Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Khalid Shah’s untimely death saddens educational, social circles

Pakistan News & Features Services

The tragic death of Syed Khalid Shah, Chairman, All Private Schools Management Association (APSMA), in a road accident late on June 15 has saddened the educational and social circles of Karachi in particular where he was extremely popular. 

Accompanied by the members of his family, he was travelling to Islamabad by car when it crashed near the town of Bhakkar. 

Reportedly the car was being driven by one of his sons, in a bid to allow some relief to the chauffeur during the long journey having started from Karachi, when it met with the fatal accident resulting in the instant death of Khalid Shah and serious injuries to family members. 

The news of Khalid Shah’s death was broken by the electronic media on Chand Raat and then the social media took over. Shock and grief were expressed from every nook and corner of the country.

Nobody was prepared to believe the sad news because Khalid Shah had been observed so healthy and hearty until the last day of his life. 

He was found his usual jolly mood in the Iftar parties having been organized during the Holy month of Ramazan. 

Little did the hosts know that it was going to be their last Ramazan with Khalid Shah, whose name was synonymous with the promotion of education in general and schools in particular. 

He worked tirelessly and with his typical missionary zeal till the last minute of his life. He had awesome will power which didn’t stop him from working long hours when he was seriously wounded in a freak incident when coming out from the Sindh Assembly building earlier this year. 

His hip bone had been fractured but he hardly took a break from work. He had established a camp office at his house in North Nazimabad when he was confined to a wheelchair for a few weeks. 

Khalid Shah was passionate about serving the cause of education in every conceivable manner. Besides doing countless projects he had also founded an magazine by the name of Monthly School Life, which provided the platform to young students to get published.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Nawabshah may have endured hottest-ever April temperature on earth

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Nawabshah, one of the bustling cities in the southern part of Pakistan, has been in the global headlines once more for having endured probably the hottest day ever on the planet of earth during the month of April. 

According to a report published in The Washington Post, Nawabshah’s recorded temperature of 122.4 degrees (50.2 Celsius) on April 30, 2018, might just be the highest temperature ever reliably measured on earth during April. 

Jason Samenow, The Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist, quoted the Twitter post of Etienne Kapikian, a meteorologist at Meteo France. Kapikian’s tweet shad aid that it was the warmest April temperature ever recorded in Pakistan and for the entire Asian continent.

Christopher Burt, an acclaimed expert on global weather extremes, not only endorsed the views but also went a step further declaring that it probably was also the highest temperature “yet reliably observed on earth in modern records.” 

“The competing hottest April temperature of 123.8 degrees (51.0 Celsius) set in Santa Rosa, Mexico, in April 2001, is of dubious reliability,” Burt noted. 

However, it could not be officially found out if Nawabshah’s 122.4 degrees was a world April record because the World Meteorological Organization does not conduct official reviews of such monthly temperature extremes. 

But Randy Cerveny, who serves as rapporteur for the agency’s committee on extreme records, trusted Burt’s findings.

April 2018 was the second straight month in which Nawabshah set a new monthly temperature record for Pakistan. 

In late March, a heat wave pushed the temperature there to a national record of 113.9 degrees for the month. 

Several other countries in Asia also had established March record highs during the hot spell from the 29 to 31. 

The record-setting 122.4 degree reading in Nawabshah added to a long list of international hot weather extremes since 2017, which includes Spain’s and Iran’s highest temperatures ever recorded last summer. 

In May 2017, the western Pakistan town of Turbat had hit 128.3 degrees, tying the all-time highest temperature in that country and the world-record temperature for that month.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Talat Rahim’s If Born Again steals limelight

Pakistan News & Features Services

Talat Rahim is not new to creative writing. She had been doing it from early days and was entrusted with the responsibility of editing first the school magazine and then the college magazine during her stay at the prestigious St Joseph’s Convent School and College in Karachi. 

She completed her academic career with a bang, having earned the gold medal while doing Masters in Mass Communication from the University of Karachi. 

Although she looked after operations and management at the institutions like the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), she fuelled her passion for writing by contributing regularly for iconic publications like Daily Dawn and Monthly Newsline. 

