Monday, 31 October 2011

Dreaming big

The pioneers group.

It’s a story about four young men who dreamed of something big. Taha Hassan, Rohail Hassan, Muneeb-ur-Rehman and Syed Payman Raza, sat in the plush computer labs of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and came up with a solution that could mean an eventual end to blackouts in Pakistan.

It all started with theme-based Microsoft Competition called the Imagine Cup, which brings teams from across the globe to New York, to come up with creative solutions to one of the UN Millennium Development. The competition has three categories, digital media, embedded development and software design.

Competing with one of the most diverse audiences, with some teams coming from “almost unheard of places”, the team of four from LUMS is the first Pakistani team in ten years of the competition’s history to go for the final leg of the competition in New York.

“We picked up a bunch of MDGs. One of those was reducing hunger and poverty and another one was developing effective communication. The project was to be built to be used for a specific time-frame, from 2010 to 2015,” said Taha.

The idea behind the competition is whether you can use technology, specifically Microsoft technology and work in one of the above-mentioned paradigms and build a technology, a phone app solution or write a code etc. for a bunch of people. Muneeb, who was the main brain behind the project, hails from Sahiwal — a place where, he said, 12-16 hours of load shedding was a common occurrence and was making life miserable.

“What if instead of having a complete blackout, where nothing works, no appliance or fan, the people get a guarantee that there will be minimum load shedding. And at the same time, the electricity usage of every household could be restricted to a certain legally allowed limit,” explained Muneeb.

Their final product was based on two ideas: To threshold the maximum load allowed to a certain user. And to build a management system whereby the control to allow and disallow this usage is provided to the utility provider. “What is lacking is the need for communication between the grid and the user. How much electricity are you consuming, how much are you allowed to use and are you consuming beyond the allowed limit. It is essential that the electricity provider have all this data with them,” Taha elaborated.

Pakistan currently suffers from commercial unaccounted losses (like electricity theft) to the tune of Rs12.9 million annually. Rohail added, “If we are able to save even 80 per cent of these commercial unaccounted for losses, this Rs12.9 million can be saved every year.”

And that is exactly what these fantastic four plan to do with their “smart metre.”
This metre is GSM-enabled and transfers energy data via SMS to the utility providers so that the utility providers can act in real-time. “If you use more than you are allowed, a message is sent to the grid station and the utility provider sends a message to shut down the power supply. Because by using more than you are allowed, you are putting the entire system under risk. The smart metre taps the current and is continuously looking for any discrepancies. So that the utility knows there is something wrong going on in that particular area,” Taha explained further.

Talking about the commercial implementation of this project and whether it was really something that would make the users happy and satisfied, the students said that they were not proposing it as a long-term policy. “And essentially you sign up for it voluntarily. The purpose is that by using smart metres over a certain time period, the utility providers can eventually overcome the energy deficit.”
Munneb added, “Raising electricity prices every now and then doesn’t help, not even the dual pricing. Our solution is context driven. It’s threshold, looking at deficits and pointing at areas, which are some sort of red zones, hence helping in better energy management.”

Taha explained the aim of their project, saying, “We are providing the policy makers with data, consumption trends for say a season and then they can look at data and see when the consumption is highest. If there is a maximum load that has to be served in a particular area such as a hospital, they can allow them more usage. The policy needs to be more considerate and flexible.” The team made it to the final round of the competition, being chosen among the top 20 of the world. The sad part is that two of the team members did not receive their visas for the US in time.

“Because it was essentially a four-person project, Muneeb and Payman, who couldn’t go to New York were on video-conferencing all the time, doing all the debugging from here,” he added pointing to the lab they were sitting in at the time. “The result was that we ran into minor problems every now and then and sometimes our submissions were late,” Rohail added.

Their proudest moment was when they met professors from MIT, who informed them of the work being carried out on building AMIs, Advanced Metering Infrastructure currently – different sorts of smart and other intelligent metres.

