Blog about the Net, Pakistan and more

Thursday 28th August 2008

Dubai Ziggurat to house 1 million people

Technology
Dubai Ziggurat

This is one mega-structure that I would love to see completed. Dubai is planning a pyramid-shaped building that will house a million people while having a minimal carbon footprint.

Living in a massive single structure may sound claustrophobic, but various experimental techniques have succeeded in creating an environment that can house lots of people while providing a sense of harmony. I'm certain that such techniques will be used here as well and it won't be just a monolith built to trap it's dwellers.

Looking at the scale of the project, it seems like a far-fetched idea that will require a huge amount of money, material and manpower. Though Dubai has undertaken a number of other ambitious projects, it has also been criticized for its failures.

Link

 

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Wednesday 13th August 2008

PTCL IPTV and Broadband

Technology Pakistan
PTCL Smart

Some say it is the world's biggest telco. Others agree that even if it isn't, it definitely is Pakistan's biggest. Also the largest Internet Service Provider, PTCL (or Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited) has come a long way from the days when it was an entirely government-owned, bureaucratic monolith.

Getting a phone line installed is usually a matter of a couple of days. Subscribing to additional services is as simple as calling the helpline and asking for it. No more hassles of dealing with multiple bills or rude technical staff. Prices have come down to reasonable levels and we are now starting to see services that nobody even dreamed of before.

PTCL is transforming itself in such a way that the whole country's technology roadmap is looking very bright. Like the price of oil, this giant seems to have a trickle-down effect on virtually everything in Pakistan, so whatever it ends up doing is highly significant.

It all started with the low-cost DSL connections that PTCL came out with last year. The quality wasn't too great, but this move caused other service providers to slash their prices and allowed broadband to be accessible to a lot more people. The quality has gradually crept up to an acceptable level.

PTCL Smart line

Now, thanks to months of intense preparation by PTCL's Executive Vice-President, Mr. Zomma (seen in the photo giving a demo), and my good friend Majed Jahandad, PTCL has made another leap forward with IPTV, part of its PTCL Smart line package. I know how busy Majed's been so have a good idea of the kind of effort that went into it. Great achievement guys and best of luck.

PTCL IPTV demo

Though the service was officially launched during this year's ITCN, it has been available for trial to selected broadband subscribers for a couple of months now. Being a 2Mbps customer, I was offered one some time back and it has been working really well.

It already provides about a hundred channels with excellent picture quality and a number of features that you simply can't get with cable TV or other media services. The time-shift feature allows you to rewind and then forward the channels within a 30-minute time-frame. This means that you don't have to worry about missing the start of your favorite show or those boring parts you wish you could forward.

PTCL IPTV Team and Dr. Sadik

As for installation, it will simply work with your existing phone line, only requiring the installation of another device that plugs into your DSL router. The cost may be a little steep at the moment, but it's not much different from the money I'm currently paying SunTV.

Video on demand (or VOD) allows you to watch any movie you like at any time. Just select what you want from the menu and click it.

One of the drawbacks I've seen is that it's missing some channels that I usually watch, but that aren't very popular with most people. I haven't had a chance to use VOD much, but the available shows on that are also somewhat limited. Then the user interface could use some improvement. It's currently quite complex.

There's been a lot of talk about convergence at ITCN. This service is a great example of combining voice, video and data services into one and I hope it spurs others into following their lead. Hope you guys continue to improve the service.

 

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Tuesday 12th August 2008

Live from ITCN

Technology Pakistan
Panasonic

This is my second day at ITCN 2008 and overall, it has been a better than expected experience. The event is well-organized, there are so many types and sizes of companies participating and some of them have organized fun things such as lucky draws, games and giveaways.

The whole thing feels a lot like such events that I've been to in other countries, though still, my main complaint is that there's very little bleeding edge technology on display. Also, some obviously big names are missing from the scene.

Wateen

It is off course a commercial event so you can't expect too much in terms of technical details. However, if gadgets and eye candy are your thing, there's lots of it on the main event floors that occupy three large halls.

The conferences went very well too with a number of market leaders speaking on topics related to IT and Telecom in Pakistan. Ammar Jafri, the head of the National Response Center for Cyber Crime, gave a nice presentation about the threats, trends and the countermeasures that we can take to handle Cyber Crime, as well as other Internet threats.

Warid

There was also an interesting talk by Wateen Telecom's general manager and a presentation of PTCL's IPTV service by the head of their Multimedia and Broadband division. However, what I found most inspiring was the talk given by Jehan Ara, the president of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (or P@sha for short).

PTCL has officially launched some interesting services that had been in the pipeline for a while. I'll write a separate post about those since their booth is where most of my time at the expo has been spent. I'm also writing this post, courtesy of their connection. Warid Telecom ptcl held a number of games and had various fun giveaways. Wateen, the main sponsor of the event, had a whole Counter-Strike battle going on and their new WiMAX device looks pretty cool. I'm sure there was a lot more that I must have missed.

