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A Journey

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo Baggins: You can promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: …No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
(From The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)

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Back to the past.

I was just browsing the net when an uncontrollable urge to revisit the past made me dig out all the computers I have owned or worked on. So, here is a list, in chronological order, of the computers that I have owned or worked on in the past 33 years.

Atari 2600 – Gamming Console (1979)

Atari-2600Although not a computer, but it was as close to a computer as you can get in 1979. This was the sensational gaming console of the late 70’s and early 80’s. It had 128 bytes (yes! bytes not kilo-bytes) of RAM, 4 kB of ROM and used cartridges for games. My personal favorite was Space Invaders, Outlaw and Missile Command.


Commodore C64 – (1982)
Commodore 64My first proper personal computer. This was the first computer I used with a disk drive and a color display. It has 64 kB of RAM with a VIC-II 320×200 color chip and also a dedicated sound chip. Ran at a lightning fast 1.02 MHz and could support third-party GUI shells such as GEOS (Graphic Environment Operating System). I have played so many games on this computer that I scarred my fingers which remains to this day. This was also the first computer on which I actually did some programming. In fact, a lot of programming using Commodore BASIC 2.0 and Simon’s BASIC.


IBM Personal Computer XT – (1984)

IBM PC XTI did my first computer course (Electronic Data Processing) from CompuTrain which was a Pathfinder Group company located at St. John’s Colony, Lahore Cantt. There were only five computers in their lab (each costing around Rs. 70,000. These “state of the art” machines were IBM’s PC XT. With 640 kB of RAM, 2 x 360 kB floppy drives and running at 4.77 MHz, these machines were the new geek toys. Only one of them had a hard disk (10 MB Seagate – if I remember correctly) and the ones that the students were allowed to use had two floppy drives, one for the OS and one for the application software. We did extensive programming on this computer using PC DOS 2.0 and IBM BASIC.


Apple II – (1984)

Apple II Although I never owned it, I used it heavily at the first computer college I attended (COMETO) in 1983-84. It ran at 1.0 MHz and had a meager 4 kB of RAM compared to the then everyone’s favorite Commodore 64. However, it had some really nice technology advancements and was a pleasure to use.

 


Sinclair ZX Spectrum – (1984)

Sinclair ZX81 I truly enjoyed using this computer. One of my close friends had this and we used to spend nights writing programs for it,and then the next couple of days debugging them Smile. It wasn’t as powerful as other computers we used at the time but it was one hell of a fun computer to use. It was the first computer I ever opened and my first time ever to see a mainboard and other components inside the miracle machine.


Commodore 128D – (1985)

Comoddore-128D It was time to play with the big boys. Also, the first computer that I purchased myself (of course not with my own money as I didn’t have any Smile with tongue out)

Running at mind-blowing 4 MHz (almost as fast as the IBM PC XT), it had features that made geeks drool all over their desks. It was actually three computers in one. The 128D could run in C64 mode running all the programs I already had, and also in 128 mode where we could use more RAM and write bigger programs. But the gem was the mode where the Zilog z-80 processor was used and we could run the Digital Research’s CP/M operating system (which was the distant predecessor of DOS).

Amazingly, I still have this computer in working order and its 120 kB floppy disks.


Commodore Amiga A500 – (1989)

Commodore-Amiga-500This was it! THE dream computer for gamers and graphics nuts. My first taste of proper multimedia, multitasking and WIMP environment (although I have used WIMP-like shell on C64 called GEOS – this is much better and proper WIMP). Running at 7.16 MHz with 512 kb of fast RAM, 880 kB of double-density micro disk drive, a 640×256 resolution and a killer 4 channel sound it had so many technology advancements that I almost stopped using any other computer for a long time.

There were thousands of software titles including music, graphics and games. I remember one of my teachers Babur Niaz used to come all the way to my place just to play Pong! And it was the first computer I used to do professional work.


Compaq SLT286 Laptop – (1995)

Compaq-SLT286My first ever laptop and also the first used computer I bought back in 1995. It was a cute little (well, to be honest, it was as heavy as a bag of concrete) thing that ran on a 12 MHz 80C286 processor with 3.5 inch micro disk drive and a 40 MB hard drive. I used to carry this to my office and make everyone stare at it in envy. I eventually sold it to my Chinese boss who bought it for Rs. 10,000 more than what I paid for it.
It originally ran Windows 3.1 but I installed Windows 95 on it and its performance just died.


