Sajjad Zaidi's Blog
Thursday 23rd February 2006
The new (not) Bond
I didn't realize until now that Daniel Craig had been chosen to play the next James Bond after Pierce. I've only seen one of his movies (Hotel Splendide, damn you Victor) and both the movie and him were not impressive at all. The other actors rumored to play the next Bond (Clive Owen? Hugh Jackman?) were far far better for the role. I won't comment any further and just point to the Craig Not Bond site. This is what it has to say:
"....How can a short, blond actor with the rough face of a professional boxer and a penchant for playing killers, cranks, cads and gigolos pull off the role of a tall, dark, handsome and suave secret agent?...."
Thank you EON Productions for ruining a perfect franchise.
New languages site
As I may have mentioned earlier, I have a keen interest in languages. Not just the languages themselves, but also how they relate to other languages, where they orginated from, what does the future hold for them.
My new languages site is now up and running and this is where I plan to compile a comprehensive resource on different languages and provide tools that should come in handy for a number of things.
Though there's still a lot I have yet to add, I thought it's better to start with something simple and build on it gradually. There's also a separate blog concerning languages and a languages forum for discussions. Suggestions and contributions welcome.
Wednesday 22nd February 2006
Unusual looking buildings
Via Boing Boing, here are some excellent photos of strange buildings. Some are designed to look tilted or inverted, others have unusual shapes. However, I didn't find any hobbit holes.
Sunday 19th February 2006
Protests in Islamabad
Today was the day Pakistan's religious and opposition parties had scheduled a mass protest and strike in the capital against the cartoons of the Holy Prophet published by the Danish newspaper. Though the protest, which was banned by the government, was supposed to be peaceful, with so many angry people gathering in one place, there were bound to be some violent scuffles.
I had heard news that the main diplomatic and government areas were sealed off and that the main exit points should be avoided, so in the afternoon, I left my friend's place and drove across the city, using a longer route. Islamabad seemed its usual quiet and peaceful Sunday self. The few signs that something was going on included the closed and empty Sunday market near Peshawar Mor and thick black smoke rising from the Faizabad area of neighbouring Rawalpindi (I guessed they were burning tires there).
It was only after checking the news that it was confirmed that there had been tear gas shelling and warning shots fired when the protesters tried to enter the sealed areas. Still, it was much less destructive than the Lahore and Peshawar protests of a few days ago. Photos by the BBC here.
Everyone has proven their point and whatever damage could be done has been done (on both sides). Isn't it time this issue was laid to rest and we moved onto more pressing issues like Iraq, world hunger and poverty? Continuing like this won't solve anything.
Saturday 18th February 2006
The Shin tribe of Palas valley
Another great picture gallery from the BBC on the plight of the Shin people (with informative captions). Though I had heard a lot about this place where three of the world's greatest mountain ranges meet (Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas), I didn't know much about the Shin and their egalitarian culture. This is in stark contrast to the more common family and social structures of Pakistan where the elders or the powerful have dominance over the rest.
It is a pity that these people are suffering so much after the earthquake four months ago.
What is my country?
Suppose you wake up one day in a strange place and can't figure out where you are. Get on the net and head on over to WhatisMyCountry.com and it will tell you which country you're in and suggest some useful links related to it. I'm still working on it so expect some more useful additions in some time. Also feel free to suggest what you think might be useful (your browser? your isp? etc.).
Friday 17th February 2006
I've recently been reading a bit on alternative energy and discussed the possibilities with a number of people. President Bush's remarks on the subject in his recent state of the union address also sparked off a number of discussions.
Pakistan produces little oil, but has enough natural gas reserves to be self-sufficient. Though gas prices have gone up recently, it used to be so cheap that often people left their stoves on 24/7. And it's still much cheaper than oil.
With the recent rise in gasoline prices, more and more cars are turning to CNG (compressed natural gas). All that is required is the installation of a CNG kit which turns the car into a gas-petrol hybrid. The cost of the kit is pretty high, but it should be covered within a few months by the fuel cost savings. Owning a CNG station is also a very profitable business in Pakistan.
