My Published Articles

Location: Karachi, Pakistan

Thursday, December 15, 2005

May 2005

My degrees are not fake
By Salman Siddiqui

JUST flick through the local channels anytime day or night, and there is a nine out of ten chance you’ll find Dr Aamir Liaquat’s face beaming on air, either putting questions to religious experts from different sects, or swinging zealously to hymns. In fact, he now even has a number of religious CD albums to his credit that sell like hot cakes, specially in Ramadan and Rabi-ul-Awal.Shooting to instant stardom in the country by way of anchoring his own show, he now has 500 episodes under the belt which, in Aamir’s own words, are second in number only to some of the largely viewed Indian soaps. Dressed in simple shalwar qameez and traditional slippers, the State Minister for Religious Affairs was in his element when this scribe called on him. He was at his host television’s production office in Karachi, busy screaming at his crew members for not getting things done right. Surprisingly, there was no police brigade around him; not even a personal gunman.A former radio broadcaster on FM101, he once had PTV doors actually closed on him. “A few years ago, I did a program for PTV, but was soon asked to leave since the programme producers there believed that I did not know how to speak, and that I did not have the right manners to make a conversation. I was quite heartbroken for sometime after that.”Aamir Liaquat owes his ‘Dr’ label to his two poles-apart degrees; he got an MBBS from Liaquat Medical College Jamshoro in 1995, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from an online university in 2002. Explaining the events that led him to pursue an online degree in Islamic Studies after completing his medical education, he says: “Before the events of 9/11, in 2000 there was a negative propaganda against Islam. This was the era of the Taliban, who were being labelled as terrorists by the West and were being portrayed as tormentors of the fair sex since they disallowed them to work or pursue education. It was during this time that I started my research work on the topic ‘Islam and Terrorism’ which is also available in book form.”Available for Rs200, the title of the book showcases a nuclear missile wrapped in the flags of Israel and India cruising towards Muslim countries, while the back cover has large-sized pictures of Osama and Al-Zawahiri splashed across.“I worked very hard for over a year on this topic and, in fact, went on to complete 1,500 pages. After completing my research I decided to get it published somewhere so that the world would recognize my effort. For this purpose I contacted all the universities I could find on the net and sent my thesis to them.“A number of them, which include the Ambassador University of Texas, Trinity College & University (Spain), Lincoln College, Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), appreciated my work. Out of these, two universities, the Ambassador University of Texas and the Trinity College & University, offered me honorary degrees on behalf of their faculty of arts, which I duly accepted.“Even though I did work hard for a year on my thesis, I want to make it clear that I have never said that I have pursued a proper education programme for my PhD degrees, which are just honorary entities awarded to me in appreciation of my effort,” he concludes.Recently Aamir Liaquat’s degrees have become quite a contentious issue. His PhD degrees came under intense scrutiny in a section of the Urdu press which claimed that he had ‘bought’ these degrees from online universities in “a desperate attempt to become eligible for contesting the 2002 elections”.More damage was done when the South Asian Tribune, an explosive online news ezine, also picked up this news item and uploaded some so-called documentary evidence on its site. None of these stories featured comments from Aamir, who for the first time has spoken on this issue to any publication.“These are all just lies. Before I never commented on this issue because, I believe, it’s in the nature of dogs to bark, and I don’t want to counter every bark made by a dog. This has all been done by a few people in some newspapers, and other people who don’t wish to see me in the religious spectrum of Pakistan. My PhD degree has nothing to do with my becoming eligible for elections since my medical degree was sufficient for that.“True, I attached my honorary PhD degrees along with my other medical degree when I filed my nomination papers, but I ask, what’s wrong in that. Why should a storm stir up on this issue? Yes, it might be true that the Trinity College sells degrees or that other people buy degrees from it, but I wasn’t aware of or concerned with that. The point is that I got it for free and as an honorary degree.”Hinting on pressures and propaganda from other quarters, he gives the lowdown on his daily challenges which he has to face as a television anchorperson and a minister. “I face difficult times all the time since I’m working against the nature of the clergy in the country. I don’t sport a beard, I wear suits, I wear ties in my programmes and I say this to their faces, very aggressively and with a lot of stress, that this too is Islam. I am like a fish trying to swim against the current. So there are many difficulties, which are expected, since I’ve dared to sit with them on their throne, something which they had always taken for granted as their right. They do question how a young man, who wears jeans and stuff, can come to teach them Islam; this is their job, they believe. So they do question my character, they do question my personality traits, but since this is a challenge of knowledge, they know they cannot question me on that front.”Further strengthening his case, he points out that most of the leading right-wing legislators in the National Assembly and Senate have degrees issued from seminaries. “A month ago, the biggest chain of seminaries in the country, the Ittehad-e- Madarsul Arabia, which has a total of 5,000 branches and from which the likes of Maulana Akhtar Shirani, Maulana Fazl-ur- Rehman, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq and Hafiz Hussain Ahmed have their respective degrees, awarded me the Shahadat-ul-Aalmi degree according to which I’m now even eligible to issue a religious decree. Now tell me, did I also buy this degree?”Moving on, Amir Liaquat stresses that there was absolutely no truth in rumours doing the round that he is tipped to succeed MQM chief Altaf Hussain. “I would like to say this in clear terms that I’m not at all the successor to Altaf Hussain. In fact, from the depths of my heart I sometimes strongly feel that I have made a big mistake by entering politics because there are a lot of lies and hypocrisies in it. I would never want to grow politically. Instead, I want to do some welfare work, and I have a vision of building institutes all over the country where the true picture of our religion will be portrayed.”

March 2005

Millionaire Dreams
Are call centres proving to be the much awaited antidote to our lame duck local tech scene?
By Salman Siddiqui

