNC is paying them as part of the day job to hack on the kernel or translate 500 strings per day. If people who really work for free (no salary or financial gain) are not welcome, it is propagating the elitist and arrogant stance that only a kernel hacker is a real contributor and the remaining efforts are worthless. While you/foss.in are free (as in speech, not beer) to focus on anything you like, dismissing and insulting contributors by twisting terminology is not very friendly. Feel free to choose to ignore the difference, whence, we are not even discussing things on the same page.

TEJAS: Every event, has a focus. That's what makes it a memorable event. The focus of FOSS.IN has been becoming narrower and narrower, as other events have been coming up.

ME: I've replied to this earlier so wont repeat it.

TEJAS: In 2007, FOSS.IN strictly had no talks that were not related to some FOSS project, and about getting involved (ie, there were no more "How to get FOSS in govt" and "How to get FOSS in education" talks). By this time, there were a stack of other community events, a few of which Team FOSS.IN offered to sponsor (as a silent sponsor)

ME: I know, I attended them.


TEJAS: In 2008, we have reached the stage where there are loads of community events out there, and FOSS.IN can focus on what it wants.

ME: TBH, I would have thought that is a decision for the community to make. Its obviously not  in your case.  Anyway the moot objection is about foss.in's arrogance with 'show me the code' attitude, giving credence to kernel commits (in which case it should be called a kernel-summit), etc.. The objection arises when you start judging others contributions by your yardstick and whether it fits your objective or idea of what a true contribution is. That is arrogant and unfriendly and helps alienate and push the community people away. You are a better judge of your event goals but its NOT acceptable to judge others by your yardstick.

Also, 'Freedom' is no excuse to diss on contributors who dont measure upto YOUR standards. That is negative community karma but if that is the route the event organiser wishes to take, so be it. There is not a single upstream project which discriminates against non-coders so blatantly and all this under the guise of increasing contributions. Either way the Indian floss community will vote with their freedom : to attend or not. Fair enough.

TEJAS: Does the indian public really need one more event on the same thing? It's quite simple.

ME: See above

TEJAS: I think you, like so many other people, are missing the definition of (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/...) "Low Hanging Fruit"

ME: ah, NOT at all !! Other than questioning the English skills of everyone who protested, questioning their sanity levels and falling short of irreverently dismissing them as 'dumb' or calling them 'stupid', Mr. Atul Chitnis was being his usual arrogant, egoistical and dismissive self. Old stuff, nothing unexpected and I say that from first-hand experience, as the recipient of archived abuse on the Indichix list, in the not too recent past.

TEJAS: I don't see how this is remotely true. Every single detail of this change has been explained in the various lists. Just because we made a decision you didn't like doesn't make us a closed and non-transparent conference.

ME: Feel free to make any decision you like but dont confuse that with openness and transparency in community functionings. For the rest of your charge, Ditto from above ..... BUT This is the kind of transparency one expects in an event, especially if it is touted as the biggest free software event in India, albeit a wonderfully organised event IMO, with due credit to all the volunteers hard work. Well, feel free to talk to anyone across the world who is involved in organising and managing a LIBRE software event, where openness and transparency is the norm. Be it Debconf, linux.conf.au, or any other Libre SW event, where every part of organising the event is always discussed publicly (which usually includes the bidding, finance and sponsorship rates,etc...) within the community and public archived. From what I have heard of foss.in, this is not a practice followed BUT being an organiser you would be in a better position to throw light on whether this was (or is) being done with foss.in. So please do provide links (or archive url's on the foss.in mailing list?) to those discussions and I shall update my blog entry to reflect your corrections.

TEJAS: I'm sorry that you feel this way. I'd encourage you to form another event, with another focus, if you feel that is appropriate.

ME: Thanks for the encouragement, but as you said there are many events and its much more productive to redirect the 600 bucks there instead. I'm sure I'll hear a 'thankyou' at the very least.

TEJAS: Let me just warn you, from personal experience, that leading a volunteer team (which is exactly what FOSS.IN is) is a LOT of hard work. Often working sleepless nights on the CfP when you have an exam next day, and start studying for it at four in the morning. Do you know why we do it? Because at the end of the day, we know that we ARE boosting the contributions from India. Last time we boosted the number of contributors. This time, we are boosting the volume.

ME: Would love to see the latter happen but like others have said people who are contributing will continue to do so, despite being unwelcome at foss.in. Anyway, whatever gave you the impression that another volunteer does not put in hardwork ..... just because its not kernel code?