Since 2010 she has been into authoring books. After Down Bureaucracy Lane (2010), Down Matrimonial Lane (2012) and Diary of a Hypocrite (2015), she has now come up with her fourth book titled If Born Again, having been published by Paramount Books, the market leaders in the industry.

If Born Again, spread over 280 pages, indeed seems to be the first book of its kind which has attempted to bring together high achievers and inspiring personalities from Pakistan as well as India. 

The retail price of Rs 695 also looks very reasonable for the hardbound title which could be a source of inspiration for all kinds of people.

Highly imaginative and probing questions were put forward to the selected 22 celebrities, most of whom have done justice by sharing their thoughts and aspirations in a rather candid manner. 

The list of eminent personalities profiled and interviewed in the book from India features Mahesh Bhatt, the much loved movie icon. 

Then there is Naseeruddin Shah, the indomitable gifted movie superstar. Mani Shankar Aiyar, the legendary diplomat turned politician, has also recorded his views in this very unusual book.

Then there are Ram Subramanian, that brave and courageous voice from across the border, Ganesh Natarjan, the IT genius from Pune, Raghu Karnad, the famous author from Bengaluru, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the globally renowned transgender from Maharashtra, Nargis and Sunil Dutt’s daughter Priya Dutt, who is now a parliamentarian, Shabnam Hashmi the fearless social activist from Delhi and Pooja Bhatt, the charming Bollywood actress. 

From the Pakistan side, Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, the talented cousin of the late Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, has thrown caution to the winds in his replies while Javed Jabbar, a former Senator, springs a surprise on what he would like to be if born again. 

Salima Hashmi, daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, sparkles in this book with many verses of that much missed poet. 

Sikander Bakht, the Test cricketer turned analyst, Amin Gujee, the artist and sculptor, Naseer Turabi and Mahmood Sham, the celebrated poets, Beena Sarwar and Zubeida Mustafa, the prolific journalists, Tehmina Durrani author of My Feudal Lord turned women’s rights activist, film and television director Mehreen Jabbar and the youngest lady Fatima Zara Mallick (FZM) have also been profiled and interviewed in the book.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Creating waves on Social Media networking sites

By Zena Mason
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The omnipresent "thumbs up" sign has become an integral part of all forms of social media websites, from Facebook itself to Linkedin, Twitter, the fitness tracking site MyFitnessPal and language learning sites. 

Though Facebook has evolved "likes" to include "reactions," there is a consistent theme of judging the content of your posts by how many "likes" you receive. "Likes" can be thought of as a simple barometer of approval. 

You post baby photos on Facebook and 50 of your friends like it. You make a poignant statement on Twitter and someone retweets it. You find a picture and write an article post on Linkedin. Upon seeing the "likes" start to trickle in, you get a buzz of social approval.

Interestingly, the need for social approval, something which before the "like" button, social networking or the internet, used to either occur face-to-face and with other factors in play. 

With the "like" button, there are no nuances of face-to-face interaction. You know they hit "like," but you can't necessarily know why. Maybe people clicked "like" because they were in a good mood. 

Maybe they bumped the thread because they disliked something you said and want to come after you. 

Maybe there is some idea in your post that they wanted to save without caring about other things that you do. Another result of the "like" button is the speed. 

Because you can post things immediately, you can respond immediately trends in your audience, particularly if you use all the free trend analysis software available for virtually all the social networking sites.

On my Quora site, I noticed that after writing several articles, all with varying rates of writing quality and time put into them, it was controversial politics topics where I got the most views. 

Media has changed, but people still love a good old fashioned sensation. But at what cost? Are people's attention spans decreasing because there is less of a need to put thought into what they do, or are their attentions too shallow because they are spread over so many different topics and platforms? 

It is in the interests of many websites to get people "hooked" on their website and pay for yearly subscriptions to use and/or share more specialised content such as language lessons and weight loss regimens. 

Because social networking sites are structured in a certain way, they encourage you to think in a certain way. In facebook, if you want feedback on anything, it's like lowering a bait into the water and waiting for the fishes to bite. 

It's an almost passive manner of expressing yourself. You have some idea of what you think your friends will like and you tentatively prepare the content with certainty about what the result will be. 

