Where is Bahria Town Karachi? Is it a scam? Is it Naya Nazimabad?

Bahria Town

Bahria Town has opened registration for three projects in Karachi

  • Bahria Town Icon
  • Bahria Town Tower
  • Bahria Town Karachi

The registration fees are range from Rs. 15,000 for Bahria Town Karachi to Rs.100,000 for Bahria Town Icon. In case of former Rs.5,000 is non-refundable processing fee and in case of latter, processing fee is Rs.15,000. Balance of payment can be used towards installment credit if you are successful in booking yourself an apartment. This is a registration fee and not booking fee as Bahria puts a disclaimer on its website

Disclaimer: This is not the sale of the project but entitles you to the right of booking at the time of project launch.

Emaar Properties Logo
Emaar Properties Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The registration process is right out of Emaar’s sales strategy or may be Emaar picked it up from Bahria Town as I recall a similar run for Bahria Town application forms somewhere in 2003-2005. The form used to have a five rupee note attached to it with serial number of rupee note matching the serial number of the form and the form alone used to sell at premium. I used to work in a bank in Pakistan at the time and I remember receiving requests from many corporate clients who were millionaires themselves if I can get them an application form.

You can read about Emaar’s abuse of such tactics in Dubai and its role in Dubai bubble here.

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Compared to rest of country, Karachi has a few peculiarities:

There is real shortage of affordable housing in Karachi. Most people find themselves in a position that they cannot afford a decent house or flat in cash or even on mortgage. There are no reputable builders working in Karachi that have a track record as Bahria Town for delivering projects in Lahore and Islamabad. So when Bahria Town announces a project which people deem would provide them with affordable housing or even a quick buck by flipping it to people who are genuinely searching for affordable housing, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

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Malik Riaz, owner of Bahria Town, is a crook when buying or occupying land but when it comes to selling houses or projects to its clients, I have only heard good things about Bahria Town from its residents. But that has just been the experience of people I know. Other people might have had a different experience.

However his crookedness knows no bounds:

Bahria Town encroached 1,400 kanals of CDA land: Report

ISLAMABAD – Though the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has submitted a report to the Suddle Commission which states that around 1,400 kanals of civic agency’s land located in Zone-IV has been encroached by Bahria Town…..

“In the report we have mentioned two ways how CDA would resolve the encroachment issue with the Bahria Town. Bahria Town will be given two options, either to vacate the land or pay the price of encroached land,” said an official who prepared report.

“Bahria Town will be charged Rs 12 million per Kanal. It is the same price that the Authority has earlier charged against one kanal of land in the Park Enclave,” official said. This shows that according to CDA’s estimates Bahria Town has encroached land worth Rs 16.8 billion.

Official sources said that Bahria Town had already started selling commercial plots carved out on encroached land.

Then there was a time when Malik Riaz duped even the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Pakistani nation into believing that he will be building world’s tallest tower in Karachi.

Abu Dhabi Group to invest $45 billion in Pakistan

ABU DHABI: Former chairman and present consultant of Bahria Town, Malik Riaz Hussain has signed an agreement with His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, Chairman Abu Dhabi Group, Union National Bank and United Bank Limited under which $45 billion will be invested in Pakistan.

The investment will be made in various construction projects, and is the biggest-ever foreign investment in Pakistan. Out of the total investment value, $10 billion will be invested in Islamabad and Lahore whereas $35 billion will be invested in Sindh.

The story was given critical examination only by Amir Mateen in The Spokesman as Malik Riaz had bought all the other newspapers with full page announcements and advertisements

The biggest-ever media con

Is this funny, sad or simply stupid. The clarification by Abu Dhabi Group about their alleged $45 billion investment in Pakistan may have exposed lots of things — and lots of people. One Malik Riaz of Bahria Town for sure.

He virtually conned the Abu Dhabi Group, Pakistani media and the public. We already knew about his hold on the Pakistani media….The Bahria advertisements worth billions of rupees have simply blinded media owners who ensure that nothing is published against Bahria Town.

The announcement of a whopping $45 billion investment in Pakistan was a dream-come-true story. This too at a time when nobody wants to invest a penny in Pakistan, and half of my foreign friends want to send their mothers-in-law for ‘sight-seeing’ in FATA.

It was simply mind-blowing. The UAE sacrificed its pride for having the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. And because Malik charmed them so well, they let Karachi have the honour. Apart from building the world’s tallest building in Karachi, the other attractions included a financial hub, sports city, international city, media city, educational and medical City, miniatures of the world’s seven wonders. It was amply flashed that “these projects would employ more than 2.5 million people and boost more than 55 industries like cement, bricks, iron, steel and glass.”

The so-called most credible English newspaper went a step ahead by giving a joint dateline of Karachi and Islamabad instead of Dubai. It added colour to the story by quoting a Karachi magnate, of course on the condition of anonymity, that the construction site would be “Kutta Island,” which is 3 to 4-km off the coast of Karachi. It went a step further than what Malik Riaz had claimed, informing readers that “the Abu Dhabi Group-Malik Riaz would, apart from the above mentioned projects, also launch into building of 125,000 houses on the island.” (sic)

Not a single journalist bothered to even check if there was any news of this sort on any website of the UAE companies or whether Sheikh Nahayan had actually said those words. The half-page advertisement on newspapers’ front pages, showing Malik shaking hands with the Sheikh seem to have blinded everything. Or perhaps they were told not to test their editorial discretion.

My Dubai friend, knowing Bahria’s leverage on Pakistani media, could understand that the news got carried on the first day. “But how about the five days after that,” he asked, confused. “Why nobody followed-up on the story that was supposed to be the biggest investment in the country’s history.”It turns out that the Abu Dhabi Group and the UAE government was aghast at the development. But since they have lots of investment here they did not want to embarrass Pakistanis.

Obviously, the Dubai rulers knew they were duped into that photo-up and their reputation was being used for petty benefits. It is easy to understand the benefits. This kind of news changed the scenario for Malik Riaz. He was being hounded by the courts in numerous cases, some of them seriously heinous. He was in conflict with LDA over opening new housing schemes in Lahore without permission. He was also in conflict with the army for land dispute with DHA that affects thousands of former army officers and jawans. All of this may have shaken the public confidence in his housing projects. In monetary terms this could mean a loss of billions of rupees for him. Such news about building the tallest building in Karachi is worth a lot though.