Meet the millionaire. No, this isn't a reference to some corrupt politician or government officer. If you've driven through Shahrae Faisal in Karachi or gone through the daily newspapers recently, you must have already seen her, a call centre agent, complete with beaming smile and stylish headset.
Welcome to the world of outsourcing, the buzz word that's inspiring many educated middle-class white-collar workers, especially from the South Asian region such as Pakistan, to dream of making a million rupees, if not dollars, in a short time.
Call centres are only just the tip of the huge business process outsourcing (BPO) iceberg, which is expected to grow from 405 billion dollars last year to 682.5 billion dollars in 2008, according to the research group IDC. The BPO services offered by an offshore firm may include many areas other than the call centre operation; such as developing software programes, building computer graphics and animation modules, accounting, legal research, medical transcription, financial analysis etc. In fact in his soon to be published book A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, the celebrated technology journalist and author, Daniel H. Pink, proposes that 'any left-brain' type of job that can be reduced to a set of rules, routines and instructions is a candidate for outsourcing. Moreover, since 'computers can emulate left-hemisphere skills,' he predicts that all such outsourcing operations will eventually become automated.
Foreign companies, like those in the US, save upto 40 per cent in revenues through outsourcing back office operations such as call centres to cheaper offshore firms. But while jobs get created in these offshore locations, many are also lost in the country from which the work is outsourced. Forrester Research predicts that 1 in 9 jobs in the US information technology industry will move overseas by 2010.
Currently, India leads the pack in cashing in from this sector, earning 3.5 billion dollars in revenues last year; A. T. Kearney's Offshore Location Attractiveness Index rates it as the star performer in 2004. Already 300,000 of its knowledge workers are servicing this industry with a million more expected to get hired by 2008 according to NASSCOM - India's equivalent of our own Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA).
Comparatively, Pakistan appears as a weak blip on the outsourcing radar screen even though it seems to be gaining strength, at least in the call centre business spot. Our share from the global BPO business pie stands at a dismal 10 million dollars with an optimistic projection to touch 20 million figure by June 2005. Just a couple of years ago, there were only six call centres functioning in the country but in the last six months there has been 100 per cent growth. There are now about 80 international call centres and more than 30 domestic call centres registered with the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB), utilizing more than 2300 agents.
The Resource Group (TRG) International, a venture of the famed IT entrepreneur Zia Chishti, was the first success story to emerge from home. It made the world sit up and take serious note of Pakistan as a top notch offshore call-centre destination. TRG operates by acquiring BPO type companies in the US and migrates a portion of their business to its facilities in Pakistan. Only 26 months young, TRG is today the largest offshore-controlled call centre company in the world, boasting an impressive clientele of 2000 companies, including leading Fortune 500 companies. It has 18 facilities worldwide, counting 15 in North American, one in Europe and two in Pakistan; it has 3000 employees with current revenue figures peaking at 130 million dollars.
Upon entering TRG's office located at the FTC building in Karachi, one is greeted with the bustle of striking twenty something men and women, all conversing in their acquired American accents. The scene is so picture-perfect that it reminds one of a professional college campus and one has to take a look around to check whether there's a film crew shooting a commercial for one in the background or not. The main deck is a farm of immaculate wood cubicles fitted with flat screened black HP state-of-the-art systems that currently house 200 agents. Asim Saber, Vice President Operations at TRG, is looking to further expand that number by 350 to 500 agents. Although successful in hiring 200 agents in Lahore, he doesn't plan to inflate the call centre operations there simply because a whole crop of better candidates are available in the 'city of lights.' "If there was ever a great field of crop to pick from, then by God, Karachi is it.," says Asim.
Recruitment in all leading call centres such as TRG is a very competitive process, where all aspiring millionaires are put through a series of rigorous selection tests and interviews. In one of his recruiting seminars that this author attended, Asim informs the potential candidates that he has 11,000 resumes for the available 350 positions, implying that he has plenty to choose from. This is in part due to the vast pool of unemployed educated labour available within the country; the current unemployment rate stands at 7.7 per cent. Several such examples also emerged within the seminar, where a group of 50 people had assembled as part of their initial interview phase. Cases in point ranged from an unemployed, middle-aged married man with over 10 years of experience in the airline industry to a mother of three kids with a Master's degree, from a jobless MBBS doctor to a school dropout. The positive aspect of the mushrooming of call centres in the country is that it offers the prospect of providing employment to those among the educated who cannot find employment elsewhere. None of them look for the proverbial 'rocket scientist' that require specific degree backgrounds or some extraordinary technical skills or years of work experience. Anyone meeting the basic requirements of excellent English communication skills with a neutral or Native American or British accent, basic computer skills and the flexibility to work nighttime hours is eligible. No age restrictions apply.
The other important potential that the call centre industry has for the country is that it will make better communicators out of its citizens. "You can have a Ph.D in Astrophysics but if you cannot communicate with someone, then what good is your degree?" asks Asim. "This is the best thing that the call centre industry will do for Pakistan. It will enable our citizens to pick up the most important skill set, which is communication."
Call centres are already challenging the working norms in the country, where one is required to work at odd hours, especially nights, keeping in mind the working hours of the west. This aspect of the job usually discourages women, since our society traditionally raises its eyebrows when a woman steps out of the house to work at night. Even then a number of progressive families, familiar with modern world trends, are sending their daughters, mothers, sisters and wives to work. Take the young and energetic ZB for example. She's a recent graduate in computer science from SZABIST who's been doing night shifts for TRG for the past few months. Citing a professional environment and a hefty salary as a major motivation, she encourages others to join the business. Calling it "the perfect industry for women," Asim currently has a 22 per cent female ratio at his Karachi call centre which he hopes would rise to 50 per cent. All top call centres provide pick and drop facilities, security and even tours of their office space to nervous families as incentives to women to join them. I witnessed one such reassuring tour being given to worried moms at TRG.
In one of its recent articles, the Los Angeles Times reports: "Although Pakistan's economy took a big hit after the 2001 terrorist attacks, there was an unexpected silver lining. As part of a global effort to undermine terrorist financing, the Pakistani government clamped down on the unregulated money-transfer businesses that were the primary funnel for money sent from abroad by émigrés. That prompted a large flow of funds into the nation's banks - four billion dollars last year and billions more expected this year. Although much of that money flowed into the stock market and real estate, some also went into start-up companies, particularly in the technology sector." This assessment is supplemented by a recent remark made by Tariq Ikram, chairman Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), in the press "Last year, investors sank 1.5 billion dollars into the information technology sector, boosting software exports to 50 million dollars."
So what measures has the Ministry of IT&T taken yet to boost investor confidence in the call centre business? In a recent guideline issued by PSEB at its official website, a number of initiatives have been listed, some of which include 100 per cent ownership of equity for foreign investors, tax exemptions for IT companies till 2016, seven years tax holiday for Venture Capital funds and elimination of duties on technology imports. Inviting local entrepreneurs to set up call centres it stresses the point that "the Ambanis, Tatas and Birlas did it for the Indian BPO market. The same is true for Pakistan. The shift from traditional businesses towards a knowledge-based economy will only happen when established business persons and industrialists start entering the IT business segment." True, but the report misses a crucial point: India is reaping the benefits today because of its education system, especially its high calibre technology learning institutes like IIT, which was developed way back under a long-term plan. Serious neglect of academics in the past is gravely limiting Pakistan in its capacity to provide skilled manpower to the global BPO markets.
At the moment it seems the only advantage we have over India is our relatively better English accents, a tag line that has been drummed to death by all parties concerned. But if we are to generate 100,000 agents in the next three to five years, we can't use it as our only trump card. India is set to become the world's largest English-speaking force by the year 2010, and with its accent reduction training centres we'll soon lose that advantage too. The trick is to concentrate on developing long-term strategies.
Another important thing to realise is that we aren't in a technology war with India; we can't be, since they have already won it. So, since you can't beat them, it would be savvy to join them instead.
Collaborations will be of benefit to both parties, more so for Pakistan. It's good to see PASHA starting to facilitate this. Three Pakistani IT companies signed up with Indian firms last February when they attended a NASCOMM conference in India. Forging a relationship between the universities of the two countries, with student exchange programes, can achieve even more, and calls for immediate consideration.
Also the claim that the operating costs of a call centre are significantly low in Pakistan is not convincing and needs to be backed up by significant cuts in the bandwidth rate. As of now, a 64Kbps connection costs 3325 USD whereas a 2Mbps connection costs around 47,400 USD per annum, rates that are quite high if you compare them with the rates in the US. In fact, in a recent change in tariff rates, the Indians have brought down the rates of their 64Kbps down to just 550 USD and 19,400 USD per annum for their 2Mbps connection. In addition, the opening up of broadband licenses will not contribute much to the call centres, if the current restriction that says bandwidth for call centres can only be obtained through PTCL stays in place.
Political instability, a poor public image of the country and frequent power outages are other factors that hamper the growth of the industry. No doubt branding Pakistan is a challenge but if we are to compete with emerging strong contenders in Dubai, Mauritius and Singapore, besides the established players in India and Philippines, the sooner we pursue it aggressively the better. As for the power problem, it's time big cities such as Karachi got a new power generator guaranteeing 24/7 uninterrupted supply. With emerging broadband players providing a taste of always-on-high speed Internet access to people, there's a potential of banking on at least a further hundred thousand if not a million more 'knowledge' workers who can provide BPO type services while sitting at home. The problems and their solutions are simple, they need to be tackled head-on - and NOW. The government has to get the basics right, work out long-term strategies, and a robust infrastructure, and everything else will fall into place.

January 2005

Byline: Salman Siddiqui
Title: Certified Lies II
Blurb: Arena Multimedia vs. Quality Education

Arena Multimedia has been in the business of providing professional education in the field of multimedia for the past seven years. After visiting one of its branches undercover assumingly to seek admissions in their diploma and bachelors program, this author questioned the credibility of its services in the last November issue of SPIDER. Here the student counselor had given not only inadequate information regarding its affiliation status of its bachelors program called BIM with the Newport Institute of Communication and Economics (NICE) but also false information concerning the approval of its diploma courses from the Sindh Board of Technical Education (SBTE).
Terming it a ‘one off case’ Arshad Khalil, the Master Franchiser of Arena Multimedia, insists that there’s no policy in place at Arena to deliberately hide or misinform people in order to lure students into their institute and informs that after the above stated incident he had called in the heads of all his branches to advise them on providing precise information.
In July last year, the SBTE had issued a warning to "10 various private educational institutions in Karachi against offering courses franchised from Aptech, which are not approved from any accrediting body in Pakistan." Out of those 10, three were branches of Arena. Calling it an ‘unfortunate incident’ Arshad says that “the SBTE had issued the warning without getting in touch with us. This was primarily aimed at Aptech Computer Education Centers (ACE). We then launched a strong complaint with SBTE that we had always wanted to get registered with them, but only didn’t do so before because earlier SBTE didn’t (show interest to) evaluate the courses of Multimedia.” Although still not approved, Arshad showed documentary proof of the evaluation committee formed and claimed that by the end of January, all Arena courses will get the necessary stamp of recognition from SBTE.
Arena Multimedia itself is not a degree awarding institution but infact issues degrees for its bachelors program through NICE. In a recent ad, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) placed NICE amongst the worst educational institutions in the country. Under the headline "Public Alert on Substandard Private Universities", the report declares that NICE is "Seriously Deficient" in meeting even the minimum standards set out by the authority. Further it states that by February, 2007 the federal cabinet will withdraw the charter of NICE and other such shoddy institutes. Now the question is what future holds for those unfortunate students who have paid large sums of 2 lakh plus rupees in tuition fee to Arena for this three year bachelors program?
Surprisingly, in spite of this alarming situation, Arshad sees ‘tremendous’ promise in the future of his bachelors students, proclaiming that the skills passed on at Arena will get them the jobs available in the market. Highlighting the fact that “the problem lies with NICE and not with Arena”, the Master Franchiser is now planning to switch over to Mohammad Ali Jinnah University (MAJU),a university currently rated at C by HEC as compared to D of NICE, for affiliation. In any case Arena has to stick with NICE for at least the whole of next year, since about 40 students are still currently enrolled in BIM needing just about six more months to complete their degree requirements. Currently All new enrollments in Arena’s BIM program have been put on hold.
So why did Arena approach a substandard university like NICE in the first place? According to Arshad, “When I started (the BIM program) four years back, many universities here in Pakistan didn’t think that multimedia is a course worthy of awarding a degree on.” On failing to secure affiliation status from any of the reputable universities, Arena was left with no other option at that time but to associate itself with NICE. In the present scene where the hype of multimedia is at an all time high, Arshad says that he has many options with him and has been approached by many universities such as MAJU for affiliation.
On the allegation that Arena charges exorbitant fees for its courses, Arshad counters that “Arena is in fact catering to people from not so affluent classes who are in need of jobs.” Charging an average of about 5000 Rs. per month, Arshad says he’s helpless in doing so since “I can’t teach students at 2000 Rs. per month and at the same time also provide them a creative environment with good teachers.” In any case he informs us that Arena arranges for loans sponsored by some private donor companies to deserving students who can’t afford their fees and currently they are about 100 such students studying at Arena that utilize these loans. Moreover last year about 460 students out of the 1000 students passed out from Arena were successfully able to secure jobs.
Setting aside the criticism leveled by different local leaders from the production and animation houses that say Arena focuses only on teaching tools, Arshad says “Definitely we teach the tools that are in demand in the market since Arena is a professional institute which has an aim to impart skills to people so that they can earn and get jobs.”
Admitting that ‘Arena isn’t the best institute and has many rooms for improvement’, one might agree with Arshad when he says that “if you minus Arena out of the whole equation of training skilled manpower in multimedia you aren’t left with any other good options.”

