Extempore and Networking

Hello, all you lovely people.

Weird title? No – it isn’t.

I’m glad I could find some time to pen a few lines. This time it was almost like an epiphany. Like all other epiphanies I’ve had before, this one proved an eye-opener once again. What’s the title got to do with this, you ask? Hold on – all good things come to the man/woman who waits.

Extempore is not just an activity you engaged in, in school or college. It’s a real-life situation and could prove a nightmare if you do not handle it with care. Let us tear this apart. Let us begin with defining the word.

Before that, here’s how to pronounce ‘extempore’ – a word that’s widely mispronounced.

Cambridge Dictionary:

Chambers dictionary:

Google dictionary:

Now that we have got the definition out of the way, let us take a look at its implications. As mentioned earlier, this is not just a word to be defined, it is a situation we may have to live and thereby overcome sometimes. Or should I say many a time? I guess the latter is more befitting.

This is not a new concept or situation. We all have been through this many times – just that we may not have known what it is called. The only reason we need to talk about it is that this will help you recover from such situations easily if not majestically. The problem gets compounded if one also suffers from stage fright a.k.a. Glossophobia.

Glossophobia + Extempore = Catastrophe

While people smartly take care of Glossophobia, an extempore situation may sometimes be shoved down our throats, making it difficult to recover unhurt. However, from my experience, I can vouch for the fact that Glossophobia can be cured. I suffered from it once, as a schoolboy. Today, I teach an entire class of sophomores and have a reasonable (if not magnanimous) following. I would shudder even at the thought or reading from a textbook (from my desk), let alone speaking extempore taking the centre stage. I’ve come a long way – is all I can say for now. However, the journey was not at all easy. On the contrary, I have suffered many a fiasco. The bottom line is – now I’m at peace.

Now let us move on to the next word in the title – Networking.

In my honest opinion, rarely is anyone born with guts of steel and the resultant mind-blowing confidence. We are all born the same – scared of many things. Situations change us – some make us, some break us. However, one of the many things that help overcome an extempore speaking situation is general knowledge. A little knowledge of various topics never hurt. In such critical situations, it can prove a life-saver. They say, birds of a feather flock together. This is not an automatic process – even the birds need to FIND other birds of similar plumage for flocking. In the same way, find people with similar interests and network with them regularly.

Similar interests don’t matter. It depends on the kind of information or knowledge you seek. E.g. if I need to need to sharpen my knowledge of legal terms, I would try to be in the company of lawyers. If photography interests me (and I’ve just discovered that), I would hang out with photographers. If I don’t know any, I would get somebody to introduce me to one so that I can network with them. There’s a biblical phrase I strongly believe in – “Ask, and thou shall receive”. Although I do not subscribe to the theosophical context of the phrase, I do, to the social context.

I maintain – not all knowledge is gleaned from books. Some can be achieved through social networking too. There is a fine line that one needs to watch out when gaining knowledge through social networking. Gone are the days of virtue, days when speaking the truth was important, days when lying was a sin. Since lies, falsehood, treachery etc. are rampant – choose your network wisely. It’s not that books can’t go wrong – after all, it’s people like us that wrote those books too. There’s a difference though, the older the books – the closer to the truth they are.

All in all, read, discuss intelligent topics, watch meaningful videos (and not trashy newspapers or channels that boast of nation-building while secretly abiding by the diktats of their political masters), network with people who matter. All this only goes a long way in alleviating the problem (of monstrous proportions to some) of Glossophobia, thereby helping you with extempore speech.

Start preparing early and when the situation presents itself, just grab it by the… err (clearing my throat) … collar. The next time someone hands over the mic to you, just do what Nike has been asking you to do since I don’t know when … JUST DO IT.

Bye for now.

Why I adopted Linuxfx

Linuxfx Installation

I make no bones about the fact that I’m a Linux-o-phile (I’ve just made that word up, don’t look up the internet). I’m that child with a fascination for the moon. Well, this is not the first time I’ve dabbled in the Linux waters – it’s the first time I’m penning down my experience though. The best part about all this ‘dabbling’ business is that Linux offers a LIVE CD option – where you can test/experience the OS without installing it. If you’re not impressed, reboot your computer – you’re back to Windows.

My first brush with Linux was when I was a newbie netsurfer (if you know what that means) in 1997-98. I’ve forgotten the name of the distro – but all I remember is that it came with KDE (K Desktop Environment). It was love-at-first-sight. But my issues had just started. I’d fallen in love with an OS I didn’t fully understand (familiar territory?). Then, I didn’t realize that the internet can be used for ‘learning’ too 😉. Good luck with wondering (and judging me for) what I did with the internet, if not for learning.

