18/07: Days 2, 3 & 4 - University of Leeds

This post is a continuation of my previous posts regarding my trip to UK. Previous posts regarding this trip are:

Tea with the Queen
Day 1: Arrival at the University of Leeds

When we woke up the next morning, we had a tight schedule ahead of us comprising of visits to various university departments and labs.

After breakfast, we headed to the Agilent Lecture Theatre in the Engineering School for a welcome talk by Dr. McLernon (Post-Grad Research Tutor) and Professor Paul Harrison (Head of Engineering School).

Agilent Hall

We were then given detailed presentations on the research activities at the Institute of Integrated Information Systems (I3S). Research at I3S is concentrated in various fields like communications engineering, instrumentation and positioning, etc. We were told that research in communications engineering includes all aspects of fixed, mobile and satellite communications, radio wave propagation, signal processing and coding. A pretty vast field, if there ever was one! :-)

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15/07: Day 1: Arrival at the University of Leeds

This post is a continuation of my previous post(s) regarding my trip to UK. Previous post(s) regarding this trip are:

Tea with the Queen

This is some of the stuff I wrote for the blog. Yes, wrote, not typed. Well, it is typed now. Anyway, without further delay...

I am sitting in my room at Lyddon Hall at the University of Leeds after a full day of travel.

Our flight from Islamabad to Manchester had a stopover at Dubai. Emirates is a stickler for stopping at Dubai on long routes which is rather frustrating. All in the name of their duty free shops.

We left Islamabad Sunday morning, delayed by a security issue involving a man boarding the wrong flight. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200. It's length was on the small side, sort of like an Airbus. The delay mentioned above in our connecting flight cost us our next flight to Manchester. The next Emirates flight headed to Manchester from Dubai was at 1430 (Dubai time) so we had about 6 hours to spare.

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14/07: Tea with the Queen

Tonight, I depart for UK. I am already giddy in anticipation of my flight since I love air planes and the queasy feeling at take-off. :D

This is my second trip outside Pakistan, first one being to Kuwait a couple years back. I would be accompanied by a contingent of fellow students and a NUST faculty member. The trip is mostly aimed at visiting various universities where various activities are planned for us. The thing I am looking forward most of all is interaction with different people and getting to know and share their point of view regarding topics of common interest. The exposure to a different culture would also be good.

However, I am already worrying about things like availability of Halal food, presence of Mosques where we are going, schedules of events and travel and generally missing Pakistan. I wonder if I will miss my country enough by the end of the trip to make me homesick. These musings are just a scratch off the surface of my mind as it is right now.

British Airways

This is just a starting post for this trip and if the facilities (computers/internet + time) are available, I would post updates and pics under the travel category (categories section on menu on right side).

Regarding the trip, here are some tips for prospective travellers regarding money matters.

- If you intend to get Traveller Cheques for British Pounds Sterling, they are only available from American Express branch in Blue Area, Islamabad. Alternatively, you can also get them from Riaz money changers, also in Blue Area, Islamabad. Travellers Cheques for American Dollars are available everywhere. you can get them from any bank or other money changers.

- Traveller Cheques cost more since the conversion rates charged are higher than the normal cash conversion rates. The difference I found was about Rs.1.5 for each Pound Sterling. Therefore, it is nearly always better to use credit cards instead of Traveller Cheques.

And about tea with the Queen, I prefer kaivah*! :P

* Kaivah = Green Tea.

Edit (04/08/2007) - I have returned home, finally and will post stuff about my visit as soon as I am able to write it to my satisfaction. Sorry but there won't be a lot of posts regarding my trip, just a couple posts, some of which I wrote on paper and some which I still have to write, summarizing the trip.

Next: Day 1: Arrival at the University of Leeds

10/07: Red Mosque: Trouble spots exposed

The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) issue has been an active one for eight days. Today, the government launched an operation against them after efforts at negotiation failed over whether foreign militants should be given safe passage out of the country. I deem this as a necessary action which should have been done six months ago when this whole issue reared its head.

I would refrain from listing the events of these tense 8 days. Instead, I would mention some of the points which came to my mind during these few days, especially today over the role various people played.

First, let us consider the basis for the trouble wherein lies my first point.

