Sunday, January 28, 2007

Is Animal Testing Justified?

Every year thousands of animals die at the hands of curious scientists. Before they die, they are routinely burned, scalded, poisoned, starved, given electric shocks, addicted to medicines, subjected to near freezing temperature, dozed with radioactive elements, driven insane, deliberately inflicted with diseases such as AIDS, cancer, herpes etc. Their brains and spinal cord are damaged since the use of anaesthesia is rarely administrated.

Despite all this cruelty, not a single disease has been cured through vivisection in the previous century. More than a million medicines are marketed each year after undergoing the unreliable test methods still in use: vivisection. Two of the most famous tests are the Draize or eye irritancy test and the LD50, lethal dose 50. The Draize test is performed on albino rabbits because they are cheap, docile and do not have tear ducts so as to wash away the chemicals. The substances put in the eye varies from mascara to aftershave. Reactions include ulcers, inflammation and rupture of the eyeball and bleeding. LD50 refers to the lethal dose required to kill 50% of the test species. There is also LD100... ironically of human poisoning.

Some medicines pass safe in case of animals but can prove to be very harmful in humans such as Opren: 3500 people suffered side effects as well as damage to skin, eyes, kidneys and livers. Clinoquenil, another medicine, led to the loss of eyesight. In the same way, many drugs harmful to animals can be beneficial to humans such as penicillin, an antibiotic to humans but killed guinea pigs and common aspirin caused birth defects in mice and rats. Skin irritancy tests differ from species to species for example nicotine is lethal at 9.2mg/kg in dogs and 53mg/kg in rats and 0.9mg/kg in humans (PETA fact sheet). This is proof that animal testing is unreliable but, unfortunately, these sadistic tests will go on every day.

We are cutting down forests which provide shelter to these animals, dump toxic chemicals and sewage in the waters in which they live, where the tusks and fur of the last few of their species and pour cosmetics into their eyes to determine the harmful side effects they might cause to humans.

Animals possess the same kind and of feelings and emotions that humans do and without anaesthesia, they are subjected to unbearable pain which eventually leads to their ill-fated and gruesome death. We fail to give animals the respect and rights which they deserve and treat them as lifeless unfeeling scientific specimens.

Other methods for testing products can be practised which are accurate, less time consuming and less expensive. These include cell and cultures which hold no capacity for pain, less animals better planned work and computer models to answer questions and guide research .If animal testing is totally eliminated, it would free 6.8 billion dollars which can be used for educational processes and health care. Thus, more than 30 million people can be helped who cannot afford health.

[Taken from: Fahd Shariff's Essays Page, Dated Sep, 1999]

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Space Travel: Pros and Cons

This is actually a presentation that we did at school carried out between two people. One is a spokesman for space travel, the other a sceptic who doesn't like the idea at all.

I put it on my website and since then it has been published in a book titled "Pro/Con" (full details at end).

Proposed Pro 1: Survival of the species

SPOKESMAN: At the moment, the human species is intimately dependent on the fragile ecosystem of the planet Earth. This ecosystem is vulnerable to dramatic change, which would be disastrous and probably deadly to human life on Earth. Three example mechanisms for such change are: Nuclear War, Asteroid or Comet impact, and gradual atmospheric change. We can hope to hold off the first cause for as long as we can, but we are helpless against the second two. If we cannot save ourselves against possible disastrous change, we must break free of the fragile ecosystem. We must establish a human presence in space to avoid total extinction in the event of harm to our planet.

SCEPTIC: I agree that asteroids and nuclear war would present a global change quick and severe enough to wipe out the human species. But isn't gradual atmospheric change the kind of thing that species evolve with anyway?

SPOKESMAN: Yes, but only a fraction of the species survive this evolution. If the ecosystem changes, the only species that survive are those already adapted to live in the new conditions. It is not the case that each life form would suddenly change to meet the new conditions. That is not how evolution works. What would happen would be that the only creatures that survive are those already capable of coping with the new conditions by their nature. In this way, evolution selects against all creatures not capable of coping with current conditions.

SCEPTIC: But look at the amount of change that has been brought about to the atmosphere in the last couple of centuries by us. Fossil Fuel burning springs to mind as an example. If we can affect the atmosphere so dramatically, surely we can change it for the good? Also, is it not possible to deflect or destroy any "cosmic bullets" nature might fire at us?

SPOKESMAN: I agree - we have to some extent changed the composition of our atmosphere. But bringing about change for the good is much harder than just disrupting the ecosystem, because it requires a very specific change - the right change - to be brought about. The ecosystem is a very complicated system, far more complicated than the weather, for example - and weather predictions are only at all reliable over a time scale of about three days. The only change we can bring about with any confidence is to find out what changes have been brought about, and lessen the mechanism that brings about such change. An example is the reduction in the usage of CFC?s in domestic products.
Asteroid impacts are even harder to deal with. It is true that an asteroid the size of Texas, like that in the film "Armageddon," would not go undetected. The biggest known asteroid, Ceres, is less than 1000 km in diameter. Texas is about 1400 km across, so if there were a Texas - sized asteroid coming anywhere near the Earth, we would know about it! The bad news is that an asteroid the size of Texas would be very hard to deflect - rather than one bomb, an asteroid 1000 km across would require about a hundred billion megatons to deflect it. Anyone want to carry a hundred billion nukes into orbit?