The four who have been under the constant mentorship of Professor Nauman Zaffar at LUMS hope to take their project to its final culmination point. They are currently testing their device at one of the faculty apartments at LUMS.

What they could not win at the Lincoln Centre, NY, they hope to win in the form of a grant being offered by Microsoft to the finalists of Imagine Cup. The grants are worth $3 million and will be distributed to the teams of 2-5 projects.

This piece was done by Hosh media contributor Bushra Shehzad. Hosh media is a volunteer based organisation that aims to bring youth voices onto the mainstream media in Pakistan.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

ICC T20I rankings: Pakistan ranks seventh as five players make the lists

Sri Lankan Mahela Jayawardene stands alongsidePakistan's Mohammad Hafeez while launching the ICC T20I rankings. PHOTO: ICC

KARACHI: Pakistan ranked in seventh two behind India in the inaugural International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 International country and player rankings. All-rounders Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez, Abdul Razzak, batsmen Umar Akmal and bowler Saeed Ajmal made the list of released on Monday in Dubai.
In the all-rounders list, Shahid Afridi came in second behind Australian Shane Watson. Hafeez was ranked fourth and Abdul Razzaq ranked 10th. Spin bowler Saeed Ajmal ranked in third on the bowlers list, while batsman Umar Akmal ranked in eighth in the batsmen’s list.
England’s Eoin Morgan, and Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis topped the batsman, and bowler, respectively.
In 18 T20Is, Morgan has scored 569 runs at an average of 47.41 and only Matthew Hayden (308 runs at 51.33) and Andrew Symonds (337 runs at 48.14) have better averages than the left-hander.
While Morgan is the only batsman to boast a rating of over 800 points on the day of the launch, New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum and Kevin Pietersen of England are both within striking range.
Second-ranked McCullum is on 799 ratings points while third-ranked Pietersen is sitting on 793 ratings points.
The top 20 list includes four batsmen each from Australia and South Africa and three each from Sri Lanka and India.
Ajantha Mendis, who won the ICC Emerging Player of the Year award at the LG ICC Awards in Dubai in 2008, leads the field in the bowlers’ category.
The 26-year-old from Moratuwa is the fourth leading wicket-taker behind Pakistan trio – Shahid Afridi (53), Umar Gul (47) and Saeed Ajmal (45) – with 39 wickets in 20 matches. His bowling figures of six for 16 against Australia in Pallekele on 8 August 2011 stands as the best bowling figures in T20Is to date.
The salient feature of the bowlers’ ranking is that seven spinners figure inside the top 10.
Shane Watson leads the all-rounders’ category that also includes three Pakistanis in second-ranked Afridi, fourth-ranked Mohammad Hafeez and 10th-ranked Abdul Razzaq inside the top 10.
David Hussey is in third position as the top 10 also includes two South Africans in Jacques Kallis and Albie Morkel.
A surprise in the country ranknings was the inclusion of non test playing nation Afghanistan in the top 10 with 75 points. Zimbabwe brought up the rear with 54 points.
The full rankings, with points are listed below.
Countries: England (127), Sri Lanka (126), New Zealand (117), South Africa (113), India (112), Australia (111), Pakistan (97), West Indies (89), Afghanistan (75), Zimbabwe (54)
Batsmen: E.J.G. Morgan (832), England; B.B. McCullum (799), New Zealand; K.P. Pietersen (793), England; D.P.M.D. Jayawardena     (784), Sri Lanka; S. Raina (742), India; T.M. Dilshan (733), Sri Lanka; K.C. Sangakkara (732),Sri Lanka; Umar Akmal (714), Pakistan; S.R. Watson (701), Australia; G.C. Smith (700), South Africa.
Bowlers: B.A.W. Mendis (748), Sri Lanka; G.P. Swann (727), England; Saeed Ajmal (721), Pakistan; N.L. McCullum (711), New Zealand; J. Botha (703), South Africa; Shahid Afridi (689), Pakistan; S.W. Tait (682), Australia; D.J.G. Sammy (671), West Indies; Harbhajan Singh (653), India; S.L. Malinga (652), Sri Lanka.
All rounders: S.R. Watson (385), Australia; Shahid Afridi (339), Pakistan; D.J. Hussey (316), Australia; Mohammad Hafeez (246), Pakistan;  C.H. Gayle (194), West Indies; Yuvraj Singh (182), India; J.H. Kallis (179), South Africa;  T.M. Dilshan (169), Sri Lanka; J.A. Morkel (164), South Africa; Abdul Razzaq (163), Pakistan.

