Future of the Maldives: blurry?

I am concerned about the state of our country. Concerned about where Maldives is heading towards. We are walking in unchartered territory - politically and socially. I doubt anyone has a clue of the future that may bear any resemblance to the actual outcome of all this.

It is not only the final outcome that we have to be wary of. We also have to be careful of the price we have to pay, the losses and the suffering we may have to endure, as we proceed through this current sea of change. To make matter worse, much of the changes seem to be brought in a haste being propelled by a insistent agitated community who really have no idea on what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. The ramifications of the changes being instigated may cause more harm than any of us expect. But then again, this is what it is all about. Isn't it? Taking chances... Leaping from the stagnant state we've hibernated in... Or maybe not? Certainly not!

While we all quietly hibernated and kept our lips sealed so as to not speak of the discontentment, the country had slowly distilled into polarities. Divided into the poor and rich, educated and ignorant, hardworking and lazy, powerful and weak - with the gap now large enough for the moons of Jupiter to be squeezed in. However, the struggle for betterment has now started to amplify. In the now abundant campaigns to appeal and silently subjugate masses to do their bidding, between the wonders of technology spitting out propaganda of the rich and the elite, there comes a cry of help - a cry for real freedom. Freedom from poverty. Freedom from oppression and suppression. For equality. To be treated with respect and honour. For a decent meal. For education and knowledge. Cries for opportunity to climb out of the rut much of the Maldives live day in and day out.

Sadly, it is the bellows of the rich, the powerful, the violent and the obscenely loud that are heard most. It is what is being catered for. It is the less meaningful, less effective, less beneficial transformations/changes that is being given the spotlight. This may be only my view. However, conversations with almost anyone seem to hint of the unspoken cries I mentioned. In chats with closer friends, the despair is no longer caged and they cry - wailing with the same desire to be unleashed from the mental and social prison we've all been herded in and treated unfairly and unjustly.

For now, the future of Maldives is in question and will probably continue to lie in the unmanifest for quite sometime to come.

Blogger.com to Serendipity Import script

Serendipity is extensively customisable and has quite a number of plugins available to enhance the basic feature set. It is developed in PHP, which being my favourite server-side programming language for web applications, has inspired me to study the code deeper and write code to help the Serendipity community. I shall begin my contribution to the Serendipity project by sharing a teeny weeny script I wrote to import all my posts (and comments) from Blogger.com. Blogger.com service is the same thing as Blogspot blogs.

Just place this Blogger.com To Serendipity Import file in the Serendipity directory and access it from a browser. Follow the instructions it gives. There are a few steps you need to take to make sure it goes well, so be careful.

If you have comments or suggestions, feel free to drop me a line.

Update (29/11/2005): My code has since been integrated into the Serendipity distribution as an importer by the project developers and now comes standard as part of all their new releases!

Blog fixed!

OK! Finally, I am done switching to the new blog software. The technical issues with it has been solved for the most part. All of the content has been moved. All systems go for more blog posts and articles.

I took time last night to tinker with the blog theme templates to finally settle in on this current design. It is a customised/modified version of the Kubrick theme that is distributed with Serendipity. I am pretty satisfied with the look now - quite readable, clean and sufficiently lively. Drop a comment and let me know what you think.

I had minor problems moving the content from Blogger to here. Being the lazy bastard I am, I didn't want to copy-paste all of the content from Blogger to Serendipity. I had a quick look on the Serendipity forums and did a Google search for a solution that automates this process but ended up dry. I ended up taking out a few minutes to write some code which transferred all data smoothly into the new system. An hour or so later, I had everything running in tip top condition.

I hope to update the blog regularly from now on. So hit back here often and comment often!

Blog gone haywire...

I just spent about two hours moving my blog to this new system (hence the new look and the horrible design!).

My blog messed up two days back when Blogger, whose service I had been using, refused to update my blog properly. I had been using the FTP publishing option at Blogger to publish the blog onto this web server. In an attempt to diagnose the problem I tested out Blogger with various options on/off and probed the server I was publishing to as well. The web server was working fine, the upload/download speeds were lightning and FTP server was working normal too. In despair, I even went as far as restarting the server but to no avail.