November 2004

Goodbye Hollywood, Hello Haalivud?
by Salman Siddiqui

From Spiderman’s realistic skyscraper slinging to Keanu Reeve’s bullet dodging in The Matrix, computer-aided animation has come a long way in bringing our wildest imaginations to the silver screen. The entertainment industry is raking in big time from the digital effects business, where a single animated movie such as the recent Tom Hanks flick ‘Polar Express’ can cost upto ‘a million dollars per minute’; NASCOMM estimates global revenues to clock a massive US$70 billion from this sector alone by 2005. The good news is that the international special effects industry, in particular the studios in US and Europe, is eagerly outsourcing computer graphics (CG) work from its leading film and television series to other cost effective avenues such as Korea and Philippines. In return the companies get high standard CG work done at only 10 to 40 percent of the original cost it would take them to complete the project at home. India too is cashing in, with current earnings tipped at US$150 million according to a recent CNN report. 2008 is expected to be the year when 300,000 of the enormous Indian tech force will dedicate itself exclusively to this trade. Pakistan, on the other hand, has recently woken up to the huge potential in this area. Presently there’s only one animation house in the country, Post Amazers, that boasts a portfolio of international projects in hand including the Hollywood blockbusters ‘Exorcist-The Beginning’ and ‘Son of Mask’. On a positive note, the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) has started to show ‘interest’ in this arena and started off on the right chord last June when it invited an internationally renowned CG artist of Pakistani origin, Muqeem Khan, for a workshop in Lahore. Currently the ‘daal roti’ of all the local animation business combined comes from TV commercials, many of which create special effects that border narrowly on the lines of lunacy. Cases include dancing cows for a washing soap, detergent boxes capable of acrobatic feats and a 2D animation of an annoying fat cat that promotes bubble gum. The last example was actually created by an overseas group informs Asif Iqbal, CEO Post Amazers, who puts the entire earning of the local animation trade down to ‘a million dollars’. An encouraging sign is that Pakistan is witnessing a revolution in the electronic medium. Already 12 new local TV channels have sprung up with 34 more in the pipeline. FM radio too is getting a major boost with 55 licenses in the offing from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Ironically, because of this very boom we have ourselves a cart put before the horse situation, where although the medium is there, the trained creative lot required to run the show that includes animators, film makers, script writers, producers, directors, creative managers, actors, radio DJs etc. isn’t. In fact, not until recently, there wasn’t a single film making or acting school available in the country that could polish the creative skills of our talented community. Even now that the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), an acting and music school, has been formed in Karachi under the chairmanship of Zia Moheyuddin and the first department to offer a four year bachelors degree in television and film has been launched at NCA Lahore, the results of these initiatives will not be seen until at least for the next few years. Against this backdrop, the animation and video production houses are left with no other option but to impart on-the-job training to new recruits. Terming it ‘a missed opportunity’, Asif states that the government could have nurtured an industry of upto five to six thousand animators just for local projects if it had capitalized on these upcoming channels from the start. To achieve that, the government needed to formulate futuristic policies, such as a mandatory children’s hour slot with programs containing locally developed 2D or 3D cartoons for television. But since no such policies are in place even now, the increase in TV channels won’t necessarily entail a huge demand for animators, who derive their work primarily from advertising agencies. While stressing the need to develop an ‘infrastructure’ in order to create an animation industry, Tahir Moosa a partner in Sharp Image, points out that none of the art institutes here, be it NCA Lahore, the Karachi School of Art, Indus Valley or the Visual Studies department of KU, are delivering ‘professionals or even semi-professionals’ that can be labeled as digital artists. Further, he goes on to say that ‘we’re churning out technicians rather than engineers, capable of using popular animation tools such as Maya or 3D Studio Max, but those that lack the essential story board and character building skills.’ He believes that things can change for the better if these institutes start offering specific degree programs in animation like they do for communication design, graphic design and the fine arts. Taking the cue from our local tech leaders, the Ministry of IT&T has started to collaborate with NCA Lahore to launch six month certificate courses in animation and video production. Apart from hiring an American and a German teacher, this evening program will hire the services of noted drama writer Asghar Nadeem Syed to teach story writing, TV producer Shaukat Zainul Abidin to impart production skills, and Faryal Gauhar to coach on culture and film. The government has agreed to sponsor 90% of the total fee for each of these 70 seats, 40 to 45 for animation and 25 to 30 for video production, requiring every student to pay only Rs. 2000 per month. Moreover the Ministry of Education has approved a generous grant of Rs. 40 million for the purchase of equipment to be installed at the newly established Film and Television Department of NCA, for which the whole of Sindh got only one seat out of the total 16 seats offered in their degree program. One wonders why the art schools in Karachi and elsewhere have been ignored with similar kind of opportunities. Dr. Amir Matin, the Managing Director PSEB, offers this explanation: ‘There is no particular reason for the initiative not being offered to art schools in Karachi. In fact, we have been urging the animation industry to set up a center of excellence in Karachi in collaboration with an art school, and have formally requested them to submit proposals. However, the quality of the proposals submitted was unfortunately not such that they could be funded. This does not mean that we have given up, however. Please also note that such initiatives take a long time within the government to mature. For instance, the NCA project took over 18 months and it is still not yet fully operational. Capacity within our own Ministries and departments is also limited. We think that we have to keep this reality in mind and try to deliver few things instead of starting off a lot of projects and then not be able to do justice to any one of them.’ The private institute Indus Valley School of Art in Karachi is also planning to offer a bachelors program in film making but with its Rs. 50,000+ per semester tuition fees, it caters to a select segment of our society. A few months back PSEB had also announced a four-month apprenticeship program to the computer graphics, animation and game development companies, offering them subsidized training costs associated with hiring fresh employees. Whether these schemes have the muscle to churn out the required CG artists to create an animation industry within Pakistan remains to be seen. To his defense, the PSEB MD argues that all these programs ‘are in line with what the industry has provided feedback on.’ Saqlain, an art teacher at Karachi University (KU) with experience in creating the visual f/x for ‘Exorcist-The Beginning’, feels that the government is concentrating only on meeting the market for people who want to make quick bucks, and is ignoring the faculty of art schools that can truly tell them what steps are needed to nurture the human resource. Calling on the government to ‘feed the mother’, Saqlain believes that unless there’s a huge investment in the educational sector, in particular the state run universities such as KU, in terms of equipping them with the latest camera equipment and other expensive machinery, hiring foreign faculty and arranging workshops regularly, the students won’t get the proper training. Duria Qazi, the chairperson of the Visual Studies department at KU, suggests that instead of buying and duplicating expensive equipment for each and every art school, an entire studio can be built for the purpose of educational experimentation, with help from the government and private donors, such that different institutes can share time on it. Sure, fostering partnerships with foreign industry giants is a step in the right direction; courtesy of the GoP, representatives from nine local companies were flown into South Korea last November for a five day visit to seek possible collaboration and outsourcing opportunities. At the same time the government needs to set up more film making and animation schools around the country, especially in Karachi, if it is to grab the market from its competitors. Are we lagging far behind? Technologically yes, but we haven’t missed the boat yet. Pose this question to anyone involved in the animation business and they’ll tell you very optimistically that with the right kind of investments and well thought out plans based on long-term strategies, we can catch up with global animation hot spots in just two to three years. Hope floats.

Interview Transcription
Muqeem Khan

Now teaching animation to students in Dubai, digital artist Muqeem Khan claim to fame is being part of the visual effects team of the Final Fantasy movie- the blockbuster that stunned the world with its almost real virtual characters. SPIDER nets Muqeem when he stopped over to Karachi a couple of months back.

Q: How far are we lagging behind in terms of animation expertise and technology in Pakistan?
A: We are lagging behind in the right direction. I don’t think we should compete but instead learn from our neighboring countries such as India, which has focused more on education and planning. I think we are still in the short term planning stages when we really need to go for a long-term plan to nurture our human resources needed to achieve long-term goals.

Q: How can we do that? What steps need to be taken?
A: One step to do that is to have a center of excellence, some kind of higher education environment for graphics where one can collaborate from art school and computer science graduates. There are so many arts and design graduates who are passing out apart from the computer science graduates. If these two collaborate and have another level of education or a learning atmosphere then I think there would be a cycle of human resource coming in and out from production houses. A better understanding of the outsourcing markets is also necessary so that one can learn the quality and time deadlines of western businesses.

Q: Why aren’t we producing high quality digital artists?
A: The reason why you don’t have that here is because the people who are working outside are still working outside. Maybe one way of doing it is to drag them in and ask them to share their knowledge as much as they can. I count myself as an example. Every time I’m here and there’s a call I try to give as much exposure as I can. Exposure is the first step. Second is to have a goal and a set of objectives, and knowing how to achieve those. For that reason you need to have a very systematic approach and action plan; you need to have the right positive and collaborative approach. In institutes and production houses I see that they don’t try to work amongst each other.

Q: Having the experience of working for Hollywood movies, do you think our own movie powerhouse, the Lollywood, would be able to make a Final Fantasy of our own?
A: (laughs) I think rather than thinking about Final Fantasy, we should think about making Musarat Shaheen jump real high and show actual bullets flying through Sultan Rahi’s chest, depicting the real life realities such as blood oozing out etc. So I think the technology is already there and it’s only a matter of time before we too would be employing such methodologies in our film medium.

October 2004

Slug: Entertainment
Byline: Salman Siddiqui
Title: Top of the charts.
Blurb: SPIDER gleans the best of entertainment from the Web.