2008 October 5 [Sunday]

A Vegetarian Volunteer vents about FOSS.IN

Contributions in Libre software projects !?

I had attended foss.in 2007 for the first time because LinuxChix-India had a BoF and most importantly to meet friends who were speakers and gave talks. I also attended talks on some topics which were of interest to me personally. This year, ever since the organisers have taken a "holier than thou", "show me the code (and only 'real code' counts)" route, there has been a lot of heated debate over this partisan attitude.

Christian, your analysis is spot on, but here are some facts that are not otherwise evident :

#1. This is not the *only* major Libre event in India.

- The organisers team at foss.in, for the most part, hardly changes and is never publicly elected, let alone publicly discussed. Its privately controlled so, its definitely unfair to compare it with other international community-run conferences like Fosdem, Debconf, http://linux.conf.au/ and suchlike nor compare it with other Indian events mentioned below.

- Each year, Indians are treated to fossconf.in@Chennai, Freed.in@Delhi, mukt.in@Hyderabad (at which i spoke) and Gnunify@Pune, among the various local events held contiguously all over India. Its unfair to bill these events as any less since they are free, open and transparent. Besides, the biggest issue some of these events face is chasing sponsors before each event. Why? I've heard some organisers say the big IT companies out there dont want to support small libre community events in India. The marketing department will ask for past attendee numbers. A blinkered attitude IMHO.

Ideally every major IT firm _should_ be encouraging the smaller events to grow and creating variety by sponsoring freedom. This will reduce the pressure the volunteers undergo in worrying about 'funds', 'management', and suchlike. Another possibility is to hold a debconf or fossconf event in India but that is tough for a lot of reasons.

So why not sponsor {add project name here} speakers/participants for smaller events like gnunify, mukt.in and freed, which will increase interaction and participation in the local Indian community!!

#2. Contributions, Freedom and you.

- Secondly Christian, maybe the organisers goal is NOT to encourage more "Karolin, Ana, Miriam or Clytie to be part of Indian FLOSS game" but well, they are free to promote elitist arrogance, even if women's groups have been fighting against it all these years and just about succeeded in making libre software projects more inclusive and friendly.

- Most major projects encourage contributions such as localization, packaging and bug squashing which are important tasks in the evolution of a libre software project.  Apparently _that_ is not good enough and foss.in wants to focus on people who code and only 'real' code while condemning bug testers, translators and such like which according to their definition are low hanging fruits (read un-important tasks?). Maybe the intention is generate more blue-blooded kernel code from India. Good for them.

Aditya Godbole summed it up quite well here among other folks who dared to raise their dissentive voices (but I feel lazy to scout for links on a Sunday afternoon).  He is partly right, one ought to think if you really need a conference to prove oneself !?

The beauty of the Libre community is such that *you* get to decide how much you want to contribute. Just as they are free to dismiss "low-hanging" fruits, we are just as free to attend another conference which is truly free, open and transparent. So if one wants to contribute please go *directly* to the respective project and start whatever work you want to do according to your time constraints and interest.

That said, I would respect those who respect me, my time and my contributions. If someone thinks my contributions dont measure upto their blue-blooded standards, its their choice, just as I can choose how I spend my 600 bucks this year. Being a vegetarian, i dont eat omlette's, but fruits are very good for health so join us and help us pick some low-hanging fruits,  There's more... but I guess you know your way around Libre software projects by now which is freedom defined by you :)

2008 July 27 [Sunday]

terror trail

Starting with Bangalore, terrorism moved to Ahmedabad yesterday with 17 blasts leaving 45 people dead and hundreds injured. Now it has moved to Surat where two cars laden with explosives were found. Explosives were found in Tripura too and violence continues in Jammu.

A witness claims to have seen the suspect and the police managed to track the IP address which the terrorists had used to send emails before the blasts, mainly to take credit for the blasts and warning the media, the government, etc...

The police raided the Mumbai flat but frankly have we learnt anything from similar attacks in the past and why have there been no conclusive breakthroughs? We dont have properly trained forensic experts, much less proper intelligence collection. According to experts terrorism in India is homegrown and not just via insurgents across the border. Reports that Indian terrorist activities are funded by UK charities adds a whole new dimension to it.

The moot point remains - Justice and Prevention, which unfortunately we sorely lack, if reader comments are anything to go by. The terrorists get the publicity they crave whilst nobody cares about the families who lose their loved ones. When the ink dries they are forgotten and remain unsung in the sands of time. Meanwhile our political leaders indulge in mud-slinging rhetorics 'n grab those media bytes.

