Monday, September 20, 2010

UPS for home

Almost inexorably, the day arrived (start of the season of power cuts !!) when I had to contemplate buying a UPS/Inverter for home. 

1. APC - Numero uno. Almost legendary reputation for reliability. Expensive.
2. Microtek - Best price + warranty offer.
3. LUMINOUS - Good price. Very informative website. Excellent sales and support (if someone is planning to buy a UPS inverter, I would happily recommend these folks). My choice.

1. 800VA - To power the lights, fans and all electronic equipment in our small but snug and comfortable two bedroom apartment, this was sufficient.
2. Pure sine wave - As opposed to Modified(square) sine wave generated by the UPS usually offered by vendors.
See for the differences.
One additional difference is the power factor. The actual power delivered by modified sinewave for this unit was 800VA*0.8=640W whereas for the pure sinewave  the value was 800VA*0.7=560W (1 tubelight).
To power our laptops, printer, I specifically asked for pure sine wave inverter despite the slight reduction in power supplied.
3. 12V, 120 AH battery - Prestolite (an Exide brand) supplied by LUMINOUS.
4. Inline - Did NOT go with a unit that could be connected inline i.e. power is drawn at all time from the UPS battery so that even when there is a power outage UPS inverter automatically kicks in without the tiny interruption.
5. Price - `13k

LUMINOUS Sine (Pure Sine) Wave 800VA for powers my home!!
(Hmm.. Maybe I should ask for a fee for this endorsement :))

It is sad that Bangalore continues to suffer from daily power outages when its infrastructure ought to match up to  the likes of Shanghai.

A quick back of the envelope calculation: Price of the UPS times No. of households who own a TV (and can be assumed to be able to afford a UPS) = `15000 times 17000000 = ` 25.5 billion or 2550 crores, that is over 40% of the total 2009-10 power budget of the state of Karnataka. So, every household is paying the penalty of buying a UPS, because the funds allocated to build, maintain and enhance infrastructure has over the years been inefficiently utilized  over the years!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Photon Whiz on Linux

Here is a guide I obtained from Tata Indicom about using the Photon Whiz.


To enable hotplug, I added this to the file /etc/udev/rules.d/70-huawei-ec121.rules on my Fedora 13.
ACTION=="add", SUBSYSTEMS=="usb"
ATTRS{idVendor}=="12d1",ATTRS{idProduct}=="1411"RUN+="/usr/sbin/usb_modeswitch"RUN+="/usr/bin/wvdial -C /etc/wvdial_for_tata_photon_whiz.conf"

Works great for browsing, email and small downloads!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Towards EVMsecure :)

Among the security community, even among those who argue in favor of security through obscurity, the consensus is that security through obscurity should never be used as a primary security measure. It is, at best, a secondary measure; and disclosure of the obscurity should not result in a compromise.
- "Security by Obscurity." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 12 August 2010 at 17:13 Web. 28 Aug. 2010.
However,the Election Commission seems to have followed this as a primary measure for the EVMs. Its open challenge in 2009 seems to clearly reflect this mindset. This position made the EVMs a lightning rod for independent security researchers/cryptanalysts to investigate whether the EVMs are truly as secure as claimed. Their paper, videos ( website should be viewed in this light.
While Gonggrijp and Professor Haldman have echoed a global consensus about electronic voting machines being inherently insecure and hence requiring an paper audit, what must be kept in perspective is the reality of the huge gains in efficiency and relative safety that the machines have achieved in India since their deployment!!
Rather than responding in the typically bureaucratic knee jerk manner to the disclosure, could not the Indian institutions have persuaded the cryptanalysts to become ethical hackers(whitehats)? I certainly hope  a team comprised of the cryptanalysts and experts drawn from various stakeholders in India (such as election commission, embedded system experts, security researchers) is being formed as I write to perform a comprehensive security audit on the device and come up with EVMsecure :). A By-election could serve as a pilot project to test its real world efficacy.
What an exciting and awesome challenge for this team - to retain faith in the election process of the world's largest democracy!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

A simple matter of reissue of passport

The information on the website was quite informative. So I collated the forms, supporting documents, photos and submitted them at the Bangalore regional passport office at the scheduled appointment time.

Appointment date: March 19th
Staff at the passport office conformed to government employee stereotype. They were rude and generally ignorant about the information provided on their website.
Examples of their 'helpful' responses:
Why do you need a jumbo (more number of pages than normal) passport?
Why do you need ECNR? Select ECR. It is too late to make a correction for ECNR. When the police verification is completed, apply for tatkal and get the changes made then.

