postheadericon TECH TALK: Autosave Your Butt This Winter!

With the approaching loadshedding season looming close, now is the time to start thinking about how you will survive another winter in the dark, with barely enough power to light your workroom.

I was shocked into thinking of this just this morning, as an unscheduled outage surged through my home office and with the inverter / UPS bypassed, shutting down my computer with no warning whatsoever. As it would happen, I was right in the middle of a super long email that I had been crafting for well over 20 minutes or so.

I groaned with nothing but a black screen in front of me, instead of my painstakingly written text. There goes another ½ hour of my life down the drain.

Usually, when I work in Microsoft Word, I am constantly hitting “ctrl-s” when I remember that everything is impermanent, including a working computer. However, when writing an email, I rarely remember to do “Save as Draft” as I am drafting.

However, today I was pleasantly surprised.

As an Apple Lion user, there is now system-wide protection from crashes such as this called “autosave,” which is an operating system feature that is always saving whatever you type, regardless of what Apple application that you are using. In this case, I was using Apple Mail and had not bothered to manually save a draft, but low and behold, on powering up my machine again I found that I had not lost a single word!

For PC users, Windows 7 does not have a system-wide autosave feature, and it does not look like Windows 8 will have either (rumoured to be released in 2012). However, Microsoft will probably come up with something like Apple autosave, as they always seem to want to compete with what the geniuses at Apple.

However, outside of having a system-wide autosave system in place for this year’s season of unpredictable power outages, PC users can arm themselves with some tools that will protect them while they work, and that are software-dependent instead of hardware dependent like a UPS box that may or may not work when you really need it.

My favourite syncing tool for Windows, Linux, and Mac systems is Super Flexible File Synchronizer from the German company of the same name. But before I tell you how it works, it’s important to note the difference between synchronizing vs. backing up files. The difference is, well, like splitting hairs: synchronizing is the process of ensuring that two or more locations contain the same up-to-date files. If you add, change, or delete a file from one location, the synchronization process will add, change, or delete the same file at the other location. Backup refers to copying the data from one location to another, say from your PC to an online cloud service.

Confused? Well join the club! The reason I suggest that PC users get a system-wide syncing solution before this winter brings on the darkness is that backups (which are also essential) take up a lot of your computer’s resources while you are working (i.e. slow). Sync tools are “lighter” and tend to be easier on your CPU. That means that they do the deed quickly and will not disrupt you while working.

Here is how you can turn a sync tool (like Super Flexible) into an autosave system that works a bit like Apple’s autosave does in Lion. You would set up a sync between My Documents and a new folder on your machine called My Documents Synced, and set the sync tool to run every few minutes or so.

Then, when disaster strikes, you just go to the same file in the My Documents Synced folder, and there you will have the most recent synchronization, which will save your butt if say a power outage crashed your desktop, or perhaps you corrupted your working file somehow along the way.

This method works regardless of what application you are using, or what type of file that you are editing, and is not dependent on you remembering to hit ctrl-s, or to set your application’s own auto recovery system to “on and working.” However, that is a good idea as well. For example, MS Office applications such as Word and Excel, do have an “AutoRecover” option in preferences that is supposed to save your butt down to any increment of 1 minute or more.

Nevertheless, my experience over the years proves to me that Microsoft AutoRecover cannot be trusted. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s not good enough for me, how about you?

Published in "The Week" - A Herald Tribune International partner - on 8/25/2011.
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postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: When Flash Mobs Attack...

When I first saw the headline on a recent CNN video, When Flash Mobs Attack, I flashed back to all the other attacks that have used this tag line, like: when bears attack, when ice dams attack, when aliens attack, when patents attack – all just a few of the dozens you can find in a simple Google search for “When [fill in the blank] attack.”

But after watching the CNN video that describes the very recent trending of flash mobs, I sobered up.

Coming in the wake of the British looting and burnings, this American format is just as disturbing to watch. Philadelphia, Chicago, and small town Maryland are just a few sites of recent American flash mobs. For those of you not hip to social media lingo, a flash mob is just a group of youth getting together via Twitter or Facebook messages.

First described as a “harmless and fun fad”, flash mobbing has now turned “dangerous” according to CNN. However, the CNN video shows a large group of youths walking calmly through a 7-Eleven, picking up items as if shopping, and then just not choosing to pay.
There is even one scene where a flippant teen knocks something off the shelf during the looting, but a girl behind him takes the time to pick the items off the floor and place them back on the shelf, as if to say, “Don’t be a messy looter.”

The video drones on with talking heads trying to make sense of this new form of teen violence: is it race, is it religion (or lack of), is it austerity, is it like London, is it poverty?