Atari ST1024 – (1985)

Atari-1040STI never used it personally, but it was a big deal back when I had Commodore Amiga. I recently inherited one in working condition from a relative of mine. It a nice addition to my current collection.


IBM PC Clones (80286, 80486, PI, PIII & PIV) – (1987 to 2007)

Dell Inspiron 7500Between 1987 and 2007 I used many different desktop and laptop computers that included a PC 80286, PC 80486, Full-towerPentium I & III and two Pentium IV laptops. One of these was a full-tower casing desktop that scared and impressed all of my friends. It had 9 drive bays and I installed 9 different drives including a Nakamichi 5 disc changer CD-ROM (which I still have). I still have one of these (a Pentium III in fully working condition).

 


Honorable Mention: CASIO FX-702P Programmable Calculator – (1987)

Casio FX-702PAgain, not a computer but this one got me through my FSc. exams. I used it heavily for statistic and mathematics during my FSc. at the Forman Christian College (FCC) in 1987. It was an amazingly powerful calculator for those days and it could actually be programmed using a cut-down version of BASIC language.

So, there you have it. Thirty three years of computing and counting. The changes in the technology, during the past three decades, and its implications have been mind-blowing and I am enjoying every bit of it. What more can a geek ask for?

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Good Things.

Old motto: Good things come to those who wait.

New version: Good things come to those who work their assess off and never give up.

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Blame it on the minority.

Last month, a Christian girl named Rimsha Masih was arrested in Islamabad and was charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy law for allegedly burning pages from The Holy Quran. Whether she did it or not, and whether she has a mental illness or not, the fact that a non-Muslim has desecrated our holy book sealed her fate. It is an unforgiveable sin, if you ask any Muslim, punishable by nothing less than the death penalty.

But I have a question here: how is a non-Muslim burning pages of the Holy Quran any different from a Muslim committing the same act? Just because a person was born and raised as a Muslim does that mean that s/he gets an automatic authorization to desecrate Quran? Lets have a couple of examples here.

Every morning we get a brand new copy of our favorite newspaper. In almost all newspapers, there is a Quranic verse or two, usually at the top of the front page. So what do we do with it? First, we throw it on the ground, something that we never do with the copies of Quran in our homes. Then, after we have read it, we throw it somewhere along with other ‘useless’ stuff. After this, a number of things may happen. We use it to clean window/table glass; roll it and burn it to light up the stove/geyser; wipe our hands with it when they are dirty; use it as a mattress, and oh my personal favorite: use it to sell/wrap anything from fruits, vegetables, jalaibi, pokoray and nan/roti to shoes.

But that’s just a verse or two. Surely that doesn’t count as desecration? OK. So how about when good Muslims dump tons, and yes – I MEAN *tons* of torn pages (sometimes entire chapters) from Quran into that filthy canal water that is full of animal and human waste from a number of drains and, horses and cows taking a dip in it. There was a report on the TV not long ago about a businessman from Lahore who, along with his team, recovers hundreds of pages every year from the canal after it has been blocked for cleaning.

Our ignorance has risen to a level where most of us do not even think about what we are doing. Do we, as Muslims, have a ‘diplomatic immunity’ that allows us to do whatever we want to with our religion? Is accountability only applicable on minority? Of course nobody would like to arrest all the tandoor walas in the country for burning pages with verses from Quran on them. And who has the time to actually check what’s on the page that is being used to wipe that nice expensive window glass? And what do we do with all those torn pages from Quran if not throw them in canal?

But hey, that Christian girl – how dare she burn our holy book? Let’s hang that infidel and make an example out of her so that no non-Muslim can enjoy the privilege that we have: desecrate *our* own holy book.

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Inner Strength vs. Outer Rage

No attack can be defended successfully if our weapons are weak. No weapon is stronger than our faith. If we strengthen our faith, we may never have to deal with such attacks again.

There is nothing more ridiculous than letting our anger take over our intelligence. When we become so predictable that our enemies can play us like puppets, its time to rethink our strategies. There are many ways to get your message across, some do not require us to kill people and burn their property.