It was also a pleasure meeting some of my online friends face-to-face and getting introduced to new people. Have another day to go so hope to I hope to get in touch with more people and maybe add to the free gifts collection.

 

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Monday 11th August 2008

In Karachi for ITCN Asia

Technology Pakistan

Hopped on a flight to Karachi on Sunday and will be attending this years ITCN Asia, the biggest annual technology event in Pakistan. This will be my first time attending ITCN so am not sure how it will compare to such events held in other countries. There is an interesting lineup of speakers at the conferences which I can't afford to miss and I know of some cool new products and services being launched here.

I dropped by the Expo Center last night where my friend was overseeing the setup of his company's booth and even unfinished, the Expo looked no less grander than the Linux World or IT Expos I've been to in Tokyo and London. It should also be a chance to meet some of Pakistan's leading gurus in this field. Hope to see a lot of you there.

You can look forward to some interesting updates on the event that I'll post right here in the next 3 days.

 

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Friday 8th August 2008

888

General

Today is 8th of August, 2008, or 08.08.08 for short. Many people aren't familiar with the significance of this figure, but eight (8) is auspicious for the Chinese and is associated with wealth and prosperity. 888 is considered extremely lucky and it is why a number of events are set to coincide with this date.

The biggest event has to be the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics. People are scheduling their weddings on this day and I'm sure many would have tried to arrange the births of their children on this very day. Happy birthday to my friend Shahzad. Dude, you should have been in China right now instead of in Lahore.

On this day, the third installment of the "Mummy" movie franchise, The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, is being released around the world. Fortunately, this includes Pakistan and having a fascination with Chinese history (will try not to be too disappointed by the inaccuracies or exaggerations), I hope to catch it at the CinePax tonight.

 

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Thursday 7th August 2008

Plastic - the scum of the earth

General
Plastic waste

Plastic is all around us. A life without plastic seems unthinkable for people from all walks of life and regardless of their level of prosperity. Without plastic, we wouldn't have modern cars or mobile communications or pretty much anything that uses an electronic circuit. Clothing, food packaging, sports; you name it and plastic is bound to play a part in it at some point.

After considering all that, now imagine a month without plastic (at least without any additional plastic). That's exactly what BBC's Christine Jeavans is doing. She is aiming to go without it for a whole month which means no packaged fruits and vegetables and no disposable nappies for the baby. She has suffered a few setbacks lately, but it isn't surprising, considering how this substance has has made its way into every aspect of our lives. Best of luck to her and I hope it inspires more people to do the same.

Sea trash

Now why would anyone want to do something like that? What's wrong with plastic you might ask? For one, most forms of plastic aren't biodegradable and end up staying around in our atmosphere in one form or another. Plastics may break down into tiny particles, but will still remain artificial polymers at the molecular level. Burning these, as I've seen many people do, releases toxic fumes which is an even worse outcome. You may have read about the plastic-eating bacteria, engineered by a 16-year old, but long before something like that can be used on an industrial scale, plastic would have caused irreparable damage to everything from beautiful tropical islands to wild life. We humans would eventually suffer the true consequences since we are (usually) at the top of the food chain.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world's biggest "landfill", is quite a horrific phenomenon. Miles and miles of plastic waste that just floats there, trapping the waste originating from Asia, the Americas and ocean-going vessels. It poses a grave threat to marine life which gradually contaminates the whole food chain. Similar collections can be found on a smaller scale in seas, such as the Mediterranean, and in a number of cities.

At one point in time, we used to curse the Pakistani shopkeepers for being so stingy with plastic bags. We would keep large cotton bags or baskets at home which came out on weekends and would carry whatever groceries and goods we purchased. Quite unlike in places like Singapore, where you'd get each bought item handed to you in its own large plastic bag.

These days, nobody wants to be caught carrying those harmless containers and everyone expects a plastic bag for every little thing they carry. It's hard enough just to convince the shopkeepers to hand over the goods as they are, even harder to get them in a paper bag. But if we don't start asking for it, it'll never happen.

Floating plastic

Most places I've lived in had at least some policies regarding recycling and proper disposal of different types of garbage. At least newspapers, bottles and aluminium cans were collected separately for recycling and there were a number of awareness campaigns about this. Unfortunately, there is no such large-scale effort in Pakistan and any recycling is usually done only as a means of making a quick buck. I haven't seen anything regarding disposal of toxic materials or conservation in general.

I was going to write about some of the things I plan to do or am already doing, but the living plastic free blog is a much more detailed resource on such tips. If enough of us can follow just a few of these steps, it can make quite a difference.

A nice side-effect of the high price of oil is that its derivatives, such as plastic, are also costing more. That should help take away the main motivation behind using plastics (low cost). Whatever the case, it is our duty to minimize the use of materials which damage the environment in such a way. If our ancestors could survive without it, why can't we?

 

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Santa Singh and the PM

General

Was reading the details of the PM's recent visit to the US and it somehow kept reminding me of the Pope vs Santa Singh debate, though admittedly, the latter seemed to make more sense. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.

 

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