Just as with the recent riots across the pond in England, the word “poverty” keeps popping up like an annoying internet advert. Now, I don’t know where commentators living in the west get their definition of poverty, but from where I sit in KTM, poverty does not equal teens wearing Nike, Gap, and Old Navy. Heck, just to participate in a flash mob one needs the latest in Blackberry, iPhone, or Nokia; with a data plan to boot. So no, I don’t think poverty is the issue here.

But what is at issue is the health of the nations in question, when a country’s most basic potential (its young) behave in such a manner, for no overt reason whatsoever. I know, now I sound like my father when he looked at me with my long hair, bell-bottoms, and half-hidden bag of weed in my hip pocket.

But back then (yes, in the olden days) we were rebelling against “the man,” the establishment, the oppressors of the working class, the evil empires that we were all destined to eventually become part, and someday retire from.

Just what is it that these modern day rebels are trying to say, via tweets and posts and mobs online? I’m not sure, just as the CNN talking heads are not sure, but something has certainly turned sour in paradise.

So I did what I always do when confused. I asked my wife, who is Nepali through and through: “Do you see the kids here doing that?”

“No, Nepali kids are not that stupid. And street kids don’t have cell phones.”

And as always, the wisdom of a Nepali woman astounds. It is stupidity, and the stupidity of parents, community leaders, and elected officials of some of the greatest nations on the planet, who are unable to figure out how to properly raise children in the 21st century.

On this realization, I had to reflect on how children are raised in this country, where folks literally don’t have a pot to piss in, where children learn to read on wooden benches and dirt floors, using candles to study for exams, and all I can say is this to anyone who has children in the west:

When flash mobs attack, move to Nepal.


first published in "THE WEEK" on Friday, August 19, 2011
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postheadericon TECH TALK: The New Voice in Nepal, Social Media 2011

With well over a billion Facebook groups now existing on the planet, and growing at a rate that doubles every year, it’s no wonder that Facebook (along with other like social media sites) is fast becoming the new voice of youth in the world of politics and awareness-raising.

Out of those 1 billion-odd groups, it’s estimated that over 1 million of those are related to Nepal, and these are discussions mostly created by young Nepalese exploring topics ranging from “B-Boying” to “I ain’t no Indian, not a Mexican or Chinese…I‘m a NEPALI...BIOTCH!!!” and everything in-between. In other words, there is a Nepali group for just about anything Nepali you can think of, from dhal bhat to Pol Pot.

And as far as Twitter goes, the numbers are just as staggering: with an estimated Twitter penetration of 8% or more into the total Nepali population, and with Nepal and neighbors India and China contributing to world-wide tweet traffic in the billions per year.

Add that to the number of Nepali bloggers online, and comparing social media site popularity over traditional media outlets online, it’s clear that the majority of youth in Nepal are living in Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, etc. and have moved away from old-school media sites like the BBC, Himalayan Times, Khabar, and yes, even this media outlet, Republica.

This of course is no surprise to media watchers, as Nepal does not buck any worldwide trends in this regard, and as a young country stats-wise, it just makes sense that most folks under the age of 35 are involved in a big way with social media, either voicing opinions, venting, or organizing for the greater good.

We have seen what youth have used social media-wise during the Arab Spring od 2011, and some of us can even remember as far back as 2006, when the Nepali blogosphere became alive and filled an information vacuum created by the ideologically encamped media outlets of the country. One of the most established of such blogs, United We Blog!, sums up this transition on their home page quite succinctly:

“United We Blog! was born because we wanted to share something we can’t share in newspapers!”

So a new voice was born, outside of the established vehicles of “letters to the editor” and in other guest contributions to established and controlled journalistic outlets. All well and good, but this birthing is not without criticism and animosity by the powers that be...

The GoN reacted with the Electronic Transaction Act 2008, which has been used on occasion to squelch opposing utterings from Nepali youth. The exact wording of the Act that applies is as follows:

"If any person publishes or displays any material in the electronic media including computer, internet which are prohibited to publish or display by the prevailing law or which may be contrary to the public morality or decent behaviour or any types of materials which may spread hate or jealousy against anyone or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities shall be liable to the punishment with the fine not exceeding One Hundred Thousand Rupees or with the imprisonment not exceeding five years or with both."

That, in conjunction with various criminal acts and constitutional amendments, and working with NTA-amended licenses to ISPs, has combined to put limits on what Nepal’s youth can say and post online. All well and good, as long as not abused - as all civil societies need boundaries in this regard, no?