For example, imagine an asteroid about 200m across, travelling at about 22 km / sec when it hits. If it hit in the ocean, this asteroid would create a tidal wave 5m high. By the time it reached a land mass, with shallower water around it, the wave would be about 200 metres high, travelling at 450 miles per hour, smashing into coastal areas with devastating force. With the best detection equipment available today, the asteroid would not be detected until about eight seconds before impact. Eight seconds!

Another example is the Barringer meteor crater in Arizona. The crater is about a mile wide, but the asteroid itself was about 50m across, which is today completely undetectable. Now it is theoretically possible that with advances in technology and a serious detection programme, such meteors might be detected far enough away to deflect before impacting the Earth.

SCEPTIC: But that particular example of space technology is too dangerous to be developed. If we can deflect an asteroid away from the Earth, then by a miscalculation, or deliberate plan, one could be deflected towards the Earth. The technology of deflection would precipitate the exact catastrophe the space scientists purport to avoid.

SPOKESMAN: Exactly my point. Deflection is too unreliable - we are helpless in the face of asteroid impacts. We need to get some of us out of the way. This way, if - or rather when - the next big asteroid hits and changes the biosphere irrevocably, the human race wont become extinct. It is illustrative to look at the survival of animals on the Earth. Those animals that spread to many habitats have thrived, while those that remained confined to their original small habitat have either died out or are endangered.

SCEPTIC: You said "if - or rather when - the next big asteroid hits." I believe catastrophic impacts occur every hundred million years, and the last one took place roughly 65 million years ago, according to current scientific theory. We aren't due for another hit like that for another 35 million years, so we're safe for the foreseeable future.

SPOKESMAN: You're correct - catastrophic impacts are expected to occur roughly once every hundred million years. But this is an average figure. What this is saying is that a catastrophic impact should happen at least once in the next hundred million years. It tells us about the rate of impact, not the timing of impacts. It might not happen until around the year 40 million A.D. But it might take place next year. Imagine rolling an unloaded dice twelve times. You should get a six at least twice in twelve throws. But the timing of the throwing of the sixes is random. We are always in the firing line!

Proposed Con 1: It's expensive to travel in space.

SCEPTIC: We're always being told about the many ways the space program is said to benefit humanity. But at what cost? From time to time, rockets fail on launch - witness the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted whenever a rocket blows up on launch, or the great human cost of the challenger disaster. I ask myself: are there more direct ways to benefit society with this money? I put it to you that space exploration is a waste of money.

SPOKESMAN: Of course space exploration is expensive. That's because it's very, very hard. It requires very complex and reliable technology and a big support infrastructure to be at all successful. It is true that the money could be spent directly on helping to fix the problems of the human species. For example, the price tag for a manned mission to Mars weighs in at $50 billion. Think what could be done with that money if spent on the education system, for example. Spending money on space exploration must be justified when there are still problems on Earth.

But whether space exploration is a waste of money is, I think, open to debate. To what do we compare the asking price of the Universe? Don't forget the successes of the space programme. The Voyager probes, for example, have cost the average American taxpayer roughly ten cents per year since their launch in 1977. The probes were designed to last three years, enough to explore the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 went on to encounter the planets Uranus and Neptune, with an accuracy in navigation similar to throwing a pin through the eye of a needle 50 miles away. The Voyager probes returned the equivalent of 100,000 encyclopaedia volumes of new information and visions of the solar system, operating for some six times their projected design lifetimes. The Voyagers were spectacular successes.

And are we really talking about huge amounts of money here? The $200 million spent on the Mars Pathfinder mission, for example, is a large amount of money. But compare this with the $2.4 billion spent in one year - 1982 - on the development of the MX cruise missile programme. And this was $2.4 billion fifteen years before Pathfinder was launched, meaning this is an underestimate of the cost of the missile in today's money. I think it is hard to argue that the MX missile has brought more benefit to humanity than the Mars Pathfinder mission, yet it cost a lot more.

It is true that space travel requires lots of money, a fact its opponents are always quick to point out to the public. What is often forgotten is the scale of other expenditures. Let's look at the USA, which spends more than any other country on space exploration. In 1999, the US plans to spend about $270 billion on defence, $200 billion on Medicare and about $400 billion on social security. By comparison, the science budget is about $70 billion, from non - industrial sources, of which $14 billion is to be spent on NASA. In other words, the US space budget is about one twentieth the amount spent on defence, and about one twenty - ninth that spent on social security.