My first brush passed off like a girl I saw once, somewhere and then never again, for a long time. But my then-dormant flames for Linux were rekindled when I worked as a showroom salesman in Nagpur. My boss entrusted the sales for some Compaq computers that came pre-loaded with Linux (Ubuntu, I guess). While he asked me to install a pirated copy of Windows 98, I stuck to Linux. That’s where I learnt about XMMS. XMMS was to Linux what Winamp was (and still is) to Windows.

Cut to 2011 – when I got married and discovered that my wife is a ‘Linux-only’ person. When I gifted her a laptop for the first time – it came pre-loaded with Ubuntu (an extremely popular Linux distro) – I offered to clean-install Windows. To my utter surprise, she refused. That’s when I realized that she’s totally into Linux and calls out Windows for all its inconsistencies. I’ve never looked back since.

Linuxfx:

For starters, Linuxfx is distro (short for ‘distribution’ a.k.a. flavour) of Linux aimed at all those who want to test the waters with Linux. This distro makes the Windows users feel at home with the oh-so-familiar look and feel (almost) of Windows 8 or 10. The developers have gone to great lengths to provide first-time users, a near-Windows experience. One look at the screens (I’ve posted them too) and you’ll be amazed at how much the developers are bending it like Beckham – just to make you comfortable and your experience, a memorable one.

Linuxfx Desktop

They’ve retained the Windows desktop screen. This isn’t where the similarities begin, though. It starts at the welcome/login screen (where you need to login to your account).

Login/Lock screen
Login/Lock screen

Just imagine seeing this screen when Linuxfx boots up. Nothing new to a seasoned Windows user. Right? Right!!!

Here are a few other examples to drive my point home.

Now, the journey was not so smooth – I’ll be honest. Firstly, I learnt I need to use ETCHER to create the boot disk. Now that never worked for me. I learnt that RUFUS (what I always use) would not work. On the contrary – it did – a tweak was in order. I had to change the boot type from UEFI (used to boot Windows 8 onwards) to Legacy (for Windows 7 or older). Once that stage crossed, the rest of the installation was a walk in the park.

Just like other popular Linux distros with a Cinnamon (full-feature) desktop environment, Linuxfx comes pre-loaded with a host of commonly used programs:

  • WINE (a compatibility layer that lets you run Windows programs in Linux)
  • Only Office
  • WX Desktop
  • Windows® 10 theme
  • AnyDesk (remote desktop administration tool)

Some tech specs for the Linux fraternity:

Base operating system Ubuntu 20.04 LTS / Linuxfx 10 LTS
Graphical interface (DM) Cinnamon 4.6 + Linuxfx WX Desktop
Kernel 5.7.15
Office Suite OnlyOffice 5.6
Workgroup networks SAMBA
Active Directory PowerBroker (PBIS) / CID
.Exe / .msi compatibility Wine 5 (Linuxfx Version)
Theme for Windows® 10 b00merang GPL Windows® 10 Theme pack
Windows® 10 Tools Linuxfx WX Desktop system tools

Here’s something from the horse’s mouth (https://Windowsfx.org):

Here are some advantages of using Windowsfx on your computer:

  • Fast, very fast: Windowsfx can work very well on computers with only two cores (dual-core processors) and only 2GB of RAM.
  • Safe and stable: The base of Windowsfx is Linux, which by definition already tends to be stabler. Viruses and Malware developed for Windows® will not be a problem for Windowsfx, as they are different platforms, these malicious programs cannot run on Windowsfx.
  • Applications for Windows® and Linux: Windowsfx will give you access to a vast collection of applications. In addition to the apps you are used to, you will have access to a new store, with thousands of free apps, just a click away.

I could go on (and you would be clueless about what I am trying to say). Long story short – it comes to you as a complete package. Unless you are persnickety about your choice of apps, you are good to go with what Linuxfx offers you. I doubt if a regular user would need anything more (I mean installing programs).

(Power users – excuse my ignorance. I could learn a thing or two from you, sir/ma’am)

The trial phase went on fine; that is when I decided to go all the way in – I installed Linuxfx. The rest is history. Any regular Windows user could easily mistake my laptop for a Windows 8 or 10 based laptop.

There is something the developers did to make Windows users all the more comfortable – they retained the legendary Windows lag. If the OS went any faster, Windows users could easily find out it is not Windows OS.