It’s obvious after reading the rules and regulations, that we in Nepal do lean liberal in regards to the curtailing of free online speech, and we can count our lucky stars that we do not have the authoritarian online rule of our nearest neighbor, China. As of date, the youth of Nepal can say what they want, where they want, without fear of reprisals within the limits of Nepal’s liberal laws in 2011.

For example, it’s hard to imagine anything happening today like what what happened during 2004/5, when then King Gyanendra said he was exercising censorship for 'peace and democracy'. Yet this is not to say that the new online voice of Nepal is not without problems, or in need of a good cleanup. For example, any visit to a few Nepali YouTube videos will uncover hate speech and other forms of online obscenities that would make your didi blush.

To help in this regard, the Bloggers Association of Nepal (BLOGAN) has put together a worthwhile initiative for anyone posting online: A Code of Ethics for Bloggers, which was first signed by members of BLOGAN and the Online Journalists of Nepal (OJA) in July of this year. Modeled after Tim O’Reilly’s Code of Conduct, this set of guidelines is a must read for anyone sharing online.

By following this code, we can all contribute to the collective in a meaningful and civil way, even if some of the tenants may seem trivial, self-evident, or even restrictive. In other words, with new freedom comes new responsibility, and I for one, thank BLOGAN and the OJA for pointing this out in their newly formulated Code of Ethics; so what say you?

Published today in myrepublica.com, photo credit: unknown, please write me with ownership info.
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postheadericon KUIRE KO KURA: Slow News Day

It’s a slow news day here, so I am having a bit of difficulty thinking of a topic that might be of interest to loyal readers of this column. The debt-ceiling crisis in America has been resolved (for the time being), the Nepali stock market is stable (for the time being), and the political parties continue to disagree (for the rest of time, no doubt).

The monsoon clouds rest above the rim of the valley as if painted there, the milkman is clanging his pot of fresh product at the gate on schedule, and the rice pudding from yesterday’s festival lingers in the fridge. There is plenty of power to run my gadgets, and the inverter is silent on all subjects of electrical supply and demand.

In short, all is well on this lazy summer day in Nepal.

I have no new SMS’es on my phone - except for one from Mero saying it’s again charged me for some service I know nothing about – SMS2Email at a deduction of 33.90 rupees. That in conjunction with another unknown charge of 2.49 rupee for the “rental of the “Missed Call Notification service” is all that excites there.

My Facebook notifications show the usual: invites to dozens of events that I would or never will attend, and posts to groups that I know nothing about. There are notes about games I’ve never played, and an endless stream of updates to the walls of friends that I have never met.

My inbox is cluttered with more emails that I will only delete without reading, and while looking at my inbox count of well over 4,000 saved mails, I have to wonder if there is a single one there that really needs saving – even as that number grows exponentially day by day.

In fact, the only thing that seems to be active for me today, are all the social networking mechanisms for websites that I rarely visit. In short, my social life is churning on without the least bit effort from my side. I guess this is what is known as progress in the digital age...

However, my dog shows me a different side to life...

Here is a beast unencumbered by any of the modern trappings outside of his high-tech stainless steel food bowl. His main connection to technology is to react immediately and with loud barks to the electric buzzer at the gate. Which come to think of it, is a lot like my own reaction to the “you’ve got email” bonk on my computer.

Political wrangling’s, upward-downward spirals of the markets, and the craziness of humans goes unnoticed by my dog, who instead responds simply and decisively to three words “Chicken” “Walk” and “Mommy.” And while walking, unlike I, he totally ignores the human condition of my neighborhood: the drunks at the local momo shop, the intentness of the didi with the washing (looking as gloomy as the weather), the subdued frustration of the shopkeeper over the lack of daily customers.

Instead, my dog is intent on examining every flower or bush along the path.

What he finds so interesting there I cannot fathom. Perhaps it’s his buddy’s scent, or the whiff of a girlfriend in heat. Or perhaps his behavior is just a primal instinct that tells him to snort over every inch of ground that is under his limited domain.

Since moving to a new neighborhood I have noticed a marked change in his sniffing as time has worn on. Now that he has staked out a territory with his uric markings, he becomes uneasy when venturing into another doggie domain. During our nightly walks, and once a limit to his boundary has been reached, he looks up to me as if to say, “that’s far enough, it’s time to turn around and go back.”

Well on this slow news day, I find my dog’s insight profound. The territorial markings of the human species seem to have been lost on the makers of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. We no longer have a kingdom of our own, an area of exclusion, nor a place where we can lie comfortably in the shade of a monsoon summer day and be left completely undisturbed by everything in the world with the exception of a buzzing fly or two.
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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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