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Date:2009-10-18 05:59
Subject:Desolation Row

01 Desolation Row
Originally uploaded by Munawar Hafiz
This shot was taken south of Champaign, after taking a random left turn on IL-45.

When I started driving at 5, I was expecting a beautiful sunset. But as soon as I turned westward, I saw a huge patch of black could on the horizon, which would completely block the sun (That it did). Heartbroken, I started driving south looking for some inspiration. Finally, on a desolated crossroad, I came across this haunted house.

I could imagine it coming straight from a psycho thriller: a perfect hideout for a lunatic. I set my equipments while in the car, came out and took the shot, and went back to my sanctuary (in the car) -- all in 5 minutes. Had there been anybody hiding there, it was ample time for him to plan and attack. What a fool I am !!

Note. This is facing eastward, opposing the sun. But as I mentioned, the setting sun was behind a patch of dark clouds, so no action of the sun, adding to the eeriness of the photo.

Note2. The aspect that I love the most about this photo is that it is a great example of dynamic balance: the way the trees in the vanishing point balance the house in the foreground.

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Date:2009-10-07 02:47

Originally uploaded by Munawar Hafiz
It has been a while since I last made a post. From now on, I will often post my photos in this blog, via Flickr, and tell stories about it.

This was taken yesterday about 10 miles west of Champaign. All day, I had been planning to go out shooting during sunset. The sky was overcast with a lot of clouds, and I expected a glorious sunset.

I was not disappointed. However, the next step was to find a suitable place. The flat midwest and its vast cornfields were not appealing. Then I came across this railway crossing, and I got hooked to it right away.

As I was setting up, a car stopped by me. A guy stopped the car and told me that there is a "mean" German Shepherd around, and he is not very appreciative of visitors. I was pretty scared, and quickly got done with the shot.

It was a windy day. Given another opportunity, I would have takes the shot with a higher ISO (perhaps 320) to cut down some of the wind action. The wind action is not visible here, but I would always wonder how the photo would be with a faster shutter speed.

I used my new polarizer to get this shot, but really it was not needed. Instead it was a pain to manage it. Note to self: use equipments only when necessary.

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Date:2009-07-23 08:10
Subject:Cross Polliniation

I was fooled to think of Microsoft as the good Samaritan when I read this news,

"REDMOND, Wash., July 20, 2009 — Today, in a break from the ordinary, Microsoft released 20,000 lines of device driver code to the Linux community."

It is a significant move made by Microsoft because of two "firsts".

1. First time they are releasing code to Linux community.
2. First time they are releasing it under GPLv2 license.

When asked about the newly submitted codebase, Linus Torvalds commented that, 1) he does not have any issue in welcoming the initiative, 2) he is not interested in the code because he is not interested in device drivers in general, and 3) he acknowledges that it is a selfish attempt.

The third comment irked my interest, as I initially thought that this is a good-natured act from Microsoft. Further exploration revealed that, indeed this effort is solely to serve Microsoft.

What the device driver does is to allow users to virtualize Linux servers with good performance on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V. Since a lot of users are planning to migrate to elsewhere to virtualize Linux server, this device driver is an attempt to stem that exodus.

To be fair, this is a perfectly rational thing for Microsoft to do. After all, who would not want to keep their customer base from moving away? The only thing is that I was foolishly considering it as an unselfish act for a few moments. Silly me.

PS. Another interesting comment that Linus makes is that he only looks at code when it has bugs. It would be a fun story to follow if the device driver introduces some bugs. Maybe someone can smell a sinister plot to infest simple and beautiful Linux code with buggy new code...

PS2. The blog is an excerpt from a recent article on the Linux magazine. Here is the url,

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Date:2009-04-20 22:25
Subject:My Turn

Two years ago, I wrote about the bad design of the Canadian visa form.

They blended two trick questions for which the normal answer is positive, among a long sequence of questions with normally a negative answer. I fell into the trap and answered no for the two 'should have been yes' questions. I had to reapply for the visa. I got the visa eventually.

This year, I am applying again to attend ICSE 2009 to be held in Vancouver next month.

I was extra cautious this time, lest I make mistakes. But to my surprise, I found that they have changed the visa form. Now, they no more have an entanglement of positive and negative questions.

They decided to change the form after a lot of people made the same mistake. Or maybe its just me initiating the change !!!

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Date:2009-04-15 20:36
Subject:Shock and Awe

I was at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) attending a workshop on cyber-security. The workshop was a facade; it was really an opportunity to meet with the funding guys (DoE, NSF, DHS etc) and pamper them so that they remember your name and your work.