If anyone of you out there would like to taste this already tasty flavour of Linux, contact me. I have been there, done that and would be glad to assist you.

Till then, Ciao!!!

Disclaimer:

The author is not a Certified Linux Professional. The information provided and view expressed here are solely based on the author’s own experiece. The screenshots were taken on the author’s Acer E5-575G laptop. Try/use Linuxfx or any other Linux distro at your discretion. The author disclaims all responsibity toward the consequences of your actions.

An ACCIDENTAL trek to Karnala Fort

Karnala

After a long time (and yearning for several years) I accomplished what I call ‘the challenging’. While I’m sure some of you (who are avid trekkers) may dismiss this is as not-so-challenging; I maintain my stance. At the other side of 40, with my level of fitness (read sluggishness/lethargy) – it was indeed a challenge to me. Well… so it was, for the other two too, who I accompanied. It was a cool Sunday morning (just like today) on the 27th of January – just one day after my Home Minister’s birthday. She wanted to do this for quite a while – just that domestic chores kept us tethered to Mira Road. We finally managed to break that tether. While our goal was to see birds in the Karnala Bird Sanctuary, we missed the bus by a few minutes. We ended up scaling the Karnala fort instead.

Magnificent view of the fort
Magnificent view of the fort

For anyone interested in the trek – here’s how you can get there. Karnala bird sanctuary is located in Panvel. It is 75 km from my place, as the crow flies. Anyone who drives a car can take the Western Express Highway (and then the Mumbai-Bangalore highway) if you can manage a 2-hour drive to Panvel. A suburban commuter can take a Harbour Line train to Panvel.

Once you disembark at Panvel, you need to take a bus to Karnala which is just a 5-10 minute ride from there. For this you have 2 options from the station:

  • Get fleeced by the trike (rickshaw) drivers
  • Walk for just 6-7 minutes and reach the municipal bus stand

I chose option b much to the chagrin of my wife. We boarded the omnipresent RED BUS (not from redbus.in) a.k.a. ESHTEE that promptly dropped us at our destination in 10 minutes. For the first timers (like me) it was shocking to alight at an apparently desolate place. It took me a few minutes to realise that it was not all that desolate. There was an eatery just a few feet away from the highway where one can refuel one’s tummy before even reaching the sanctuary. While the eatery is on the right, the Sanctuary was to our left. We couldn’t see clearly due to the road maintenance works.

At the entrance, you will be greeted (not so politely) my men in jungle fatigues (presumably forest officers/guards). You need to declare any plastic bottles that you may have in your bags. In the wake of ‘Zero-plastic-tolerance’ move, they mark your bottles and you need to pay Rs. 100 as a deposit – needless to say, which you can collect on your way back. If you lose that bottle during your trek – you lose the deposit too. Just a few paces after the check post, you have a few eateries to satiate your appetite. After packing a few carbs, proteins, and calories, we marched ahead.

WARNING: The birds in the sanctuary do an early morning shift. So, if you wanna see them, be there before 8 am. They presumably take the 8 am flight to their destinations (Damn!!!).

Thanks to my ignorance about ‘bird timings’ – I had to face some cold-shoulder from you-know-who. Man! It did take a while for all that ‘ice’ to melt. Those who don’t get my drift – get married. Once we knew for a fact that the birds are gone – we chose to look around. We had a few options left. One of them was a walk along a nature trail. The other was to see the caged birds (that hurt). The third and the most spectacular one was the TREK to KARNALA FORT.

Resting at 1440 ft ASL, the fort offered a magnificent feast unto the eyes. The pinnacle protruded high into the skies, a-la the thumbs-up sign. Here’s another word of caution: Please avoid going there with kids under the age of 10 (personal suggestion). My 6-year old was exhausted beyond recall after the trek. It took her an entire day to recover from the exhaustion. If your kid has a medical condition, then this trip is not for him/her – at least till they grow up.

Now for the nitty-gritty. The trek – I must admit – is not the easiest. There are 2 approach routes – we started with the ‘road-less-travelled’ but after walking a few paces – we had to cancel the idea. We had no clue where we were headed and there was nobody there to ask for directions. Plus… no signals on our phones too. We retraced our steps to the start of that trail. From there we took the beaten track. This time though, we had company. Some of them were locals who were frequent visitors too. All they did was mislead us about the duration – while they said ‘a little over 1 hour’ we needed 2 hours to reach the highest point.

