Firefox problems on Ubuntu

Recently, Firefox stopped working on my Ubuntu laptop for no reason. The hand cursor for hyper links turned into the text select icon, browser history stopped working and overall the browser became very sluggish. I couldn’t find any useful troubleshooting information, so I decided to reinstall Firefox.  I fired up Synaptic Package Manager and got rid of the Firefox and the xul-ext-ubufox packages, rebooted the machine and installed Firefox again. Same result as before, the new install had the same broken behaviour.

Since browser history wasn’t working, I then vaguely remembered something about firefox profiles and decided that a corrupted profile could be the problem. So I removed the default profile using the steps here and did a reinstall and everything was back to normal.

Me gusta !

Applying for a UK Student (Tier 4) Visa

I’ve decided to study for the MSc Software Engineering degree at the University of York in the UK starting this October.  Applicants from India require a student visa from the UK to enter the country as a student. I just received my student visa a short while ago and here are some tips from my experience that maybe of some use to you.

  • Read up on the official documentation and all the literature on the UKBA site thoroughly.  This is important – don’t just read the VAF9 guide, read the Tier 4 Guidance document thoroughly as well – it has relevant information.  Yeah the document is long, but it contains information for all student categories (child students, medical students etc.) so the sections relevant to you aren’t that long.
  • Check the information regularly. The UKBA keep updating the information all the damn time, introducing new rules etc. so make sure you’re on top of any latest changes. I did this by subscribing to their news feed through my feed reader.
  • Make sure all the supporting documents meet the guidelines specified in the Tier 4 Guidance. I attended a Visa seminar organized by the British Council where I learnt that a lot of visa’s get rejected for not having the right supporting documents.  This is true with the Bank Statement – for e.g. it may not be printed on the Bank’s letterhead or the date of the statement might be older than what is required. So don’t underestimate any minor detail – make sure you get everything right.
  • Take a printout of the forms that you need to fill – the VAF9 and the Appendix8 and practice filling it up. If you have any doubts contact your university or the UKBA and get it clarified.
  • The University of York has very useful guides prepared on how to fill  VAF9 and the Appendix 8. They are the same forms used by the UKBA, but with step by step information for each field. Check them out, they could help you as well. (However, note that some information is York specific, so watch out :))
  • Any questions which are CAS related – make sure you get the full details and everything clarified from the University. This is because the information on the CAS should match what you write in the Visa application forms. For e.g. this could be the tuition fees, accommodation fees and English language test information.
  • You can call the UKBA office in the UK from India for any questions on the Visa form. Their number is buried somewhere in the UKBA Contact Us page. However I did find the best source of information to be the Tier 4 guidance document.
  • I applied at the VFS Bangalore centre. VFS is a global company that many countries outsource their Visa processing logistics to. They handled the Visa application fairly smoothly, but there were some quirks that I noticed as well. It basically works like this – VFS accepts all documents from the applicant, does some preliminary verification and takes your biometrics and forwards the whole lot to the UK High Commission. VFS makes some recommendations on the documents you must include – but the ultimate decision on what documents you wish to submit is in your hands.
  • For some reason, the VFS officer with whom I was dealing was particular that the “CAS letter” be included with the Visa application.  Since the guidance nowhere mentions the CAS letter, I hadn’t bothered with getting a printout of the CAS . The CAS is a virtual document and all that matters is that the right CAS number be filled in on the form.  Anyway, I insisted on submitting the application without a CAS prinout and it all turned out to be fine.
  • The other point what I noticed was that all though the supporting documents guidance mentions that a photocopy must be included with all the originals being submitted, the VFS officer didn’t seem to be keen on accepting the photocopy. I did submit the photocopies – but got them back with the originals after I received my Visa. Guess the UKBA isn’t too keen on the whole photocopy thing any more.
  • While applying, I also signed up for an SMS service for 100 Rs which is supposed to informs  you about “every stage” in the application.  I later discovered that the online tracking facility on the VFS website provides the same information. I guess the SMS can be useful if you aren’t the type who wants to check online frequently, but for me, the SMS thing wasn’t worth the money at all.
  • VFS on their website mention that there is no storage place for bags, etc. and strictly advice you not to carry anything. I was travelling by bike so I needed my backpack to put the documents in. I found that they do have facilities to store luggage. Weird. Why inconvenience people by asking them not to get any bags when you have storage place ?
  • Ditto for parking – they mention that they have no parking facilities, but the building did turn out to have decent parking facilities!
  • Regarding visa processing times, UKBA says most of the visa applicants are decided in a maximum of about three weeks, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive mine in about 8 working days.

Overall, I found the UK visa application process to be well streamlined. Read everything carefully, focus on the details and the visa shouldn’t be a hassle. Good luck !

Troubleshooting GoogleTalk and Webcam problems in Ubuntu

Of late, the google talk plugin wouldn’t allow me to make video calls. Audio used to work fine, but no video. (The tiny movie projector icon was missing.) I tried fiddling around with restarting the plugin, but it wasn’t solving the problem.

I then tried Cheese to see if the problem was with the webcam.  Turned out that it was, Cheese wasn’t recognizing the webcam. That’s why no video in GoogleTalk  – the strange thing is that the GoogleTalkPlugin didn’t provide any error messages at all when it tried to initialize the webcam. When it realized that there was no webcam, it just switched to audio only mode!