This is why, even though it has been done hundreds and thousands of times before with superior lighting, angles and reasons to post it, people keep posting the very same dishes, because there is an illusion of some kind of success.

The illusion of "likes" is that it is actually very easy to get thousands of likes but if they are from the wrong people it means nothing. 

I post things on social media because I want to keep track of things I like and find interesting. 

Because I post unique things, not things that are guaranteed to get plenty of likes, I learn things about my friends. 

I shared an emotional story about a specific aspect of mental health, and I found out who amongst my friends sympathised with that because they also have that issue or support a close friend or family member who have it. 

In today's society, we are so scatterbrained with the myriad of things that we have to think about. I usually find success with Social Media when I focus on a single topic. Topics are great because they are usually tags and can be found in all kinds of search engines. 

For every topic, there are a definite number of users, likes and any other statistic you can think of. Everyone has varying levels of interest with every topic, which is important to consider depending on whether you're trying to sell something, build a network, learn a language, socialise, rally support or crowd fund. 

Some people are more focused than others, but it is the focused people, not the unfocused people, who will pay for memberships, organise activities and do work. So want more positive engagement from your social networking sites? Forget "likes." 

**The writer is based at Acton, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.

Pakistan, US researchers launch artificial intelligence study

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The researchers at the Aga Khan University and the University of Virginia are collaborating on an innovative project that will harness the power of artificial intelligence to understand a particularly complex disorder of the intestine, Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED).

The EED, often referred to as a neglected disease of poverty, is widespread among children in low-income countries such as Pakistan where the population is exposed to contaminated water and poor sanitation. 

The EED hinders the gut’s ability to absorb essential nutrients compromising children’s growth potential and leaving them vulnerable to a range of diseases. 

The data scientists have already demonstrated how ‘intelligent’ computers can outperform experienced radiologists and pathologists in detecting signs of disease in x-rays and biopsies. 

Dr Sana Syed, an assistant professor in paediatrics at the University of Virginia and Dr Asad Ali, associate dean for research at Aga Khan University, are now applying ‘deep learning’, a type of artificial intelligence, to train a computer programme to analyse microscopic images of tissue located deep inside the small intestine.

The initiative, funded through an Engineering in Medicine grant from the University of Virginia (UVa), will be conducted in collaboration with the Data Science Institute at UVa. 

The project will see computers break down the size, shape and structure of images of the intestine’s cells into a matrix of numbers. 

Every number corresponds to a pixel, the smallest unit of an image, and as the programme scans more of these images, it becomes alert to abnormal patterns. 

Eventually, the computer will learn to compare images of healthy intestines to those affected with EED and to pinpoint the differences at the cellular level that trigger the disorder. 

The images of intestines affected by EED being studied come from work in SEEM, a USD $13m multi-country grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. SEEM is co-led by Dr Asad Ali, associate dean of research at Aga Khan University, and Dr Sean R Moore at the University of Virginia. 

Along with the images from SEEM, Dr Syed will also be analysing images held in the University of Virginia’s pathology archives as well as those provided by collaborators from the University of Zambia’s School of Medicine.

“Applying cutting edge data science methods on these images will help us decipher this complex, high-dimensional biomedical data, and yield insights that will improve the way we diagnose the disease,” Dr Sana Syed, assistant professor in paediatrics at the University of Virginia, remarked. 

“Advances in computing technology offer a neutral, systematic way to process huge amounts of data and this enables us to pursue a multiomics approach where we analyse information on proteins, chemical compounds and even microorganisms to study all the biological changes caused by EED. This knowledge could then be used to test nutritional or pharmacological interventions that can reduce the harmful health effects of EED.” 

In the longer-term, Dr Syed and Dr Ali believe that these insights could also transform the way doctors diagnose EED. At present, the only way to conclusively identify the disease is through a biopsy, an invasive procedure that involves extracting tissue samples from a person’s intestine. 

The researchers aim to use the insights from their work to create a comprehensive set of screening biomarkers, chemical warning signs, that would help future clinicians diagnose EED through a simple blood or urine test. 

“The EED is one of the drivers of chronic public health problems in the developing world such as malnutrition, stunting, and poor response to vaccines,” Dr Asad Ali said. 

