LATW Episode 19 (August 1–September 30, 2012)

Photo Gallery

mars

Curiosity proves that 2-megapixels is enough

shuttle-endeavour

Space Shuttle Endeavour hitching a ride atop a 747

scientists

29 of the most iconic scientists, in color

Science

doppler_effect

When physics comes to the rescue

ice

It takes 275 water molecules to make ice

Computing

Pen Friends

Feelings are best left in the hazy existence of the mind. That’s the motto I have always lived by. That’s why I rarely write about personal topics. But today is going to be different. Reminiscing is nice, but I feel I need to write in order to do justice to the memories of some wonderful people I have met.

I don’t know how many of you can relate to this. Back in the day, before Facebook and Hi5 existed, people could meet new friends on e-pal sites. I don’t even think such a concept exists anymore. We rarely interact online with people outside our circles. Even among those who do, most of them are only interested in people with provocative profile pictures. There was a time when people didn’t care how their friends looked. It was a time before short-conversations over twitter and chat. People used to take time out of their lives to actually write you an email, or even post a letter.

Although with time we have grown apart, I feel extremely lucky to have had a couple of amazing pen-friends. So here’s to you YanDream and Jhum, hope this post brings back good memories and smiles on your faces.

Yandream, I always knew that wasn’t your real name. But I remember you explaining to me that “dream” is what your name means in Chinese. 29 emails from way back in 2005 is all that I have to remind me of you. You were the first person to actually write me a letter. That was awesome of you. In this era, nothing spells friendship more than a hand-written letter. From what I gathered from Facebook and Google, you have made true all the things you used to talk about. Really makes me proud seeing all your fantastic photography and design. Keep up the great work Meng !

Jhum, Jhum, Jhum, I have many things to say about you. You are my oldest and longest running e-pal. Reading through my emails I realized how much of my life I have shared with you. I claim to lead a robotic existence and not share anything with any one. But with you I shared everything from my love life to career-aspirations. In a way, you were my first personal blog. You were the first (and only) e-pal I have talked over phone. You are always one click away on Facebook. I pray I can get off my lazy butt once in a while and write a good long mail to me.

That’s it. I feel much better already. I don’t know if I will hear from any of you. But just know that you are part of what made my childhood awesome.

Best Wishes

Shahriar

LATW Episode 18 (July 1 – July 31, 2012)

Video


Robbie – A Short Film By Neil Harvey from Neil Harvey on Vimeo.

The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Science

Computing

Social Commentary: Qatar Modesty Campaign

One of Us

I have started a new section in my blog called “Social Commentary” where I hand-pick comments from various social media sites on a widely discussed current topic and compile them in an article. The compilation is by no means unbiased. I select comments from both sides of the argument based on how well it made me question my reasoning.