2008 May 28 [Wednesday]

BIAL sham

On Sunday, we went to drop MA and also to check out the BIAL airport in Devanahalli, only to find there is nothing international about it. If you are expecting another Changi, Heathrow, O'Hare or a JFK, hold your breath --- Its not even a patch on any of them, which is self-evident when you are confronted with a very smallish glass and concrete structure standing in the middle of nowhere with construction debris strewn all around for company.

For an idea of how BIG this structure is :: on the outside, you can walk from one end (departure) of this small structure to the other end (arrival) in 10 minutes flat (It being a Sunday the place was swarming in the evening with curious on-lookers with families in tow to gawk at the nondescript airport in no-mans' land).

[UPDATE1 : the 10 min is walking outside the building only, from the time you alight at the bus-stand to the arrival area, and not the time taken to alight a flight and exit with luggage in tow. Minus the Sat/Sunday on-lookers it should hardly take 5 min and less than that with no luggage. That is how small the international structure is.]

Last year when HU had come over and visited the construction site at devanahalli, i went along out of sheer curiosity. Being a weekday and peak traffic time to boot, it took 2.5 hours just to reach devanahalli. We entered via the runway and speeding on the parallel service track was sheer fun. I imagine the runway would be an F1 track (*grin*) which they ought to be. We climbed the ATC tower, got the obligatory snaps, and midway DA got bored and tired of all the exposure in the hot sun, wanted to leave asap (imagine 2 women in a construction site and you know why). I had seen the terminal then and thought there would be a separate one for international flights atleast. On Sunday, 2008May25 I realised i was wrong.


Let's start again... For a late evening flight (8pm'ish) we left home at 4pm and trudged to the nearest bus-stand, luggage et al. Yeah, driving raises my blood pressure and i dont own a 4-wheeler. So what used to be a hop-skip-and-jump to the airport in 15 min by auto, is now a torturous 2 hour fuel-guzzling environment polluting 50km unnecessary ride. I like to receive/drop my friends and family to the station/airport/bus-stand when ever they come over. That will soon change atleast as far as the airport is concerned. There are 9 bus-stands and it takes 2 hours to get there, not including the time spent idling waiting for the bus to start or the time taken to get to the bus station.

We got talking to the conductor and he said the Majestic Volvo route makes 30,000 rupees per day and other routes too get good earnings. The fares are steep -- Volvo AC bus is 150 bucks single fare one-way and a bmtc bus costs 80 bucks one-way --when you compare the same volvo AC bus from Chennai Central Train station to Tiruvanmiyur (around 25 km) costs just 25 rupees, yeah just 25 bucks ! So do the Bangalore Volvo buses have special wings that they charge three times the amount for the same distance???

The bus conductors are made to do 24 hours duty but only get paid 4 hours over-time on the basic pay and get one day off .... so they work 4 days a week 24 hours at a stretch, which seems harsh.

From the bus-station to the swanky small structure is a distance of a quarter kilometer and if it rains, which is all the time in bangalore, be prepared to get drenched. There are no rest rooms for those who come to see-off their kith and kin...there is one half a km away and if you are hungry of thirsty be prepared to shell out more than 50 bucks for a bottle of water.
[Addendum : Private taxis charge Rs 950-1000/- for a single journey. If you are wondering why they charge you the return fare, its coz they claim they have to make the return journey to the city with no passengers hence you will pay them for a journey you dont make.]

Once inside the airport its chaos, the ground-staff dont belong to the individual airlines, rather they are all contracted employees by BIAL who have not been adequately trained on how to use the computer, printer, and check-in passengers. To their credit they are polite but heck that does not stop the confusion with long queues and irritated passengers left holding confirmed tickets with no flights to board....not nice.

The inside is not very impressive nor is it spacious and departures are on the second level -- local flights to the left and international flights to the right (empty when we were there). After security check tons of floor space has been devoted to malls and shops ...you name the brand and its there. So it does seem that in all this, apparently only the promoters seem to benefit financially at the expense of the tax-paying public, money** is being thrown to the winds. After all the so-called glowing reports the reality is slowly seeping out.

[** User development fee/toll/service fee, call it whatever you like but the user (common citizens) should not have to pay ridiculous prices/fees for airport related services had the government done an iota of city planning. Instad they give away 4000 acres of real estate almost for free to a private company which is the sole beneficiary, not the government. In what way is the government earning? -- Taxes ? No, ...then its lost earnings and indirectly a waste of public money (read 4000 acres of land).]