SCEPTIC: Okay, okay - we all know that a lot of money is spent by the US government - what's your point? That money goes towards defending the country from aggressors and looking after the people!

SPOKESMAN: Well, I assume the reason you would cut the space budget would be to allow the money currently spent on space exploration to be spent on solving more down - to - Earth problems. Such as eliminating cancer, or providing better education. This is a very laudable goal. But I think you have the wrong target. Don't forget, the space program in America grew originally out of the military ballistics programme. Were the space budget to be cut, I find it much more likely that the majority of the money would get redirected back to the military, resulting in a larger gap between defence spending and domestic spending. In other words, cutting the space programme would do more harm than good to the American people. We should be able to fund both space exploration and domestic programmes, such as education and health. If you're looking for a few billion dollars to spend on education, why take a quarter off the space budget, when you can take one percent of the defence budget?

SCEPTIC: Because defence programmes do more than just send eight people round the Earth a few times! Look at Apollo. Billions of dollars spent, many lives lost in tests and development, and only one scientist actually got to the moon. The entire space race was politically motivated muscle - flexing by the superpowers, at the expense of the taxpayer.

SPOKESMAN: Don't forget that the manned space flight programme is only one part of the space programme, though it does take over a third of the space budget. Manned space flight is a far harder challenge than unmanned flight - humans require much more onboard support than computers! This means that manned space flight is much more expensive than unmanned. This is true for all space programmes, not just the American space programme we have been using as an example.

I have a much harder time justifying the expense of manned space flight on financial grounds than advocating the space programme in general. I don't have a problem advocating one attack helicopter's worth of money to fully fund a SETI programme, or asking for the same amount to build a robot that will peel a little more away from the mystery of the solar system. But asking for a hundred million dollars to do a manned mission that could be done better and more cheaply by an unmanned rocket - such as the 1986 Challenger mission - is harder to justify, in my opinion. It is true that there are some missions that could only be performed by human operators - such as the Hubble repair mission. But whether the majority of the manned missions are worth risking lives over is I think more debatable. Of course, the manned space flight programme represents the first small steps in a much longer term process. I do not think it is clear that we're ready to take those steps yet. But the unmanned space programme is one of the finest achievements of the last 2000 years of technology, representing value for money that is the envy of most other human endeavours.

SCEPTIC: Then you admit that if we're not ready to do manned space flight, we should axe it on financial grounds?

SPOKESMAN: If it were possible to take out just the money for the unnecessary manned missions, then yes. Two factors stand in the way of this proposal. Firstly, if the unnecessary manned missions are axed, it will make it harder for the necessary manned missions to be carried out successfully. The infrastructure and experience won't be there. The second factor is that the manned space flight programme is the financial - and to a large extent political - reason for the existence of the space programme in the first place. Though by far the greatest scientific returns come from unmanned missions, those in office and the public see the manned programme as the face of space exploration. NASA is a servant of the public, as it must be, and is legislated on by those in power - not by scientists. Were the manned programme to be axed, NASA would no longer be serving the public demand and would actually have more trouble surviving. So I think that it would be a nice idea to trim off the budget associated with unnecessary manned missions, but I also think it is an impossible idea to carry out. NASA?s fortunes rise and fall with those of the manned space programme.
But I really don't think the space programme is a waste of money. In fact, I think that $14 billion a year is a very reasonable price for the Universe! And it doesn't have to be paid at the cost of education or health.

SCEPTIC: Well, I don't think we're ready for the Universe yet.

Proposed Pro 2: Space Exploration helps science education

SPOKESMAN: One benefit space travel brings mankind, which is very much down - to - Earth, is that it furthers education. Once Apollo went up, for example, the number of young people pursuing a career in science increased. Space exploration inspires people to learn about science, and generates demand for better facilities.

SCEPTIC: I find this argument very weak. What is this - give us $50 billion to take a man to Mars, and we'll throw in a free school or two along the way? I think if you want to improve education, you should spend the money directly. A headmaster of any underfunded school will probably say exactly the same thing.

SPOKESMAN: Yes, but as I've argued previously, it's perfectly reasonable to be able to fund both! And if no - one wants to be educated, funding education is harder to justify. The government of any country is still supposed to be the servant of the people! I think the main point behind selling space exploration from an educational point of view is that it really reaches kids. A really genuine space programme is something cool that kids really get into. It isn't an exaggeration to say that it inspires them. Some then go into science for a career to get closer to space exploration. A select few achieve this goal. Many - in fact most - don't and up in science at all, but go on to some other career. But the important point is that they have been inspired to apply themselves to something. If you're ever in doubt of the power of space exploration to move children, I suggest you take some out on a clear night to look at the stars.

SCEPTIC: But this isn't enough to justify the endeavour. My four year old daughter gets more inspired by Sesame Street than she does by space documentaries.