I ended up rummaging through the various blog scripts and systems on the net to finally settle on the neat open source blog system called Serendipity. It is quite a famous script and used relatively heavily (around 240,000 according to Google). The installation went without a hitch, though I had to modify a few files to get the neat URLs option to work without changing the web server configuration or htaccess files. (If anyone's looking for the same sort of solution, have a look at the GentleSource Weblog)

I shall be fixing up and tuning this new system to get it working as I like; the first priority being getting rid of this horrendous design which happened to ship with the blog system.

Battling for privacy: Keeping your computer data and internet communications secure

We live at a time where we have little or no privacy. All information about us is recorded, from birth to death. The quality and quantity of details logged may differ from society to society but the details collected about a person extend beyond the visible and the obvious.. To make things worse, we tend to rely and store private and personal information on the products of the digital revolution - mobile phones, PDA's and of course computers, all of which are subject to confistication and interception.

Let me impart some information on how to battle this belittling of the individual and gain a bit more privacy and security for your computer data and Internet communications.

Say you have a lot of documents, photos and emails that you don't want to be accessible by all. Say you want to be able to securely store data somewhere on your harddrive or USB data device. Then TrueCrypt is the answer. It is a free, opensource utility available for flavours of MS Windows and is available at http://www.truecrypt.org/

Now, aside from most of the technical mumbo-jumbo it may present to you, the utility is pretty easy to use. The concept it operates on is that it creates a special encrypted file and uses that file to store all of your data inside that single file. So all you have to do is, "mount" the encrypted file with the program and suddenly, your system should show a new disk drive. This drive is now fully secure and you can continue working; saving and editing the files on the drive as you would with any other files. When you are done working simply "unmount" the drive with the program. You can choose to carry the encrypted file on your USB storage device and even move the encrypted file between computers.

The encryption used is pretty secure and several types of encryption are available including 448bit Blowfish. The access to the encrypted files is gained by means of a passphrase, which of course has to be wisely chosen. Follow the general password rules - combination of characters and numbers and make it long.

When you delete a file using the standard Windows delete facility, you expect the file to be gone for good. However, files deleted using this method can be easily recovered in full by anyone with access to your system/drive! Enter Eraser. This is a nifty free, opensource utility for MS Windows that specializes in deleting files securely. It is available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/eraser/

It supports several deletion methods, including two US Department of defense standard deletes. To make the deleted data nonrecoverable, the utility writes over the data to be deleted with random garbage. This is done enough of times to ensure there is no recoverable residue of the data that was deleted.

To delete a file securely, right click on the file and select "Erase". This is a habit you have to get used to, otherwise you may just end up with the standard "Delete" button deletes.

Every time you connect to the Internet, you are effectively entering into a warzone in your birthday suit. If you are in the Maldives, then your browsing data passes through either the proxy servers at Focus Infocom or Dhiraagu. The data is logged and will be used against you whenever required to.

How do you get out of this? Well, an ideal answer would be a cryptographic VPN. However, this may go beyond the technical or financial abilities of many. If you are really paranoid about the security of your internet traffic, I suggest you look into the many VPN service providers. Quite a few of the web hosting companies provide it as part of their deal. Or if you are the technical sorts, you can simply rent your own server located anywhere remote in the world and install and run a VPN server.

A VPN basically creates a virtual network on top of the network you are actually connected to, which in this case is the Internet. The data then seems to flow from your computer to the VPN server but uses the actual network to carry it. The VPN can be encrypted to make the data secure and private and prevent snoops from keeping tabs on you. If you do get around to setting up a VPN, I recommend IPSec encryption for your VPN. If not SSL can be an alternative.

Here is a couple of interesting sites/software regarding VPNs: VPN Labs , iOpus iPig, OpenVPN

When you are on the Internet, anyone from the ISP, the government to a variety of other services you connect to on the Internet may keep data on you. They keep track of your Internet traffic and effectively intrudes on your privacy and anonymity needs by checking where you go and when you go.

