Category Archives: Life

The Come Back Post

Wow it’s almost been a year since I posted anything here. Time to dust off the virtual cobwebs and get back in action!

A lot has happened since my last post, here’s a 30,000ft view:

  • My MSE program at Carnegie Mellon University wrapped up in December 2009. After waiting for the holiday season travel insanity to die down, I and Nida flew back from Pittsburgh in January 2010. Being at CMU was a great experience, one I will cherish forever. The MSE program was really grueling, but rewarding at the same time. A big shout out to my CMU team mates, Sam, Soo-Yung, Benjamas, and Guido! You guys rock!
  • Since coming back (actually a little before that) I’ve been working on PosterMyWall with a partner in Silicon Valley. Working independently on a new product where you make every decision (and thus are responsible for it) has been an interesting experience. I’m glad I took this route, as its been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot. All we need to do now is start selling posters …
  • I’ve got a sweet home office setup. Much better than before. Will upload pictures one of these days.

That’s all the personal stuff I’m willing to divulge on the Internet for now :p

Stay tuned for more Web/Usability/Tech posts!

Trip to Baltimore and DC

I got to fly to Baltimore during the Thanksgiving break to visit family there. It was a lot of fun. I’m going to save most of the details for picture captions that I’ve uploaded on Facebook (visible to friends only), but some highlights:

  • Had turkey for Thanksgiving!
  • We stayed up till 4am and shopped on Black Friday. I didn’t buy anything though, because I didn’t want to lug back a ton of stuff on the plane with me. There were some really nice deals at BestBuy though.
  • Went to see the sights in Washington DC. The Capitol building and all the monuments/memorials were very impressive. Nothing like I’ve ever seen before. The entire organization of buildings in that area of DC was very impressive. We also went to China Town, which was pretty cool.
  • Went to the Baltimore Harbor, which was pretty nice. Apparently the hill overlooking the harbor was where Francis Scott Key came up with the inspiration for the American national anthem. There’s a big American flag on that hill to mark this fact.

It has Begun (the Pittsburgh Winter)

Today was really cold. And I mean really cold. (at least for someone from the equator :p). It snowed intermittently pretty much the entire day. Having never seen snow before, I was really looking forward to it. And it gets really pretty when it starts snowing … only when you’re sitting in a warm comfy room and looking out the window :).

Some pictures of the first day of snow (well technically it snowed a couple of days ago, but it melted away really quickly)

Carnegie Mellon University - University Center

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See the rest on my Flickr set.

The CMU Merry-go-round

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Found this stuck to a wall in the cave. This is pretty much what everyone around me is going through. Even the beautiful city of Pittsburgh is starting to go cold and bitter. -_-

The fact that I’m posting this a good one to two months after I took this picture probably gives you a good idea of much time the MSE is leaving me for trivial pursuits such as blogging. *sigh*

Flying to CMU … almost There

I wrote this post while waiting at Boston’s Logan International Airport, almost 50 hours after I left Pakistan for the US.

Update 2: Got to Pittsburgh after 55 hours of travel. Wohoo!!!

Well this has been an experience indeed. I flew out from Lahore’s Quaid-e-Azam International Airport on the 10th of August for a transit riddled itinerary, Lahore – Abu Dhabi – London – Boston – Pittsburgh.

It was a day of lots of ‘firsts’. I was flying for the first time. I was going out of Pakistan for the first time. I was going to be away from my family for an extended period for the first time.

The buildup to this day was uncharacteristically full of uncertainty. This year the USEFP managed to delay visa’s for a lot of people. Even as I write this, there are a lot of Fulbright Grantee’s from Pakistan anxiously waiting for visas, while their classes have already started. I hope and pray that they get their visas soon, and know when they’ll be flying off to their schools.

I got my visa less than a week before my reporting date. At that time, like most other grantees, my mind set had changed from packing to thinking about finding a job as I was expecting something along the lines of a deferral. After that, me and my wife shifted my packing into overdrive (it was mostly my wife, me being the spoilt lazy bum I am). Here’s a view of our room at the height of packing mania.

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So after getting a haircut which my barber claimed would not require a trim for the next 4-5 months (I’m not used to dishing out 20 times the cash for a haircut :p), I was all set.

The Etihad flight in Lahore was delayed for a little more than an hour, so I spent about 4 hours in the terminal. The flight was awesome, Etihad has really nice Airbus A330’s. We landed in Abu Dhabi just in time to catch the next flight to Heathrow. I just rushed through transit to catch the next flight. The British Airways flight was really long, and not as comfortable as the flight before.