SPOKESMAN: Of course, not all kids are going to get carried away by space exploration! But kids are very hard to lie to. I think your headmaster would much rather have her teachers explain science through the wonder of the Universe and an exploration programme that is actually out there than through some oversimplified, abstract construction to illustrate base principles.

SCEPTIC: Base principles are also needed in education. You can't just give kids the Universe and say "go ahead and figure it out." A similar approach has been tried in the States in the seventies, and briefly in Britain, and it failed disastrously in both places.

SPOKESMAN: And throughout the last century, children were taught only base principles in a very abstract way. Kids were treated as empty vessels to be filled up with facts by their teachers. This method of teaching totally ignores educational theory dating back two thousand years to the time of the Greeks. I think it has been established that, while children were learning the required material, the "Empty Vessel" educational system was failing the children in terms of the usefulness of the education, but more importantly in that most children were utterly uninspired. Children are very different from each other, and it is always possible to find a counterexample to any rule about them. But many children need a point to their learning, a goal to chase. Space exploration provides them with such a goal.

SCEPTIC: Are you really suggesting that kids should all have space exploration as a goal?

SPOKESMAN: No! And I'm not saying that we should explore space just to provide a fraction of children with inspiration. What I am saying is that the inspiration the space programme provides this fraction of children is an invaluable side - effect of the exploration of space. Inspiration isn't the kind of thing you can throw money at and expect to grow on its own! It gets planted in the child when he or she sees something that's already out there and thinks: "wow!" Space exploration is the kind of thing that provokes this reaction in kids. And this is invaluable. Space exploration isn't going to lead directly to more schools, or provide financial benefit to them. But it will benefit all schools, in the kind of way that just isn't addressed by money. Have you ever tried to buy inspiration for your daughter?

Proposed Con 2: Space exploration is very hard

SCEPTIC: I think the whole endeavour of space exploration is beyond our capability. Let's face it, space exploration is very hard, as you yourself admitted previously! I realize the space scientists and technicians are doing their best to overcome the difficulties associated with space travel, with some spectacular success. But if my car had a twenty- percent chance of blowing up per trip, like a space rocket or the space shuttle does, I?d cycle to work every day! I think this is evidence that the whole endeavour of space travel is too hard for us right now. Let's concentrate on problems we can solve. Blake was wrong - the stars are out of reach. To paraphrase Blake, we are not ready to hold infinity in the palms of our hands.

SPOKESMAN: Yes, you're absolutely right in that space travel is hard. And the cumulative failure rate of 20 per cent for all launches since the beginning of the Space Age is fairly high when applied to everyday devices such as a car. But don't forget - space travel is still very experimental. And in comparison with other exploration endeavours, space flight has an exemplary record of safety.
Look at the exploration of the Earth. How many failed attempts were made to launch boats? How many people died in their exploration attempts or routine transits over the ages of the boat? By comparison, in the space programme, the cumulative failure rate is 20 percent. That means that in the history of space flight, including the development stages, four out of every five launches were successful. The total number of people killed in all stages of development of space flight - and here I am counting the German V2 attacks on London - is less than the number killed when the Titanic sank in 1912. Without the V2 attacks, the number of people killed in the name of space exploration falls to less than thirty. A single bus crash can kill more people that have ever died through association with the space programme. And the technical difficulties associated with the exploration of space are much greater than those associated with the exploration of the surface of the planet Earth.

SCEPTIC: Which means it can't be compared to the exploration of the Earth - the difficulties are an order of magnitude greater.

SPOKESMAN: It means that any comparison made serves to show how far we are capable of going in meeting such difficulties. Anyone who actually gets to go on a manned Mars mission, for example, will have conditions on their journey considerably nicer than those facing the men who almost starved to death or dropped dead from scurvy - and those who did! - on Columbus? journey to the New World. But if anything goes wrong, the Mars astronaut will be just as far from help as Columbus? men were. The difficulties are different in detail, but essentially the same. Don't forget, the problems space travel presents would have been utterly insoluble four hundred years ago, but the range of problems we can solve has scaled up with our technology. Though the problems are an order of magnitude greater, a comparison is possible, because our technological ability to meet such problems has increased by an order of magnitude.

SCEPTIC: But you haven't really answered my question - why do something as hard as space exploration, when the money can be spent on other, safer, easier endeavours?

SPOKESMAN: I've shown you how it isn't as hard an endeavour as you made out in your question. As we covered earlier, cutting the space program wouldn't help anything anyway. The money wouldn't be spent on other safer endeavours - most of it would end up being spent on the military. So there are no financial objections at this point.
Exploration tends to go hand in hand with what is today regarded as success in terms of civilization. Looking over history, those nations which are today respected in their time - like 14th century China or ancient Rome - are those with an active exploration programme. It seems to be indicative of the state of health of the nations.

