Friday, August 31, 2012

Kinect Launches a Surgical Revolution

Medical imaging today gives surgeons an ability to obtain a virtual peek inside the human body in a way that rivals the campy 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage, in which a team of physicians is miniaturized and injected into a wounded diplomat to save his life.

In today’s operating theater, though, those virtual images can be difficult to retrieve and manipulate. A surgeon can’t use a mouse or keyboard, because they are unsterile and pose a risk of infection. A surgeon can give instructions to someone else, who then can operate a mouse or keyboard, but the surgeon must break concentration to say, “Right … right … up a little … OK.”

Now, a team at Microsoft Research Cambridge consisting of social scientists, computer scientists, and designers has used the Kinect for Windows hardware and SDK to simplify this process. It enables doctors to use simple hand gestures to change, move, or zoom in on CT scans, MRIs, and other medical images. In initial development, the Kinect for Windows-based system has thrilled surgeons who have seen it and who believe it could help make surgery faster and more accurate. The hope is that these systems will deliver better outcomes to patients when fully field-tested and approved.

Read more here

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Great Expectations (and greater confusions)

I am amazed by the amount of work expected from a PhD student in America. I mean, there surely has to be a distinction between PhD work and er, slavery.

It's nearly 3 am and I'm sitting here, solving an assignment which would not give me any credit, because I'm the TA for this course. So how can I grade, if I do not solve? 60 homeworks will be handed in tomorrow at midnight (gulp) IA, and they have to be graded within a week.

Not to mention, to be a TA for a course, you gotta take a 1-credit hour course which er, tells you how to be one. A TA I mean. Added to that, there is a TA orientation which I missed earlier (yay?) and the make-up orientation is supposed to happen tomorrow from 6 - 9pm, again, on the art of being a TA.

Nearly two weeks into the program and already, my past seems like a dream. A dream in which I was getting up lazily in the mornings, going to dinner invitations, wearing glitzy clothes and putting on makeup. And I had the time to play with bhanju wanju for hours.


The makeup sits quietly in a drawer, and the glitzy clothes are folded up and put away. Dinner invites are no longer on the cards, since you can't invite somebody sitting 8k miles away. Bhanju wanju has his own life, and here I am, working on an assignment, and wondering how all the project proposals, assignments, problem sets, classes and their associated courseworks are going to work out. All in 14 weeks.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

*Scratching Head*


This would be short. And strange.

Here I am with a pack of drumsticks, with weird white things on them. Turns out, they're skin (!!).

So here I am, with a pack of un-skinned drumsticks. I tried to be clever and peel them off but at the end of the leg (narrow part), it's stuck.

Funniest thing: I googled "How to skin drumsticks" and here is a PRECISE question on Yahoo! Answers:

Quick! How do you skin chicken legs?

I have no clue how to get the skin off. Pulling it off takes to long, and it isnt doing a very good job so I NEED HELP

Any easier way to skin a chicken leg?

Turns out somebody will always be in an exactly similar situation as you :D.

So if somebody else is in a similar situation, this was the best answer (which I'm going to go try out right now):

Best Answer - Chosen by Voters

The quickest, easiest way I've found is to get some paper-towels ready (I usually tear them in half) first for good "grabbability."

I'm right-handed so I hold the small end of the leg in my left hand (using a
paper towel half), then I'll use another paper-towel half to grab the loose skin at the top of the leg and pull all the way down and off.
There's a little bit of stuff that kind of holds the skin to the leg near the top, so I kind of shove a paper-toweled finger under that area a bit when I first start to pull the skin down, and it gives fairly easily then is easy to pull.
I may also turn the leg around after that and hold by the fat end to completely pull the skin off the bottom part of the leg (or cut with kitchen scissors--but then have to use extra steps).
Once the paper-towel halves are no longer dry and grabbing well (usually after 2 or 3 passes), I toss that one and pick up another one.

I can de-skin chicken legs pretty darned fast now that I've got that figured out!

So long folks!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'll try not to whine... much

As I sit here in the "office space" provided for me, I can't help reflecting on my life right now. And the changes I see nearly everywhere around me, compared to my past life. Here are a few less-whiny aspects of being a PhD student in America.

1. Teachers here - no matter how senior - are more humble, down-to-earth, some-even-downright-funny, more in-tune with industry and they don't consider themselves to be superior to the students. Even though they are.

2. Students here easily use laptops while class is going on. Maybe they're updating their status on FB, but I've seen people make serious notes as the class goes on.

3. Classes here are intensive. They don't pamper you, they don't discriminate. They just are what they are, and nothing you can do can actually change the course plan which has been set by the faculty.