Tor is a free, opensource utility that can combat traffic analysis. It is available at http://tor.eff.org/ and versions for Windows, Mac and Linux exist. Tor uses a method called "onion routing" to bounce your traffic several times with different hosts on the internet before going to the final destination. This way the origin and the destination are kept secret and helps keep prying eyes at bay. It runs in the background, silently working to secure you internet traffic as you generate it.

If your ISP makes you go through a proxy to access websites then the sites you visit, the emails you send and read, the porn you jack off to late at night and even the political sites you sneak into but know you shouldn't access, are probably all logged. If you are a Maldivian, using the Dhiraagu proxy server as your browser proxy then you are letting Dhiraagu store all communications you make on the WWW. This is true for Focus Infocom customers as well.

In this case, one of the easiest methods to add more security to your internet communications is by the use of an alternative proxy server. Now depending on your ISP and their proxy configuration you may not be able to use proxy servers running on various ports. Head over to http://www.atomintersoft.com/proxylist/ and select a proxy server of your liking. You may need to test out a few for speed and accessibility. Generally, you should avoid proxies running on port 80 for reasons I am too lazy to type right now. If you don't know how to change your proxy server in your browser, head over to http://www.proxz.com/tutorial.php

Well, I guess that is enough "advice" for now. Enjoy!

Empty week

It's been a week since I last posted. I've spent the days functioning like a completely autonomous entity devoid of thought of any substance. The gigantic task of attending lectures,tutorials and practicals in addition to satisfying the trivialties necessary to subsist seemed to take center stage the entire week.

Several interesting ideas did, however, manage to slip into my mind during the week. With each idea, I'd hop onto the computer late at night and try getting it down in a coherent and sensible manner but end up loosing the train of thought and drifting into the vast universe of my imagination. That said and on reflection, I think I've spent an increasing amount of time in my dreamworld: The happy place where I create and rule. A world which I've learnt to make as vivid and genuine as the real world.

I've also moved closer to insanity by confusing dream life with real life. The unreal met with the real and they had nasty clashes that got me in temporary but nonetheless annoying and unnecessary jams. Note that "dream world" doesn't imply that I've been sleeping too much. It's quite contrary to that. Much of my imagination occurs while awake - a day dream of sorts. It's like time slows and the ambient and the imaginary morph and merge to form seemingly real world(s). Sigh.

I shall now drift back into the portals of delight and enjoy few more minutes/hours of this mental pleasure. Toodles.

Taken on my train ride to Bristol last weekend.
The view out the window was real and brilliant.

Ramadan nostalgia...

Another year, another Ramadan. Ramadan isn't the same when I am away from my family and it certainly isn't the same when away from Male'. It is over idealized I realize but I feel nostalgic nonetheless.

Ramadan was much looked forward to when I was a kid. I felt a dramatic shift in the atmosphere; it was beautiful. Piety provided solace and comfort - it was rewarding. The family got much tighter - we'd pray together, eat together and have fun together. Relatives would invite me over for breakfast and I would end up receiving much affection in addition to the variety of tasty food. I would be allowed to while away the day playing, reading or doing whatever crazy stuff that erupted out of my imagination that day. The fun kept me busy - oftentimes too busy to forget about the essence of fasting and ending up with a scolding from my parents.

The magic of Ramadan for me, for the most part, has been lost. Maybe this is another manifestation of the capacity for the human mind to desensitize itself - much like it finds no longer amused by a joke or no longer tingling at the sight of a romantic partner or bored by the same song that was your favourite 5 days ago and even no longer achieving the same sensory stimulus from masturbation. Maybe the magic of Ramadan has disappeared due to the loss of innocence. Maybe it's because of a diminished spiritual belief. I don't really know.

As if to make matters worse, Ramadan is the month that carries my hijri calendar birthday. The day has already passed and I am left a year older - something I do not wish to acknowledge wholeheartedly. Then again, few years from now on, I'd be totally desensitized to growing older too and be left totally oblivious to the concept of birthdays. Everyday will seem similar to the previous and the next day will be as depressing as the current... Sigh.