Proposed Pro 3: Population

SPOKESMAN: At the end of the 20th century, the human species is faced with many problems, such as lack of food, unequal distribution of resources and the prospect of wars over limited water. These are all symptoms of one larger problem - the problem of overpopulation.


For those that see space exploration as a waste of resources better spent to solve social ills, it is important to understand the benefits of space exploration and how the future of humankind lies with such an endeavour.

Space exploration has resulted in development of application satellites that play a vital role in modern society. These satellites provide global communication networks. They provide accurate weather/crop forecasting that every year saves countless lives and allows for farmers throughout the world to better provide food for their peoples. These satellites are critical for better understanding global environmental change issues, such as ozone depletion and climate changes, that can threaten the very biosphere in which we live.

Space exploration, born out of the cauldron of the cold war, has brought with it a lasting gift. This gift is exemplified by the first pictures of Earth from outer space taken by Apollo 8 as it circumvented the Moon on Christmas day 1968. The famous Earth Rise photograph allowed us to see the Earth as a fragile tiny life-giving biosphere amidst the vast hostile environment of the cosmos.

As we explore and study planets, we learn more about this one. Comparative planetology, the study of Earth in comparison other planets, has been instrumental in identifying global environmental problems. NASA scientists trying to understand why the surface temperature of Venus is warm enough to melt lead have proven the validity of greenhouse warming and its potential devastating effects. Likewise, planetary scientists trying to understand why on Mars materials instantly oxidize due to ultraviolet light penetration from the sun identified what was causing ozone depletion back here on Earth.

The exploration of Mars will reinvigorate the US space program and will bring with it multiple benefits. Exploring Mars will bring a storehouse full of information to the possible origins of life in the cosmos, to the light it casts on the environment of Earth, to the international co-operation that it will give rise to between nations, to the scientific understandings of how humans are able to function and adapt in micro gravity environments, and to potentially extending human civilization to Mars by building closed ecological biospheres or in terraforming that plant.

Human space exploration promotes the very best that humans have to offer. A national commitment of 1% of the national budget (NASA appropriations amount to $13.5 billion out of a $1.5 trillion dollar national budget) or even 2% is definitely not only worth the costs to others, but it is worth the costs for us a nation, for the family of nations throughout the world, and for humans as a global species. Paraphrasing the scientist/astronomer known to millions, Carl Sagan, space exploration satisfies our inclination for great enterprises, wanderings, and quests that have been with us from time immemorial.

[Taken from: Fahd Shariff's Essays Page, Dated Sep, 1999]

Also Published in:

Title: Pro/con / [editors, Sally McFall et al.].
Published: Danbury, Conn. : Grolier Educational, 2002-<2003->
Chapter: Science and the Future
Topic 15: Should Governments Continue to Fund Space Exploration?
Pages 187-198
May 2002

Interview Tips

I've had a few people - interns and grads - applying to investment banks asking me about interviews. I've been through the whole interview process at various places when I first left university and am now involved in interviewing candidates for positions in investment banking technology.

There are a few routine questions which everyone asks, so you should prepare them beforehand. There are also lots of interview question and answer banks online where you can find really good sample answers to common questions. Just Google around. I will try to think of the questions that I have been asked over the years and will categorise them so that they are easier for you to prepare. I will try to give you as many tips as possible. But remember that what works for me may not work for you!


Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and a smile. You will probably be nervous but try to stay relaxed, always be polite (e.g. accept a glass of water if offered), smile, make eye contact and pay attention to the questions. Sometimes I forget what the question was, halfway through the answer! Always give clear and concise answers. I also like to take a notebook and a pencil with me to the office. It looks professional, you can make notes while the interviewer explains the company and you can also jot down some questions to ask later. At first, the interviewer will ask you some harmless questions, but answer these nicely because these create the first impression:
  • Hello! How are you?
  • How was the journey? Did you find us easily?
  • Where do you come from?
  • One of my favourite things is to comment on the building (e.g. Nice building / office!) when the interviewer is walking me to the room. It is a nice ice breaker and opens the interviewer up.

Know the company

Interviewers always ask about the company. Research:
  • Core values / principles / morals
  • Company structure i.e. business divisions, hierarchy etc
  • News articles e.g press releases from the companies website or search for the company in Google News. This is important so that you can comment on something read in the company’s annual report, web page or latest news report.
  • You may also want to read about other companies in the same field and update yourself on what is happening currently in this field even though it may not be related to the company you are applying to.
  • Why did you choose this company?
  • Have you heard about us in the news recently?