Express Tribune

Grains from heaven

Karachi: A fruit seller and his son peel pomegranates on a main road in Kharadar.

Express Tribune

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bayghairat Brigade's Aloo Anday

What do you expect from a band called Bayghairat Brigade? Well, for starters the band has the perfect recipe for entertainment — a song called “Aalu Anday” with clever tongue-in-cheek satire in Punjabi that summarises Pakistani politics  and an engaging video that gets over 25,000 hits a day.
“There are a whole lot of news anchors on different channels who tell everyone what to do and we call them the ‘Ghairat Brigade’, and since we negate everything that they say or do, we are the Bayghairat Brigade,” explains Ali Aftaab Saeed, who is the vocalist of the band.
The Lahore-based band comprises of Daniyal Malik, an economist by profession, 15-year-old Hamza Malik, who is in the ninth grade and Saeed, who works as  a director at a local news channel.
“Although we have made a song that picks on the way things are happening in Pakistan, we are not revolutionaries,” states Daniyal.
When asked about the idea behind the humourous name of the track, Daniyal explains, “The name ‘Aalu Anday’ doesn’t have a thought process behind it, but listeners are coming up with their own justifications and we highly appreciate it.”
Considering music to be a passion more than a profession, the band has accepted the deteriorating state of the music industry and have kept it in mind.
“Only schools will be interested in the kind of music we make and no school will call a band like Bayghairat Brigade to perform. That is why we didn’t invest much into it and everything else that you see comes straight out of our pockets,” states Saeed.
On the contrary, 15-year-old band member Hamza has absolutely no idea what the song means and what he has gotten himself into. “We told him a number of times, that if you want, we can edit you out of the video, but it was his passion for music that made him stick to it and the teenager had has done a good job,” says Saeed.
However, one thing that saddens the band is that despite a number of puns on Ajmal Kasab, Owais Qadri and Maulana Abdul Aziz, all the threats that they have received so far are about the mention of Nobel Prize winner, Dr Abdus Salam
“It is sad and ironic that people threaten us or give suggestions like, ‘You should have used Abdul Qadeer Khan’s name instead of Dr Abdus Salam,” says Saeed, but is quick to add, “Perhaps this was the kind of debate we wanted to trigger.”
Different political parties have asked Bayghairat Brigade to join them and make music for their campaigns, but the band has refused. They, however, do not mind their music being used against any force that is anti-democratic.
Additionally, Bayghairat Brigade has a number of tracks ready for release and all of them are socially relevant. Like “Aalu Anday”, the majority of the songs have a satirical tinge or a social message, which the band is adamant about sharing with listeners. With their first single going viral via YouTube and Facebook, Bayghairat Brigade is fast developing a following of everyone from teenagers to intellectuals — this is exactly what the band wants as this will help take their message to different groups in Pakistani society.
“Pakistan is going through a bad time but we are hopeful that the future can be different. Democracy can work in the country and we would encourage all of our fans and followers to vote,” Saeed states.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2011.