Here is a good article on how China is planning to meet its energy needs. If it turns to gas, whether natural or coal extracted, as its primary energy source, it should have a trickle down effect in making CNG car kits and other gas equipment more affordable.
But gas is still a finite fuel. It is renewable energy that will really make a difference. Just speaking from a Pakistani's point of view, most of our electricity is generated through hydro-power. There are plans to build a number of additional dams, including the highly controversial Kalabagh dam, but these will have a negative impact on the environment (if they ever get built). What the focus should be on is other alternatives.
Though it's unlikely we'll have anything as sophisticated as the Australian solar tower anytime soon, there is a lot of potential for utilizing the abundant sun and wind power that is present here. There isn't even a shortage of land for this. Solar stations could be setup in the deserts or barren plains of the south, while wind turbines can be erected in the hills and mountains in the north. It would also allow power to be available in very remote or backward areas that currently aren't reachable by power lines.
Actually, a friend of mine is planning to experiment with this after importing equipment from China. The costs are still high, especially for solar cells, but again, China could help reduce these. From the above mentioned article:
".... That's why China is also pumping billions of dollars in to renewable energy. Everything from solar, to wind power, to biomass. By 2020 China wants 15%of its power to come from renewable sources."
However, cost is just one of a number of hurdles in generating your own power in Pakistan. The recent trouble in Balochistan, where most of the natural gas reserves are, and hostile locals in other areas, make security a huge concern. Government policies are another. Unlike some other countries, where you get paid for any surplus power sent back into the grid, here you'll get a hefty fine. Things are changing fast in this country so let's hope for the best.
Choose your favorite movie
"The 78th annual Academy Awards take place on 5 March in Los Angeles, but which has been your favourite Oscar-winning film of the last decade?"
Here is how I classify the ones I have seen:
- The Return of the King (2004)
- Braveheart (1996)
- Gladiator (2001)
- Titanic (1998)
- American Beauty (2000)
- A Beautiful Mind (2002)
Yet to see:
- Shakespeare in Love (1999)
- The English Patient (1997)
- Million Dollar Baby (2005)
- Chicago (2003)
Thursday 16th February 2006
Rampaging in Lahore and Peshawar
Over a week after worldwide riots and protests over the cartoons desecrating the Prophet Muhammad started to die down, the good Muslims of Pakistan realized that it was time to do something. Not something to resolve the issue and prevent something like this from happening again, but just something. Anything.
Though life seemed to go on as usual around the capital, it was shocking to learn what happened in Lahore and Peshawar. Three people died and dozens were injured due to people who had nothing better to do. News footage showed hordes of rioters burning and breaking anything and everything in their path. Lots of school students (not those of religious madrasas, as you might expect) were shown rampaging, breaking cars and traffic lights, and looking quite pleased. Hardly the image of upset devotees trying to get their peaceful and valid message heard.
The rampaging resulted in damage to a number of banks, mostly Pakistani ones, offices of Telenor, the Norwegian mobile company, sign boards, shops, buses. Even a hospital wasn't spared and was set on fire.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for all this. Political parties, student organizations and religious schools all deny any involvement. Since most of the rioters were either school students or the poor, who really is responsible for rallying and inciting them is anybody's guess. As usual, a number of theories have sprung up, some quite plausible, some ridiculous. The most popular one is that the whole thing (from publishing the cartoons to inciting riots and attacks) was meticulously preplanned to further the divide between Muslims and the West and to tarnish Islam's image even further.
The consequences of all this on Pakistan could be disastrous with investors pulling out of the country and Pakistanis suffering from a negative image, but we may be safe yet. Despite all this, it's encouraging to see that the stock market is maintaining it's recent, marvelous rally. New oil and gas discoveries, in the same region as the riots, still have enough weight to counter the negative effects.
Though further protests are still planned by religious and political organizations, they have promised to keep them peaceful and not let the situation get out of hand.
Wednesday 15th February 2006
Muharram in Islamabad
It's been a busy week. Am working on a number of new websites (coming up soon) and it's also the mourning month of Muharram so didn't have much time to blog.