For example, here are two of many possible ways to respond:
1. Sign a protest declaration and register it with authorities. Demand that amendments should be made in the law so that no further incidents of such sort may occur in future. And if they do, then there is a law in place to punish the guilty.
2. Unite people with ideas/beliefs similar to yours and who have suffered the injustice like you have (or at least they acknowledge the act committed as injustice) and cut off all socio-economic ties with the guilty party(ies) until they see your point and refrain from committing such acts in the future.

We also have to understand that such attacks of insult are usually committed when the perpetrator(s) are suffering from severe inferiority complex or are threatened by the popularity or progress of their target. So one of the ways to hurt the popularity/progress of Islam is to demonstrate that ALL Muslims actually mindless and savage, and cannot practice what they preach. It also allows the perpetrator(s) to publicly ridicule our beliefs and values, and call us hypocrites.

There is always a time when we have no other solution but to respond physically using all the force we have. But this solution is usually not the first choice. It was never (to the best of my knowledge) the first choice for the Prophet (SAW) that we intend to defend. He (SAW) practically demonstrated how to deal with such situations and how use knowledge, intelligence and above all patience to come out as a winner in the end.

Aristotle once said: Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy.

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A Demand/Supply Coordination Website

Does anyone know of any website that offers coordination between donors and people/organizations with needs?
For example, in case of a disaster (such as floods) there may be a lot of people/organizations with resources and donations but they might not be aware of the exact requirements or places where these resources can be used properly. The result is that most of the donations/resources are either directed to wrong people/locations or they are just misused.
If there is a website/service that offers coordinated interaction between demand and supply and also offers full auditing and tracking of how these resources are being gathered and used, please send me its link.

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Music Clinic Initiative

Last year LACAS (Lahore College of Arts & Sciences) became the first school in Pakistan to organize a TEDx event (www.tedxlacas.com). One of the highlights of the event was a solo performance by Mekaal Hassan (of The Mekaal Hassan Band) – a dynamic guitar player who has received formal education in music.

After the event, Mekaal Hassan, who is no stranger to playing for a young audience, expressed his interest in promoting musical awareness among the youth of Pakistan. As an old LACASian, he wanted LACAS to be the first school to initiate this program. Although this program is still in its planning stage, the excitement is growing on both sides. Its not every day that one of the greatest guitar players in Pakistan offers insight to young aspiring musicians. But the program intends to go further than just building musicians; it intends to develop a good listener base – something that is more important in a country like Pakistan. Let’s face it, we all listen to music but how many of us actually hear what’s being played? Someone once told me that there are two types of music; one that you enjoy from above your neck, and the other that you enjoy from below your neck. What he meant was that good music can be enjoyed more deeply when the listener also understands what’s being played. The listening skill development program aims to develop good listening skills without getting too technical.

I am personally very excited to be part of this program. I think that programs like this can not only develop an audience that is mature and appreciative of good music, but it will also encourage good musicians to produce music for Pakistani audience instead to looking towards other countries where they find appreciation from a mature and knowledgeable audience.

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Doublethink

It’s deliberately believing in lies while knowing they’re false. Henry Barthes – from the movie Detachment

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Clueless

I am going to spit this one out as it comes to my mind.

Four days back I was getting ready for work when my wife rushed into the room looking pale. She had received a call from our maid “Sajida” who had stopped coming to work on account of her poor health. Sajida got married when she was just 13 or so years old (she is not sure of her age at the time of her marriage). By the time she was 17, she had two children, a husband who was addicted to gambling and an eviction notice from her relatives who couldn’t spare room for her and the two children. When she came to work for us she looked weak and fragile. She would work quietly, never asking for anything. My wife and children, especially my son, are fond of her and we try to do as much as we can to make her life a little less painful.

My wife told me that Sajida was crying on the phone and she was in horrible pain. It turned out that she was pregnant again. A couple of days ago she felt pain in her belly so her husband took her to a midwife who tried to perform a D&C procedure during which she damaged her uterus. We rushed to the place where she lived and found her half unconscious. We took her to Khair-un-Nisa hospital which was the nearest hospital and also because my grandmother used to be a visiting doctor there. The consultant was kind enough to examine her before other patients but she told us that she can’t take this case and we must take Sajida to Jinnah Hospital. She told us that “there is no doctor at the moment to take this case” and she also returned the fee we paid. By the time we took Sajida to Jinnah Hospital, it was 11 A.M. Things were about to get worse.