4. They allow new-Robotics wanna-bes in their high-level meetings [:D:D]

5. There is Starbucks coffee brewer thingie in my lab [:D:D --> I don't have to pay for this - awesome!]

6. We can get up, walk around the hallway, muttering to ourselves, or making random gestures, and nobody would notice.

7. Really (and I mean it) really fat people can walk outside on the sidewalks, hallways, etc, and nobody would stare at them as if they're somebody different.

8. There was a series of pictures in the hiring office - it showed a number of people hired in the university. So it showed faculty members, PhD students (hired for assistantships), AND it showed a road cleaner, and sweeper... in the SAME line. All were the same! (Do I need to emphasize this more? No).

9. If I walk into the office after hours, the light has been turned off (and automatically turns on when I walk in).

10. My professor replies to emails instantaneously. That's awesome (for a person who I think is closer to my Dad's age than to my age).

11. One of the most distinguished professors in this school is from Pakistan [:D:D]

12. Ground nutmeg is available (that means I don't have to get jaiphal {nutmeg} and have to chop it to a powder form)

I'll stop here.

It's not too bad. I still miss home a lot, but I thought it's great to actually pen down a few things that are really good about this country and this educational environment.

Considering my past ambitions, I should be jumping over the roof at being admitted to this particular PhD program in this particular university. I really should be.

It's hard to figure out how to get this excited, when so many duties and responsibilities have to be fulfilled and so much is expected from one human being. Only one example of that is: I attended a class yesterday, and the first assignment [which requires reading up 30 pages] is due tomorrow. For the same course, the first proposal [of three projects that we have to do in the space of 3.25 months] is due in three weeks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Am I really here?

With all the ambitions and aspirations I had, and the arguments associated with it, it's no wonder I'm sitting here in a daze, in a room full of people (men mostly *sigh*), in the orientation for the graduate program.

There is a muted excitement in the air, as people are all hyped up to enter the computer science world and make breakthroughs (don't we all think we can?).

I can't help wondering (and I don't have that long to wonder, since my laptop doesn't last long on battery only and I can't place a power socket anywhere) how I landed in a place like this.

1. The last thing I am: techy
2. The difficult-most thing in the world for me: programming
3. Math is fun but doesn't come easily to me.

Yet, I'm in this room. I guess I will figure out the reason and purpose a few years later. Till then, PhD program, here we come (IA)


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jannah is calling!

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Jannah is calling! Who will respond?
By Asma bint Shameem

Subhaan Allaah!
The beautiful month of Ramadhaan is flying literally by! Its blessed days and fragrant nights are soon about to leave. And it truly breaks our heart to let it go.

Yet, O Muslim, Rejoice! For there is good news for you!

A great opportunity is about to dawn upon you!

A once-in -a -lifetime chance!

An offer that you cannot pass by!

Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta'ala, in his Infinite Mercy, has bestowed upon you a Great and Noble night!

A Night of Power…. A Night of Divine Decree.

A Night in which angels descend and send salutations to the believers…

A Night of innumerable blessings…..full of PEACE and tranquility….

A Night…… in which, Ibaadah is better than a thousand months!

“The Night of Al-Qadr is better than a thousand months.” (Surah al-Qadr:3)

A thousand months! Subhaan Allaah!

That is equal to 30,000 nights or 83 years and 4 months!

Could there be a better chance for you than this??!!

Could there be a more Merciful Lord than this??!!

Subhaan Allaah wal-Hamdulillaah!

Here is your chance to repent….to come back to the Most Merciful….to change your life for the better.

Here is your chance to have ALL your previous sins forgiven!

The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa sallam) said:
"Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allaah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven" (Bukhaari)
This is a perfect opportunity to earn Allaah’s pleasure…..being saved from Hellfire and entering Jannah. A time when your dua will be accepted.
Search for this night in the LAST TEN nights of Ramadhaan (not just the 27th)

Don't just single out one night for Ibaadaat. Make sure to do it ALL TEN NIGHTS, because the EXACT date for Laylat al-Qadr is hidden from us.
What if Laylat al-Qadr is some other night and not on the 27th?? Have you ever thought about that? Then you would have no one to blame but yourself if you miss this great Night….this perfect opportunity of goodness and blessings.

The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa sallam) said:

“Seek Laylat al-Qadr among the odd numbered nights of the last ten nights of Ramadhaan.” (Bukhaari, Muslim)
Strive HARD in your search, worshiping Allaah sincerely and diligently

This is your chance to earn Jannah. So give it ALL you got…. everything you have.

“The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa sallam) used to used to strive hard in worship during the last ten days of Ramadhaan as he never did at any other time.” (Muslim, Ahmad)
Prepare for it mentally and physically

They say, the better you are prepared for something, the better the results.
So prepare for it in every which way you can. Plan out your worship schedule for the night. Take off work, if possible and go for Umrah or make I’tikaaf in the Masjid.