A number of these important people went to dinner on Tuesday. I was sitting with program directors from two US national labs, an IEEE fellow and ex-Bell Labs guru, a university professor, and two industry representative. There was one more guy with us: he was the driver of the bus that took everyone from ORNL to the restaurant. As the casual conversation went on, the important people came to know of this fact one after the other. Each had their own way of reacting - some just turned their head and never looked back at the poor guy again, others tried to "dumb down" their conversation but quickly lost interest etc.

One thing was common: they had the shock of their life.

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Date:2009-03-01 23:08
Subject:More live feedback opportunities

My talk at PACAJOT will start in 20 minutes. Please leave your feedback here. Also it would be great if we have a discussion spawning from my talk.

Thanks for your time.

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Date:2009-02-05 09:34
Subject:Live Feedback

My ESSoS 2009 talk starts right now. Please leave your feedback here. Also it would be great if we have a discussion spawning from my talk.

Thanks for your time.

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Date:2008-11-26 16:38

United States Director of National Intelligence controls the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the intelligence community's center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking. It publishes periodical reports on global trends mostly read by experts only, but the one released last week got a lot of attention. Titled "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World", it offers a fresh look at how key global trends might develop over the next 15 years to influence world events. In their own words,

Our report is not meant to be an exercise in prediction or crystal ball-gazing. Mindful that there are many possible "futures," we offer a range of possibilities and potential discontinuities, as a way of opening our minds to developments we might otherwise miss.
==End Quote==

The report got the attention because the media portrayed it as the end of the US dominance. If it is true, what would happen to all the people who come to the US from around the world in search for a better future. It is already a fact that the percentage of people coming from India and China and settling here have dropped considerably because they are now hogging the US jobs and the promise of a better life in their own country. Sure, the social problems exist in China and India, but the affluence will likely improve the situation.

It is a myth, that when a ship is about to sink, rats sense it first and leave the ship. Have the "rats" in the USA already sensed something?

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Date:2008-11-14 02:05

I have just finished watching the movie 'Bow Barracks Forever', a 2004 Bangla film directed by Anjan Dutt. The synopsis goes like this,

Bow Barracks Forever is a film about the triumph of the human spirit. It is not easy to fight back the march of progress. Anjan Dutt's film, simple, powerful, almost pleading for hope, captures the real life story of a tiny but resolute Anglo Indian community right in the heart of bustling north Kolkata trying desperately to keep alive its hopes, dreams, aspirations-and its identity, as the world around them changes swiftly and tries to impose that change on them and their lives.

This is just about one of the worst summaries I have ever come across. The beauty of the film is not about the change (it is a 2004 movie, otherwise I could have commented that it is also claiming to portray 'change', an often-used and abused term these days), but about how life goes on and keeps everyone together as the world falls apart around you. You barely notice the outside world portrayed in the movie, instead it stays focused on the hustle and bustle of Bow Barracks and the intricacies in the lives of its motley inhabitants. It is almost a beautiful collage drawn by a painter who concentrates of each part equally, but draws some parts that are more prominent than the others.

Most importantly, the movie is about finding your roots and sticking to it. The Barrack households seem to be dissatisfied with their present, each trying to break free from the shackles in his/her own way. Aunt Emily Lobo, has been calling her son Ken living in London every day for the last four years, asking her son to take her to London but the son never answers the phone or calls back. The loose-character Rosa seeks comfort in an illicit affair, and plans to leave Melville, her husband, with another guy. Anne, tortured by her smuggler husband Tom, plans to elope with Bradley, her boy toy. 

The only person that sticks to the Barrack throughout the movie is Peter the Cheater (so masterfully portrayed by Victor Bannerjee). He cheats people by selling old stuff claiming a antique value, or chilling water in the fridge and selling it as wine. He plays a brilliant trumpet. At first, his claims of denying a Mumbai music industry fortune to stay back at the Barracks sound like another lie. But as the movie unfolds, his character grows from strength to strength. And the others around him go full circle, realizing their roots tied to the dilapidated building. In the meantime, people come to the Barracks, people leave, all the time something keeps on happening in the frenzied barracks, but the life never changes, nor does the characters want to change. Only the realization of their roots bring them closer....

Note. I can critique a lot of things of the movie, some of the casting could have been better, the sound mixing is horrible (very surprising for an Anjan Dutt movie, especially since it has a great soundtrack), some of the melodrama could have been shed. But all in all, my impression is that I sat to watch the movie with little expectation, and I ended up with a heavy heart feeling for my roots.