The whole hospital was in chaos. People at the reception were really uncooperative and it took us quite some time to find out where we were supposed to take her. Patients in the Gynecology OPD (Outdoor Patient Department) far outnumbered the available beds and the necessary equipment. Doctors were extremely rude and some actually yelled at their patients. Patients’ relatives were mostly oblivious of hospital protocol and they were just sitting in the waiting room dazed and confused. There were, on average, 3 to 5 relatives (not counting the children) with each patient and the whole waiting room was looking like a public park. I saw small children playing on the hospital floor while their mothers were chatting with other women not a least bit concerned that their children may catch an infection from the filthy floor.

The doctors couldn’t spare more than 2 minutes for each patient and we couldn’t get a single conclusive statement from anyone until 6 P.M. They told us that they will have to operate to remove the remains of the fetus and fix the uterus. By that time we were mentally prepared to this conclusion, but there was another problem: her hemoglobin was down to 5.5. Blood was arranged in a hurry and finally the surgery was performed around 10 P.M. As all of her relatives were illiterate, my wife was handling everything, running in and out of the labor room. Each time she came out of the labor room she was increasingly irritated with the attitude of doctors and nurses. “They are really annoying and careless.” she told me. “They don’t listen to me and keep telling me to get out.” “Why can’t they just tell me politely what to do?” “These people are not human.” her complaints continued. I told her that this is how most government hospitals are, but my wife is a kind hearted woman and she just couldn’t swallow this argument and her frustration grew more and more with each visit to the labor room.

Yesterday, after Sajida was shifted to the female ward, my wife went to check up on her. I was waiting for her in the car in the parking lot babysitting my children. When she came back she got into the car; slammed the door and screamed “that doctor is a bitch!” When I asked her what happened, she told me that Sajida was feeling severe pain in her stitches. So around 9 P.M. my wife took her to the emergency room for a painkiller. The duty doctor spoke very rudely to her and told her to get out of the emergency room telling her that they will take care of Sajida and after giving her the injection will send her to her ward. We got home but had barely put our children to bed when my wife’s phone rang. It was Sajida’s mother-in-law and she was very upset. She told my wife that soon after she left the emergency room, the nurse gave Sajida the injection and then “told her to go to her ward”. The poor woman dragged herself to her bed. This was too much for my wife and even though I asked her to control her anger, at least till Sajida is discharged from the hospital, she was just too furious and insisted on going to the hospital right then to see how Sajida was doing. So we plucked our children from their beds, put them in the back seat with blankets and drove to the hospital around 11 P.M. I stayed in the car with the children and my wife went to see Sajida. She was not well. That infuriated my wife even further and she went straight to the duty doctor in the emergency room who told her to go home earlier and took it all out on her. “I asked her how could she let a patient as weak as Sajida with fresh stitches walk to her bed.” she told me later in the car. Her face was red with anger and she kept asking me: Aren’t these doctors supposed to be helping people? Shouldn’t they be polite to people who are already in trauma? How can a doctor or a nurse be so rude and careless and cruel to the patients? I had no answer to her questions but had a bad feeling that the reaction to this will not be good.

Today, we got another call from Sajida’s mother-in-law telling us that the doctor has decided to discharged Sajida from the hospital and the reason why she was doing this was that she was insulted by Sajida’s attendant. My wife made alternative arrangements for Sajida in another hospital but by the time we went to pick her up, the duty doctor had gone home and the new doctor, after examining Sajida’s condition decided to keep her for a few more days.

I don’t know what more to write. I can’t sum this up or write a punchy last line. One of my colleagues, after hearing all this, commented “the system is all screwed up”. I couldn’t agree or disagree with him as my mind is totally jammed up trying to understand how so many people can make so many wrong choices at the worst possible time. I am clueless.

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TEDxLACAS – Update

TEDxLACAS is coming along very nicely. I was impressed by the way my team is handling the event preparations. I think the most logical way to bring out the best in a person is to put some responsibility on his/her shoulders. So far, my team has shown not only great interest in this event but also the ability to plan and coordinate with each other.

I hope that this opportunity will give them a rich experience that will be useful in future.