[quote style="boxed"]I’m very shocked and disappointed by by this. The Gulf states are Islamic states and many laws and practices are put in place to maintain religious values. It’s strange how these religious values suddenly fly out the window when it comes to treatment and conditions of the workers.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]It is not so much a matter of what clothes one wears, but where one wears them, said Al Ameri. “You couldn’t wear a short shirt in a mall, but you could maybe wear a short shirt in a private club or private restaurant where it complies with the dress code.”[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]On social media and Qatari networking sites, some foreign women who have both applauded and denounced the modesty movement said they think time would be better spent campaigning to enforce laws that could save lives, for example fining people who smoke in areas where lighting up is banned, or requiring the use of seat belts.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]Others have suggested that stores in the Gulf could sell more “local-friendly” dresses, skirts and the like. The high-end clothing stores on the Pearl in Doha, Qatar, do not generally stock many clothes that would be considered acceptable women’s wear in public spaces in the country. Trying to find a shop that sells a dress that has both sleeves and a hem that hits below the knees proved difficult. The same could be said for many of the clothes for sale at the H&M in the local Qatari malls. “This is so bad,” said Al Mahmoud, who is also trying to raise awareness at clothing stores by asking that their advertisements and window displays be culturally appropriate.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]I have mixed feelings about this. It’s legitimate that locals have concerns about expats not dressing modestly. But given the fact that Qatar was given an abysmal human rights report this week, I really think the country should be focusing on that more. Worker conditions are DEPLORABLE in Qatar, and 10 men sharing a room and bathroom is WAY more indecent than someone wearing a tank top in a mall! People need to understand that people who cover themselves aren’t necessarily good people. I’ve seen women in full abayas treat their maids and drivers like animals. These posters should read “DON’T ABUSE YOUR MAID” and “PAY YOUR EMPLOYEES EACH MONTH, NOT EVERY 6 MONTHS.” How are expats supposed to respect a clothing practice when the locals can’t respect human lives? Every day these workers are degraded on a daily basis and this is NOT acceptable. This campaign is really distracting people from bigger and more important issues. A woman can be head to foot in black wearing the most modest outfit imaginable but if she treats those less fortunate in a horrible way then she might as well not wearing anything. These ladies need to understand the meaning of public decency before they start trying to educate people about it.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]Think about this: if you invite someone to your home and that person is dressed indecently and disrespected your house and your family, will you invite this person again? wouldn’t you feel disgusted that such a person ever put foot in your house and had been close to your family?
The group One of Us is inviting people to dress appropriately, why is so disturbing about dressing decently?I haven’t been in Quatar, but if one day I go, I will see myself dressed like an elegant,well educated and raised Western woman should dress.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]I understand and respect what you’re saying. The problem I have with this campaign is that it’s a bit stereotyping – basically the message is that those who wear revealing clothing are immoral and indecent. It’s a bit hypocritical to do this when Qatar has a big problem with human rights. There are many girls in spaghetti straps and short skirts that have a better heart and compassionate personality than those that fully cover. People shouldn’t be judged by clothing, but obviously there are limits, and me personally I respect it. I wouldn’t be one of those girls that wore revealing clothing in a place like Qatar, because they place importance on modest dress and it’s their country. But really this isn’t the biggest problem facing the country at all.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]I don’t see too much of a problem here. In my opinion it’s a bit of an exaggeration having to cover up that much.But it’s a matter of taste. There are “laws” in spannish cities like barcelona too. Who prohibit too revealing clothes. Because they were fed up with tourists walking around the town in basically bathing suits.
You’ll find plenty a topic where it says “barcelona bans bikini on its streets”. So it’s not so alien but it’s a matter of taste and trying to find a fine line between culture and fashion. I think the veil debate is a bit complex where the reason why it’s forbidden is because other people force the use. The laws really aim to prohibit people forcing others to wear them. However since that’s impossible. To gage intent and free choice. In any case i don’t think you need to mix that debate up in this.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]A lot of people who are not Qataris are annoyed by the way some people living here dress. In fact, from my own personal experience the people who are most upset at the indecent attire targeted by this campaign are the Muslim Westerners who came to Qatar looking for an Islamic environment to raise their families. Even many of my Westerner friends who are not Muslims have expressed their shock at some of the attires they see here. As for public smoking & reckless driving, you won’t hear me arguing against campaigns that target them. However, once again it is important to remember that there are non-Qataris who do both. I doubt any of the ladies behind this campaign are smokers. Smoking in public is, especially, something that many people have complained about in the local Arabic newspapers, but sadly, the responsible authorities have not taken interest in these complaints. I would very much be in support of a campaign for the enforcement of the ban on smoking in public areas.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]I think it’s an interesting and worthy discussion. Unfortunately I don’t have an opportunity to interact with local women on a personal but I was wondering why so many seem to “de-throbe” at the airport or on the plane when leaving Qatar? How come their modesty, religion, ethnicity or their husband’s attitude changes once they are in the sky? On my last flight there was a queue and out they popped in designer tight jeans and cleavage tops! It’s not a criticism just trying to understand more.
This is a tricky issue for ex-pat women here as being “modest” is relative. And there are lots of mixed messages. You may see a young Muslim woman wearing a Shayla, a long, loose skirt, and the tightest long-sleeve shirt you’ve ever seen, leaving little to the imagination. And men wear tight t-shirts, tight skinny jeans, and shirts with the first three buttons open showing their chest. I think this campaign should not be aimed at everyone, not just at ex-pat women.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]Everybody has different views of what decent dress is so here we have guidelines for how Qatar views it. Isn’t that a good thing? I have read over and over again that people would follow a dress code if they only knew what it was. In a society where single men are a majority I think I would love my daughter, wife or sister to take care when dressing in order not to attract undue attention from men who have not seen their wives for years.Hailing from the UK I find it refreshing to find ladies (majority at least – there are always exceptions to every rule) dressing in a more modest way. We only have to look at our sisters in nunneries to see what we really truly see as the epitome of modest dress. We wouldn’t put the Virgin Mary in a short skirt and low top now would we? God forbid! I think perhaps as westerners we need to examine whether what we see as modest really is or is it just that we ourselves have become victims of being politically correct.Call me old fashioned but I like the way the practicing Muslims dress.[/quote]

