Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reluctant Eavesdropping

I have now stood in lines on three days at the Registrar of Births and Deaths. I would have liked to see the staff a little more empathetic. I suppose the endless issues with correction of data may make them seem callous and cold.

One cause of the common problems I observed/overheard were the result of various government hospitals, including PGI - a premier institution in India. My sample size is small but differences in the names as claimed by the relatives and as entered in the register were oddly substantial. This required the relatives to run around at the hospital, get hospitals to correct the data, gather proofs, etc.

Some of the relatives were desperate, pleading for help. A few were near breaking point, helpless and abusive.

Another case for reducing the donkey work by using computers and, as a side effect, having people be nicer to each other.

One Department, Two Cultures

I was pleasantly surprised to get a call from the Registrar of Births and Deaths regarding a spelling discrepancy in my grandfather's name.

I went to their office with the necessary proof. The clerk at the counter was shocked. He called out to his colleague and asked him whether he had started phoning people regarding any problems with the issuing of a death certificate. His colleague said an emphatic NO - must be X.

Mr X was in the computer room. I went to meet him. He and his colleague were courteous and very helpful. They wrote down the issue and asked me to see Y who had the pending file.

Mr. Y was the person called out by the clerk at the counter. He was very busy, concentrating and carefully copying and filling columns of a register. I waited. The whole atmosphere reminded me of the protagonist in Overcoat by Gogol though I must have read it 40 years ago.

He completed the line and then talked to me. He told me to submit an application on a 'pakka' paper. He was reasonably polite. This time I knew what a 'pakka' paper was - bond paper, preferably green. I had earlier printed an application regarding my grandmother's name on a white paper at home and it had to be redone on the desired paper.

I got the necessary application typed. The typist misspelled my grandfather's name just as it was in the register! So, I suppose the conventional spelling in Punjab is 'Sunder' and not 'Sundar'. In fact, I could have provided proof of either of the spellings. My father's current passport had one spelling but the expired one had the other! National ID program had better take care of the correct representation in the original language and accept variations in transliterations.

Anyway, I got the letter corrected and took it to Mr. Y. Waited for him to finish his writing some entries in the register. Mr. Y scanned the letter, marked some data in red ink. Signed it and asked me to go to counter 3, where I had first gone.

The man at the counter grumbled. Why come to me when the officer has already signed it. Go to counter 6.

Counter 6 belonged to the computer cell. When my turn came, the lady at the counter said, you should just give it to Mr. Y, he has the file. I told her that Mr. Y asked me to go to counter 3, who told me to go to counter 6. I could see her smile faintly. She took the paper from me, made a remark on it and asked me to come back a week later.

I suppose changing the 'e' to an 'a' will require much more time in the register than replacing it in the computer record. And I expect that the computer record can only be updated after Mr. Y has made the necessary corrections in at least one register.

I am in no hurry.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Arch Linux Update Broke

Update on the system with an old Intel graphics chipset succeeded. The packages needed to use the old intel driver were held back.

Gdm would not start. Manual start of X revealed that it wanted while openssl was now version 1.0.0.

I decided to experiment with the current intel graphics driver. It was much better but the system still froze twice in a day. Hence, I decided to go back to the previous intel driver.

Downgrading openssl would have affected many more packages. Hence, the idea was to install the older libcrypto libraries as well.

But before doing that, I decided to create a softlink to the current version of libcrypto. As far I could tell from the documentation, some new calls had been added. The old interfaces were unchanged. As I suspected, X came up and the updated system has been working fine now.

This again brings up the issue of how to package the libraries. A package should be able to use a more recent version if it is compatible or allow an older version to be installed in addition to the newer version. Current distributions are just not using the power and flexibility of the shared libraries in Linux.

To the extent possible, a 'normal' user should not have to worry about shared libraries and their versions.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


What if I have to implement and execute a task with which I am in disagreement? Will I wind up being disagreeable and quarrel with those around me? To what extent will I need to compromise? At work, the customer specs are the final word. In social scenarios, I suppose, relations play role of the 'customers'.

My father went to the Arya Samaj Mandir almost every Sunday. He would try to influence me but I remain an agnostic.

Fortunately, Arya Samaj is quite a bit less ritualistic than the mainstream. I found myself accommodating the desires of my extended family. The priest was also quite modern and understood my position. The actions expected of me were generally more symbolic than ritualistic.

There was, however, one clear advantage of rituals - they kept the mind occupied and distracted, which, I suppose, was the need at the time.

A time machine would have helped more except as Albert Camus writes in The Fall: "It's too late now. It will always be too late."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Without Comment

Father passes away.

Humour helps in coping

Importance of timely information

Supreme court rejected the plea of a killer for any leniency. Fine, except that the killer had committed suicide 5 years earlier!

I do not know whether the judges were embarrassed about it but effective use of computers would definitely have avoided the pointless, wasted effort.