Cast: Bipasha Basu, Sanjay Dutt, Amrita Arora, Sharat Saxena, Dino Morea, Neha Dhupia, Suniel Shetty
Genre: Supernatural/Thriller/Mystery
Not exactly as enticing as Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot, this latest offering from Bollywood is nevertheless a notch above the common place in the category of supernatural movies. Rakht is the story of a tarot card reader Drishti (Bipasha Basu) who has a unique gift of sensing approaching danger and to foresee occurrences. When one night Natasha (Amrita Arora), the daughter of the Mayor (Sharat Saxena), vanishes mysteriously after a night out with her friends, her husband Rahul (Sanjay Dutt) approaches Drishti for help out of sheer desperation. Things take a drastic turn when the finger of suspicion points towards Sunny (Dino Morea), a man known to have a violent relationship with his wife Rhea (Neha Dhupia). Arrested and sentenced to imprisonment, the entire climax of the movie revolves around the question whether he is the real culprit or not. Heavily borrowed from Keanu Reeves earlier flick ‘The Gift’, the subject of this movie has a special appeal to Indian audiences where astrologers, palmists and tarot card readers are a part of the culture.
The official movie site is very professionally done where you can even buy the rights to screen the film in the trade enquiry section. There’s a wallpaper for each character of the film and although the screensaver size is a mammoth 2MB file, the download is worth it. Also while the flash version of the site is exciting, it isn’t recommended to people who don’t have a broadband connection; enjoy the goodies available from the homepage instead. Audio and video clips are available to preview the film online alongside a nice collection of movie stills.

Dil Ne Jise Apna Kahaa
Cast: Salman Khan, Bhumika Chawla, Preity Zinta
Genre: Romance
This is one of those dopey Bollywood love flicks where the entire story annoyingly centers on the importance of ‘pyaar’ between two crazy people and how it is the solution to all the problems of the world (imagine that!).
Rishabh (Salman Khan), a successful partner in a media company, and
Pari (Preity Zinta), a doctor, are a match made in heavens. However tragedy falls on the couple when Pari has a fatal accident that brings down the walls of their happiness with her untimely death. Devastated, Rishabh pledges to fulfill Pari’s last wish to build a charitable hospital for the poor. But while working towards this ‘noble’ cause, Rishabh meets the beautiful Dhani (Bhumika Chawla) and (surprise!) is drawn towards to her. The film portrays the emotional turmoil of Rishabh who is reminded every time of his loss each time he feels for Dhani.
The site loads up with a flash movie that shows Salman Khan emerging as a god from the blue sky with the following lines: “jo guzar gaya woh kal tha, jo anay wala hay who bhi kal hai, faisla tumhe kerna hay, tum kis kal mein jeena chahtay ho”. Unless you’re a diehard fan of Sallu, you really want to bang your head against the monitor after watching that 3 minute movie. The site is so heavily laden with flash that it takes eons to go just about anywhere there. Though you can stream seven original tracks from the movie, I would suggest that you play some online game instead.

Kyun Hogaya Na
Cast: Aishwarya Rai, Tinnu Anand, Amitabh Bachchan, Vivek Oberoi, Om Puri and Rati Agnihotri
Genre: Romance/Drama
One of the silliest titles that one can probably ever come up for a movie, Kyun Hogaya Na is another Bollywood love story that fails to make an impression in spite of its star studded cast.
Diya (Aishwarya Rai) is a beautiful girl committed to social welfare. She gets involved with the work of her dad’s friend Raj Chauhan (Amitabh Bachchan), who has dedicated his life to run a small orphanage at his home. Her life takes a new twist when she meets the fun loving Arjun (Vivek Oberoi). The film from there on is all about the mushy mushy romance between these two where the guy doesn’t muster enough courage to express his love for the chick until the very end of the movie.
The site has a very funky layout that kicks off with an interesting flash presentation of the movie. Although there aren’t many wallpapers or movie stills available for download, the site has detailed info on the story, cast and crew of the film

Cast: Rasika Joshi, Raghuveer Yadav, Antra Mali, Raman Trikha
Genre: Action/Drama
Vishnu Prasad (Tusshar Kapoor) is a loser lacking self-confidence and the attitude to lead a normal life. His family problems include a pesky mother (Rasika Joshi) who violently beats him up given the slightest opportunity and a petrified father (Raghuveer Yadav) who has always remained a silent spectator to his son’s misery. The love of his life Mohini (Antra Mali) doesn’t even know of his existence whereas her boyfriend (Raman Trikha) would box him to death if he ever got even near her. Dejected with his life he prays to god to make him invisible. And just like that one day he becomes Gayab.
The film hasn’t been well received by critics, one reason being that it isn’t an original piece of work that has loads of inspiration from the movie Hollow Man. Even though the official site opens up to a nauseating spiral of options, it is commendable with a very well designed layout. The best part is when you place the mouse pointer over the invisible man in the three piece suite and it slowly goes gayab. Trailers and songs from the movie are also available.

Before mixing Bhangra with rap, techno, raaga and dance rhythms, Sukhbir was actually pursuing a career in Information Technology. Hitting instant stardom with his debut album ‘New Style’ in 1995, this Bhangra pop star credits his success to his father, who besides penning some lyrics for his musician son is also a priest at a Sikh temple in Kenya. Announcing the release of his new album ‘Dil Kare’ at his official site, the artist offers seven music videos for download and some ten hit tracks for online previewing to his fans. However unlike his music that has a unique sound and feel, the site has nothing special to offer.

Stereo Nation
Stereo Nation is essentially the noise of the British born Asian Taz, who describes himself as a pioneer in pop fusion and futuristic dimension of cross-cultural music. Listing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Prince as his inspirations, Taz has a multi-platinum album ‘I’ve Been Waiting’ to his credit that features a hybrid of Punjabi dance grooves.
The Stereo Nation site is another example of a badly designed Indian pop star site. Although fans will find plenty of pictures of Taz from his world tours, the real meat such as mp3s or lyrics of the songs are missing.

Daler is your famous rags to riches story where before driving his current latest Mercedes Benz SUV, he used to earn his living by driving a taxi. Today he earns around 16 lakh Indian rupees per show which is a far cry from the Rs.500 he used to get for playing the tabla at Gurdaspur as a teenager. Singing since the age of 5, Daler is known to have a huge heart and was also instrumental in raising funds for Imran Khan’s Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. However this undisputed king of Bhangra music had his image tarnished recently when he was arrested in a human trafficking case. At his official site special mention of this episode is made, where Daler maintains that the entire allegation was fabricated by the police and that he never took money to take people illegally abroad as part of his entourage.
Like his personality the site too is very colorful and is by far the best Indian pop star site that SPIDER came across. From music videos to lyrics and pictures to an online forum, this site has it all. Fans will love the merchandise section where one can buy Daler shirts, stickers, post cards besides the CDs and cassettes of their idol.

Bombay Vikings
Though Indian born, the Sweden based composer and singer of Bombay Vikings Neeraj Shridhar, is more fluent in Swedish than Hindi or English. Claiming to have “made the West meet the East” through their music, the group specializes in remixing old Hindi film tunes by layering their own lyrics over them and still managing to retain the essence of the original tracks- a process which they proudly brag as ‘reverse mixing’. This experiment led to the bands global popularity with one hit album after another such as Woh Chali, Kya Soorat Hai and now Hawa Mein Udta Jaye.
Sadly however only three mp3s: Who Chali, Angel Eyes and Kya Soorat hay are available for download at the site along with lyrics for only a few songs. Also disappointingly, even though it boasts two awards from the International Webmasters Association, the horribly colored yellow and red site is very mediocre. No updates on the band or their upcoming gigs are available nor are there any pictures of the band. The only good thing is the option to create a free web based 6MB email account where one gets an ID like But in this age of Gmail who would care for a 6MB account?

Anaida has to her credit of singing a Hindi version of the song ‘Hakuna matata’ from the soundtrack of the Walt Disney movie The Lion King. She also has the distinction of making the first fully 3D animated video of her song ‘Hoo Halla Hoo’ in India. Besides having the ability to sing songs in eight different languages, she’s an accomplished painter and dancer. Previews of tracks from her latest album Chori Chori are available online along with a detailed biography and a collection of the Eurasian artist’s pictures.
Ravi Shanker
Revered the world over for his extraordinary sitar playing and composing skills, Ravi Shanker’s musical career spans over a vast period of sixty years. He is credited with introducing Indian music to the West and has the distinction of having fourteen honorary doctorate degrees amongst his many other awards. Following her father’s footsteps Anoushka Shanker too has made a name for herself whereas his other daughter Norah Jones, whom he doesn’t acknowledge, also made musical history when she won the highest number of Grammy awards.
Featured at the site are detailed biographies of the artist, photos, separate section on Indian music that also contains a list of the ragas composed by Ravi Shanker, and a segment on the development of the Ravi Shankar foundation where donations are accepted. Although useful in terms of information, the site offers nothing in downloads.

Euphoria are a six-member band comprising of Palash Sen on vocals, Gaurav Mishra on guitars, Debajyoti Bhaduri on bass, Benjamin Pinto on keyboards, Hitesh Madan on guitars and Christopher Powell on drums. These rock faces from India are actually quite scary that give the false impression of a death metal outfit when in reality their music is more inclined towards their traditional folk music. Naming their music territory as ‘Hindi rock’, Euphoria has been in the Indian music Industry since early 1989. With two only albums to their credit "Dhoom" and Phir Dhoom", all tracks are available online at the bands official site in streaming audio format. Interesting biographies of each band member also contain snaps from their childhood years.

Slug: GopherIT
Byline: Salman Siddiqui
Title: GopherIT
In these depressing times, everyone can use a laugh. And there’s no place better than to get it online. With a nice collection of hilariously doctored pictures, this site is guaranteed to have you rolling on the floor if you have a sense of humor. From drunken cats smoking cigarettes to ostriches watching television when having their heads buried under the ground, these bizarre images are the courtesy of a British guy Dave who generously offers people to download his artwork free of cost. Don’t forget to check the links section where the artist also provides a useful list of Photoshop sites on the web.

