Friday, December 01, 2006

First snow of the year

So I was up all night, not for anything particular. It was a rainy night .... but the morning brought the first snow of the year, in the guise of a snow storm. I realized that I didn't manage, in my last 3 winters here, to actually watch a snowstorm.

It looks strangely beautiful, and horrible at the same time. I remember watching those old movies where there will be snow blowing into the actors faces ... this one looks as bad as those.

I am sort of horrified to think what my car will look like after this storm is over. The prediction is for 3 inches of snow, but what I see outside the window looks way deeper than that. I hate to dig my car out of snow, and scrape the ice off the car's body.

Of course, living in midwestern US, we are probably luckier than those living in the east coast, or in the Dakotas.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Looking into the Past

Sometimes, I think about, say, 20 or 30 years in the past, and try to imagine how they worked without computers. Then again, I think the people 20 years from now will look into us and our gas-guzzling environment-polluting cars and put on a huge sigh.

But, upon watching an episode of Futurama, I think I'll change my perspective. It was the episode where Fry goes to a museum in the year 3000, and one exhibit is the 20th century factory assembly line. The museum commentator says, they don't know exactly how the 20th century people worked, but their best guess is like this: a bunch of robots, with primitive looking clubs, chanting "Buga Buga Buga!!!".

When it comes to looking into the past, we often do the same. Archaelogists tend to create elaborate theories about the origin of things. I wonder what people 50 years from now would think of us, the modern techologies we cherish, and so on.

Buga buga buga? That's how we are achieving this? Who knows!!

PS: My profound(!!) thoughts come from watching Futurama and Family guy. Yeah, I'm very shallow ... :(

Monday, July 31, 2006

50 years of Hard disks!

NewsWeek reports that, next September 13th would be the 50th anniversary of the first hard disk drive.

Steven Levy writes,
"On Sept. 13, 1956, IBM shipped the first unit of the RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) and set in motion a process that would change the way we live."
Change indeed! Today, we have 120 GB or more hard drives sitting on our desks, with some geeks sporting terabyte storage systems for storing their infinite collection of Star Trek trivia and Klingon love songs.

So, what was the spec for the first disk drive? Let's see what Steven Levy writes:

"The drive weighed a full ton, and to lease it you'd pay about $250,000 a year in today's dollars. Since it required a separate air compressor to protect the two moving "heads" that read and wrote information, it was noisy. The total amount of information stored on its 50 spinning iron-oxide-coated disks—each of them a pizza-size 24 inches—was 5 megabytes."

Don't laugh. Your own drive will become obsolete in your lifetime, and you'd be telling your kids that "in 2006, I had a 120GB hard disk drive". I can visualize the smirk on your grandchild's face :)

I think in future, everything will become static, flash based or some other kind of chip based memory. Hard disks are good, have a lot of capacity for a dime, but still, they consist of moving parts, and that's why they are so much prone to failure.

Anyway, I still have my first 2nd disk drive. Though it sort of sings a serenade when I try to read something off it. Perhaps it's almost time I buried it in a time capsule for an archaeologist to discover in the year 2525 ...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Culture shock - 1

Today, I'm going to list some cultural changes I encountered when I first came to the USA

a. I landed in Chicago and cleared immigration at around 9 pm. I've been hearing that Chicago O'Hare airport is the 2nd busiest in the world, or something like that. So, I expected a huge airport terminal, with thousands of people (at least comparable to Dubai's lavish airport).

Well, not so!! As I went into the terminal lounge, I found out that I was the ONLY person there. Not even a guard, janitor or cleaner! At 9 pm!! I was extremely hungry after my 30 hour flight, but found not a single restaurant or coffee shop open. The whole terminal looked like a ghost town.

I had to spend the night at the terminal as I didn't have transportation arrangements, so I slept or rather napped on a bench, while tightly grabbing my luggage.

Compared to O'Hare, other airports of similar size would be almost always full of people at almost all hours. I later figured out why this happened ... O'Hare has a small number of international flights, all leaving from terminal 5, and there were no flights after 9pm. So, the stores all closed, and everyone left. I guess the other terminals, mostly handling domestic traffic would be a bit busier.

b. On my very first day, I went to meet a professor in the department. It was the high point of a ferocious mid-west summer ... with temperatures reaching 32+ c (90+F). When I met the prof, I found him wearing a pair of shorts, and a t-shirt. In Bangladesh, where hot weather is a daily occurrance 80% time of the year, a professor of high stature would almost always wear Suits, rather than comfortable clothing. So, meeting a bigshot professor wearing shorts. I thought it made him more down to earth and approachable.

c. On the 2nd week, a member of the group proposed that we go to lunch to welcome the three new students (including myself). Now, when someone in Bangladesh asks someone else to go to a restaurant, this means the person who proposes is footing the bill. So, imagine my surprise when I figured out, right out there in the restaurant, that I am to pay for myself! Not that there is anything wrong with that, but obviously, I misunderstood "Let's have lunch!".

Of course, this is not necessarily true in all cases.

Anyway, that's all for today ... I'll write more later.

Friday, May 05, 2006

My BBC Interview

I recently have started promoting the Bangla wikipedia. Unlike the English one, there are still too few articles in bn-wiki. However, with some very energetic people in BD joining the effort, I believe we'd be able to achieve a great, balanced encyclopedia pretty soon.

What I like about wikipedia is its ability to combine the little bits of information into a vast continuum of knowledge. It reminds me of the saying, "if you spend money, it's gone. But if you donate knowledge, it grows".