[quote style="boxed"]Preserving culture is good. Not against this. I do object to the term decency however. This is a judgmental word and the issue of decency is subjective. I also don’t really accept the idea that women are walking around practically nude (no nudity?). That’s kind of an extreme statement. So, sadly, the campaign comes across as being demeaning to others. That isn’t to say that culture and religion in Qatar should not be recognized and respected. I’m just saying that maybe the words being used should have been thought out a bit more. The impression I am left with is that by not complying with the rules, a person is not showing class, seen as indecent and lacking values.[/quote]

LATW Episode 17 (May 15 – June 30, 2012)

Web Video Box Office


Image Gallery

Long exposure photo from ISS

Science & Technology

Computing

LATW Episode 16 (April 15 – May 15, 2012)

Web Video Box Office

Cool sound and water experiment

 

Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm

 

Computing

Science & Technology

Challenges of pursing a CS degree at the CMU Qatar campus

Last Monday I went to the Qatar National Convention Center to attend the senior convocation. In the dinner banquet that followed I was fortunate enough to share the table with a gentleman who was on the advisory board of CMU alongside two other rising seniors. Given his position, the gentleman naturally asked us if we had any feedback about the Qatar campus. I was afraid that the three of us would commence a long rant about the horrors of the CS program. But what followed was a very well-structured explanation of what’s wrong in the CS program offered in Qatar. In fact, the explanation was so good that I decided to summarize it over here in this blog post.

Inability to offer classes to meet all curriculum requirements

This is by and large, the biggest problem CS students face on the Qatar campus. A good number of students walking at the convocation this year, will not get a degree because of this problem alone. The culprit in almost all of these cases is the Science Lab requirement. As per the curriculum,  CS students have to take 4 science courses, one of them being a science lab course. For a long time the Qatar campus has not been able to offer the lab requirement. Students were advised to cross register with Texas A&M/Cornell or spend a semester abroad in Pittsburgh to meet this requirement. For many students, neither of these options were feasible because of schedule clashes, or the unwillingness to study abroad. To be completely honest, the university did plan to offer lab courses many times. But for many consecutive semesters, these courses were canceled due to low number of registrations, or other logistic reasons. Even when the occasional Biology/Chemistry/Psychology lab was offered, students often found themselves unable to enroll in them because of not meeting pre-requirements. I understand, that this is a new campus and it will take time to iron out all the issues, but if there is consistently an issue with a single requirement, there should be a simple solution to offer a permanent class or waive the requirement all-together.

Ever changing elective requirements

This is one of those problems that affects both the campuses, but is aggravated over here because of the lack of choices for electives. The CS curriculum requires students to complete on course each to meet the Algorithms and Logic electives. In the Pittsburgh campus, there are about half a dozen choices for each of these electives. However, even one course for each elective is not offered consistently. Different visiting faculty often attempt to offer a different course every year, and the CS department tries to shoe-horn these courses to meet the elective requirements. Whenever, the schedule of classes is published every semester, it is often impossible to get a straight answer from academic advisors as to what requirements these new classes meet. The confusion surrounding this matter sometimes continues well after students have already started attending classes. Again, this does not seem like a very difficult problem to solve. Any debate about which requirement a course meets should be resolved before the schedule of classes is published and should be clearly documented.