2008 May 5 [Monday]

Cauvery? where are you?

Summer in bangalore is weird and the constantly changing weather, sudden hail and rain is grating on my nerves and left me sick and no voice to boot ! After 4 days of power outage last week, not to forget the daily load-shedding that one is subjected to, since last night there is no water....not a drop! Trudging along for a morning tank inspection confirms the worst, water kissing the bottom of the tank. Apparently Cauvery water is supplied only 3 times a week and during summer it reduces to once a week. WTF?

Most times people buy water and i have seen tanks standing in front of houses to supply water to the residents. Karnataka has the famous Cauvery lake which is renowned for its sweet water and perinnial supply, and yet the local populace has to live with limited supply. The government also fought with its neighbouring states over sharing the Cauvery water and yet does not supply enough water or produce enough power for the citizens. That sucks bigtime!

2007 December 24 [Monday]

Which?

Anant, lift or island ?

2007 June 3 [Sunday]

Miserable weekend

I started writing this on Friday and in-between my h/disk decided to conk off. I never got around to posting this so I'll take a lazy way and just bump down the old entry and continue. In the last 2 years I have replaced almost every hardware that died on me. Perhaps it would have been cheaper to dump the whole thing and get a new set but whoever knew there would be h/w trouble every few months :-/ What a waste of time ... I had to reinstall from scratch by which time i would have finished up with stuff, there was tons of mail, Ubuntu stuff and a zillion other things which had to be done before I left. What an irritating thing to happen on a week-end.

June 01 :

Today morning I got some really good news :-) Congrats P, I cant wait to meet the new guy in your life :-D) Last week, I met another very special girl, ...... but keeping in mind their privacy, I shall not blog about it but atleast I can congratulate them for doing the right thing.
Yesterday I tried to make sabudana vada alone for the first time and to my surprise it came out well and got over almost immediately. Still I believe that men are better at cooking than women.... Atleast the ones I know are fabulous at it, which is surprising because none of these men have been trained in the traditional sense. On an average an Indian woman would have stepped into the kitchen atleast 3 times in a week to cook or atleast help out with a cooking-related task. Men on the other hand are not welcome in what most mother's consider their 'lil kingdom. So for that reason alone I am constantly amazed at the tasty stuff they conjure up in a jiffy. Probably they have more enthusiasm for food and cooking, a task that I consider mundane and totally avoidable.

2007 May 19 [Saturday]

indian blog spammers

Spam on blog comments is not new but off-late it has been increasing. Since the last year or more, the maximum visitors were from USA among other countries. Lately India has topped the list comprising 61.46% of the total visitors to my blog.

The old theory that Windows machines are taken over by viruses and become spam bots in return is not completely true, because the maximum visitor comments on my blog was from a machine running the Firefox 1.0.7 browser with Linux as its OS located in India with the host being : triband-mum-59.182.8.82.mtnl.net.in (59.182.8.82), who left around a 100 comments on a single blog entry.

Well, outsourcing has aided the Indian economy and how.... we now have local spammers who have learnt to use Gnu/Linux in such a commercially productive way. Ideally I would have kept comments open but now am a reluctant moderator on the verge of turning off all comments which seems to be an unfriendly option.

addendum : How to make the life of a spammer even more easy

2006 August 3 [Thursday]

false advertising

Most phone/cell companies sell their phone users database to telemarketers without user-consent which is something we live with, even through calls at odd moments when companies try to sell X/Y/Z credit cards and so on… but recently an advertising agency has been trying to palm off tobacco products as health-related products. (Those were the exact words used !!)
The sales agent would not give out the name of the tobacco manufacturing company, which I guess would be revealed only if I heard the longish information pitch, rather she kept insisting that this tobacco product was healthy (sic) as it contained lower amounts of tobacco when compared to other brands of cigarettes. Despite asking to take my number off the database the call center does not give up.

Advertising and marketing products with typical jargon twisting is one thing (maybe even justifiable) but using the convoluted logic that a tobacco-product is healthy as it had a lower tobacco content, hence can be marketed as a health product (exact words used by 3 different agents) is an outright falsification of years of tobacco-related scientific cancer research. India has a substantial illiterate population and millions of teenagers who ape their film star’s on-screen smoking antics, all easy prey for such products but more disturbing is the involvement of Indian companies who dont spare a thought for the disastrous health consequences.