But you don’t get to where Malik Riaz is without having nerves of steel. The Abu Dhabi group story is dated 16 Feb 2013. IWhen the story finally broke down that there was no Abu Dhabi Group behind the fantastical project after a week, Malik Riaz went and got himself another savior. The following story is dated March 12, 2013.

Pakistan’s 1st Island City: Bahria Town signs $20b deal with US tycoon

ISLAMABAD: American real-estate tycoon Thomas Kramer and Bahria Town CEO Ahmed Ali Riaz Malik signed a $20 billion agreement for Pakistan’s first-ever Island City, Bundal & Buddo Islands, Karachi.

A joint consortium of international investors will join hands to develop this project and the deal with Kramer is the first level of this agreement. Announcement of other global investors from the Middle East and around the globe will be made soon.

Covering 12,000 acres of land, this project will be developed in a span of 5-10 years but the residential communities will start being handed over to people in 2016. The global attractions of the project comprise world’s tallest building, world’s largest shopping mall, sports city, educational & medical city, international city and a media city – all having the most modern facilities and amenities and the most advanced infrastructure.

So the project moves from Kutta Island to Buddu and Bundal Island yet still no newspaper questions its credibility. However, Malik Riaz had wisened this time. He even involved Thomas Kramer in this scam as evident from Thomas Kramer’s own website. It is reproduced in full below just to give you a flavor of what happens when one con artist meets another con artist (they may have been successful developers earlier but recently both Riaz and Kramer are acting more like con artists).

Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

A bold step was made for the future of Pakistan: Its biggest real estate tycoon Malik Riaz was able to convince the US-German real estate visionary Thomas Kramer to jointly develop the first Island City off the coast of Karachi, named Bundle & Buddo Islands.

A spokesman of Bahria Town expressed what an honor it was to join hands with a entrepreneur of Thomas Kramer’s caliber: After all, the “quick change artist,” as Thomas Kramer is described in a recent New York Times article, has a reputation for knowing how to get impossible things done.

In the early 90’s Thomas Kramer took a helicopter ride over South Beach and had a vision: to create an international hot spot on the Southern tip of Miami Beach. What happened there, in less than a decade is absolutely mind boggling. The area was then a slum and full of dilapidated buildings. Thomas Kramer invited 11 world-renowned architectural firms to his world famous Charette. With his vision and foresight, he pioneered luxury living in Florida by transforming the once-blighted neighborhood of Miami Beach “South of 5th” into a sophisticated world-class destination.

Newspaper Karachi Master 2 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

Thomas Kramer’s South Beach Vision and South Beach today

Almost five years ago, Thomas Kramer met Malik Riaz in Islamabad where he invited him to visit his developments in South Beach.A year and a half later, Thomas Kramer was able to welcome Malik Riaz to 5 Star Island, his luxurious mansion. Malik Riaz was highly impressed by the degree of efficiency, innovation and quality that he saw in Thomas Kramer’s projects. Actually seeing the realization of a world-class development is better than any PDF presentation.

Newspaper Karachi Master 3 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

Mailk Riaz and TK visiting Apogee Towers in Miami Beach in front of Portofino Tower

Convinced that he found the right man for the job, Malik Riaz invited Thomas Kramer back to Pakistan where he offered him the use of a helicopter to spot potential development sites along the coastline. After days of inspection flights, Thomas Kramer was most impressed by the beauty of a chain of unoccupied islands, roughly 16,000 acres, located 2 miles outside of Karachi and just 12 miles away from Jinnah International Airport.

Most striking to him are the similarities between the Island of Karachi and Miami Beach in terms of climate and vegetation – obvious when comparing historic Miami Beach pictures, prior to its development in the early 20th century, with the Island of Karachi today.

Newspaper Karachi Master 4 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

View of the Island of Karachi today and Miami Beach in 1910

 Finally, through unwavering persistence, Malik Riaz was able to secure a 100-year lease with an automatic additional 100-year lease renewal option on this land. Having signed the initial contract in March 2013 (The Express Tribune), both parties are now ready to bring their vision a high-end, self-sufficient waterfront hot spot to life.

Newspaper Karachi Master 5 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

Ali and Malik Riaz signing MoU with Thomas Kramer in March 2013

The deal is worth USD 20 billion and the project is expected to be completedwithin 10 to 15 years. The first committed financier was Abu Dhabi. At the deal signing, Thomas Kramer stated that this project − along with boosting the region’s economy and garnering the interest of international investors in the realty sector − will likely help eradicate terrorism in Pakistan. Furthermore, he believes that this is a unique opportunity that will put Pakistan back on the map of leading nations in the world.

Newspaper Karachi Master 6 Karachi is getting the Biggest Island Development in the World!

Birds view of Miami’s South Beach and Bundle & Buddo Island

The project covers 16,000 acres of land. The global attractions of the project include the world’s most sophisticated marina, some of the world’s tallest buildings, the world’s most beautiful shopping arcades, a Sports city, an Educational and Medical city, an International city and a Media city. Each will have the latest in modern facilities and amenities as well as the most advanced infrastructure. Like in Miami Beach, Thomas Kramer was able to negotiate a connecting highway, 12 mile long and 8 lane wide, from the Island City to Jinnah International Airport.The entire city will be a “high security zone” with its own desalination plant that will convert sea-water into potable water. Power generation plants will enable it to be completely self-sufficient. Moreover, the project will have mosques, cinemas, spas, golf clubs, schools, hospitals and other global standard amenities to furnish a modern lifestyle. The first phases of the development will be available in 2016.

And again it was only Amir Mateen of The Spokesman who did some excellent work and ask pertinent questions:

Kramer versus Malik Riaz : Not Again

Malik Riaz has pulled another rabbit out of his Bahria hat. As the Abu Dhabi Group backs out of the $45 billion deal that never existed in the first place — enter Thomas Kramer.

Again, the same dazzling picture of the world class retreat, encompassing the world’s tallest building 3.5 km off the Karachi coast was painted. Only the protagonist of the fairy tale was changed from the Abu Dhabi Group to US investor Thomas Kramer. Geo TV quoted Bahria Town spokesman claiming that Kramer had committed $15 to 20 billion investment in developing “Bodha Island city,” which will have “Net City, Education City, Health City, Port City and other infrastructure projects.”

The spokesman claimed, “the worlds’ most modern shopping mall will also be built” and link Karachi to the Island through a six-lane bridge.

Interestingly, the same group had published news on Monday, quoting the same spokesman, who bragged about an investment of 15 to 20 billion ‘rupees.’ During the day, rupees turned into dollars. 