I had 4-5 hours to burn at Heathrow. I hooked up with other grantees there as well (Maliha, Salman, Ayesha and another lady). All of them were off to New York though, and my flight to Boston left a little earlier than theirs.

Heathrow is HUGE. We spent a lot of time roaming around. Our first priority was to call home, and we got that done relatively easily by getting our dollars converted into UK coins and using the many payphones there. It’s always good to have a credit card though, because then you can call and use the Wifi at airports more easily.

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The flight from Heathrow to Boston was operated by American Airlines. The Boeing 777 was awesome, the in flight service was awesome and the food was surprisingly very good. I got a seat next to the emergency exit so I had lots and lots of leg space. I also had a pleasant 61 year old American lady sitting next to me, who was very interested in knowing more about me and introducing America to me once she found out that I was a Fulbright Grantee flying into the U.S. for the first time. She was returning from Ireland from her daughter’s wedding, and I ended up showing her my recent wedding pictures. She was really delighted to see our elaborate decorations and dresses.

We landed in Boston on time. And then lady luck decided to take a day off. I was to catch a local flight to Pittsburgh operated by U.S. Airways. I was greeted by an insanely long line at the ticketing terminal where I was supposed to get my boarding pass. There were people who had been missing their flights for a couple of days now, and were having to come to the U.S Airways terminal everyday to catch a flight. Everyone was really pissed off.

After waiting 6 hours in line, I was told I couldn’t be given a boarding pass. There was a problem in their system which prevented them from bringing up my record. They were able to get my data after about 45 minutes, and by that time I was told that it was too late to give me a boarding pass, and that I would be put on a standby list for this flight. The flight was already delayed from 5pm to 11pm, with a possibility of getting canceled.

I didn’t want to wait that long in the airport, ultimately get stranded at midnight, also leaving my family in limbo as to where I was (I tried for 30 or so minutes to make an international call, but the pay phones refused to cooperate).

So I got a boarding pass for the next day’s flight to Pitt, got a reservation in a nice hotel and stayed the night there. I was easily able to hook up with family back home using the free Wifi in my room  (BrainTel’s IP phone is a really nice and cheap way to stay in touch with family back home, especially for times when power shortages prevent them from using Skype, MSN etc.).

A hot shower and a breakfast on land after 2 days later, I was back in the airport. I wanted to verify where my luggage was. They’ve assured me that its booked to my final destination, and I should find it in Pittsburgh International. But the service was equally bad today, with people waiting in long lines at U.S. Airways terminals. I’d recommend all grantees flying in the near future to stay away from U.S. Airways, and request a different operator if USEFP hands you an itinerary with flights operated by them.

Whew, that was a long rant. Now I’m going to get something to eat, and then call CMU and tell them that I’ve missed the first day of orientation (they’ve probably noticed that by now :p).

Fly Safe!

Daylight Savings, a concept lost on us

I was waiting outside Siddique Trade Center (Lahore) the other day, waiting for my mom to wrap up shopping and come out (I can’t go within 10 feet of a tailor shop and not feel nauseous) . As soon as the clock struck 8, the lights outside and neon signs on the building came on.

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Notice that because of daylight savings the sun hasn’t gone down yet and there’s lots of sunlight. I waited there for another 30 minutes, and there was still enough light that you didn’t need to turn on those lamps.

What’s the point of having daylight savings if people (I’m guessing Siddique TC is not the only culprit) are still switching on lights at the old times. Can’t they SEE the sunlight?! And its not like we’ve got lots of electricity to spare. Even now as I’m writing this, the power is out and I’m going to have to wait for it to come back before publishing this post.

So what’s the basic problem here? Lack of eyesight? =p Lack of consideration? And how do we fix this nationwide problem?

Linux – Never Again

That’s it. I’m done. I’ve given up. No more leaps of faith for me.

When KDE 4 came out, I suddenly felt this urge to install the remixed version of Kubuntu 8.04 with KDE 4 on my Dell Vostro running Windows XP. I looked around the net for a couple of days, and generally saw a positive response, especially on machines similar to mine. There weren’t a lot of driver issues. So I went ahead and did a dual boot.