Instead of sleeping with your eyes open, try Fly guy as a new tool of procrastination. This simple to play online game loads up quickly and will have you occupied for a good 15 minutes at any given time of the day. Just roam around the sky with Fly guy using your arrow keys and meet angels, god, birds amidst a number of other interesting characters on the way.

The Rabbit
Another simple yet absorbing online game, where this time one has to use the mouse buttons to fool around. Just bring the pointer near the rabbit which will cling to it until you jerk it off by banging it up and down the screen. The objective is to keep the mouse pointer away from the rabbit as much as possible. Happy Playing!

Stanford Prison Experiment
Consider playing the role of a prisoner in a simulation game only to end up realizing that you’ve been framed in that position for life. That’s how the prisoners in Stanford’s prison experiment felt after they had voluntarily signed up for a two-week study on the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or a prison guard. From getting stripped naked to being forced to clean their toilet bowls in chains, the experiment turned as serious as real-life prison situations. Eventually the test had to be aborted only after six days when several of the prisoners suffered severe emotional trauma. Get a load of this horribly gone wrong experiment at the site where the consultant of this entire exercise gives his testimonial to what exactly happened. Warning: Children are advised to stay away.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Knowledge of philosophy gives one insight into the meaning of life and existence. Besides gaining wisdom, it’s the next best trick in the trade to impress the opposite sex and is frequently used by Casanovas to jazz up conversations. So bookmark ‘The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’ where you’ll find a huge database of philosophical facts starting from pre-Socrates times to the present day. Use the site’s search engine to look for the desired theorist or browse the alphabetically arranged list. Even though the site could have been made livelier if some pictures of the great thinkers had been included, serious philosophers wouldn’t find this as a major turn off.

September 2004

Top of the Charts
by Salman Siddiqui
Cast: Meera, Zara Sheikh, Ahmed, Saud, Shafi Muhammad, Sajid Hasan
Genre: Action/Thriller/Romance
If there’s one movie with the muscle to change the common perception that Pakistani cinema has lost all its charm then it’s the latest Urdu flick Salakhain. With an impressive cast that also consists of seasoned TV artists Shafi and Sajid, the film’s star attraction is LUX Style Award’s male model of the year Ahmed. The storyline is unlike other run of the mill films that portray an ambitious youth Faizan (Ahmed) whose parents have very high expectations of their studious son. Things take a drastic turn when he finds himself the target of political mafias within an examination center. Faizan ends up in jail on (fabricated) charges of cheating that shock his father to death and force his mother to lose her sanity. Seeking vengeance, the enraged youth takes up the inevitable course to the underworld. Of course, in between our hero also falls in love with Savera (Zara) first and then Natasha (Meera) amidst a number of dance numbers to make things more interesting.Apart from commendable cinematic efforts, exhaustive attention has been given to the official movie website which made SPIDER sit up and take note. The site contains (surprise!) error free facts on the film such as the synopsis, briefs on the cast and crew, a careful collection of about 50 pictures from the movie, wallpapers, a screen saver and the option to download seven original tracks. Separate websites for Ahmed and Meera have also been developed that contain even more pictures and screensavers beside detailed biographies. And (wait for it) Meera also has an email address for her many, many fans! Are you typing it out already?!
Cast: Resham, Zara, Talat HussainGenre: Action/Romance
If one is to judge a film from its online presence then Laaj sucks big time. A ridiculous site where almost no information regarding the story of the film is available except for the statement “Laaj: It happened in the East.” Even the names of the cast aren’t mentioned; instead only their pictures have been displayed in the Characters section. Less you miss it, the director Rauf Khalid’s name is annoyingly found in almost every other link at the site. Even the screensaver isn’t downloadable and there aren’t any interesting shots from the film either. Maybe the movie is set in partition or perhaps it is shot in England…one is left to speculate since a tiny Union Jack is found at the bottom of every page which leaves you wondering...?

Pyaar Hi Pyaar All New FacesGenre: Romance
PHPM claims to be “a gust of fresh air that will finally bring Pakistani cinema out of this suffocating callers of mediocrity”; exactly how it achieves that is hard to understand especially since neither is there a strong storyline to support the film nor are they any famous actors in it. The names of the cast again aren’t mentioned anywhere but plenty of pictures of the leading actor can be found squeezing the babes in every possible way imagined. Although low on information, the site is neatly arranged.

M u s i c
Josh is the brainchild of Rupinder Magon and Qamar Hussain. Rupinder formed the band while working as an economist for a software company. Storming the mainstream charts with the hit single ‘Kabhi’, this South Asian duo from Montreal are now rubbing shoulders with the likes of Sukhbir and Nelly Furtado. Complete with lyrics, one can find entire track samples from their latest offering along with MP3s you can download from their first album ‘Mein Hoon Tanha’. Six high quality videos catering both to 56K and 300K connections are also available. Besides the active discussion forum in which the band participates, the well-designed site is always updated with the latest news on their tours. Although fans will be delighted to find free ring tones and tons of pictures in the gallery section, a screensaver is surely missed here.
Ali Zafar
Counting Mehdi Hasan, Amanat Ali Khan, and Ghulam Ali amongst many others in his list of inspirations, it’s mind boggling that Ali Zafar chose to sing ‘Channo’ to mark his singing debut instead of some raga. One must commend him on his clever selection since he has the entire nation on their feet—a feat previously achieved by Abrar’s Billo. The multi-talented artist lists modeling, acting and painting as his other creative outlets on his website where an interesting biography of his upbringing, with snaps of his artwork, is colorfully revealed. Apart from Channo-exclusive pictures in the gallery section, fans will be delighted to see some cheesy ‘Ali with General Pervaiz Musharaf and Bollywood star’ snaps. All tracks from his only album ‘Huqa Paani’ can be previewed online, where the Channo remix of the song ‘Every Breath You Take’ mp3 is also available for ‘free’—diehard Sting fans are advised to stay away.
Ali Azma
Amidst rumors of Junoon’s split, it is no surprise that Ali Azmat has released his swan song on the Net. His website marks the artist’s upcoming solo gig with the following words: “Ali Azmat branched out from the ‘90s Sufi-power sensation Junoon at the altitude of their fame in order to advance his solo career. His decision to take a new direction, while still being a member of the group, was solely based on him wanting to delve into a completely discrete era of music. His Junoon fans will not be disappointed and he’ll surely motivate some new ones.” All Junoon songs written and composed by Ali can be found neatly arranged in the download section. You will also find a fresh track title ‘Main’ from his upcoming album with an exclusive ‘Garaj Baras’ video. Fans will love the desktop goodies available here that includes a collection of funky wallpapers and Winamp skins (wah!).
Jal used to be Gohar as the lead guitarist and Atif as the vocalist of the band. Soon after the huge success of their single ‘Aadat’, the two split up having developed differences over monetary issues. Both Gohar and Atif filed cases against each other in court to grab the ownership of the band name ‘Jal’. Atif has already released his album titled ‘Jal Pari’ and Goher, who claims to be the original brains behind the band, is struggling to do the same. The threads at the site’s discussion forum are almost always centered on the bad blood between these two. There’s also nothing much for fans of the band except for a large blue logo that greets you as soon as you enter the site. Other than that you get to download the ‘Aadat’ video and the songs ‘Dil Haray’ and ‘Rangoon Mein’.
The Call
“We CALL You All to Perform a Sacred Sin” is a very lame Call by an otherwise talented group of individuals that is headed by EP’s band manager Khurram (he plays drums in the band). Although their album is still in the development phase, some of their tracks such as ‘Nishaan’, ‘Pukaar’ and ‘Kash’ have become quite popular and are also available for free at their site. The artistically done official site also contains a fan forum, wallpapers, and a list of previous tracks by the band. In the profile section, band heavy weight Khurram’s bio is the most detailed where he thanks everyone except his Abdul Noker who fed him when he was five; other members just get to say how they got introduced to ‘Khurram bhai’.
The emerging pop rock band Rungg started to make waves in the music scene with the release of their debut single ‘Hum Naa’, a romantic ballad. This promising act’s members are Iftikhar Habib, whose voice reminds one of Zohaib Hasan, and the lead guitarist Sarmed Ghafoor, who is heavily influenced by Joe Satriani. One has to compliment the bands professional dedication towards their success that is evident from their impressive press kit and website. For samples of their tracks and videos, log on to their well maintained site.
Axe man Assad Ahmed’s Karavan has been in the music scene for a while now. With Tanseer Dar taking the front seat, the band seems to be cruising along in the right direction since the success of their superb album Gardish. The multimedia section at the band’s official site will rock every Karavan fan on the planet as it contains all the tracks from their albums for free, alongside a whole collection of video clips. The pictures of the band members need immediate attention as some of the photos, such as those of Alan Smith, are so completely outdated.
Fuzon have proved just over a year that they are the best examples of fusion music in the country. Their official site, however, leaves a lot to be desired. It’s so heavily laden with graphics and Flash movies that it takes up eons for the site to load over a normal dial-up connection. An interesting raag of the month, band bios and album details can be found at the site. Some sections such as Fuzon ring tones are still under development.