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Date:2008-10-19 18:28
Subject:A conference without a purpose

OOPSLA is losing its glamor every year. Last year, the conference organizer's took penny-pinching to a new level. But, what happened on this year's first day would set a new standard.

There is no Internet in the conference center !! Well. there is connection in only in one room, but that is 56K! To have a computer engineering conference without Wi-Fi is unbelievable and unacceptable. Outside that room, you have to buy Wi-Fi access for $10 per day. $10 for 56K is a ridiculous proposition.

I planned to have a live feedback session for my OOPSLA tutorial, but nobody responded. It is reasonable to expect that the attendees would only give feedback when the tutorial is fresh in their mind, i.e. when they are attending the tutorial. But who would pay $10 to do that? So, no feedback for you !!

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Date:2008-10-19 13:24
Subject:Security: Philosophy, Patterns and Practices

My OOPSLA tutorial starts now. Please put your comments here.

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Date:2008-09-29 01:29
Subject:The end of pair programming ?!

Scott Ambler is looking at agile practices in companies, hundreds of them, and identifying what works and what does not. His talk can be seen at,

"Agile in Practice: What Is Actually Going On Out There?"
Scott Ambler

The big surprises are pair programming and test driven design (TDD). According to Scott, the number of programmers, who think that pair programming hurts user productivity, is consistently on the rise. Many organizations are also starting to harbor their reservations against it. As for TDD, Scott shows numbers that people are doing more modeling up-front than ever and they are getting less and less interested about the very un-organized test driven design approach. They don't want to feel like a bunch of hackers; instead they want to model design with (in decreasing order of popularity) high level diagrams, detailed diagrams, detailed documentation and acceptance tests.

Things like UI refactoring and database refactoring are also becoming out-of-practice, but these changes are easier to grasp than pair programming or TDD.

His talk also has some interesting numbers, that highlight the dichotomy between theory and practice. Perhaps, there are loopholes in his studies that produce some surprising results, but his work guides towards empirical studies and finding factual numbers, something that software engineering is badly in need of.

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Date:2008-09-24 16:04
Subject:Real Life Security Lesson (Or How Sarah Palin's Yahoo Account was Hacked)

Perhaps, everyone knows about the story that Sarah Palin's Yahoo mail account was hacked a few days ago. Here's how.

1. The hacker first tried to access the account but he did not have the password. He tried a dummy password.
2. Yahoo gave the hacker an option to retrieve password. He said yes.
3. Yahoo asked three personal questions. First the birth date. This information available in the public domain, e.g. Wikipedia. It took 20 seconds.
4. The second question was the zip code of her birthplace. Alaska has only two zip codes. It took another 20 seconds.
5. The third one was tricky and supposed to be personal. "Where did you meet your husband?" Everybody knows that it was her high school. The hacker thought carefully and tried several options. Finally, "Wasilla High" was a hit.
6. The hacker got the password. He changed it to 'popcorn'.

It took 10-15 minutes of relatively easy work to get it all done.
This is how secure we are in the Internet !!!

Note. A possible solution for this would be an 'Account Lockout' mechanism. An attacker tries to guess someone's password, but after a  certain number of attempts the account gets locked.

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Date:2008-09-23 16:53
Subject:Politically correct

My colleague Paul and I were highly motivated by the classic paper "On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace". We wanted to identify many of the rhetorics that are perpetuated by researchers, but seldom used in practice. Our focus was on Web Services; what researchers wish would work, and what actually works. In order to do this, we studied a lot of Web Services to understand the design principles behind them. However, we failed to publish our papers, mostly because the researchers took them personally and lambasted our blasphemous attempt without providing any reason. Some of them, though, were kind to offer a reason that our language was very politically charged and what we should really do is to sugar-coat the truth in order to publish.

Then, I read the classic paper "On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace" again. The neutrality in the writing was astounding considering the sensitivity of the topic (For those who have not read the paper, it is about big endianness vs little endianness in byte ordering). Like the real world, researchers believe that you cannot sound like a bigot when you are expressing your idea. But, this outlines another instance of dichotomy between theory and practice - in real world bigotry exists and it is even celebrated.

The findings of any research are bound to hit some nerves. If your effort is to study some long-standing beliefs, it will hit more. At one point, almost everything sounds politically charged. Perhaps, we are not as adept as D. Cohen to impose neutrality on our writing. But, that does not make our findings useless. As Galileo said about the rotation of earth, "But it does move."

D. Cohen. On Holy Wars and a plea for peace. IEEE Computer magazine, October 1981.

We studied how people wrongly use HTTP protocol in practice, and its consequences. Another study was about the dichotomy in the theory and practices of Web services: how researchers concentrate on SOAP services remaining blissfully ignorant about the people in the industry building RESTful services.