Transparency International says Bahria could not be given the project as it was declared as “cheats and frauds” by three statuary and regulatory authorities -the Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO), the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the Lahore Development Authority.Transparency quotes the State bank of Pakistan and the SECP which issued advertisements on February 23 warning that “the public should beware and not be misled by the fraudulent activities of deposit, loan, and investments through such advertisement.”

Bahria Town, it says, took advance money from investors illegally, besides the tax evasion of Rs 119 billion as mentioned by the FTO. The report lies with the FBR and may be taken up by the next government to recover this huge amount from Malik Riaz. May be!

Transparency mentions numerous cases where Malik Riaz was found involved in, to name a few, “corruption, black-mailing, extortion, land-grabbing, forgery, fabrication of evidence.”

So where does this leave the glamourous project? Frankly, it suits everybody. Malik Riaz got the island through dubious means and will not mind to give a huge stake to the American investors. Money will come from the public who are already being shown the dreamy image of the recreated Miami. The media story flashed on Monday shed light on the dazzling projects that Kramer had accomplished in Florida and how he turned around the pirates’ den across Cuba into one of the priciest real estate in the US. And why should Kramer not be interested. He gets a good deal — the island, the naive public dying to book an apartment in the dream world, the official approvals — for just showing up. 

Who was investing $20 Billion? Was it $20 Billion or Rs.20 Billion? As a follow up to above story, I am at a loss to quote first the Kramer story or Buddu Island story. Let me start with Kramer story:

Thomas Kramer’s South Beach Story Ends With $200 Million Court Judgment

That morning marked a new low in one of the most incredible rise-and-fall stories in Miami Beach’s storied history of booms and busts. In the 1990s, Kramer was SoBe royalty, the man who’d spearheaded the South of Fifth revival and ruled from a waterfront mansion where wild shindigs sometimes turned into outright orgies. More than anyone, he symbolized an era of glamour, decadence, and carefree excess.

Now it was all over thanks to a Swiss court ruling in January that Kramer had to repay nearly $200 million to a German currency-printing dynasty. His appeals were up. Everything had to go — the house, the staff, the jewelry, the extensive cellar of vintage wine, even the taxidermied giraffe that greeted visitors in the hallway. Because of my job in Kramer’s mansion, I had a unique front-row seat for his last days in Miami Beach. I saw one man’s desperate efforts to salvage his name and his livelihood, afraid but hopeful that some last-minute opportunity would save him from financial ruin.

In fact, by the time he dismissed his staff, Kramer had already found the man he believed could be his long-shot savior: a scandal-tarred Pakistani plutocrat named Malik Riaz who wanted a partner to build a $20 billion island city in Karachi. Riaz, Kramer said that morning between sobs, was his last best hope.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring Pakistan back on the map of the leading nations in the world,” Kramer later said of the project.

If he succeeds in Karachi, Kramer could pull off the ultimate coup in a career full of remarkable comebacks. If he fails, though, it’s anyone’s guess how low he could fall.

Excuse my french, but you would be right in asking what Chutyapa is going on here. Now for the Island story

PQA, others stopped from working on twin islands

KARACHI, June 13: The Sindh High Court on Thursday restrained the Port Qasim Authority and other respondents from carrying out construction or any other activity on islands located at the western end of the Sindh coastal zone near Karachi.

The petition was filed by Shahid Hussain Soomro, a worker of the Pakistan Muslim League (Functional), who impleaded the chief secretary, port and shipping secretary, PQA chairman, senior member of board of revenue and the chief executive officer of the Bahria Town, Islamabad, as respondents.

The counsel stated that the PQA was an authority of the federal government that had nothing to do with the allotment of valuable lands and islands belonging to the provincial government. He said it was a matter of record that the then chief minister had in 1974 approved the summary for allotment of 13,000 acres for the PQA. However, he said, it was clearly mentioned that the PQA would not use the allotted land for commercial purposes.

The counsel argued that the deal between the PQA and the Bahria Town was contrary to fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19-A read with Article 4 of the Constitution.

The petitioner prayed to the court to declare that the allotment of the islands to Bahria Town was illegal, unlawful and ultra vires of the law and without jurisdiction. He also prayed to the court to restrain the respondents from carrying out any construction and agreement on the impugned property.

It wouldn’t be Malik Riaz if he stayed out of news for long.

SC directs FIA to probe Rs40 bn EOBI scam
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday ordered to bring the looters of the public money to book, directing the Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to probe the alleged Rs40 billion corruption in the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and submit a report to it within 10 days.

At the outset of the hearing, former director Town Planning, Defence Housing Authority DHA, Col (retd) Tariq Kamal alleged that some 400 kanal land near Rawalpindi was handed over to Bahria Town without any financial consideration and the land was later purchased by the EOBI for investment purposes.

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So far we have established three things:

1. Karachi has a real shortage of housing

2. Malik Riaz as a developer has reputation of delivering to clients

3. Malik Riaz is a criminal (but then everyone is. Here is ‘PAF forcibly occupied CAA land & convert it into private housing society‘. PAF acquired that land in national interest to build a radar station but ended up selling it as a residential housing society.

So where does that leave the current projects in Karachi. I have a few issues with them.

1. Above is a logo Bahria Icon Tower. How an under construction tower be a SUCCESS? On what basis did the tower won the property award? Who gave it an award and based on what: architectural drawings?

2. Above is one of the term of registration of Bahria Town saying that size of the house, plot, its price and rest of the details would be finalized at the time of booking.

Registration fees that you are paying is for the privilege of being invited to the booking event. Why would any investor put up money for something for which he has no idea he is buying or whether he can even afford to or would like to buy.

3. Finally, there has been no infomration where is this Bahria Town located.

One must be crazy for putting money for a project for which we don’t know where it is located, what is the size of the project, what is the shape of project, what are we buying in the project. Even small projects need approval from municipal development authorities but in Karachi whose infrastructure is already creaking, a project of this size would need major approvals for bringing in water, gas etc to the development but no one seems to care.

A friend who works in foreign bank in Karachi says colleagues around him are going crazy filling in multiple application forms. Friends in other banks also told me similar stories. People are calling in from up country even overseas (one friend received four phone calls from his friends and family abroad in one day inquiring about how to invest in the project).

But no one is asking where is the project located?

Talked to a few people and they don’t care about the project much. They are in it to make a quick buck by flipping the property to the next sucker. Most of them also know that this might be a game of “pass the parcel” with the last one holding the parcel being the ultimate sucker. In the words of disgraced Citibank CEO

“When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing,” he said in an interview with the FT

And then music stopped and we all knew what happened to Citibank.