Don't overtire yourself during the day, such that you don't have any energy left to worship the Almighty. That goes especially for the sisters, who exhaust themselves cooking different kinds of food all day so that by the evening, they have no energy left.
Take a nap during the day, if possible and remember…DO NOT OVEREAT!
Shun worldly pleasures

Don't waste A SINGLE MOMENT of your time, such as spending all your precious time in the mall, shopping for Eid or in extravagant ‘Iftaar-cum-fashion show’ parties.

Stay away from anything and everything that might distract you from remembering Allaah (TV, movies, music, unnecessary phone calls, gossip, cooking all day, etc.)

“When the last ten days of Ramadhaan began, the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa sallam) would tighten his waist-wrapper (meaning he would stay away from marital relations), spend his nights in prayer, and wake his family.” (Muslim)
Spend these nights in prayer, reciting Qur'aan, making dua, doing istighfaar.

Stand LONG in Qiyaam….hands folded obediently…your head low…in shame…humbly.
Eyes downcast….hearts trembling…tears rolling…..
Tears of regret and sorrow…..tears of repentance and shame.
Spread out your hands….like a beggar, begging for his life….
Ask Allaah to forgive you and He will forgive you!
Beg for his Mercy and He will give it to you!
Beseech Him to guide you and save you from the torments of Hell.
Rectify your mistakes and improve your shortcomings.
Resolve to be steadfast in your Commitment and firm in your Deen.
What if the sister is on her period?
Don't let anything stop you from doing good deeds and worshipping Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta'ala.
Even in this situation, there are a million things you can do. You can still make dua or tasbeeh, read tafseer, memorize Surahs or hadeeth, listen to the Qur'aan or a good lecture, send blessings on the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa sallam), make istighfaar, give sadaqah, clean the masjid, babysit for someone....and the list goes on.
DON'T BE THE ONE WHO SLEEPS and misses out on immeasurable goodness

One who misses this blessed night has indeed missed much goodness, for no one misses it except for the one from whom it is withheld.

“ In it (i.e. Ramadhaan) is a night better than a thousand months, whoever loses the benefit of it has lost something irreplaceable.” (Ahmad, an-Nasaa’i)

There are many chances to sleep, but a chance like this is rare to come by ….only once a year. And that also if you are lucky to be alive next year.

Are you going to miss a golden chance like this one…..sleeping??

Or are you going to maybe just stand for some quick pecks on your head for half an hour and think you did enough??

Isn't there plenty of time to sleep??

And haven't you been sleeping all this while, anyway??

Haven't you “SLEPT” enough??

Life is about opportunities. They say the wise man is the one who makes the most of his opportunities. Here is an opportunity to enter Jannah.

Dear brothers and sisters, Jannah is calling. Is there anyone who will respond?!!

اللهم إنك عفو تحب العفو فاعف عني
Allaahumma innaka ‘afuwwun tuhibb al-‘afwa fa’affu ‘anni

(O Allaah, You are forgiving and You love forgiveness, so forgive me).” (Tirmidhi)

Al Huda Institute, Canada

Sunday, August 5, 2012

It's strange in here...

There's noise, there's music all around. The atmosphere is all but Ramadan-ish. I miss home.

People walk by, they stare so hard at the hijaab. I have yet to see an eye not flicking back to check me out again.

Life seems crazy sometimes, and sometimes it's so lonely one can't stand the silence.

One will have a group of people - of the same nationality - sitting in a room, talking and laughing. And one can - in this gathering - feel utterly alone.

I miss my Quran class friends, I miss the Quran classes. The fact hit me really hard today because the email I had avoided for so many hours, had to be answered. And it was answered quite tearfully. *rueful smile*

Laughter and jokes are a common emotion on Skype. That's the only way to hide the pain from the family. But Skype is a blessing, yeah. Alhamdulillah for that :) - even though it's really hard to hide it when Bhanju wanju jumps at the laptop screen and says, "Aala pass jaa raha huun" (I'm going where Aala is).

Times such as now are completely silent, and the future seems so bleak. I have yet to get excited about the graduate orientation coming up in a few days. I haven't seen many Muslim (girls) on campus. As I said, it's lonely in here.

The masjid offers a ray of hope, though. It's a superb gathering of people and today (probably because it's the weekend), I saw many people from the sub-continent. One of them was really nice and she I got talking. I learned that her Mum has been volunteering at the masjid for a loooong time and she has basically grown up in America. The Islam-awareness in her left me inspired Masha Allah :). May Allah Give Muslims taufeeq to raise their kids in such a manner in places where Islam is a stranger, Ameen.

Now, when Urdu is spoken by anybody, my ears prick up. Instantly. I miss home.