Reading the entry one final time, it appears that I am very emotional in defending our work. This bias is exactly what I should try to hide in my writings.

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Date:2008-09-10 17:54
Subject:God's Great Secret

The cheering began at 8.32, when the first particles were detected snaking around the first three kilometres (1.9 miles) of the 27km (17mile) LHC ring. By 8.55, it was halfway around the track, which will soon be used to smash protons and lead ions against each other at 99.9999991 per cent of the speed of light. At 9.28, only 56 minutes after the start-up, came the champagne moment — the double trace showing that the beam had completed the first of countless trillions of laps that will explain many of the enduring mysteries of the Universe.
By recreating the environment of the dawn of time, the LHC will detect phenomena that have never before been observed. It should find the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” that theory suggests gives matter its mass, but which has never been found.
==End Quote==


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Date:2008-08-15 03:16
Subject:Second Wife

My appetite for good photographs started a couple of months ago; it was one of life's serendipities. What intrigued me was Dick Gabriel's advertisement of his new workshop at OOPSLA 2008. Titled "Extravagaria IV: Photographing Conferences", the intent of the workshop is to train a band of people into photography and collectively learning photo composition, exposing, and post processing. Incidentally, a couple of friends here were already into photography and I was seeing the good work that they were doing. But the real passion was ignited that afternoon with the post. I remember the afternoon; time flew as I was sitting in my living room browsing and trying to learn about cameras, exposure, composition, lens, filters and what not - all at the same time.

I bought a Nikon D80 a month later. By that time, I was a theoretical expert in photography - I have read a bunch of books without ever testing the theories. It took a few days to get comfortable with the camera, and I know that it will take a long time (and hard work) to be any good, but the passion that I feel talking about photography is unparallel. One of my friends told Farhana after I bought the camera, that it is almost similar to marrying a second wife. An exaggeration indeed, but the closeness that I feel to my camera and the accessories can only compare to the passion that I feel for my near and dear ones. And the photos are almost like my children - I want to make them as beautiful as I can and each of them is a favorite.

Note. It would be a sin to finish this post without a baby picture. I have started a photo blog in tumblr. Here is the plug.

Note2. Information about Dick Gabriel's workshop.
Extravagaria IV: Photographing Conferences
Oct 19, 2008
8:30 - 17:00
I would  not be able to attend the workshop, because I would be busy with other stuff. But I will be forever indebted to it because it pointed me to another love of my life.

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Date:2008-06-30 06:04
Subject:Life without Bill

Today, Microsoft will have its first office day without Bill Gates at the helm. I wonder how it will be like to be a Microsoft employee? Perhaps, spend the day in freedom and contribute to a few more bugs...

Note. That was a cheap shot. I salute the achievements of Mr William H Gates.

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Date:2008-06-29 13:19
Subject:Prediction - Euro 2008 Final

My prediction for the final today - today will finally be the Fernando Torres day that everyone has been expecting from the start of the tourney.

Final score:
I hope, Spain wins 2-1. (This is not a prediction though).

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Date:2008-06-11 16:06

Every time a team loses in any sports, there are losses incurred at several levels. It seems difficult to measure the exact amount of the loss. But Polish experts managed to produce a ballpark figure of the loss -- 50 million zlotys (equivalent to 14.7 million euros or 23 million dollars). Here's the calculation appearing in the daily  Rzeczpospolita (Polish, English translation ?? [Help, anyone?]),

Poland's daily GDP is five billion zlotys. If you consider that the loss in productivity was 10 percent and that 10 percent of professionally active people are interested in football, you get that figure.
==End Quote==

Note. More on this,

Note2. Another take on the 10 percent is here,
"Psychologists and labor production experts estimated that each Polish football fan spent at least 15 minutes discussing Sunday's match, and the frustration of defeat lowered productivity by at least 10 per cent."
==End Quote==

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Date:2008-06-02 04:15
Subject:Addicted to Spamming

Our university changed the domain name used for mails; xyz@uiuc.edu will now be identified by xyz@illinois.edu. I tried to think about the benefits of this shift, because they are spending a lot of money behind the effort. Frankly, I could not find any !!!

Then it came to me.

Our chancellor will be sending a number of massmails publicizing the change and its several phases. He is already famous for his very frequent massmails; the slightest thing happens in the campus and he pulls the trigger on another massmail. To think that the chancellor will go through all this just to send massmails sound ridiculous, but we all know what addiction makes out of you.

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