Ashura (10th Muharram) was on Thursday so both Wednesday and Thursday were entirely spent in mourning. Every year, the Islamabad procession takes place on the 9th Muharram and encircles a large part of sector G-6, starting at about 11am and ending about 12 hours later at the Main Imam Bargah mosque. Then, we start the night "mini-processions", visiting each others houses in a convoy of cars (about 16 cars this year) and mourning and praying. It all culminates at dawn at a mosque where the day of Ashura starts with a call to prayer.
Though the Azan is heard a number of times a day, everyday, this one has a strange special power to it. It brings tears in the eyes of even those least likely to cry and stirs up emotions in the least emotional. After the Fajr prayer, just before sunrise, another small procession starts off with chants of "Ya Hussein" and matam and proceeds back to the main mosque.
The main Ashura procession on the 10th is in Rawalpindi where people from all over the region come to participate. Though the small, narrow streets of Pindi are completely filled, and the crowds number somewhere between thousands and hundreds of thousands, topped off with emotions running very high, accidents or any kind of skirmishes are very rare.
Though banners against the cartoon controversy were already up all around Pindi, the issue took a backseat on this day of significance.
Monday 6th February 2006
Linux vs xBSD and Solaris
I was recently discussing how Linux's performance compares to other (real) operating systems and this comparison of Linux (kernels 2.4 and 2.6) with the BSDs (OpenBSD, NetBSD and FreeBSD) came to mind. Though benchmarks like these can give an idea of performance and scalability when certain conditions are met, in my opinion, it's better to rely on your everyday experiences which give you a better idea in a range of scenarios.
Solaris and BSDs have a better track record of both security and stability, and this appears to be true of the systems I have managed, but most of them were already behind firewalls and carrying out a simple, basic task such as serving DNS requests or running a database.
I have had more trouble, as well as a lot more experience, with Linux, but these were mostly systems running a range of services in places vulnerable to attacks. Nevertheless, if properly secured, Linux tends to withstand a lot of hammering and most of the trouble occurs due to badly coded applications. I've also found certain distributions (Debian to an extent, Red Hat till 7.3 and off course Slackware) to run more stably and securely than others. Fedora seems to get hacked very easily, even if fully updated and with basic security precautions taken while virtually all the Slackwares I run haven't given me any such issue.
Where Linux outshines the rest is performance. Working on Solaris, you get a strong feeling of sluggishness when performing most tasks, especially file system related ones. Though not in a very methodological way, I actually tested creating (and deleting, renaming etc.) a few thousand files and directories on comparable (hardware and OS version) Linux and Solaris systems and the former was magnitudes faster than the latter, even with different file systems on the Linux side.
One more thing to consider here is support for new hardware. It's been a while since I came across a system not supported by my distribution. The last time this happened (with a brand new Dell server), I just had to use a newer kernel in the installer and this was surprisingly simple to do.
Next up, administration. Though I have little experience with (or need of) graphical or web-based tools, such as webmin or linuxconf, the CLI feels friendlier and more intuitive on Linux. It's quite frustrating to work with shells that don't support basics such as auto-completion and history. Granted that these can be enabled on the xBSDs and other xNIXs, but it's just not as convenient as installing a system and having everything ready to use or easily customized.
Ok, enough with the flaimbait and my long rant. Admittedly it would be more useful if I carried out some actual tests and posted the results. Each operating system mentioned above has its strong points and it is a matter of what the admin(s) can work best with that eventually matters. For myself, it's the penguin.
Sunday 5th February 2006
Caricaturization of the Prophet
The anger and fury over cartoons published by a Danish newspaper looks to be spreading further. Both the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria have been set on fire and protests are set to continue elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Firstly, no matter what happens, the sanctity of an embassy should be preserved and peace should be given preference over violence in resolving a conflict. I believe that's an integral part of Islam too. And now that the newspaper, as well as the Danish prime minister have apologized, there should be steps at resolving the issue, not stoking the furnace.
What the West must realize is how seriously we Muslims take anything directed against what is considered holy. Among Muslims, the generally accepted perception of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.), the Quran and the Imams (at least for the Shias) is that of perfection and infallibility. Our regard and love for them goes beyond anything else and whatever insults or pokes fun at them is taken personally. This type of passion and faith may seem alien to the West, but it is how it is. This article has a good explanation of why this issue has exploded the way it did.