Lack of a roadmap for future course offerings

This is somewhat related to the previous to. But I thought it deserves some special attention. As I said before, there are lab courses that are canceled right before the semester, unexpected lab courses for which students don’t have pre-requisites for, and even courses that switch to a different category during the semester. The situation regarding minors is even more unclear. The only thing for certain is that students can minor in BA and IS. With varying number of cross-registered/main campus courses, it is possible to minor in Maths and Design. Students have done it before. But only those students will be able to tell you what work-around they needed for the minor. Walk up to your advisor and ask for a suggested course sequence for a minor in X, chances are your advisor will be just as clueless as you are. Given all these complications, it is very difficult for a student to plan out a 4 year degree plan. What the CS program desperately needs is a roadmap of course offerings. I understand that there are many unforeseen factors. But I think a one-year or two-year roadmap of course-offerings is a reasonable demand.

Others

Besides these we also talked about other problems from our own experience. But they were mostly subjective in nature. That’s why I decided to file them under “others” and talk only about the most common of the issues. Given the dramatically small class sizes in CS, students get a lot of face time with professors both in and outside of class. While this could have been potentially beneficial, professors seem to abuse the extra face time by openly discussing poor grades, resulting in poor academic morale in an already challenging undergraduate program.

 

I was very happy to see the gentleman taking notes of all our feedback. I hope he gets the chance to bring them up someday and truly make a difference for prospective students.

LATW Episode 15 (March 1 – April 15, 2012)

Web Video Box Office

ship

100 years of ships

wind

Perpetual Ocean

Science & Technology

Computing

Qatar’s emerging technology scene

Every now and then a senior year student asks me “Do you know of any companies that are hiring computer science graduates?” Or the parent of a prospective student asks me, “Should I let my daughter study Information Systems, is there really a market for this major?”

I try to answer with as much enthusiasm as I can gather. I tell them about the tons of internships students do each year. I tell them about myself, about how I got myself into General Electric. As long as I talk, I can see a glow in their eyes. But it is very short-lived. I know as soon as I leave, they’ll start to have doubts again. I wish I could point people to a resource that they could browse at the comfort of their homes and use to make informed decisions about themselves or their children.

I believe there is a big gap between what the citizens of Qatar believe about the job market, and how it really is. And it’s really a matter of shame. Qatar has been investing in its knowledge based economy for about a decade now. To make this investment worthwhile, we need to close this gap from both sides. We need a platform to let students know what’s happening in Qatar’s technology scene, and we need the tech-companies to know more about students, their curriculum, their research, their projects etc..

All this is about to change with “Emerging Technologist”, a one of a kind internet show aimed at bridging the gap between Qatar’s tech industry and its world-class academia. Over the course of the next few months ET will:

  • Chase down working graduates from leading universities in Qatar and interview them about their jobs, their experience and their ambitions.
  • Collaborate with professors to get some insight on academic research and have students describe their contribution.
  • Interview potential employers and build detailed job profiles ahead of the career fair season.
  • Maintain up-to-date records of internship and full-time employment details of students majoring in tech.
  • Go on a university-level talent hunt looking for budding technology entrepreneurs with interesting personal projects.

The show is currently going through the planning phase for season 1. The current team consists of recent graduates, seniors and juniors from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. To be able to produce this show successfully we’ll need talented students to direct, record and edit our short episodes. The team is also looking for student contacts in TAMUQ, QU and CNAQ to expand our coverage to all technology domains.

If you are interested in a semester-long engagement, or willing to brainstorm with us over the summer, drop us an email, or follow us on:

emergingtechnologist@gmail.com

http://emergingtechnologist.tumblr.com

LATW Episode 14 (February 1 – February 29, 2012)

Video Box Office

starry_night

Interactive Starry Night

needle

Water droplets orbiting a needle

Photo of the month

guess

Guess the subject of the photograph

Science

Computing