“Addressing EED will help us unsettle the vicious cycle of poverty triggering poor health, and poor health leading to poverty,” he added. 

The SEEM is a multi-institutional partnership focused on the EED. The partners on the project include AKU, the University of Virginia, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Washington University.

Friday, June 1, 2018

NBP, Balochistan sign agreement for automation of tax collections

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) has signed an agreement with Balochistan’s Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics department for the automation of tax collection system across the province.

The agreement was signed by Muhammad Farooq, NBP’s Executive Vice President, Payment Services and Digital Banking Group and Fateh Muhammad Khajak, Director General Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics Balochistan. 

The NBP President, Saeed Ahmad and Balochistan’s Secretary Excise and Taxation, Zafar Ali Shah Bukhari were also present at the occasion. 

The JazzCash is collaborating with NBP in the tax automation project. 

Speaking at the occasion, Zafar Ali Shah Bukhari, Secretary Excise, Taxation and Anti-Narcotics, Balochistan, said that earlier the taxes were collected manually through NBP’s branches, which had its own challenges and complications. 

Reconciliation of collected money was one of the biggest problem while at times transparency and timeliness were compromised in manual system, he added and said that the implementation of new automated system would make the process much easier for customers and will provide real time validation as well. 

Saeed Ahmad, President NBP said that automation and digitization of all government procedures and payments & taxes collections is one of the primary objectives all federal and provincial governments to achieve complete E- governance. The NBP is assisting all the provincial governments in digitalizing their various payments, fee and taxes collection systems.

He mentioned that the NBP has already inked MoUs and agreements with various provincial and federal departments for digitally collecting their fee and payments including Directorate General of Immigration & Passports, Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, Public Service Commission KPK, Islamabad Traffic Police, Driving License Sindh and Dealer Vehicle Registration System (DVRS) and collection of e-Tax in Punjab. 

He further stated that NBP was playing a major role in enhancing the financial inclusion by aligning with digital banking revolutions in Pakistan. NBP is in process of developing systems for digitization of all G2P & P2G payments. 

He highlighted that NBP is actively working to digitalize its banking services built on a collaborative model with Telcos and other stakeholders. This will help in promoting Alternate Delivery Channels and enabling the right environment for inclusive growth and achieve the goal of financial inclusion, Saeed added.

Being a public institution, he said, it is our mandate to develop a digital suite of financial services with an access to market players through any available digital channels for enhanced customer convenience with focus on enabling e-governance infrastructure. Our substantial participation in e-credit program, as well as forging links with other stakeholders including telecom service providers is expected to boost formalization of the economy. 

He said that the bank’s biggest projects recently, was to rapidly grow our ATM network which already grew from 376 ATMs in the year 2014 to over 1,000 ATMs in the year 2016. This exponential growth in our ATMs extended financial services to far flung areas of the country, where previously no other bank had ventured even in the remotest of areas in FATA. 

He said that his aim is to geographically cover the NBP’s services from the peaks of Karakoram to the Arid Zones of Baluchistan.

Regarding the agreement with Balochistan tax department, President NBP said that the NBP has chosen JazzCash to be its official partner in branchless banking project.

People could pay their due taxes and payments from the JazzCash outlets and shops across Baluchistan and they wouldn’t need to visit Excise and Taxation department. 

Through this service, outstanding amounts of the relevant taxes can be extracted and payment options will be available for real time collections through JazzCash. Saeed said that this facility will minimize the operational hassles of the Excise and Taxation Department and also provide convenience, comfort, transparency and fast track options to general public. 

Saeed Ahmad said that initially this will be rolled out through JazzCash and gradually other partner mobile money operators as well as ADCs of the bank i.e Mobile App. And ATMs will be added in due course. 

The NBP’s Head of Central Payment Services and Digital Banking Group, Farhan Durrani, Muhammad Sultan Jaffar, Regional Head Quetta, NBP, Qazi Muhammad Ali/Director IT Excise and Taxation, Faheem Mumtaz, Head of B2G JazzCash, Muhammad Ghufran Abbassi, Regional Head, MFS JazzCash, Naveed Ejaz, Regional Head, B2G JazzCash, Shakeel Tareen, Regional Head Sales, Balochistan Jazz Cash and others attended the ceremony.