Pakistan get off to tentative start in first test after Junaid Khan's heroics

Saeed Ajmal (C) celebrates with teammates after dismissing Sri Lanka's batsman Lahiru Thirimanne (unseen) during the first day of the first cricket Test match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at The Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on October 18, 2011. PHOTO: AFP

ABU DHABI: Pakistan negotiated a tricky half-hour spell to reach stumps on 27 without loss after a five wicket haul by rookie paceman Junaid Khan restricted Sri Lanka to 197 in the first test of the three test match series. 
Khan, buoyed by his maiden haul said that he wanted to fill the void left in Pakistan’s pace attack by the absence of his close friend and one-time bowling partner Mohammad Aamer.
The 21-year-old took a maiden five-wicket haul to help Pakistan dismiss Sri Lanka for a low score of 197 on the opening day of the first Test at Abu Dhabi stadium.
“I will do my best to fill the void and do as well as my team needs,” said Khan, whose 5-38 rocked the formidable Sri Lankan batting. “I am delighted with my effort but all the bowlers did well as no one man can get a team out.”
Khan hails from Abbottabad in North-Western Pakistan, a town where Osama Bin Laden was killed by American Special Forces in May this year, played most of his cricket with Aamer.
The duo, both left-arm pacemen, toured various countries with Pakistan junior teams between 2005 and 2009 before the more talented Aamer was picked for Pakistan’s seniors.
Khan said the pitch at Abu Dhabi stadium was responsive.
“There was a little bit of seam early but otherwise, I used the yorker and mixed the bowling up and it’s pleasing to get them out for a low score,” said Khan, who hoped Pakistan put up 300-350 for a winning lead.
Khan got just one wicket on his debut Test, against Zimbabwe last month.
Khan said legendary Pakistan pacemen Imran Khan and Wasim Akram were his idols but he developed into a good bowler only under Waqar Younis’s coaching.
“I am quite lucky that way. During the World Cup (2011), there was Aaqib Javed and Waqar and alongside them Wasim also gave tips when he came on how to bowl. I started playing cricket only after watching Imran.
“When I went to Lancashire, Wasim used to call me and tell me how to bowl, how to use the conditions,” said Khan. “That stint was very helpful. I learnt there how to seam, how to swing the ball, how to bowl a yorker.”
Earlier Pakistan dismissed Sri Lanka for 197 on the opening day of the first Test at Abu Dhabi stadium here on Tuesday.
Sent into bat, Sri Lanka lost six wickets in the second session before Angelo Mathews chipped in with a fighting 52 not out.
Khan finished with 5-38.
Pakistan surprisingly left out experienced left-arm paceman Wahab Riaz and included rookie Junaid Khan, also a left-armer.
Sri Lanka also kept the same combination, giving 24-year-old paceman Nuwan Pradeep the Test cap, and entering the match with only one specialist spinner in Rangana Herath.
Sri Lankan openers were cautious at the beginning as their first boundary came only in the 14th over when the left-hander Paranavitana drove Hafeez to the cover boundary.
Misbah brought on spinner Hafeez in the eighth over, and he came close to trapping Thirimanne in his first over. But a loud appeal for leg-before was turned down by New Zealand umpire Tony Hill.
Former Sri Lankan captain Sangakkara brought up the fifty with a single, as Pakistan’s pacemen toiled hard under a scorching sun.
The three Test series was shifted to United Arab Emirates after Sri Lanka refused an invitation to tour Pakistan in the wake of terrorists attacks on a military base in Karachi in May this year.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Taufiq Umar, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Adnan Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul, Aizaz Cheema, Junaid Khan.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), Angelo Mathews, Tharanga Paranavitana, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Prasanna Jayawardene, Rangana Herath, Chanaka Welegedara, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep.