Should a Mosque be demolished?

My emphatic answer to this question would be, "No". However, this is based on certain conditions. First of all, the land on which the Mosque is built should be legally purchased. Even during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), when Masjid-e-Nabvi was made, the Prophet (PBUH) purchased the land from two orphans. This gives us clear insight into whether the land for the Mosque should be purchased or not. Secondly, there should be no activities inside the Mosque which violate Islamic principles and which are used as a basis for trouble making. If a mosque violates any of the above two conditions, I would fully support demolishing it. If given the opportunity, I would help with demolishing it myself.

Before labelling me with something which you wouldn't dream of labelling yourself with, think! The precedent of legally owning the land for the Mosque were set by the Prophet (PBUH). Who are we to ignore this pre-requisite for building a mosque? Are we even Muslims if we deny what the Prophet (PBUH) told us through example?

A Mosque is just a building which has a defined purpose which does not include killing and maiming people, spewing hate or harbouring criminals. A Mosque gets the justified respect it gets because of its purpose, not because of the collection of bricks and marble pattern decorations it usually sports. If the purpose is not there and instead becomes something heinous [fitna], its best to get rid of the Mosque. A similar thing happened with Masjid Zarrar during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) when it was used for fitna. [The Holy Quran - Surah Tauba]

People, in their emotions, say that since the Mosque is already there why demolish it? These people are talking blindly with their emotions instead of thinking logically within the constraints provided by Islam. I will present a simple scenario. Suppose you bought some land after working hard all of your life and some one makes a Mosque on it without your permission. Would you let this stand? Or would you like to get some payment for the land bought with hard earned money? Do you even have the right to refuse them if they forcefully start building a Mosque? After all, Qabza groups [land grabbers] are not uncommon in Pakistan, especially where making Mosques is concerned.

What role has the government played in all of this?

A brilliant one, if I do say so myself. Plenty of people will disagree with me and they certainly have the right to do that. It was first thought that the government would storm in the first day and get rid of all the people inside. However, I was pleasantly surprised when instead of storming in, the government simply surrounded the area and moved directly to the negotiation table despite the fact that the students from the Red Mosque were the first ones to show aggression. I stayed awake till 4:30 AM on the first day of deployment of Armed Forces watching news to see when the operation started. And this was while I had exams the next morning! However, I was glad to note that there was no immediate operation planned for that time.

As a result of this, thousands of innocent lives were saved. Innocent children and women were able to come out and the credit for this belongs to the government. It is not the way of the Armed Forces to wait so patiently. It is high time people realize this. Throughout the events [8-9 days], the government was open to negotiations aimed at getting as many innocents out as they could. On the other hand, Abdul Rashid Ghazi (he is no Moulana as far as I am concerned) was adamant in being allowed to go free despite the crimes he has committed. It is his ego problem and selfishness that so many innocent lives were lost in this stand-off. However, I have seen some weird people giving the analogy of Karbala for this siege and condemning the government for trying to rein in the militants on the Red Mosque. These people probably fell on their head when they were young. These people are extremely gullible! And these very people have voting rights. Damn!

There has also been insistence that this has all been done on the whims of America and why wasn't this done six months ago. I ask this question myself from the government regarding the delay in this operation. It should not have taken so long for them to take action instead of letting it fester and become a threat to residents of Islamabad. About the former part of blaming it on America, it is non-consequential. Whether we do it on America's insistence or on our own, we should aim for our own interests. Our interests are our primary concern and we should not be deterred from aiming for them even if someone else also says that we have to do certain things. To give an example, imagine if America says that you should keep breathing. Will you stop breathing just to defy them? Should we not first check if it is in our own interest or not? People should not let their dislike of America's illegal wars and "holier than thou" attitude from deterring them from seeking the thing which is right for Pakistan!

This problem; not being able to think and make decisions independently, is the crux of our current problems. Were we able to think and understand our religion our own selves, we wouldn't rely so blindly on these Mullahs. To outline this point, how many of us go home and look up controversial things [particularly the context of various verses of the Quran which are so rampantly and wrongly used by terrorists to justify their cause] in the Quran and the Saheeh Bukhari [amongst other books]? I reckon 90-95% of people don't do that and never will since they themselves want to give power to a person to dictate to them how they should live. Is this perhaps a display of the slave mentality from over 60 years ago when we were not an independent nation? I assure these people that the British have left long since, and they should start thinking for themselves instead of relying on others to do their thinking.