1. Arif Habib couldn’t sell the project because of its location. However, by duping in people with Bahria name and probably with significant cash, Bahria Town may just be able to kick-start the project

2. For the project of this size to be located anywhere else in Karachi, lot of approvals will be required from KBCA and KDA and other agencies for provision of utilities. There has been no record of Bahria Town seeking any approvals from civic agencies or negotiating with utility and infrastructure companies in Karachi. This means two things: either the project is outside Karachi or all those approval have already been obtained. For the latter case, only Naya Nazimabad qualifies as they have all such approvals.

3. Sources within Arif Habib tell me that Arif Habib has already sold its significant stake in Naya Nazimabad.

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Database of Intentions : God Google

I enrolled for Coursera MOOC Understanding Media by Understanding Google. Unfortunately I will not be able to complete it due to sudden surge in my other work and personal commitments. But I am thankful for this course for introducing me to wonderful pieces of writing on Google and the immense “Orwellian” (cliched term I know) power it exercises over us. I have earlier written about it here, here, here, and here. Most of those pieces are inspired by two books The Filter Bubble and The Googlization of Everything which I highly recommend. Former is a real eye opening book in terms of amount of knowledge Google has about us and probably knows more about us than we would even admit to ourselves.

Another book that I came across is the dated The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business andTransformed Our Culture. I haven’t yet read it completely but it talked about a powerful concept “Database of Intentions”. As much as I study Google and more importantly social media trends, this should have been blindly obvious to me but it wasn’t. In The Filter Bubble it is covered that how much Google knows about individually, this book talks about how much Google knows about us collectively.

One analytic site reports, 88% of world used Google as their primary search engine.

This gives Google immense insight about what the world (at least the world that is online or has access to internet) is thinking. Are they searching for any particular news, interested in buying any particular brand of clothing or accessories, researching any particular listed financial instrument such currencies, stocks, bonds or commodities (sorry I am a financial guy so this is of my particular interest), checking symptoms to see what diseases have we contracted etc.

Google does release its annual zeitgest report

“Zeitgeist” means “the spirit of the times,” and this spirit can be seen through the aggregation of millions of search queries Google receives every day. The annual Zeitgeist report reveals what captured the world’s attention in the past year—our passions, interests and defining moments as seen through search.

but it is released periodically. Based on this there was this hoopla in 2010 about Pakistan No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? Call it Pornistan | Fox News. Pakistanis claim to be amongst the righteous people of world but Google search shows their hypocrisy i.e., in the privacy of their rooms, they are largest consumers of porn. Later Google raised doubts on the accuracy of the report but fact remains that Google is sitting on this huge pile of information. Its their PR strategy that they chose to share it with us. They can very chose not to share this information with us.

The real power resides in having real time information about us collectively. A hypothetical example: Google notices a sudden increase in search for special kind of symptoms in a particular locality. Whenever we feel unusual pain or symptoms, our first instinct is to search online and not approach the doctor. If its related to a contagious disease, Google will know days before anybody else that a contagious disease is spreading in that area.

If people start searching for Gold as an investment say in India or similar such country (with significant purchasing power and penchant for gold buying), Google may know that demand for Gold is about to increase. It can either sell this information or use it to make more money for itself at the expense of ordinary investors.

Above are just hypothetical example and come with lot of caveats for example assumes that people are net-savvy, affluent, and research such diseases/terms on internet. Seeing that gold prices are low, an Indian may not research and just go and buy it from a local shop and this whole sentiment-to-action process may not even register on Google. But as people become more affluent, their access to internet increases, the power due to the knowledge that Google has about us will increase.

I am not saying it is easy. People tried earlier to tap into this. Derwent Capital’s Twitter Hedge Fund tried just this:

London-based hedge fund Derwent Capital Markets said it had successfully marketed a new venture to a series of high-net worth clients that makes investment choices using information gathered from over 100 million daily tweets.

Simply put: the fund mines the Twitter-verse to gauge market sentiment, and that information—which the firm futuristically brands as “The 4th Dimension” is used to drive the portfolio’s holdings.

The company still exists and has renamed itself Cayman Atlantic. The fund was shutdown

not because its analysis of Twitter wasn’t working. During the one month that the $40 million Derwent Capital Markets fund was operation, it reportedly returned 1.86 percent, beating the overall market as well as the average hedge fund. The fund’s founder says that its analysis worked so well that one of the fund’s principal investors suggested making a mass-market product out of it, so as to reach a larger market instead of the handful able to invest in a hedge fund.

It might not have worked for the company but the potential is there. One reason could be that other hedge funds would also have developed such data mining software. And since markets are efficient, probably reduced any advantage the Twitter fund had to zero.

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My point is that with the amount of data rather real-time data Google holds about us, it has too much information about us. It may know more about a police-state’s nation than the government of that nation. A lot has been written about recent Arab Springs and earlier revolutions and how social media has been helpful in organizing them. However, in social media we are public or at least broadcasting our intentions. When we discreetly search for anything on Google, after God only two people know about it: us and Google. That is a pretty God like power to have.

Musings on Pakistani social media – Part II – Liberal edition

I am so glad I went off the grid when I did as shit is really hitting the fan. My twitter timeline is depressing and when people tweet quotes from Pakistani TV talkshows transmitted after a tragedy, I wonder why do people torture themselves by tuning into them but more importantly how do they keep their sanity after listening to the bullshit that passes for discussion on evening talk shows.

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Around couple of months ago I wrote a post titled Musings on Pakistani social media-Twitter edition in which I bashed PTI calling them naive for buying the hype they themselves create on social media and believing that large number of PTI trolls and their RTs of pro-PTI material on social media will translate in to overwhelming majority at the ballot box.

Couple of years ago, one of the starry eyed supporter of PTI named Zohair Toru became famous or rather infamous for displaying such naivete:

The video went viral. Shandana Minhas’s Cafe Pyala did a post on it: The Poor, Sensitive, Hot and Bothered Revolutionaries! . The below translation of the video is picked from Cafe Pyala:

“See what is happening with our sisters and mothers in this demonstration. We are all from good families. We have come out on to the streets to raise slogans for Imran Khan. We are being beaten by our own police. They’re pushing us. We have come for a revolution, for your country. Every person here has come out of his house for this. Who would do such demonstrations in such heat [otherwise]? The police is shoving us, for what? For a foreigner? For Raymond Davis? He caused such bloodshed in Lahore and ran away to his home. See what is happening with Afiya Siddiqui. Nobody has such justice. We have all come out on the streets. Our homes have curtains too. Our women also do purdah. But when revolution requires it, every person in the home comes out on the streets. [To off camera supporter] Am I lying? I’m saying the correct thing, right? Everyone comes out. Sir, look our own police is beating us, how can we bring about a revolution? You tell me, you’re from the media. If you’re with us, only then will the revolution come about. If the police don’t beat us up, only then will the revolution come about. Now look at Imran Khan. What need does he have for this, he’s a very rich man. He’s standing up there on the stage and addressing people and even he is getting pushed around. Everyone’s getting pushed left, right and centre. This brother here, he’s totally sapped by the heat. Do we have any need of coming here?”