Express Tribune.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

What I learnt about life in Karachi

When you first come to live in Karachi, you are a bit anxious about how things are, and often get frustrated easily.  Slowly, however, you learn how to work the city.
Here are some small lessons I have learned:
  • Never talk to society women about where to buy lace; they’ll never shut up.  In fact they’ll talk so much about tailors and boutiques, if you could tap all that energy through some scientific magic, you’d have several gallons of petrol.
  • If you see a woman who gets unusually animated when talking about her tailor, run for your life.
  • Never get upset with a waiter who brings you your samosawith his fingers underneath the plate, and his thumb pressing gently into your food. Just peel off the part he touched, toss it, and enjoy the rest.
  • Never talk to men if you think you can get the job done by talking to a woman. If you do, not only will the job not get done, he will think you desire him.
  • When lost in places far from Clifton and Defence, stop and ask the nearest ricksha wala:
 “Ji, yeh Nipa chowrangi kidhar hai?” (Where is Nipa Chowrangi?)
And if you are really desperate, “Saddar kaunsa road jaata hai, bhaiyya?” (Which road goes to Sadar, brother?)
  • Never get on a flyover –  it will lead you to a never-land where you will encounter Mustafa Kamal who will hug you, and you may never be the same again.
  • If you find yourself walking alone on a road with a motorcycle wala behind you, run, scale a wall, or surprise him with judo.  Whatever you do, be ready for something.
  • Be endearing and call everyone beta.  It may hurt your ego a but remember 75% of the people around you are under 25, and it just helps ease the situation.
  • Don’t be a fool when the waiter brings the bill in a restaurant and say: “Whats 15% of this?” Just shut up and leave a generous tip.
  • Always pay the boys who clean your window.  Its just bad karma to be stingy.
  • If you have an important day coming, do not eat salads, pani puri, or at Mr Burger, Roasters, or Mcdonalds.
  • Trust a hijra about how old you look:
  “Khuda tujhay pyara sa beta day” (May God give you a handsome son) - means you look young and fertile.
“Khuda tujhay Hajj karai’ (May God give you the opportunity to perform pilgrimage) – you look old and respectable.
“Khuda teray naseeb achay karay” (May God give you a happy future) – you look troubled and middle aged.  
  • Never overtake anyone; if they beep at you  from behind you, let them pass.  You never know, they just might shoot you in a drunken rage. And don’t try to stare into Prados with tinted glass for the same reason.
  • If it’s a red light on an isolated road, don’t wait for it to turn green, creep forward, look on all sides, and keep moving.  Otherwise, obey traffic rules.  Do not bribe a police officer; apologize profusely, provide an excuse for talking on the cellphone, and, if need be, accept a citation.
  • People have a very strong relationship with their cellphones. So whatever.
  • Whenever you give directions, always rely on teen talwar, do talwar, and Park Towers, and if its a society lady just tell her:
“You’ve seen Threadz, right?”
  • Never share information about yourself.  If you’ve lived in the US you have probably chatted up the grocery store guy about your college experience, your vacations in Kenya, your first crush, but out here people don’t share personal details. Zip it, and zip up.
  • Remember a mango is not dessert, its a meal
  • Be a slave to fashion.  You don’t need to be an elitist to make sure you are wearing what other people are wearing.  Its easier to blend in and avoid unnecessary tension when you can rattle things from within.
  • Embrace the fact that men and women do not interact with each other in a normal way.  Men and women have segregated social lives.  Accept it, and don’t try to cause ripples.  Change comes slowly.
  • Always trust an intelligent woman on things.
  • Remember some women do wear just undergarments under abayas in case a situation ever comes up.
  • Nachos aren’t really worth it when you have to pay Rs300 for a packet.  Learn to enjoy namak paaray.
  • Get to know your dhobi.  You never know when you’ll need him.
  • Refuse to acknowledge a man trying to give you parking instructions unless it is a good looking Pashtun.
  • Get used to Sunday Bazaar.  You may find it dusty and overwhelming at first, but its a community shopping experience.  Bargain wisely and don’t buy used shoes.
  • If you are in a hurry, don’t start to talk to a group of women about their experiences giving birth.
  • If you’re in a hurry don’t start a conversation about weight.
  • Never trust a man who spends more than five minutes talking about himself or on the book he is writing.
  • Never the trust the world bank, the IMF, the military, the agencies, the feudals, the politicians, Israel, the US, or the capitalists.
  • Remind yourself that you are living in a place with weak regulations – the chicken may have hormones and you won’t know it; the building may not have a fire escape, its elevator may not have been inspected in years.  Always believe that God is on your team.
  • A UPS is essential.  So are ice lollies for children.
  • The guy in the white shalwar kameez and the dark sunglasses is an intelligence guy.

Written by Abira Ashfaq
Express Tribune