Passport verification completed: April 19th
I was able to check status online at But I never received a reply to about seven emails about correction to ECNR that I had sent with attached supporting documents.

Received passport: May 23rd
The passport still had the ECR stamp and there was an error in my father's middle name.

Appointment at the new e-seva kendra to get the errors corrected: June 30th
TCS and CMC are working with the the government to streamline the entire process. And I had a relatively better experience.
1. Modern office setting: Air conditioned. Access to photocopying machines has been provided. One can have a cup of tea/coffee while waiting.
2. Digital photos are taken at the office.
3. Better customer service. Some of the same unhelpful staff seemed more enthused in doing their work. The enthusiasm, humor and professionalism of TCS/CMC teams seems to have rubbed off.

The software system appears to be in beta and due to server crashes, final stage verification was delayed.

Received passport:July 4th
The ECR stamp had been removed and entry for father's middle name had been corrected. However, several important entries in the last page of the reissued passport are STILL wrong:
Father's name, Mother's name, Spouse's name (order of first name and last name inconsistent). Address is incomplete.
Clearly this is a work in progress.

Passport sent for correction via speed post: July 20th
This after several emails to all of which bounced. Perhaps they need to collaborate with TCS/CMC for such IT support services!!

Visit to office to follow up on the passport:  Aug 13th
The issue with corrections is that there is no way for me to schedule online appointments.  The link provided on the website is only meant for applicants who have received some communication from the passport office about errors in documentation etc. So, to obtain a token to be able to get inside the office, I joined the queue at around 10 am (official working hours: 9.30 - 11.30) only to be informed that some 250 tokens were issued early morning around 7!! Several of us wondered about why the office hours were not being maintained. Nobody showed up at the counter till 11.45am!!

I met an applicant who was held up on applying for a student visa because she had not received her passport yet despite opting for tatkal processing. There was another gentleman who was charged twice for his child on tatkal. We became restive after waiting patiently for more than two hours and decided to collectively go and demand that someone give us the token. I specifically requested the security staff at the entrance to allow us to talk to the regional passport officer or the assistant regional passport officer.
Finally after arguing for several minutes, we were informed that someone will be at the counter shortly. The regional passport officer took the responsibility and personally distributed the tokens to everyone. It is unfortunate that despite having such efficient and dedicated senior officers the overall culture of the office is so poor..
After figuring out the correct counter where I could find out about the fate of my passport, I gave the clerk my passport number to be informed that the passport had been dispatched on 9th of August (i.e. after 18 days since I mailed it to the office where their website gives a return time of 3-4 days!!!!). When I asked whether the errors have been corrected, he told me the information listed in his system and to again contact the e-seva kendra if there is an error.

Well, I am past caring and just hope that there are no more errors when I finally receive.


Last visit??: September 1st
This time I went armed with an RTI application seeking status of the submitted passport.

On waiving the form, I was straightaway sent from the enquiry counter to the passport officer. And after waiting through the evening, I finally laid eyes on my file. Apparently, in the ongoing transition to the e-seva kendra services, the office did not receive guidelines from the ministry about how and where to process correction cases and hence my passport was put on hold.
But why nobody thought it necessary to inform about the delay till that day, I don't know!! The officer ordered all corrections to be made without charge and the passport to be dispatched the very next day.

However, the corrections took about a MONTH when should have taken utmost a week. I will file a complaint about the callousness and sheer waste of time and money!!!

Clutching straws!!September 6th
Frustrated at the lack of response, I sent an email to grv dot jscpv AT mea dot gov dot in in the morning and by evening I received an email and sms about the dispatch of my passport.

All's well that ends well: September 7th
Finally I received the passport as I requested - accurate entries for address, names and without any further mistakes. The email appeal helped. But really, what a callous response overall by the passport office!!!

Here are some things I learnt that someone might find useful.

About ECNR (Emigration Check Not Required)
Having ECNR status ensures less hassle at immigration check especially when travelling out of India to non-western countries. On the passport, ECNR means that  the second page is blank (without ECR stamp).
10th class marks sheet and/or passing certificate is the minimum supporting document. In my case, this should have been approved by default. But it was not!!
For more details about EC(N)R, visit

Tips to ensure efficient service at the e-seva kendra or passport office

1. Check out online demo to know what to expect at the office.
2. Always schedule an appointment online at whenever possible. This ensures priority service at the office. For enquiry, arrive by 9 am. If you are lucky, you will get the tokens at 9.30. If it is not your day, be prepared to wait till at least noon.
e-seva kendra appointment:
RPO, Bangalore appointment:
3. Arrive on time.