We all had fun with him. Garmi mein Kharaab and Inquilaab kaisay aaye ga became catch-phrases. One only needs to read the comments on Cafe Pyala post on how we (including myself) had a lot of fun at Toru’s expense.

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I have grown more mature (at least I like to think that) since then. Yesterday I tweeted this

What brought this on. If you have been following Pakistani news which I don’t much but occasionally get the pulse of the nation through my twitter TL, we are losing the counterinsurgency or counter-terrorism war with Pakistani Taliban aka TTP. Recently TTP had huge successes for example jail-breaking hundreds of their colleagues from D.I.Khan Jail, killing a serving Pakistani General and yesterday there was that despicable attack on church killing 81 people.

Subsequent to all these attacks, educated tweeps became very excited blaming everything on PTI and Imran Khan.  The outrage starts from the moment the news hits the wires till the day-end with all of the influential tweeps coming together in lambasting PTI and RTing PTI bashing posts till the time their fingers are tired from incessant tweeting or they find some other diversion in another window of their browser. The outrage is mellowed down the next day and by third day everyone has moved on.

In their excitement they forget that Imran Khan barely managed to secure enough votes to form a coalition government in KP province otherwise it was quite easy to have a different party ruling the province in KP. They also fail to notice that Imran Khan does not get the same air time on TV as before and does not wield much influence in KP (as many PTI insiders will tell you) either. Young starry eyed too-young-to-vote crowd might still look to him but that doesn’t translate into much influence either in the party nor in the government. Moreover, though he gets the majority blame for stating that we should negotiate with Taliban before we take the full-court-press offensive against them, an All Parties Conference was called and it was agreed by all stakeholders (right wing, secular, military) that negotiations with Taliban to be given a chance.

The [interior] minister said that leaders of all the major political parties were on the same page with regard to national interests. He said that it was a good omen that all the leaders have shared their views and ideas for bringing peace in the country and no personal or party agendas were pushed during the meeting. He said that the resolution adopted by the APC was an outcome of the consensus not only among political leadership but also the military leadership. He hoped all political and military leaders would continue to join hands for national interest and hopefully the security situation would improve by leap and bounds. He also mentioned that the attitude of the military leadership encouraged political leaders to move towards peace process and initiate negotiations with Taliban.

But if one logs on to facebook or twitter, it is as if Imran Khan alone is spearheading the negotiations and all the other stakeholders including military are against it. A friend’s status update:

Then there was this

I am not reproducing here what was and is being said on twitter. The crux of it is that “it is all Imran Khan’s fault and 140 characters are not enough to express my outrage”.

*****************************

Musharraf and his supporters were also equally naive believing that social media represents the ground realities. Wusatullah Khan did a brilliant piece on it

اگلے پانچ برس تک جب سیّد صاحب دیارِ غیر میں پاکستانی جمہوریت کے فروغ میں اپنے مدبرانہ کردار پر روشنی ڈال ڈال کے شل ہوگئے تو انہیں دوبارہ سے بے یقینی کے گدلے ساحل پر پھنسے ہوئے پاکستان کو صاف پانیوں میں دھکا دینے کے لیے ٹگ بوٹ بننے کا خیال آیا۔ مگر اس وقت تک اپنوں کے ہی زخم خوردہ سیّد صاحب کے پاس ذاتی مقبولیت کو جانچنے کا صرف ایک ہی پیمانہ بچا تھا یعنی فیس بک۔ چنانچہ انہوں نے چار لاکھ فیس بکیوں کی نیک تمناؤں کے سہارے دو دفعہ ملک میں خمینی اور بینظیر سٹائل میں اترنے کی دھمکی دی۔ ایک آدھ ٹیلی وڈیو جلسے کے ذریعے درجہ حرارت ناپا۔ اپنی مقبولیت کو جمع تقسیم کیا اور خود کو بدلے بدلے سے پاکستان میں دھکا دے دیا۔

جب وہ کراچی میں اترے تو لاکھوں انٹرنیٹیوں میں سے تقریباً ایک سو کے ٹھاٹھیں مارتے سمندر نے والہانہ استقبال کیا۔ مگر سیّد صاحب نے واپسی کی فلائٹ بک کرانے کو ایک بانکے کمانڈو کی روایتی شان کے خلاف سمجھا اور بلٹ پروف جیکٹ پہنے پہنے عمارت در عمارت گھومتے گھماتے عدالتی کمرے میں جا نکلے اور پھر بطور سلطان راہی مثالی حاضر دماغی سے کام لیتے ہوئے مشینی گھوڑے پر سوار وہ بہادرانہ پسپائی اختیار کی کہ اپنے ہی گھر کی جیل میں پہنچ کر دم لیا۔

*****************************

The people expressing outrage on twitter are not dumb and their anger is justified at the way things are moving in Pakistan. However, these were the very people who made fun of Zohair Toru and other such supporters of PTI for experiencing the reality for first time by stepping out of their air-conditioned homes, away from facebook and feeling the heat and police shoves (they had yet to face the police baton or rubber bullets but I think that is too much a price to pay for Inquilab for PTI supporters). The same people also made fun of PTI supporters’ love of social media saying that they have already elected Imran Khan as Prime Minister of Facebook Pakistan (I am guilty of this as well). However, my twitter timeline of last two weeks show that they are no better than PTI supporters when it comes to believing in non-existent power of social media.

The twitter revolutions and Taksim protests that were organized using Twitter gave this Pakistani “elite” (in terms of the strata of society they represent) tweeting class a delusion that protesting on twitter matters. It might matter in Arab countries where the press is not free and one is not allowed to criticize government in public or even very carefully in private. In Pakistan, the press is very vibrant and free and full of criticism of government. The amount of (deserving) criticism that was directed at previous PPP government was unprecedented. I don’t think even the current government much less military can absorb such criticism. But I digress. My point is the role of twitter in the aforementioned protests was to allow people to organize physical protests and express their anger and frustration at the government or at the prevailing affairs. The protests were not limited to tweeting about it. They organized protests using twitter, went to protests and then tweeted about it.