A road less traveled
A road less traveled

A road less travelled

The trek reminded us of how precious WATER is. Although Wikipedia claims there is potable water atop the fort – we couldn’t find any that I could even wash my ass with. So, if you’re there – carry as many gallons of water as you can. Do not forget to pack some ready-to-eat stuff too e.g. biscuits, chips, cookies, or anything else that not too heavy to carry. Try to keep your backpack as light as possible. Carry a stick if possible. That will help you to prod around, if in doubt. Given that it’s also a reserve forest – you can expect some unwelcome critters and reptiles too. I cannot completely rule out the presence of apex predators – just that I didn’t encounter any.

Sneak-peek at the peak

Sneak-peek at the peak

The trek becomes more and more treacherous as once climbs higher and higher. There wasn’t a single well-paved/constructed/cemented step. We had to climb large rocks and boulders. Be sure to wear closed shoes that have an excellent grip. You won’t necessarily die if you slip and fall – just that you will be immobilized (incapacitated, at worst) for a good period of time. I cannot rule out the possibility of a fatal fall. CAUTION needs to be exercised at each point of the climb – especially if you’re new to the terrain.

Overhanging trees
Overhanging trees

All the skill I had at my disposal was my sense of (not-so) keen judgement. The rest just fell in place and before we knew, we stood face-off with the lofty fort – too bad, it’s in ruins now. Just so you know, the pinnacle is practically un-scalable. One needs to be a trained rock climber/mountaineer to do that. The highest point that the less agile ones can reach is the fort. The pinnacle juts out of the fort like a gigantic thumb and rises up to another 300-500 ft. there’s a flag atop the pinnacle – which is a proof that humans have been there – just that we were neither trained nor were quipped to scale that last bit.

The plateau

The plateau

We somehow managed to reach the fort. Now reaching the fort was nothing less of a challenge. From the miniature plateau atop the hill, one needs to climb the steps that lead to the fort. Sounds easy – NO. those steps can scare the daylights out of first-timers. If it were not for the steel railings – I would never reach the fort. At some instances, we had to climb like babies – on all fours. Just one look down could make an acrophobic dizzy. I must admit – I’m borderline acrophobic. But that did not daunt me in any way. I not only reached the fort – but also managed to capture the pristine beauty the landscape had to offer.

This is not all, the downward trek is all the more difficult. While climbing, you know how much strength one needs to use to climb. Also, you’re going against gravity. On the way, gravity keeps pulling you down. Each boulder you climb down weighs you down heavily. Knees start to ache. We were already exhausted with the climb. The harsh sun did not let us rest in the fort. We had to trek down – and now we were trying our best not to slip – thanks to the monstrous gravitational pull. All the time, we trekked down – we just had the base camp (the eatery) in mind. The trek seemed interminable. The path seemed unending. It was as good as free-falling for a plane – just that we wouldn’t crack our skulls open at the end of it all.

While it took me a good night’s sleep to shake off the hangover (of the trek) – it wasn’t so easy for the girls. While the 6-year old recovered in 24 hours – the bigger, meaner one (who always taunted me about my lethargy and lack of fitness) took all of 4 days to completely recover from the ACCIDENTAL trek. For a good measure – she’s open to more such treks in future. I’m waiting for the next long weekend. While I do that – let me sign off for now.

SPAM

SPAM

Hello friends. In this age of internet, everyone has been crying hoarse about spam or to be precise – about having to put up with spam (both email and SMS). For me, this problem dates back to 1998 – that’s when I created my email accounts on Yahoo and Hotmail (now called Outlook.com). I always wondered why anyone would send me emails about Cialis and Viagra – I was just 22 and nowhere within the range of E.D. (go figure!). Maybe sending me emails about Endura Mass or Protein Supplements would have been useful since I was a bag of bones then (tipping the scales at just 56 Kg for a 6’1” frame). It never occurred to me where these unscrupulous fellows got my email address.

Cut to scene 2 – this is the year 2004. That’s when I got my first mobile phone – a humble Nokia 3120. It was a small phone with a 128×128 colour screen, had no internet, no Bluetooth and no 3.5mm jack. Those were the days of the SMS. Days when message count was a major concern – more messages would clog the inbox and you’d have to periodically delete unwanted ones. Even in this case I started receiving spam. Again I was clueless where the spammers got my mobile number from – I never gave out my number to strangers.

It took me a good while to realise where I went wrong – most of us are guilty of this too. I’ll break it down for you. To a very good extent we INVITE spam with our full consent (and full imprudence or shall I call it ignorance).