If we were able to think and make decisions ourself, we also wouldn't need opportunist politicians like Benazir, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain, Fazl-ur-Rehman, Qazi Hussein Ahmed and many others who play on our weaknesses and disunity based off petty issues. The first two were corrupt and looted the economy, the third one is a terrorist [90's in Karachi + May 12, anyone?] and the latter two are merely religious nutjobs who can't do enough to project their non-existent powers so they try to keep airing anti-Musharraf feelings. I wouldn't mind seeing these politicians getting the barrel end of a shotgun stuck down their throats for lying and deceiving the general public alongside their own voters numerous times. The sad thing is that quite a few people still want to bring these corrupt people back thinking that they will solve their problems when they have never done so in the past, despite repeated opportunities to do so. And herein we see why democracy shall remain a failure in Pakistan and why military rule, even though it is distasteful, has always proved more effective.

In our haste to criticize Musharraf, we conveniently forget every other good thing he has done. Are good things done by him so easily forgettable? Will we, in a similar manner, forget the wrong things he has done to appreciate his good things? Both are wrong approaches and we must acknowledge the good and the wrong things he has done to give an intelligent opinion.

What role has the media played in this?

The role of the media is a tricky one. It has done good by giving 24 hours coverage to the events. The journalists risked their lives to bring the news and ongoing events to the public and for that, they get two thumbs up for their efforts. Unfortunately, some reporters lost their lives in the crossfire. Their services will be remembered.

However, there has been a negative aspect to this too. The media has been furthering its agenda regarding its stand-off with the government. I have seen more negative comments than positive ones. They are showing dead bodies and the injured which will just inflame people exactly as President Musharraf said in an earlier press conference. One particular channel doing this is Geo TV. I was a strong supporter of Geo until some time back but their self victimizing has degraded their value to me. Initially, they reported the events just as well as other channel like ARYOne World, Aaj TV, etc but in the recent days, they alongside other channels [including those above], have started doing some highly undesirable things. Have they not seen how international media [like CNN, BBC, etc] specifically avoids showing the bloody scenes of the war in Iraq despite the so-called "freedom of speech" which they have? I reckon it's one of rare things which the international media does right. By showing dead bodies and blood, they are just inflaming the public and trying to get public support with these cheap tactics. They have continuously been taking pot shots at the governments decision to not allow the journalists and reporters inside sensitive areas around Jamia Hifsa and the Red Mosque. It is rightly stated that absolute power corrupts. Geo is a willing victim of this corruption! And I have this to say:

Geo, you have failed me and unknowingly, the millions of Pakistanis which trust(ed) you for unbiased truthful reporting.

That's all for now. I have been avoiding writing on this issue since we Pakistanis get inflamed too easily on issues involving religion but the path to improvement starts with realization of the problem itself. I am hopeful that the walk on that path has started after today's operation against the Red Mosque radicals.

07/07: Microsoft Surfaces Again

Most of my posts are always written in a way that may give the impression that I am a science reporter, and that this post of mine (after several months of absence) is just another similar one. However, this post is about a new product from Microsoft named Microsoft Surface.

I myself came to know about this product just a month ago. At the time I did wonder whether it was just another of Microsoft's several other “innovative” technologies aimed at doing simple things in difficult ways.

And it isn't. It is quite atypical of Microsoft to offer anything outside their bundled and packaged software philosophy. And though this one can't be downloaded over the internet, it's worth writing about.

Microsoft surface is a new product from Microsoft which in Wikipedia's words is “developed as a software and hardware combination technology that allows a user, or multiple users, to manipulate digital content by the use of natural motions, hand gestures, or physical objects”. The product is really quite recent and was announced on May 30, 2007 at D5. Commercial partners of Microsoft will release it in November 2007, though you and I are not the intended customers. Having a starting price of about US$5,000 to US$10,000; it is initially aimed at hospitality businesses such as hotels, restaurants, entertainment parks, etc.

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