September 2004

The Brian O'Connell Story
By Salman Siddiqui

Yes, it’s now official. The pioneers of rock music in Pakistan, Junoon, have ‘fired’ their leading bass guitar player Brian O’Connell, setting the entire future of the band into uncertainty. Although the rumors of the split had been around for quite some time, the situation became obvious when, during a press conference in the mid of last July, Salman and Ali both vehemently avoided any questions regarding the status of their former band-mate. In fact, Ali got so infuriated by a fellow journalist’s persistent questions regarding Brian’s health that he almost yelled "Aap uss say khud phone kerkay kion nahin pooch laytay? (Why don’t you call him up and ask for yourself?)" The final nail in the coffin appeared when a cheery Salman Ahmed announced the inclusion of Mekaal Hasan as a ‘special guest on bass’ in all their upcoming gigs. On the other hand, Brian was reported in the press giving conflicting statements regarding his position in the band. Instead of using the word ‘fired’, Brian said he was ‘temporarily non-existent’. The picture became foggier when he was found representing Junoon on City FM 89 in spite of his declared disassociation. However on bringing up this issue, Brian made it clear that he has been ‘fired by Salman’ and explained the sequence of events: “Well I decided, before they decided to kick me out. I was finding that the band was keeping me away from my family for too long. It’s been a tough year (that had the) ending of a marriage, losing all of my money, then coming into a place like this; I mean I used to live a rather nice life and now I’m a 'Ghareebo'. Also my parents’ health is very poor and I don’t get a chance to see them much. I suffered from depression which affected my performance in the band, and it got to the point where I said, I just don’t want to do this anymore. Then a few months back we had a show in the Middle East - I slept right through it and never boarded the plane; it was the first time I had ever missed a Junoon show. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back when Salman and Ali said ‘No, we can’t take this kind of behavior anymore!’”. Brian further commented on the straining relationship between Junoon members. “Over the past couple of years the three of us have drifted (apart) as friends. Salman is now living in my hometown in New York, so communication is very limited; I haven’t spoken to him in months. And I can’t hang out with Ali cause Ali is Ali; he’s a party animal. He can’t understand who I’m not; I’ve got girls, I’ve got responsibility. We would always come together on stage but then after we left, sometimes we wouldn’t even talk for weeks! So the whole thrill is gone.” Nursing a bandaged arm from a recent car accident that has caused partial paralysis in his guitar-playing right hand, Brian describes his fear of not ever being able to play the guitar. “It scares the heck out of me. Just little things you take for granted, (for example), I couldn’t even cash a cheque at the bank because they couldn’t recognize my signature. I can’t write and because of the nerve damage sometimes the hand shakes.” His hand condition is so serious that this writer actually had to help the bass guitar maestro to switch off the alarm in his left handed wrist watch. Choosing family over Junoon, this single parent of two girls, aged 6 and 10, isn’t sure whether he should stick around Pakistan or not. "But I do feel, I definitely sense that I need to be here. (At times) I strongly consider going back to the states, because sometimes this place drives me nuts. And with all the violence, I worry so much about the kids. But I love the cultural and educational upbringing that we receive here; you can’t get that in the States. Also, my present state of affairs is such that I just can’t afford to fly the three of us there and back. So I’m working towards that, doing side jobs, teaching here at the house and actually lots of offers have come in for me." Elaborating more on his offers he continues, ”Karavan’s Assad Ahmed approached me to play guitar in his band but I refused. I just need a little vacation from all this for a while. I’m really interested in getting into (band) promotion. An idea I’m toying with is to open up a Café Blue-like place where bands used to play. I might even do a television program that focuses on music education.” Now that Mekaal has taken away Brian’s position in the band, is he feeling betrayed by Junoon? “I did for a while…but it’s all in God’s hands. There are no bitter feelings on my part. I became a burden on the band trying to manage the kids and everything else. I know Mekaal is struggling in my position but I’m his biggest fan and I think he’s so extremely talented. In fact I think it should be Salman on bass and Mekaal on guitar…but then it wouldn’t be Junoon," he laughs off. Is there a future of Junoon without Brian? "It was always like a three legged stool, where if you pulled one of those things off, everything would come crashing down. I’m afraid that may happen with Junoon. If it doesn’t, great, more power to them. I can see a number of things happening. I can see Ali going into a complete solo career, Salman going into a complete solo career or I see Junoon coming back with a reunited tour after some time." In a formal statement released on the Junoon Forums, Salman Ahmed has blamed his former band mate for “not contributing to Junoon’s music for the past three years.” It almost scolds Brian “to take responsibility for his life and his work”. Besides mentioning the favors he had done in trying to save Brian’s marriage and career, he also reminds his childhood friend that “Junoon gave a lot to Brian”. Brian claimed that he hadn’t seen that statement before this interview was conducted. "It hurts to hear that… my lack of contribution as he viewed it was simply due to the fact that he was over there (in New York) doing it all on his own while I’m the one who’s going through very traumatic things in my life. But I’m not the type to blow my own horns saying, 'Hey I did this and that'; I just do it. Salman has a huge, huge ego. Now ego is a kind of a funny psychological term. Ego can also stem from insecurity cause Salman wants to be an over-achiever. Now Salman is an over-achiever and I’m so proud of him for that; I respect him immensely. He’s a hard guy to keep up with. I mean if he were sitting in a chair over there I wouldn’t get a word in edge wise. That kinda pissed me off for a while. I do take offense to that (statement). With regards to my playing, I think I’m a solid player but as far as people commenting on my personal life, I think that’s absolutely inexcusable." With the latest controversy affecting the band and his divorce, Brian who confesses to not liking fame at all, complains that people now bug him more often. "For example when I go out to a Chinese restaurant with my girls where I just want to be a normal person, people approach me saying ‘Oh sorry I don’t mean to interrupt’. I get very angry when people do that but you can’t blame them since they look up to me. So God forbid if I snap at them. Another tough situation is when people ask ‘How's your wife Ayesha doing?’ (And I have to tell them) we’ve broken up and then you have to talk about it. You know it’s taken me long enough to get over that…that absolutely crushed me." Reflecting back on his career, he confides that "I don’t think anything is never not worth it, because even though we can’t see how things unfold and develop, God has a plan for each and every one of us. Nothing is for naught. I just wish a rock would drop on my head and I knew exactly what He wants me to do. But you know He’s kinda clandestine in that way. He gives us signs, encourages understanding the straightened arrow and keeping in touch with Him. So that’s what I do."

September 2004

Oneworld TV TV, launched online in early 2002, gathers videos from people with stories that receive little space in the mainstream media. From Israelis speaking out against their own army in favor of peace with Palestinians to Sudanese chronicling their fate, these RealVideo documentary clips aren’t necessarily very professionally done.On signing in to the community as a member for free, one can add video clips either to an existing storyline or make a new plot entirely of their own liking. Tips and tools to develop such Internet documentaries have been specified in detail. Since the site has been optimized for people with 56k connections, this site should be your favorite. www.msn2go.comImagine a world where even on paying a hefty grand for your Internet connection to a ‘top’ ISP, your MSN Messenger won’t sign-in for some clueless reason. In a critical situation where the risk of losing your online date is high, MSN2GO is a savior. One can access the MSN messenger through the Internet Explorer or any other JAVA-enabled browser. Although you can’t choose any of the funky emoticons or display pictures, it works well without ever letting you down by not uneventfully signing you off every now and then. A useful site in emergency situations. www.smspk.comWhat’s the best way to save money on your own phone bill but still be able to inflict heavy damage on to someone else’s? SMS using the Internet and there’s no better place than to carry out the deed. It’s the only desi site providing a single interface to send free text messages to people using any of the four mobile networks in Pakistan: Ufone, Mobilink, Instanet and Paktel.

Baghdad Burning Blog online diary of a young Iraqi woman highlights the vivid details of the miseries of warfare and her own tribulations in confronting the horrors of her reality. Although not updated daily, it’s the perfect place to understand the politically volatile situation in Iraq and the oppressed feelings of its people.

Images of a War Correspondent: James Nachtwey former truck driver, James Nachtwey is a living legend in the field of photojournalism with over 20 years dedicated to War photography. His extensive career covers conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, and Pakistan. A part of his collection of haunting pictures opens up with the following lines: “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.” Warning: You may find the pictures disturbing.

September 2004

Telecom Deregulation
A timeline trailing developments shaping Pakistan's access to communication technologies.
by Salman Siddiqui

The Government devises a pre-privatization strategy.Ô Measures to deregulate Telecom &Telegraph are introduced.Ô The private sector is invited to participate in telecommunication services.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) substitutes the T&T department under the Pakistan Telecommunications Corporation Act, 1991.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL) replaces PTC under the Pakistan Telecommunications Ordinance with a 25-year renewable license for operations in the sector, and seven years exclusive monopoly to provide basic telephone services. Ô The first DNOPs (Data Network Operators) licenses are issued by the Government of Pakistan.Ô Mobilink GSM starts its operations in the country.
The .pk domain comes into existence.Ô Digicom offers the first commercial Internet Service@Rs100/hr for a 64K link.
The Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) is established and approved by the Parliament under the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996. ISP licenses are issued by PTA. PTCL starts its Internet service.
Ufone GSM, a cellular operator owned by PTCL, launches in January.
In July, President Pervez Musharraf announces a telecom deregulation plan to end PTCL’s monopoly by December.Ô President of the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) alleges that the new draft of the telecom deregulation policy is being finalized by MoST in haste, without consultation with key stakeholders of the telecom industry.Ô As per the Telecommunication (Re-Organization) Act of 1996, the deadline to end PTCL’s monopoly over basic telephony services expires after the specified period of seven years. Being a signatory of WTO, the Government, although obliged to deregulate the telecommunication sector of Pakistan by this date, fails to do so.
In April, ISPAK urges the government to formulate a policy regarding the deregulation of the telecom sector soon.Ô In July, the Government unveils its telecom policy fixing a US$500,000 entrance fee plus a performance guarantee of US$10 million for long-distance and international (LDI) telecom license and a US$10,000 fee for local loop (LL) fixed line telecom license.Ô At a symposium in August, the stakeholders in the telecommunications sector accuse the PTA of trying to protect the PTCL in the deregulation policy.Ô A month later, the government organizes a conference to consult major stakeholders for minor adjustments in the telecom deregulation policy.Ô During the course of his presentation to the President and the Prime Minister, the then PTA chairman claims that a US$5 to US$7 billion investment in the telecom sector is imminent within the next five years.
The Cabinet formally approves the Telecom Deregulation Policy in January.Ô May sees the PTA receive 95 applications, out of which 72 are for the grant of LL licenses and 23 for LDI licenses. The last date for submission of applications for LL and LDI with the fee is extended till June 2.Ô At a transparent auction in July, PTA scraps four telecom companies from the list of potential investors, and approves the names of 19 other companies for the grant of LDI licenses.Ô PTA grants the first LDI license to a Pakistani firm, Callmate Telips Telecommunication Ltd.Ô In August, the auction results of the Wireless Local Loop (WLL) spectrum are announced at the PTA website.