In our case, it has been two weeks yet our tweeps are limited to tweeting their outrage on the APC resolution, killing of major General and since yesterday on killing of innocents in a church. Not a single one of them has gone out or even suggested to go out and record their protests/anger/frustration before their political representatives or even at the local press clubs.

Despite knowing better, they are displaying a character which is epitome of naivete, the very character that they made fun of in Zohair Toru. This is why I said that Zohair Toru was better. He may be confused, naive, ignorant but at least he went out, away from his PS3 or keyboard or whatever the rich boys do, in the summer heat to stand up for what he believed in.

[UPDATE]

From Dawn:

The bloody attack was a reality check for the coalition partners of PTI, including Qaumi Watan Party and Jamaat-i-Islami. The ministers and MPAs fearing backlash could not dare to visit the LRH for almost three hours after the incident to console the angry mourners and ensure timely treatment of the wounded. There were no arrangements at the official level to provide coffins. Thanks to Al Khidmat Foundation which arranged about 100 coffins for packing bodies.

Al-Khidmat is charitable wing affiliated with the right wing Jamaat-i-ISlami, coalition partner in KP government.

What have left leaning people done except for tweeting to like minded people on twitter going to achieve?

What does Google do to our brain?

The question was first raised by Nicholas Carr in his landmark piece for Atlantic magazine Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Key takeaways from his essay were

And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

……

“We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

….

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets.

…..

Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological

Cropped image of a Socrates bust for use in ph...

progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing.He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.”Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

*********************

Recently, Clive Thompson attempted the question again in Slate by asking Is Google Wrecking Our Memory? and he answers it in this way

The short answer is: No. Machines aren’t ruining our memory.

The longer answer: It’s much, much weirder than that!

And he goes on to explain this as

What’s really happening is that we’ve begun to fit the machines into an age-old technique we evolved thousands of years ago—“transactive memory.” That’s the art of storing information in the people around us. We have begun to treat search engines, Evernote, and smartphones the way we’ve long treated our spouses, friends, and workmates. They’re the handy devices we use to compensate for our crappy ability to remember details.

And frankly, our brains have always been terrible at remembering details. We’re good at retaining the gist of the information we encounter. But the niggly, specific facts? Not so much.

…..

Wegner suspected this division of labor takes place because we have pretty good “metamemory.” We’re aware of our mental strengths and limits, and we’re good at intuiting the memory abilities of others. Hang around a workmate or a romantic partner long enough and you discover that while you’re terrible at remembering your corporate meeting schedule, or current affairs in Europe, or how big a kilometer is relative to a mile, they’re great at it. They’re passionate about subject X; you’re passionate about subject Y. So you each begin to subconsciously delegate the task of remembering that stuff to the other, treating one’s partners like a notepad or encyclopedia, and they do the reverse. In many respects, Wegner noted, people are superior to notepads and encyclopedias, because we’re much quicker to query: Just yell a fuzzily phrased question across to the next cubicle (where do we keep the thing that we use for that thing?) and you’ll get an answer in seconds. We share the work of remembering, Wegner argued, because it makes us collectively smarter.

…….

And as it turns out, this is what we’re doing with Google and Evernote and our other digital tools. We’re treating them like crazily memorious friends who are usually ready at hand.

……

If there’s a big danger in using machines for transactive memory, it’s not about making us stupider or less memorious. It’s in the inscrutability of their mechanics. Transactive memory works best when you have a sense of how your partners’ minds work—where they’re strong, where they’re weak, where their biases lie. I can judge that for people close to me. But it’s harder with digital tools, particularly search engines. They’re for-profit firms that guard their algorithms like crown jewels. And this makes them different from previous forms of transactive machine memory.

*********************

Like Socrates, I am tempted to extrapolate the above examples to say that transactive memory provided us a shared knowledge about our relationships and a means of connecting and interacting with each other. With the ubiquity of Google we will be interacting with our relationships lesser which may be harmful to our relationships as already 24 hour TV, MOMPRPG videogames and tweeting/facebooking have wreaked havoc with our relationships. And like Socrates, I will be shortsighted in saying that.

We cannot stop the march of technology. People might not have liked writing, TV, mobile phones, texting, social media but the fact remains that these services have become part of our social fabric and we can not tear them away from our lives. Google as a ubiquitous search engine is here to stay and with time will become stronger, more intrusive and omnipresent. As a company it may disappear as many “build-to-last” companies have disappeared before it but then some other company will come to fill in the role. The ubiquitous search engine be it Google or any other one in future, is part of our social and mental make up. Our brains have rewired themselves to live with it.

However, there is no free lunch. So there will be some costs associated with this. The costs that come to my mind are that we will not be able to make connections between different events unless Google makes those connections for us like the one Sherlock Holmes makes in BBC’s The Hounds of Baskerville.

There will be much less serendipity. Though Clive Thompson mentions the following hypothetical example,

In fact, as transactive partners, machines have several advantages over humans. For example, if you ask them a question you can wind up getting way more than you’d expected. If I’m trying to recall which part of Pakistan has experienced tons of U.S. drone strikes and I ask a colleague who follows foreign affairs, he’ll tell me “Waziristan.” But when I queried this online, I got the Wikipedia page on “Drone attacks in Pakistan.” I wound up reading about the astonishing increase of drone attacks (from one a year to 122 a year) and some interesting reports about the surprisingly divided views of Waziristan residents. Obviously, I was procrastinating—I spent about 15 minutes idly poking around related Wikipedia articles—but I was also learning more, reinforcing my generalized, “schematic” understanding of Pakistan.

Now imagine if my colleague behaved like a search engine—if, upon being queried, he delivered a five-minute lecture on Waziristan. Odds are I’d have brusquely cut him off. “Dude. Seriously! I have to get back to work.” When humans spew information at us unbidden, it’s boorish. When machines do it, it’s enticing. And there are a lot of opportunities for these encounters. Though you might assume search engines are mostly used to answer questions, some research has found that up to 40 percent of all queries are acts of remembering. We’re trying to refresh the details of something we’ve previously encountered.

but I don’t think it will hold in majority cases. Moreover, this is a case of misplaced example. It may also have happened when people used book Encyclopedias for researching a topic or read books in search of quotes etc but now that since Google will be providing us information in the first link that it generates, there is a very little chance that will be click on the second link or be moved to read something that we were not looking for. The instantaneous gratification that we expect from Google will ensure that we do not learn any new thing unintentionally.