 

SMS SPAM:

I’m sure you have received Quiz SMS that ask inarguably simple questions like “What’s the name of Amitabh Bachchan’s son” or “Who is the President of the US”. We need to type 1/2/3 or a/b/c as the answer and send it to a 5-6 digit short code. We are promised a surprise gift or that coveted iPhone or The Galaxy S8 or S9 as the case may be. Gullible as most of us are – we impulsively press a few keys and send the ANSWER in fond hopes of getting that prize. What we actually did was send a CONFIRMATION to the spammer that they sent the message to a valid mobile number. The spammer got what he wanted.

This is not limited to quizzes. It could also be messages that tell you your future (horoscope) or help you cope with stress at work/home or even foretell the results of a cricket/football match (so you can win that bet). Most of us instantly fall for it and thereby reveal our mobile numbers to the spammers. These days – we reveal lot more than just our mobile numbers, though.

There’s another class of semi-educated people who think they are smart. They send STOP messages as a response to such messages. This works ONLY if the SMS came from reliable/reputed companies e.g. your Email service provider or any other paid subscriptions that you have. In all the other cases – you AGAIN reveal you mobile number to spammers.

 

Email Spam:

Now let’s shift our focus to emails. Again you’re probably thinking how these spammers get your email address. Now try to remember all those “free app/subscription” websites that you visited – they always asked for your Name and Email address – no credit/debit card details required. You readily entered your email address and thought it’s just this one website. How do you think this website pays their employees who made that ‘free’ software for you? Simple – they sell your data (Name and Email address) to several such data-hungry spammers.

The semi-educated class again thought they were smart and clicked the “Unsubscribe” button in those emails – thereby confirming to the spammers that it was indeed a valid email address they sent that spam to. Think for a moment – why would someone let you “Unsubscribe” from something you never “Subscribed” to? They just sent that email to you randomly – never realizing that it was a real/valid email address. Any sort or response just tells them that it is a valid email address.

Yet another class of bird-brained people clicked “Reply” and hurled the choicest abuses at the spammers. And the spammer was in tears – is that what you think? The spammer laughed at his success – he just got a confirmation about the validity of your email address (who’s your daddy now?).

Shopping:

This is a trap that most of us fall into, invariably. Remember when you decide to check out and approach the clerk – he meekly asks you if you have their membership/loyalty card. While some of you have one – a vast majority does not have one – they say that we don’t have it. The clerk then offers you one – says that you just need to fill your name and mobile number – he will take care of the rest. While some still refuse – other gullible ones agree – and ignorantly fill their names and mobile numbers on the enrolment form.

And then we ask – HOW did the spammers get my mobile number?

This brings us to the million dollar question – What do I do to protect myself from spam? Sadly, the answer is “Not much”. There are a few things though. For starters, you can mark those emails as spam as and when they arrive. Some email apps offer you the option to “Report spam and block”. The others just let you “Report spam/Mark as spam”. There is an organisation called SPAMHAUS (https://www.spamhaus.org/). Their job is to keep track of spammers and get them blacklisted. They provide a list of confirmed spammers to ISPs and they in turn are required to block such spammers on their respective networks. How much they can help us – I don’t know yet. I’m still waiting to find out.

For the time being all I can say is:

  1. Do not provide your mobile numbers/email address(es) to salesmen in the malls for “Lucky Draws” – nobody ever gets any prize/deal. You just compromise your privacy.
  2. Do not click on links in unsolicited emails. They practically reveal you IP address and location to those websites.
  3. Never fall for hoaxes that say “click here and see that happens next” or “click here to win (some highly priced gadget)” or the more common “Spin the wheel and …” emails/links on WhatsApp.
  4. Once marked spam – do not open those emails – no matter how enticing the subject line is.
  5. Click on the delete button next to the spam folder every now and then. Yahoo users beware – some important emails may find their way to the spam folder – so, be careful.
  6. Remember – you are not legally compelled to provide your mobile number and/or other personal details at shopping malls especially at the cash/payment counters. ALWAYS REFUSE!!!
  7. Abstain from downloading free software by providing your email address. There are other smart* ways to download them (*you already know it – others: don’t ask – I won’t tell).
  8. Practise Address Munging (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Address_munging) – simply put – ‘disguise’ your email address when you HAVE to provide it on public forums.
  9. Since you know the pain of handling spam – have a conscience – be responsible and avoid spamming.

There are some necessary evils too – Shopping/Banking/Job Portals/Government service websites – you cannot REFUSE to provide your personal details. So, live with it. While the above steps do not guarantee 100% spam protection – they help minimize the menace.

Till I find a cure for spam (I doubt that) – have a good day.