The installation went smooth enough, and I was impressed. When Kubuntu loaded, sound was working, screen resolution was fine, USB drives were working, and KDE 4 looked very nice. Wifi wasn’t working, but I thought what the heck, I’ll pop in the network cable and download the driver for the wifi. But turns out the NIC wasn’t working either.

So I look around some other options, try out some applications, and stumble upon the desktop effects settings. Although I doubt they’d run without the Nvidia drivers installed for my 8400GS, I still click the ‘enable’ button. Screen goes blank. I wait for a couple of minutes and nothing changes. I restart the X Server. Nothing happens. I reboot and startup Kubuntu and login. I still get a blank screen.

And since that day I haven’t touched Kubuntu. Now I’m forced to wait and select XP in the boot sequence whenever my machine boots. I can’t take the time out to partition and install XP again and remove Kubuntu completely.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here. Technology is just an enabler, just a means to an end. You should use whatever works for you. Be it XP, Vista, OSX or Linux. We shouldn’t always go after the latest (not necessarily the greatest) thing. Windows XP SP2 works beautifully for me, and now I’m going to stick with it. Even if my Kubuntu install hadn’t borked itself, I still would not have been able to use it as my primary OS because of compatibility issues. There would have been no gain in productivity whatsoever. So until Linux really becomes super awesome, gets mainstream recognition and gives me a long list of compelling reasons to switch, I’m sticking with good old Microsoft.

This thing made me a developer

While doing some spring cleaning some months back (see? I was really busy these past couple of months =p), I came across my old Vtech Pre Computer Power Pad. It brought back so many memories! My dad’s friend got me this from Dubai when I was about 10 or 11 years old. Back then, very few homes in Pakistan had computers, atleast we didn’t have a computer at our place, so I was ecstatic when I got my greedy little hands on it.

It had lots of mini games, mostly educational, like trivia, quizes and whatnot. But the most interesting thing by far to me was the ability to code in the BASIC programming language. I started by reading through the blue instruction manual for the language (I think I still have it stashed away somewhere), which was the only source of reference that I had, and then bit by bit, started to experiment with code. And then I just got sucked into it. I ended up writing so many different programs. The one big downside of it was that you could only store one program at a time in its persistent memory.

The last thing that I remember coding on it was a 2 player text based cricket game, in which players would select a type of bowling action and a batting shot, and based on those combinations, the result of the ball would be determined. I couldn’t make improvements in the game because the code reached the maximum limit of the storage memory, and memory expansion cards weren’t available in Pakistan. And soon after, the power unit of the computer game out or something, and it stopped working.

And now its probably lying at some second hand shop, or being taken apart for spare parts. But it did good in the sense that I found out early on that I had a passion for crafting code and really enjoyed creating stuff on computers. This thing awoke the inner CS techy in me =D

I’m awake, I’m awake!

When you can’t recall what theme your blog’s using, then you’ve seriously been neglecting it. For numerous reasons (laziness being the top 3), I haven’t taken out the time to update this place as much as I wanted to in the past couple of months. 😦

I’m stuck in a ton of stuff these days, but I’ll be back, and will keep this place alive. 😀

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Working from Home

My Home Office

I’ve been working from home since I joined CDF Software about 2 months ago back in December. Here’s how it’s been:

The Good Stuff

  • Free food (free as in non-alcoholic beer)
  • No IT dept. saying I can’t use YouTube
  • Frequent fridge raids
  • My choice of furniture
  • Duel Masters with my kid brothers during lunch break (I’ve become a super awesome pro)
  • Did I mention free food?
  • Can switch from desk+chair+heater setup to a bed+quilt+heater setup in a jiffy if it gets too cold
  • No waiting in traffic to get home
  • Road trips of the office in Islamabad (haven’t had one yet, looking forward to one though)

The Not So Good Stuff

  • Increasing waistline (did I mention food up there?)
  • No waiting in traffic while going to work
  • Don’t get to see the sun that much
  • General indigestion (too much to eat I guess…)
  • No white boards and markers
  • Work hours can be hazy (really easy to get carried away and pull a nighter…)
  • No colleagues around to bug, poke and generally make miserable
  • No free air conditioning (it’s going to get interesting in the summers…)

Generally you don’t hear too often someone working from home in Pakistan. Although I miss being in the same room with my team, still working from home is great fun. I believe more companies should explore such options, since they turn out to be very cost effective for both the employer and employee. And if the resource you hire is capable enough, the overhead of communication isn’t that bad.

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