Sources:, PTA (, the SPIDER archives and

September 2004

Sticky Portfolio
Brand yourself online.
by Salman Siddiqui

Out of the 88 million young people currently unemployed across the globe, 17 million are in South Asia alone. This recent warning issued by the International Labor Organization states that youth unemployment in developing nations is set for worse times ahead. Whether you’re an IT graduate or a barber, hunting for work against such a backdrop is tough. What will make or break your chances of success? Your resume speaks for you. A number of sites such as and provide free as well as paid services to help you design an eye-catching resume. A bankable option is to put your portfolio online where the resume becomes accessible anywhere—just so you can bag that international contract. SPIDER offers tips on building a slick site to net the attention of potential employers. You can follow these rules to create your own portfolio online or improve your recruitment luck using services such as, Guardian Jobs or specificOrganize the content of your site with skills that you have. Be honest to the core. You might be an excellent graphic designer and a good pool player but consider building two separate sites to project these two different skill sets. A website that contains an overwhelming list may put employers off, giving them the impression that either you’re a jack-of-all master-of-none type or a big liar. Keep it focused.
Start with a nice introduction In order to grab the attention of your visitors, start your homepage with a well-written and concise introduction that provides a glimpse in to what the site offers and where. One way to write this is to put your self in the same spot as your visitor and think about exactly what they would look for. No typos! Always spell check at least twice before you upload any page.
FormattingAlthough you should always send your CV in printed form, you score bonus points if you also offer it on a website. Offer the resume in both downloadable and HTML versions. In the downloadable version, it’s a good idea to offer a PDF version along with a Word version. This is because PDFs faithfully retain your choice of design and layout whether it is viewed on a PC or a Mac. Check out the links section to see how to convert a word document to a PDF file.Find the right keywordsNow when the web page(s) carrying your CV is up and running, make sure you bear in mind the likely keywords employers use. One way to find out if you’ve used the right combination is to load Google, type in the keywords used and see which sites pop up in the list; the objective being that your site should come up at the top of the list. Or you could use the free keyword software from to help you get the right set of keywords for your resume. For example if you’re a programmer, you could use the set of keywords such as the names of the tools that you use (C#, JAVA, PHP) in each of the Web pages improving your site ranking at search engines based on meta tags.
Watch your toneMake sure you don’t use any slang or hip words. At the same time, don’t be too posh or formal so as to bore your reader. Don’t make the web pages unnecessarily long simply because you may have little actual experience. Be careful that you don’t use uncommon technical lingo to impress people with your knowledge, unless you can’t help but use it to explain your work. In any case if you use to jargon, create a separate subsection at your site, for example the FAQ section, to explain those terms.
SimplicityAlthough you may be an animation expert, armed with all the knowledge of funky HTML tags and scripts, it’s always a good idea to keep the design of your site simple and direct. Clients and employers aren’t coming at your site to get wowed by your Flash skills but to gain information about your utility to them and their organizations. If the objective is to project such skills then upload samples of your creative work in an organized list at a separate section of the site. Avoid unnecessarily heavy images and sound files that could increase the load up time of the web pages.
Structure the SiteStructure the navigation of your site into logical subsections that makes it easier for visitors to find your background details and examples of your work. For example if you’re a computer science student, you could categorize samples of your work into subsections such as ‘Programming’, ‘Animation’ etcetera instead of fitting them all into one big list. Double check all links and see if the website is working in the same manner as you had originally planned to show off your skills.
Link to other sitesBuild a separate page that links to any press coverage regarding your work online or offline. Mention testimonials of former employers or clients that can convince others to consider you for future contracts with them; also remember to insert the company URLs of your referrals. Don’t forget to include any awards or medals that you might have been honored with. Periodically check external links on your resume to see if they are in working order.
Keep it updatedRegularly update your online portfolio and CVs with your current work esamples. If you change your address or phone number, remember to immediately update your contact details in both of them.

A Useful List of Pakistani Job Sites
Convert a document to PDF
Guardian Jobs
International Labor Organization
Putting your CV Online
Writing a CV
lYouth unemployment report

August 2004

Deadly drama
‘Jihadi’ groups are capitalizing on the Internet's unchartered territory to send out a chilling message.
by Salman Siddiqui

The message is clear: “Don’t think that you are protected from God’s soldiers. God put out for you a gang of mujahideen who fight for God without fear. God put out for you mujahideen who love death and ask for martyrdom, as you love life,” declared Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, the emir of the militant organization Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Jihad—a body of self-proclaimed ‘gang of mujahideen’ responsible for the recent beheadings in Iraq, on a website. The Internet has now become a frontline propaganda tool for Islamic militants to intimidate the world. They fully realize its power in reaching out to global audiences and perfectly understand that their most violent acts will grab universal media attention. This is one of the main reasons why they have chosen to behead their captives instead of simply shooting them. But what’s even worse is that they are filming the slaughtering of human beings, pompously projecting them on their medium of choice: the Internet. This trend has its roots in Pakistan. It all started in February 2002 when a Wall Street reporter, Daniel Pearl, was killed in the same fashion in Karachi as retribution for the sufferings of Palestinians. It was the first time in Islamic militant history that not only the hostage was savagely beheaded but the act was also recorded on film and then later with professional quality video editing, complete with sound effects, the movie was made available online. Now with the war on Iraq in a critical phase, the beheadings of nationals originating from America and their supporters have become a ‘holy’ cause for the militants; whether they are soldiers or civilians.It should be noted that the act of beheading the ‘enemy’ in the Islamic tradition is nothing new; infact it dates back several centuries. Today, Muslim militants elsewhere in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Philippines, Chechnya, and Algeria have also regularly carried out decapitation as vengeance. What sets these acts apart from those carried out in Iraq is that none of the Jihadi outfits there have manipulated the Internet to draw attention.The current spate of beheadings is also a hotly debated issue in Islamic forums all around the Web. Islamic scholars’ are disputed over the fact whether beheading is sanctioned by the Koran or even allowed by Islamic law except in the case of judicial proceedings. Islam Online, amongst many websites, has some interesting discussion threads on the topic. The Saudis, under the legal cover of the Shari’at, have kept this custom alive--53 people were beheaded during the past one year in the Kingdom for various crimes.The beheading videos are almost orchestrated; speeches are prepared before hand, detainees dress up in orange-colored jump suits that the Gauntanamo Bay prisoners wear, four to five gun-totting militants stand behind their kneeling victim and the banner of the radical organization is mounted on a wall in the background. Unlike the Daniel Pearl case, the victims are no longer drugged before being murdered brutally. As in the case of Nick Berg, an American civilian contractor, the victims are placed under the knife in full consciousness so that their horrific screams can be recorded for maximum terrorizing effect. The time of release of the execution footage online also varies. In Daniel’s case, a videotape was first delivered to a US consulate and only later posted online. Nick’s footage was released on the Web soon after his beheading. Now the captors draw even more attention to themselves by first releasing a video announcing their prey’s capture with intent to kill if their demands aren’t met by a deadline. Paul Johnson, a US engineer for Apache helicopters, was given a 72-hour deadline when he was shown captured. On failing to meet the demands, his mutilated pictures were promptly posted online.The South Korean civilian Kim’s heart wrenching pleas of ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die’ just hours before his decapitation are still fresh in our minds. The world is becoming accustomed to watching sick video clips of innocent civilians who have been condemned to die— now a regular feature produced by ‘Jihadis’. The deadline trait is even more distressing to the families of the victims who are given a fruitless ray of hope, knowing that their governments would never give in to the almost impossible demands. But some have been lucky. A Pakistani driver working for the US army and a US marine of Lebanese dissent were both released even though none of the demands were met. One reason for their luck was probably because they were both Muslims and were released only after they gave assurances that they would never serve the US again.The militants see a unique benefit in uploading violent pictures and videos on the Net: avoiding censorship. On TV, the full message and video are usually clipped either due to the graphic nature of the material or because of security reasons. Also, the militant websites are hosted on free web-based services such as Geocities that make the point of origin of the files virtually untraceable. Even shutting down their sites can’t stop them from spreading their agenda since one can create hundreds of ID’s using free hosting services within minutes and upload the videos anywhere. By the time, the website is forced to shut down, the material has already been replicated all over the Web as demonstrated in the case of the Nick Berg video.Independent research carried out by the Associated Press and the Weimann Dartmouth College has identified that the Islamic militants have been using the Internet for recruitment, fund raising and planning. Last month, a haunting one-hour documentary on the last moments of suicide bombers in Iraq was circulated, inciting people to join the resistance in Iraq (clips of the film can be found at the Northeast Intelligence Networks website and Orgish.). It is now known that the planning of the Madrid bombings carried out on the March 11, 2004, was actually based on an Al-Qaeda terrorist manual published months ago on the Net. Osama bin Laden had apparently given a three-month deadline to the European countries to withdraw from the Middle East countries by 13th July. Whether more deadly attacks will be carried out remains to be seen.