Know the industry

  • Learn banking jargon e.g. what is an investment bank, stock, bond, share, risk etc. (I was once asked to define an investment bank)
  • What are the main problems facing banks today?
  • Future of banking? (globalisation maybe? More mergers)

Know yourself

Be confident in your abilities and sell yourself! Keep in mind that there are hundreds of candidates applying and you need to make yourself stand out and be remembered.
  • Tell me about yourself (very open ended question: you have to give a brief history of your life including university, work, extracurriculars)
  • Why do you want to work in IT? (be passionate e.g. I like the rapid pace of change of this field, you can’t predict where it will go in the future; I love learning new cutting edge technologies)
  • Why should we hire you? (Sell yourself with lots of keywords: ambitious, energetic, adaptive, versatile, juggle multiple priorities, enthusiastic, an agent of change, I like to be stretched and challenged, I’m the best!)
  • What motivates you? (self motivated, recognition, good work atmosphere, work colleagues etc but NOT money)
  • Why did you choose to do a Masters in this degree?
  • Why did you choose a bank and not an IT company? (I’m interested in the financial world too)
  • What are your short / long term goals in life?
  • What are your strengths / weaknesses? (Strengths: flexibility, teamwork Weaknesses: Everyone has weaknesses, don't say you don't have any! Say how you combat your weakness. e.g. I get nervous during presentations but I always prepare well beforehand)
  • How do you measure your success?
  • How important is money to you? (not very)
  • What are your extra curricular activities?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Work experience

Team Work

Companies are looking for team players, so expect lots of questions on team work.
  • Describe a project
  • What was your role in the team?
  • How do you handle conflicts?
  • What makes a good team? (a good balance of characters)
  • Desribe a situation in which others in the team did not agree with you. How did you persuade them to see things from your perspective?
  • Describe something that went wrong or a wrong decision you made and what you learned from your mistakes? (Everyone makes mistakes but you have to say what you learnt from them and how they made you stronger)
  • Are you a team player or do you enjoy individual research?
  • How do you handle multiple jobs with conflicting deadlines?

Know the Technology

You have to be well-versed in various technologies especially for a technical interview. Common questions are asked on:
  • Java (especially Threading and Collections)
  • XML / XSLT
  • Web Services and Technologies (e.g. .NET, SOAP)
  • UNIX vs Windows
  • Databases - SQL and Oracle
  • Security issues (e.g. in Wireless Networks)
  • E-Commerce and e-banking
  • .NET vs J2EE
  • What factors would you consider in choosing a programming language (e.g. Java or C++)?
  • Recent Viruses (e.g. Slammer had a big effect)
  • Outsourcing (most banks do it)
  • UML
  • Open Source
  • Up and coming technologies that will have a big impact in the future e.g. AJAX, Ruby, Linux
  • Read recent tech news items - check out my del.ici.ous page for technology links

Brain Busters

These questions are asked in order to find out whether you are able to think quickly and under pressure. I hate them! The trick is to keep talking about what you are thinking / reasoning. Do not sit quietly while you try to solve the question in your head. The ones I got were:
  • If you were an animal what animal would you be and why?
  • What is the cube root of 81?
  • How many tennis balls were used in the Wimbledon Men’s Singles tournament?
  • How many pennies can you fill in this room?
  • Why are man-hole covers round? (so that they don't fall in)


I know that you will be relieved when the interview is over, but do NOT run away quickly. Stay relaxed and thank the interviewer for his/her time. Say that you enjoyed talking to him/her and have learnt a great deal about the company and that you would love to work there. Its always good to have some questions to ask. I have found that interviewers like to be asked questions about themselves! Be nosy about their life:
  • How did you end up working here?
  • What do you like most about working here?

If you have their email address send them a thank-you email as soon as you get home.

Good luck with the interview and if you have any further questions, don't hesitate to ask me!

Friday, January 12, 2007


An ant carries a one millimetre square microchip in its mandibles, illustrating the work that is being done in nanotechnology.
Photo: Reuters

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating matter on an atomic or molecular scale. So what, you might say. Well, it's going to change the world.

Nanotechnology offers tremendous potential benefits in medicine, materials and manufacturing.

It is hard to fathom just how small the nanoscale is - if the one-millimetre interval on your ruler was scaled up in size to a kilometre, the nano range would be equal to the width of your hand or smaller. At this scale you can, in theory, build things out of individual atoms. It is seriously tiny.

But smaller, as scientists have discovered, also means faster, cheaper and lighter. Nanotechnology will pave the way for a host of products, some already with us, that will transform our world. And, as alluded to in Crichton’s novel "Prey" (one of my favourites), there are concerns over the safety of nanotechnology though its advocates argue that such dangers will never occur anywhere other than in the realm of science fiction.


Glass has been coated with nano-structured wax particles to create self-cleaning windows. Nanoglass can also be designed to better trap heat.

Sunscreen is another example. Zinc cream is a very visible white coating, unlike a nano-zinc cream in which the zinc particles are so small you can’t see them. It’s more effective, too.

Mercedez-Benz have built cars with nanotech scratchproof finish.

Japanese researchers are using nanotech "buckytubes" that will allow high-resolution, flat-panel television.