Anyway, recently, The Daily Prothom Alo did an article on Wikipedia. The article, which can be found here, was by Munir Hasan, and it helped launch interest in bn-wiki ... to a great extent.

Somehow, BBC Bengali learnt about the movement, and became interested. So, this week, on May 1, they called me and took a 10 minute interview on what Wikipedia is, and how
the Bangla wiki is being developed. I spoke about the progress, and how we can advance the bits and pieces of information into a large repository of knowledge.

The interview was broadcast worldwide on May 2 evening. I felt so great!! After all, I grew up listening to BBC every evening in our old radio set. It is great to be myself a part of that. Luma was so happy!! And so were my parents and Luma's parents!

I hope we'd at least get up to 8,000 articles and at least 2000 good articles in bn-wiki by the end of the year.

Friday, March 10, 2006

India beats China

A recent list of billionaires published by Forbes shows that, there are more Indian US Dollar Billionaires than Chinese ones. Among the 793 US Dollar Billionaires of the world, 23 are Indian compared to 8 Chinese ones.

I looked through the list with quite an interest. As predicted, Lakshikant Mittal, the steel king, is the top Indian billionaire. But he's followed by Azim Premji of Wipro, the software company. Then there is the usual march of Ambanis, Birlas etc.

I was quite impressed to see Anurag Dikshit , a 33 year old IIT Delhi Grad. Apparently, he's the co-founder of , which makes his net worth at US $ 3.3 billion!! Who says coding doesn't pay!!!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Squirrels love M&M!!!

As anyone living in the midwestern USA (I guess any where in USA) knows, Squirrels are quite pervasive here. They'd hang from trees, climb down to pick a nut, and occassionally fight among themselves, mess around with trash etc. I have often seen people feed them nuts.

Well, the other day, I found out that Squirrels do have a knack for sweet things as well. This is what happened:

I was coming out of the Illini Union, the student center at UIUC. I happened to have a pack of M & M's with me (if you haven't seen one, it's a kind of a chocolate). While I was unlocking my bike, I took one M&M out, and was planning to nibble on one. Suddenly, 2 squirrels came down from the tree next to my bike, and they sized me and the M&M out with interest. After a few seconds, they decided that I was a gullible one, and they can extort the sweet-smelling-nut-type-thing from me. So, literally, they stood up, and started waving to me. REally!!!! I wish I had my camera with me at that point, the scene was so funny, two squirrels standing up on their hind legs, and extending their hands!! Reminded me of how beggars in Bangladesh used to extort coins!

Anyway, I was so surprised and amused at the scene and their attempt to bully me into giving up the M&M, I spoke out in Bangla, (automatically) telling them "Dicchi baba dicchi" (wait please, I'll give you the nuts!!) (which reminded me again of my friend Suman's dialog in a similar situation on a train, India, in 2000)

So, I picked out 3/4 M&Ms, and gave them to the squirrels. They grabbed the chocolates, and finished them in 5 to 10 seconds. The way they devoured them, it looks like they really liked the M&Ms.

Ultimately, they managed to get 10-12 M&Ms from me that day. Next time, I'm taking my camera there, and will either get some stills or a video to show their "bullying tactics".

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pining for snow!

Usually, I'd be gloomy all through the midwest winter. Until I came to Illinois 3 years ago, the only ice I'd ever see was inside the freezer. The last to harsh winters had me wishing a relief from the snow for months.

But this year, things are different.

It only snowed for a day or two in December. That snowfall was quite heavy. But after that, there hasn't been any snow even as we reach the end of January.

Is this the global warming effect people have been dreading for long? I watched the movie "The Day after Tomorrow" recently, and the movie now seems more and more realistic.

Anyway, as a result 0f the snow-less winter, I'm kind of missing the flurries and powdery snows, and the funny way of walking on the snow. Strange!!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My Linux History article

In this post, I'm going to look back at my article on the History of Linux. (also available from here ).

Ok, let me start with how it began. Back in 1999, I had just installed Linux, and was one of the first members of Bangladesh Linux Users Group (BDLUG). Back in those days, I had a rickety 19.2 kbps dial up connection, at cut-throat price ... taka 3 per minute. Yet, I spent probably a week looking for the History of Linux. Those were the days before Google became such a hot thing for search, so I think I probably used Yahoo! search. After learning the interesting History of Linux, and with the zeal of a newbie, I wrote a small article on the history of Linux.

First, I posted it in my free web host, It was also mirrored at the BDLug site. It remained there, and I almost forgot about it, until I started getting mails from complete strangers regarding permission to use the article. Many of them wanted to use it for a course, or a LUG meeting, but several of the people wanted to use it for inclusion in a book. After thinking about the whole thing, I decided to release the article free for all non-commercial use.

Next, in 2000, I published the article in a local news paper, The Daily Star. I'd have to check to see if they kept an archive back to 2000, but I may have the copy of the news paper.

By this time, I got several requests from people, who wanted to translate it to other languages. The first one is probably from a Japanese guy, who translated it, and put it in his website. Following that, the article has been translated into 5 or 6 more languages. Here is a list of the different languages.

[Hebrew] | [Bulgarian] [Japanese] [Chinese] [Romanian] [Portuguese]

I recently released version 2.2.0. I wrote about Tanenbaum, Richard Stallman, and other people who were influential in providing the whole basis of Linux.

I keep expanding and enhancing the article on a regular basis. What makes me happy is that the article has proven to be useful to a lot of people, and also many instructors (at least 5 I know of) have used it for their university level courses.