I then ran the dmesg command on the terminal which had the line:

uvcvideo: Failed to initialize the device (-5).

This seemed to point to a UVC problem.  Googling revealed that the problem could be fixed by removing and adding the UVC kernel module. Here are the steps to do that:

sudo modprobe -r uvcvideo;

sudo modprobe uvcvideo;

As soon as I ran the second command, the blue light of the webcam flicked on and voila everything was back to normal.  Hopefully this quick fix works for you if you run into this problem.

Otherwise, the recommended solution is to upgrade to the latest UVC modules. Linux kernels 2.6.26 onwards include the UVC driver natively, so upgrading to the latest kernel should also solve the problem.

Installing MediaWiki on a DreamHost server

I was trying to install MediaWiki on this site yesterday. Site hosting is provided by the good folks at DreamHost and I saw that they had MediaWiki available as a “one-click install”. I chose the custom installation option so that I could use the database of my choice as well as install it to a specified directory. All seemed to go well in the initial stages and I got to the configuration part.  However, after entering all the values and clicking Install, something seemed to be happen in the background, but after a while the same configuration screen showed up with all fields set to blank. I checked the database and did see that MediaWiki tables were being created, so something else seemed to be the issue.  I then viewed the INSTALL readme file which was included in the installation archive and saw specific instructions that the config directory should be made writable by the web server . So I decided to install MediaWiki manually. I downloaded the installation archive and decompressed it.  This time before I got to the configuration part, I ran the following command:

chmod a+w config

This step was all that was needed to solve the problem and MediaWiki installed successfully.  I suppose this wasn’t happening correctly or at the right time in the DreamHost installer script. So if you’re facing problems installing MediaWiki on DreamHost – checking whether the config directory is writable can help.

Always bargain

Here’s a tip that I got from my dad which has proved to be successful many times. Whenever you shop for something and you’re about to pay, ask the seller for a discount. It’s surprising that how many sellers are willing to offer one and how many buyers don’t bother asking.  I’ve saved quite a bit over the years just by asking for discounts.  Here are some tips.  Firstly, don’t demand a discount, ask for one politely. For instance you can start by asking simply “Is there a discount on this item ? “. If the answer is no,  try again by mentioning a season – “What’s the Diwali/New Year discount ?” .  A classic follow up question is to mention that the item in question is available for cheaper elsewhere. Just make up a place and say that you’ve heard is cheaper there.  Another alternative is to play the emotional angle – “Don’t you want me to shop at your place again ? Don’t you want me to refer my friends to your place ? “.  Try these approaches and you will be surprised. I’ve tried it on everything – shoes, clothes, books, spectacles, helmets.  This works on services as well not just products. Don’t ever take anyone’s quote at face value – persist and you’ll save !

You might be thinking – what a cheapskate ! But you know what every seller has a huge margin, so you’re getting ripped off anyway.  Getting something off the price just makes it feel a little better. Don’t feel bad in asking, after all the seller doesn’t feel bad in quoting a price he likes.

Happy bargaining!

Gym attendance surprise

It has been exactly two months since I joined a gym.  Since I paid a considerable amount of money, I was motivated enough to go “regularly”. Other than about a weeks break when I was traveling, I was in the gym pretty often.  So, when I looked at my workout card today, I was surprised to see how many days I actually went.  I always thought that my attendance would be around 75%.   In reality it was 50% !  Damn. So over a period of two months, I was in the gym for just a month.  All those I’m-going-to-skip-today, Sundays and sick days – they weren’t too many, but they added up to be quite a bit.  Anyhow,  this shows how deceptive our perception of commitment to a task can be.  In general it also shows how people being lazy is a good thing for a gym. I always wondered how the gym kept signing up new folks regularly but the place never seemed to get crowded. I suppose the overall attendance averages out to somewhere between 25 to 30%.  So it is in the best business interests of the gym for people to be lazy. (Of course, after they sign up). Freakonomics anyone ? In terms of weight loss, I just lost a couple of kilos over two months. I am reasonably happy with this and I credit this to the fact that I watched what I ate.  This whole working out thing is something that keeps you fit and healthy. It really doesn’t help you to lose weight, at best it keeps you from adding more. You have to eat less. Period. Don’t believe anything what anyone promises in terms of weight loss, losing weight is hard work and it takes time.

Eclipse generate getter setter tip to deal with field prefixes suffixes

Here is a nifty feature I found in Eclipse regarding generating getters and setters. Normally the names Eclipse assigns to the getter and setter methods are the field names as-is suffixed to get and set. For e.g. if you have a field called “lastName” – the getter would be getLastName() and the setter would be setLastName(). Now some people follow coding conventions by prefixing fields with a certain letter to indicate they are class level variables.  e.g. mLastName, mFirstName etc.  In such a case when Eclipse is used to generate getters/setters, then the method names become getmLastName(), setmLastName() etc.  Those names are nothing short of disgusting:

Getter Setter method name with field prefix
Getter/setter name has field prefix

Fortunately this can be easily fixed.  You can tell Eclipse that you prefix/suffix your fields in a certain way and the prefix/suffix will automatically be removed from the generated getters and setters. Click on Window -> Preferences -> Java -> Code Style.  Select Fields and click on Edit to specify the field name conventions.

Set field name conventions
Set field name convention

Now, things are looking good.

Getter/Setter without field prefix
Getter/Setter without field prefix

Eclipse, what would life be without it ?