Energy is another field ripe for nanotech takeover.

Flat panel lights, where there are walls of light to replace light bulbs.

In the future, we will be drinking desalinated water purified through nanofilters; nanowiring may be fine enough to connect severed nerves in an injured spine, restoring partial movement for quadraplegics and paraplegics; biosensors with nanodetectors will protect cities from gas or viral attack. In defence, soldiers will wear T-shirt-weight material that can stop a bullet; nano-engineered explosives will be vastly more powerful; lightweight tanks will have superstrong nanoarmour.

Some people believe we may go further and build "nanomachines" fully autonomous, self-replicating devices able to build endless copies of themselves out of molecules and atoms from normal materials. Hence the talk of "nanobots" zipping around our bloodstream, as in the film Fantastic Voyage, curing diseases. Or a swarm of nanobots repairing the ozone layer, or cleaning up oil slicks, or attacking an invading army.

But Crichton’s book warns about a swarm of out-of-control nanobots replicating themselves exponentially and posing a threat to mankind.

However, in order to create machines of that size, you’ve got a problem with self-repair. There’s very few atoms involved in some of the features at that level and they tend to break up very readily. They’re very fragile.

Beyond Microsoft

Why being anti-Microsoft is about more than geek chic

So you have technically savvy friends. One in particular, let’s call him -- Niles, is an avid Linux fan. He preaches to you about its superior security; its lack of viruses; its strength in the server market. He talks about OpenOffice, Firefox, The Gimp, and a myriad of other applications that can surely replace your commonly used Windows applications.

And he’s mostly right.

Your other friend, let’s call him -- Andre, is a Mac fan. He has what occasionally seems to be an unhealthy, perhaps psychotic love of his platform. Andre also talks about OS X’s lack of viruses, its ease of use, and its ability to “just get things done.”

He’s also right.

So why is it no one cares? The average Mac or Linux geek oftentimes doesn’t understand: why after being bombarded with viruses, spyware, crashes, and generally unintuitive, overpriced software does the average Windows user never consider a change?

There’s a number of reasons for that. Linux still requires a bit of technical know-how, though it has made steps toward user-friendliness over the years; and until recently Macs have been viewed by many as simply too expensive. One can debate the validity of both of these arguments, or point to other causes; we can even discuss the psychology of abuse, and how some Windows users are just too scared to explore greener pastures, however that’s not this article’s concern.

The real question is this: as an enlightened user of an alternative operating system, how can you go beyond evangelizing its technical merits, and instead make people see life beyond Microsoft? The answer is a simple one that, as individuals obsessed with our computers, we often forget: there is a humanistic side to computing, one that has unfortunately been corrupted by a Microsoft hegemony. What I propose in this article are three points of attack when attempting to sway an individual away from digital slavery.

Humanistic: Computers as renascence tools

Even preceding OS X, Mac users have had something in common with their open-source comrades in the Linux and BSD communities: creativity. When one thinks of Linux, images of an individual working in an art studio, or editing a film do not immediately come to mind. However, Linux and BSD users exhibit a different kind of creativity, of equally important value. Indeed, many who have embraced Linux have done so out of a desire to be in control of their operating systems, to the extent of being able to manipulate its code at even the lowest levels. Additionally, the open source community promotes project development both independently and collaboratively, producing projects that frequently answer the cries of users for applications that the corporate world would otherwise never create.

In the Mac world, creativity takes a different path. Out of the box OS X practically dares its users to just create something, whether it’s a short film in iMovie, a photographic portfolio in iPhoto, or a musical piece in Garageband. Subsequently, Mac users tend to be more eager to delve into the world of participatory media; the recent podcasting phenomena has emerged, largely, from the Mac crowd; the infamous “Truth About the IPod” video was created in iMovie, on a Macintosh, and distributed in Quicktime format.

However Linux and OS X encourage creativity in more subliminal ways. Neither operating system taunts the user with wizards, pop-ups, marketing, or grammar suggestions. While writing this article in Apple’s Pages I was not once asked if I’d like help writing it; a dancing paperclip never appeared, nor was I harassed by a GUI that looked as if it were designed by Playskool. Windows trains its users to be moronic, telling them that it’s okay to remain helpless in front of their machines, continuously relying on the assistance of a geek friend, or outsourced tech-support in Bangalore. It’s the beginning of a long relationship -- an abusive relationship, one that the user believes is perfectly normal, especially since his friends all experience similar problems with their machines.

This condition is not coincidental, and it’s largely the result of an operating system designed from the ground up with a primarily corporate perspective, where there is no concern for individual expression, but an emphasis on cutting corners, reducing costs, and releasing a product on schedule. The result is a stale, uninspiring, grayish Microsoft world. Big brother in 2005 is no longer IBM, but Microsoft, and the primary objective is to keep you locked in.