Hate Online
The Internet is a hub for religious, political and racial hatred. Recently, SurfControl, a British Web filtering company, reported an exceptional 26% increase in extremist sites since the start of the current year. Already 10,926 hate websites have been detected up till April 2004, which is a 300% increase from 2,756 recorded in the year 2000. The two main reasons identified for this surge in growth are the relative increase in the size of the Internet over the years and the impact of headline news such as those regarding the Iraq war on Internet users. In fact, racism is so rampant online that a meeting of officials from over 60 countries was called in France last June to discuss immediate steps to eradicate it at a global level and reduce hate crimes. The Guardian reports: “Offensive sites that have flourished in recent months include those bearing anti-American messages, as well as sites promoting the idea of Jewish conspiracies, pictures of mutilated people, revisionist versions of the September 11 terrorist attacks and dating and scholarship services for white supremacists. Other news events that appear to have triggered the recent sharp increase in hate sites include the controversy over gay marriages and the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which has been used by some extremists as a platform to express hatred of non-Christians.” The report noted that although the number of Islamic militant sites has increased, the majority of the hate sites originate from American groups. – S.S.

Associated Press
Daniel Pearl
Islam Online
Nick Berg
Northeast Intelligence Networks
Weimann Dartmouth College

July 2004

Digital terror
A review of recent viruses and worms invading your PC.

“We had a digital revolution in the 1990s- now we’ve slid into digital terror”. Lashing out at the digital chaos triggered worldwide by virus attacks, Bruce Sterling, a renowned author of Internet security books and futuristic novels isn’t the only one grim with such pessimistic views. John C. Dvorak from PC World went as far as to call the entire global computer environment flawed and that it should brace itself for the worst events that are yet to come. “All I see is a disaster waiting to happen in an environment that invites disaster,” says Dvorak. And one can hardly blame them. With a record 959 new viruses released in a month, May alone will be remembered not only for the 70 bloody deaths in Karachi but also for the deadliest worm attacks in history. Topping the list are the Sasser and the Netsky worms that have accounted for around 80% of those attacks. Sasser is spreading at breakneck speed because it relies on exploiting the vulnerabilities of the operating system to create huge volumes of traffic that bring entire networks to a halt. Some variants also install ‘back-door’ programs allowing a second virus such as Dabber to invade the system. Netsky is far more sinister with its various variants capable of turning machines into zombies that can be remotely controlled by hackers to send huge volumes of spam. At present these two are in wide circulation on the Web infecting all machines that have little or no protections. New viruses don’t require a machine to open an email attachment to infect it; all they require are systems with an Internet connection. Increasingly many of them such as the two mentioned previously employ sophisticated pieces of software called bots which are powerful stealth programs that turn compromised PCs into obedient soldiers waiting for orders to broadcast spam or log-ins. Already cases have been reported where hacking specialists called bot-herders assemble thousands of zombie machines and use them to extort money from gambling sites. This is done by bullying the site with millions of bogus requests so it isn’t able to transact bets until it pays up. The most noticeable part of all this virus saga is that the prime target of all the recent virus attacks have been the Windows operating systems especially its NT-based versions: Windows XP and Windows 2000. Although it is true that Windows is strife with security holes, the main basis however isn’t because other operating systems such as Linux are necessarily more secure-infact Symantec already has reported that it has found three Linux viruses in the wild since the start of 2004. But the reason is that since Microsoft’s Windows powers more than 90% of the world’s PCs, a virus abusing any one of its security lapses has an appreciable effect globally. Now with the final version of Service Pack 2 for the XP operating system all set to be released this summer, the boys at Microsoft have been kept occupied with their Virus Information Alliance (VIA) cell: This promises to keep them away for a while from the development of LongHorn (due for release in 2005). After the recent series of worms that wrecked havoc with their reputation, Microsoft has become more vigilant in improving its security measures and is increasingly desperate to nab the virus writers. In fact when Sasser surfaced, the group at VIA went into the ‘immediate response’ phase within an hour as reported in eWeek: “From there, the chase was on. Microsoft’s internal analysts and security and forensics experts worked round the clock with the help of law enforcement officials and outside specialists to analyze Sasser code, searching for any clue that might lead them to the worm’s creator. And in this case, after a week of long hours, hard work and not a little bit of luck, the effort paid off with the arrest and indictment of an 18-year-old German man who authorities say has confessed to writing not only Sasser but the Netsky family of viruses as well.” Actually it was the dough from Bill Gates that did the trick for Microsoft. According to CNET’s “The Sasser computer worm may mark a turning point for law enforcement’s ability to catch and prosecute computer virus authors. The reason: Enticed by a US$250,000 reward, an informant came forward to leak information on the person who wrote and released the Sasser worm.”But in these trying times some still have a reason to smile. Thanks to the explosion of cybercrime, the business of tracking down hackers called ‘cybersleuth’ business has gotten a major boost. The New York Times reports that: “From identity theft to bogus stock sales to counterfeit prescription drugs, crime is rife on the Web. But what has become the Wild West for cyber criminals has also developed into a major business opportunity for cybersleuths. One of the most well-known is Kroll Ontrack, a technology services provider based in New York. Others include ICG Inc. in Princeton; Decision Strategies in Falls Church; and Cyveillance in Arlington all started in 1997.”As long as technology keeps on evolving, we will be faced with virus and worm attacks. Our only defense is our Anti Virus and Firewalls which quite shockingly not many people use even now. Do you?
The Potter Virus
Virus writers may take inspirations from Hollywood flicks. Take for example a recent variant of the Netsky worm that has been targeting children with promises of material from their Hogwarts hero. Arriving in the form of an email attachment with ‘Harry Potter’ as the file name, innocent youngsters find themselves lured into opening it and infecting their family PCs.

May 2004

Connected to: Hal Burch,Researcher Internet Mapping Project
Living by the slogan “Computer Science - the only profession where you can make 50 billion dollars producing things “that ‘mostly’ work”, this PhD student’s love for solving computational problems at Carnegie-Mellon University has landed him the coveted position of a professional coach at the USA Computing Olympiad. As a researcher in computer science, his focus has mainly been on network security, Internet mapping and network visualization.
by Salman Siddiqui

Q. Why did you and your colleagues initiate the Internet Mapping Project? A. It started as a necessary prerequisite for another project: determining the source of a denial of service (DoS) attack. We had developed a way to test whether or not a particular connection was being used in a DoS attack. If you knew how the network was connected, you could test connections and trace the attack back to its source. As we collected this data both for the Internet and Lucent’s network (we were at Bell Labs at the time), we found interesting stuff on both networks and began collecting data on a daily basis. Our original software was slow, so we only did about a ninth of the Internet per day. We have made many improvements in the last six years.Q. Does your project truly map the entire Internet or is it also limited to a certain class of address spaces? A. There are too many active IP addresses to traceroute to all of them daily. Fortunately, IP addresses on the same network have almost exactly the same path, so we do not need to traceroute to all of them. Thus, we pick an IP address from each network on the Internet and traceroute to those IP addresses. We may not get all the connections between computers in the same company, but we do get most of the connections in the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Since the connections in an ISP are used by many people, these are connections that are of more interest to us. We are also limited by what we can reach. Some firewalls block traceroutes. Again, however, this is mostly an issue of computers inside companies, not computers run by ISPs.Q. How are you able to study the infrastructure changes in the event of a disaster in a specific geographical location such as in Yugoslavia? A. We have done that on small scales only. Country-level information is relatively simple to get using domain names. For examples, Yugoslavia owns the .yu domain, so anything in that domain is likely to be in Yugoslavia. The non-country-specific domains, such as .com, .edu, and .net, are more difficult. When my colleague Steve Branigan wanted to determine the networks in Yugoslavia, he started with the .yu domain and manually expanded it from there. Yugoslavia had a small enough network presence so this was not difficult.Q. Wouldn’t a distributed approach to the mapping of the Internet give us a better picture of the Internet? A. A distributed approach might give us more of the connections in the ISPs. Paul Barford and others at University of Wisconsin estimated in 2001 that using a single source may miss as much as 40% of the connections. Currently, we are using multiple locations for our less frequent scans.Q. What hardware and bandwidth is currently being used for your project?A. It runs a 750MHz Pentium III computer running FreeBSD. We limit the bandwidth to 500 packets per second, which corresponds to 256 kilobits per second (equivalent to about five modems).The machine does not need as much power as it has - the CPU is 60-70% idle when the scan is running. We limit the speed to decrease the intrusiveness of the scan.Q. Would you agree that the Opte project, which has been inspired by the Internet Mapping project, is faster and more comprehensive than your own project? A. From their website, it looks slower. We map the Internet daily in about two hours. Opte claims to want to map the Internet in one day, but it takes them much longer than that. I am not certain exactly how long; their website currently says that it took them 143 days to do their scan, but it appears to have really taken about seven days.I have no idea where their statement that it takes us six months to generate a single map came from. We do not produce the layouts necessary to generate a picture on a daily basis, as it takes about a day to do those calculations. We do not do it often enough for that to be a large problem. In terms of detail, Opte does more to measure the connections within corporations. Being focused on the core, we do not gather that level of detail. Q. How much time does it exactly take to map the entire Internet according to your project? Does it really take six months to complete a single map as reported?A. It takes under two hours to perform the traceroutes. We spend about another two hours doing related activities, such as looking up domain names of the routers found. It takes about 18 hours to do a layout, but that is not normally done as part of the daily runs. Once the layout is done, generating the actual pictures takes seconds.Q. What benefits does Internet mapping offer for a common web user?A. I don’t know how a normal user of the Internet could use such a map, although the pictures are pretty to look at. The data is really meant for researchers to better understand the connectivity of the Internet so they can improve it. It is of interest to operators as well, who need to know the pieces of the Internet so they can know what to watch. Operators have a good notion of what their own network is, but little idea about other people’s networks.

Hal's homepage