I occasionally teach GMAT to local Kuwaiti kids who have been raised on calculators from young age. Some of these kids are totally incapable of adding triple digit numbers. When I do multiplications and/or divisions in front of them on whiteboard, its like I am teaching them Greek or rocketscience as it goes over their heads. These are no illiterates. They work in mostly financial institutions and are there to prepare for GMAT so that they can go to US or UK to do MBAs etc. Yet their brains after having not used that faculty for so long are no longer capable of doing those simple sums.

 

 

 

Karma is a bitch – Career edition

I tweeted this yesterday.

May be despised was the wrong word. The correct phrase would should have been “looked down upon”. When started my first job, I was brimming with youthful enthusiasm. I am still brimming but its not youthful anymore. I had ambitions of making it big in the “corporate world” or “banking world” as I was working in a bank at the time. Since it was a family owned bank, they told  me I can’t be the CEO unless I belonged to their family (and no, marrying into the owner’s family wasn’t an option due to various reasons) I had toned down my answer to the job interview stupid question “Where do you see myself in ten years” from being a CEO to being a COO.

Working at the entry level analyst job I could see that there were people who were in their 40s and 50s and were two rungs ahead of me in corporate ladder. Country was in a recessionary phase and many foreign banks had closed down as well as local banks had gone through downsizing. Some of the people made redundant accepted such offers and small banks like ours were too glad to hire them as they brought with them experience and skills at the cheap.

Then the economy started picking up. With hard work and some luck, within three years I jumped those rungs and still in my mid 20s was at the same level of responsibility and pay-scale as people twice my age. This was the time for young people. These oldies tried to bring their A-game to the table but they seemed out of place amongst the youthful crowd on both sides of the table. Then there were those who had resigned themselves to saving their jobs by keeping a low-profile dead-end desk-job avoiding slightly risky jobs of business development etc. They would retire from the same positions.

I came across many such people in the ten years of my career. We used to downplay their experience of 20-30 years saying it was one year of experience multiplied by 20 or 30 as they have been doing the same job for last many years without any increase in skills.

Then shit hits the fan. Lehman Brother collapses. At the time, I was working as an investment analyst at a Middle Eastern private equity firm which had invested in real estate, banking, transport sectors in developed economies as well as emerging markets. Nothing was safe anymore (except may be US treasuries but then we had all our funds tied in now dead investments). People around me started losing jobs or getting their salaries reduced.

To keep my job, even I acquiesced to reduction in my perks. However, I started looking around for a new job and the people I knew strongly advised me against it saying at least I know the inside situation of my company and I wouldn’t know what is the true financial strength of the company I would be entering. Since the whole financial sector growth owed a lot to creative accounting practices of last decades, one could not trust the financials of the prospective company. It turned out to be a good advice. Some of the financial companies did hire a few people I know at good salaries but then they fired them later or the company shut down.

One of the few people whose job was secure for the time being, I received so many CVs from friends, counterparts in different firms, even people I barely knew but using some reference to find them a job in my company. Though I couldn’t get them a job as we weren’t hiring but I tried my best to find them a job or referred them to a friend who was in a better position to find them work. It made me glad to be lucky enough to have a job or not having a sword hanging over my head.

I had joined the present company to do investments, engage in transactions, develop new assets but since the crisis had struck and all our investable cash was already invested in assets that were in serious need of restructuring, for next many years I focused on restructuring these assets, trying to monetize them, increase their cashflows if possible, reduce their expenses and sell them at minimal losses to bring in much needed cash to pay our salaries.

I used to joke that it will be hard for me to find a job when the economy booms as all my experience is of bust cycle. When the boom comes around, companies will be looking for people who have made new investments, closed deals, etc whereas all my experience is of managing existing investments or to restructuring them. I know one can try to sell oneself to prospective employer by saying that what I will bring to the job will be knowledge of what NOT to do as I have seen how investments can go sour in unexpected ways due to wrongly structured transactions, agreements that did not take all circumstances into account etc. but we all know its a hard sell when the employer is looking for a particular skill.

People often tell me to lie on my CV or make it comply with the job description. I do reasonably embellish my CV or put key words of job description as mentioned in the job ad but it goes against my principles to twist the facts or to put experience on the CV that even I don’t recognize myself.

Its not that I haven’t tried a bit of risk-taking. I even tried for positions that were one or two rungs below my current position to quote a phrase that was taught to my friend by JPMorgan banker when my friend was applying for an undergrad job despite having a graduate degree. The banker told my friend that whenever anyone asks him why is he applying for low level job, he should say that I consider this sacrifice as investment in my career as I will be building up my profile for working with JP Morgan. Needless to mention that my friend didn’t get the JPM job nor I was successful in my attempts to “invest in my career”.

Last night, a headhunter after going through my LinkedIn profile asked me if I am interested in a Senior Vice President position in Investment Banking/Private Equity in a leading investment firm. My reply was affirmative and I sent him my CV which clearly lays out that I have done asset management and restructuring. Now he comes back to me asking if I could send him a

comprehensive deal sheet that includes all of the deals you have worked on throughout your investment experience from CIB till date, including transaction, size of the deal, type of the deal, your role in the execution etc

It was so frustrating. Finally someone asks me for a CV for a position that I always wanted to work for and unfortunately I don’t have the relevant experience. Not exactly, but with no new investments happening in last 5 years nor new assets added to the portfolio and no promotion, I could describe my experience as one year of restructuring experience multiplied by 5 years. It is with this frustration that I rather write this blogpost than to prepare a comprehensive deal sheet to forward to that headhunter.

Nothing seems quite so bleak as the digital job seeker’s all-but-obligatory LinkedIn account – Ann Friedman, All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go

Elegant solution to Pythagorean Triplet problem

Every once in a while I come across something that makes me admire the elegance and simplicity of mathematics and mathematical proofs.

I was introduced to computer programming in 1992 and was pretty good at GW-BASIC. Advantage of GW-BASIC was that each line was self-explanatory. However, after high school I made a career choice to go into business school and left that hobby behind.

Three years ago when my finance career was going nowhere, decided to learn programming again. Found out a website known as Project Euler and tried using the challenges as a motivation. Decided on JAVA and bought the book Head First Java. Though I made good progress with it but the syntax of Java with its curly braces and cryptographic headers didn’t talk to me. Here is the simple Hello World program from Java’s own website

class HelloWorldApp {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        System.out.println("Hello World!"); // Display the string.
    }
}

How is one supposed to learn a language when the first and second line one uses in writing the program is not explained fully till one reaches advanced stage. So after some time and coding a few programs, I gave up on it.