Political: A cry against digital imperialism

As a youth in the 1980s I remember drooling over a number of different platforms, that, as a Commodore user, I felt were all equally interesting. From Atari STs, Amigas, Macs, Apple ][’s, to IBM compatibles I never really envisioned the monolithic computer world we live in today. Who would have thought that the Amiga, with its awesome multimedia capabilities, would have been beat by a beige box and a DOS prompt?

Yet that’s the case, and with closer analysis, it’s really quite frightening. The proliferation of Windows has resulted in a widened acceptance of proprietary protocols and file formats, and an obsessive campaign of patenting, that if legally pursued, could hinder a number of both open and closed source projects that attempt cross-platform integration. Not to mention, the monopolistic standardization of Windows on 90% of the world’s desktops has created an incredibly easy target, generating catastrophic meltdowns each time a thirteen year old virus programmer decides showcase his latest work.

Widespread use of the Internet beyond government and educational institutions has made Microsoft’s reign all the more terrifying. With a tight grip on the desktop market, Windows is in a unique position of dictating, and in fact, completely disregarding agreed upon standards, a predicament web developers are all too familiar with when their pages appear wonderfully in every browser -- except Internet Explorer.

The Internet has made truly participatory approaches to media creation a reality; there are no gatekeepers, and site visits are determined by the content’s public value, and/or one’s ability to promote it. Recent news stories initially broken by bloggers have highlighted the medium’s potential. Yet, let us remember that corporate America, which Microsoft is a part of, firmly controls what is news and what is not, and is unwilling to forfeit its domination anytime soon. One can hopefully see where this is leading. Microsoft’s blatant disrespect of standards, and continuous attempts at propagating closed formats and protocols is an attempt to hinder the free exchange of information. Free media is generally not the friend of corporate America, and Gates’ vision of a PC on every desktop is hardly philanthropic.

Economic: An appeal to the wallet

Microsoft has generally turned a blind eye to piracy, because piracy -- whether they like to admit it or not, has been their friend. With free options such as OpenOffice and Linux available, the incentive to run Windows or Office -- Microsoft’s two biggest products, is decreasing rapidly every day. Consumer lock-in is key. If the average consumer is initially unwilling to pay outrageous fees for software, he or she will be after the superiority of the Word document has been subconsciously engraved into their mind, despite the truthfulness of such a claim.

The economic dimension of Microsoft’s hegemony is even more troubling in developing nations, where a meager $5 USD license for Windows could seem expensive, never mind $150. Adoption of Linux, and regionally specific development becomes incredibly attractive in these situations. Naturally, Microsoft is there to make sure that doesn’t happen, and the lock-in cycle continues.
Here is an example. A young undergraduate majoring in computer science has a strong interest in Linux; he works furiously with his country’s user group toward the localization of key apps. Microsoft steps in, and offers the young man a paid scholarship for graduate studies in the US, and possibly future employment as a Microsoft representative in his region. At this point, he has to make a choice: help his nation become technologically independent, or instead peddle overpriced solutions to various government institutions throughout his country; with the added title of “Dr.” in front of his name, courtesy of Microsoft, his word starts to carry some weight. And so instead of investing critical funds in hardware, or internal software development, this country begins to waste thousands, perhaps millions of dollars in licensing fees, in addition to the inherent cost of maintenance required to keep a Windows network healthy.

A trip to the so-called third-world is not necessary to witness Microsoft’s educational lock-in tactics, just visit any number of computer science departments in the United States bought out and wowed by MS marketing. Instead of learning the basics of computing in their introductory computing classes, students learn about the start menu, control panel, and scanning their documents for viruses; instead of learning how computers work, in a manner applicable regardless of platform, students simply memorize patterns and a series of motions. And when those patterns and motions are different than expected, their world comes crumbling down. The solution? Trash their $300 PC and buy another one, which will just malfunction a few months later. Or perhaps the more sophisticated will pursue a reinstallation, after which they can expect to endure hours of downloading Windows updates, and a series of reboots.

So, where do you want to go today? If you’re a Windows user, you’ll need a tow truck before answering that question.

Now what?

Hopefully this article has provided you with some talking points, or perhaps activated a few mental relationships that you were unaware of. Remember these points while repairing your friend or family member’s machine. If necessary, gently sway them away from Microsoft products. Introduce them to Firefox, OpenOffice, and The Gimp -- all of which have Windows versions. If you’re a Mac user, prepare a short demo showing them how to not only accomplish their usual tasks in OS X, but do so more efficiently. The average computer user needs more incentive to switch than a replacement of equal quality; he or she needs something superior. More is at stake here than the continued use of a mediocre operating system; a binary culture is no better than a monolithic one. Multiple platforms, all utilizing agreed upon standards, open protocols, and file formats are key in conquering a digital oligarchy.

Teach the bourgeois, and rock the boulevard . . .

[By bedouin on Ubuntu Forums]