The timing couldn't have been worse considering that there is already resentment in the Muslim world against the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terror and other recent events which directly or indirectly affected Muslims. What has made it even worse is that now, it isn't just about a Danish newspaper and something it published. When media in other European countries reprinted the cartoons, they gave the message that there is a distinct division between their nations and the Muslim ones.
Friday 3rd February 2006
Women in Lahore marathon
Though there used to be charity runs and other such events before, this is the first time I've heard of an international marathon taking place in Pakistan. And it wasn't really the first time either. Good to see that the law enforcement was effective in preventing any problems in the mixed-sex event which some hardliners were against. Just last year, in the same city of Lahore, it was the women participants that were arrested for taking part in a women's race that the hardies opposed.
I hope the govt has come to its senses by now, but it really should come clean with its vision. Either adopt an isolationist policy that some previous governments and the Taliban followed and ban all such things (bad idea) or stick to the so-called "enlightened moderation" or a more tolerant policy (not so bad idea). They can't have it both ways, depending on which way they lean today.
Gates good, Jobs bad? I doubt it
Interesting article on how little Steve Jobs has done in spending his wealth to help others, when compared to other billionaires such as Bill Gates. The general impression of Gates is that of "Evil Genius" out to cut down anything that gets in Microsoft's way, while Jobs is a much-loved celebrity with a good reputation. No matter how much you hate Mr. BG, he has (apparently) donated more money to charity than we'll ever make in a lifetime.
"In contrast, Jobs does not appear on any charitable contribution lists of note. And Jobs has said nary a word on behalf of important social issues, reserving his talents of persuasion for selling Apple products. "
But as the article mentions, Jobs may not be as open about his donations as other people with money are. As for Mr.Gates, this salon article explains a lot:
"Bill Gates is not so much a philanthropist as he is a Virtual Philanthropist. Of the $73.2 million that Microsoft donated to charity in 1995, $62.1 million, or about 85 percent, was in the form of free software."
Thursday 2nd February 2006
Aid worker's diary
Most of us have shifted focus from the harsh reality that survivors of last October's quake now face, but relief efforts are continuing and a lot more is still needed. Partly because of all the discrepancies and controversy surrounding earlier aid distribution and partly due to the "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome, a lot of Pakistanis have not bothered with checking on the plight of those in need. But even now, a lot can be done.
The BBC has an update on the conditions in the remote areas of Pakistan where people are still in dire circumstances:
"Isabelle Giasson of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports on the battle to provide shelter for earthquake victims in remote mountain villages of Pakistan-administered Kashmir."
According to Isabelle's account, there is still a severe shortage of medical aid and warm clothing. Though snow is a blessing for those short of fresh water, the heavy rains and strong winds are taking their toll and prevent helicopters and other supplies from reaching the people who need them.
Since my trip to Muzaffarabad, I have wanted to return and help out in any way that I can, but simply getting to these areas is a problem. If anyone reading is planning a relief operation or knows about one, count me in.
Wednesday 1st February 2006
The King is here
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia arrived in Islamabad today for an official visit. Though custom banners and welcome signs always go up from the airport to the government buildings part of Islamabad before a visit by a foreign dignitary, this time it was different. Most of Islamabad's prominent buildings are currently under bright, beautiful lights and huge billboards show pictures depicting the King, our President and Prime Minister. The main roads are covered with flowers, flags and structures representing Arab and Pakistani culture.
There was a down-side to the visit however. The security precautions brought a large part of Islamabad to a standstill. The airport and large parts of the roads were closed to normal traffic for most of the day with the newly formed Islamabad Model Police in their brand new uniforms posted everywhere and looking after things.
I was on the road just after sunset and got stuck in the traffic. All traffic lights were turned off and the police was managing the rush hour traffic. It took me hours just to get from Islamabad main to Chaklala in Pindi. Just hope all this trouble was worth it and the visit is a success. Many more prominent visitors are expected in the next couple of months so it ain't over yet.