Then I came across Udacity and Coursera MOOC websites. Almost all of their courses talked about using Python language whenever some programming was involved. So I found out about Python and it seems so straightforward. It may not be as powerful as C++ or Java but for the hobbyist or amateur programmer like myself, it did the job. Best of all, its code need not start with a cryptographic header. Below is a code for printing “Hello World” in Python:

print("Hello World!")

So I started working on Project Euler problems from beginning this time coding in Python and it has been quite easy to pick up through self-study and online resources.

I came across this problem of find a Pythagorean triplet on Project Euler.

I didn’t know how to generate Pythagorean triplets or what algorithm to use. One way was to use brute force method and try every combination of say from like the below one:

for a in range(499):
   for b in range(499):
      for c in range(499):
          if a + b + c == 1000 :
              if a**2 + b**2 == c**2:
                   print (a*b*c)

I didn’t use the above program. Once I had found out the result through my own method, I came across the above on the forum as a brute force method used by someone. When I ran it, it took the computer almost 6-7 seconds to print the result which is a very long time.

I solved it without using a computer. I went to best available source of information i.e., Wikipedia (I know its user edited and not expert edited). It had this formula for coming up with Pythagorean triplets

Euclid’s formula[1] is a fundamental formula for generating Pythagorean triples given an arbitrary pair of positive integers m and n with m > n. The formula states that the integers

 a = m^2 - n^2 ,\ \, b = 2mn ,\ \, c = m^2 + n^2

form a Pythagorean triple.

Using paper and pen, I solved the following equation using the above information

a + b + c  = 1000

replacing a,b,c with m,n as given above
(m^2 – n^2) + (2mn) + (m^2 + n^2) = 1000

cancelling out n^2, we get
2m^+2mn = 1000

which is equal to
2m(m+n)=1000

Dividing both sides by 2 results in
m ( m + n ) = 500

First number that came into my mind was 25 x 20 = 500 meaning that m = 20, n = 5. And lo and behold, it produced the correct answer. Just for the heck of it, I tried different numbers of m and n by making a table in Excel and every time it produced a Pythagorean Triplet.

It is not ground breaking or anything, but using just a pen and paper to elegantly solve a computer programming problem without using brute force made me appreciate the beauty of mathematics again.

If you are interested and have grasp of high school mathematics, I seriously recommend reading Journey through Genius. It is one of those books that I refer back to again and again just for sheer delight.

Going off the grid

In the first few days of Ramzan (or Ramadan), my satellite TV subscription ended. I didn’t renew it believing TV to be an unnecessary distraction during the holy month. Before Ramzan, I watched political news shows about Pakistan as aired on GEO, DawnTV etc and also occasionally also tuned in to watch the hourly news. Since the set-top box was provided by the satellite TV company, when the subscription ended, it stopped showing free-to-air channels too. As such, I couldn’t even watch such channels as CNN, BBC etc.

It had a positive impact on me during Ramzan. Part of it may be the blessings of holy month but mainly it was because I had stopped watching depressing Pakistani political shows which only highlight the problems and or get the invited guests to argue with each other. However, I am not sure if such programs have been instrumental or even helpful in resolving the problems highlighted by them. Sometimes they bring in members of opposing factions in the parliament. Though the programs always end in a handshake and a resolve to sort out the issues, over time the public has come to learn that nothing really happens. Hence, what we get out of these programs is awareness of the myriad problems facing the society and the country yet not a solution in sight. Hence, only outcome for those watching the programs daily is cynicism and depression.

There has been no good news out of Pakistan for last many years except for the election that went smoothly and at least a lesser evil was brought into the government. When it comes to rest of world, last few months have not been good for the Ummah (muslim nation) either. The events/protests in Turkey, Egypt and Syria presenting a very bleak picture. If one is plugged into media and social media like I was till Ramzan, what I was getting 24/7 was depressing news with respect to issues that were close to my heart.

Though due to cancellation of satellite TV subscription, I was saved the ordeal of watching political talk shows, however, I was still pretty much plugged into my twitter feed and continued to get my news and depression fix from it.

Then I took a two week Eid break and traveled to Pakistan. I don’t change SIM of my iPhone and keep keep the phone on roaming just in case someone needs to reach me for work related matter. I carry a local cheap phone when I go out and keep my iPhone in the kitchen (centrally located in our house) so that if there is a call on it, someone can immediately tell me that it is ringing. This meant I couldn’t check my twitter timeline frequently.

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...Then massacres in Egypt started and my father asked me if I knew about them. I picked up my iPhone and didn’t let it go for next one week. Finally, my father complained that why am I always playing with my iPhone and I realized the addiction it had become. So I left it at the kitchen counter once again and didn’t pick it up (except for checking office emails) till the time my trip was over.

I picked up two books meanwhile and finished them during this period. Occasionally I came across a good quote or passage and had an urge to share it on facebook and twitter. But I resisted. I knew that once I logged into my facebook or twitter account, I will do much more than just sharing and may even end wasting few hours on it. With result that I was able to finish the books.

Now I am back. I have bought a new satellite subscription. However, this time its only for football and other sports (though no cricket). I check in to my twitter timeline twice or thrice daily but not for minutes or hours, Just for a few tens of seconds to read at most ten tweets that are on top.

I stopped caring about Ummah and Pakistan issues. As if my caring mattered. Even my tweets and links I share on facebook have slowed down to a trickle. My klout score which peaked at 60 just before Ramzan is coming down at a fast clip.

I was sitting with a few friends Friday night and having a reputation as plugged-in source-of-information they wanted my opinion on Karachi operation, NATO containers, Mohajir Republican Army, Syria attack, Kerry statement etc. I had an idea about these but since I just read the headlines or few tweets never bothering to go into details, I didn’t have much to add. Rather I asked them to fill me in.

Honestly, the temptation is strong. When you are the source of all information and  theories etc people seek you out for your opinions and information. They listen to you and probably may be swayed towards a particular political viewpoint because the way you presented the information. However, by not remaining that source anymore, you are losing that power, and losing it fast.

Yet the power beckons you, like the ring beckons everyone who comes across it in Lord of The Rings. The question therefore remains do I have the strengthl to resist the temptation of power in light of the costs (from being center of attention to nobody). So far I am resisting.