Dec 11, 2011

What Do I Want Today?

Over the past 6 months or so, I have been slowing down drastically in terms of achievement: I am running late on almost all my class projects (including my thesis), I haven't written a blog post in ages, etc...

What is happening to me? I used to be this over achieving monster that wanted to have a doctorate degree, succeed in all aspects of his life and someday impact the life of millions. Now I feel like I'm constantly settling.
What is happening to me? I am not on drugs (well that's if you do not consider Jack Daniels as one); I passed the age of puberty a long time ago (I think...); I just do not feel that drive that I used to have, I am not excited about anything anymore (although I've been trying to have lots of fun lately).
What is happening to me? That's the question I asked myself when I woke up today after having my first 9-hours sleep in a long time, even though I have less than 36 hours to study for a final and write a 2500-words paper. 

Then, I realized that I do not recall dreaming during my sleep; In fact I don't recall the last time I actually dreamed something else than nightmares or past events. I just do not have any sense of fantasy anymore. Better yet, I think I lost my ability to fantasize a long time ago. I therefore decided to switch the question from What is happening to me? to What do I want out of Life?
I observed that my past adrenaline rushes were always, in some way, connected to pleasing someone else, and that the last time pleasing myself was at the top of my priorities goes back to my childhood years. I have lost the ability to DREAM for myself.

In light of all this, I decided to create another blog, where I will archive what I want, ranging from a simple meal to World Peace. This will remind me and whoever needs it, that dreaming and dreaming BIG is good, heck it's necessary to a fulfilled life.

Check out the new blog HERE.

Jul 14, 2011

Investing in AFRICA

Countless times, I have been asked by Americans and even some fellow Africans what I thought would be the best way to bring about development to the continent. To dodge long and unpleasant potential ideological debates, I usually say that the best catalyst would be changing the mindset of the population, which is very difficult (voire impossible) and it is not something an external third-party can achieve; I also mention that making a significant impact would require dealing with local government officials: good luck with that! And then we switch straight to the weather...:)).
In all seriousness, I thought about the areas in which members of the diaspora like myself or even foreigners can give back to the mother continent, not to change the face of the world overnight, but to make those little actions that could impact the life of a few key people every year. Here they are with some concrete examples of what someone can realize:

1) Infrastructure: 
This is a huge pool of possibilities. Most African countries suffer the lack in infrastructures: Limited means of transportation (roads, trains, effective public commute either urban and inter-urban), buildings (like schools, hospitals, etc...) or access to basic resources like water or electricity. A successful member of the diaspora could organize a fundraising to build a well or a building that could be used as school or hospital in a rural area.
2) Tourism: 
The perception of Africa from most foreigners is that of a gigantic zoo/jungle (i.e. a huge land of natural environment where animals and Man cohabit in harmony), but the guides and guards of the "Park" just happen to die of hunger, malaria and AIDS while constantly fighting each other.Okay I admit, this is little exaggerated; a friend of mine makes my point better and funnier, check out her blog post. Working on preserving our landmarks as well as our fauna would definitely attract tourists and then we would be able to show our wonderful our community-based lifestyle can be.
3) Education and Health Care:
For a more effective, yet slower and long term impact, there is always actions towards educating the youngsters and provide with ways to fight against the not so deadly (avoidable and curable) sicknesses that are killing them. A good and simple idea could be to provide tuition scholarships to the smartest kids in a school or help them become the teachers, the doctors or engineers that will tomorrow work in the infrastructure built in 1).
4) Artistry and Values:
I have heard so many times that the African population is loosing its identity. Apparently, we want so much to integrate the globalization that we tend to loose those values that make us who we are. So I believe that anything that could be done to golden our identity is highly welcomed. Examples include art galleries, cinema promotions and why not book and music publishing provided the contents focus on African cultural heritage.
5) Technology and Telecommunications:
This is probably the area where I will personally try to work some magic. It is a definite win in terms of business: the adoption of cell phones skyrocketed in a few years, more than 33% of the population in Cameroon (from CIA papers) now own a phone compared to the less than 5 out of 100 households in 2000. The venue of the Internet is also a big game changer (just think about the impact that social media had in the recent government overthrow in Egypt). If only we could make the hardware less expensive and bring forth faster and cheaper internet..... Education in technology would also be a big plus.

There you have it. There is a lot more that can be done, and I might actually be wrong in many aspects, this a is just what I feel is best.
In the comments section you can debate specific subtopics or propose your own solutions.

Jul 12, 2011

"I ate his Liver with Some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti!!"

Frightened or excited (because you know this quote)? Well settle down..... Sometimes when my brain stops paying attention to my workload, i.e. when I need to be entertained and its 2:00 am in the morning, I look through the IMDB database for high rated movies that I have not yet seen, learn about them and plan on watching them in a near future.
Following this logic, I stumbled upon the  film "Silence of the Lambs" which depicts interactions between an FBI agent Clarice Sterling and a famous human eating, ex-psychiatrist and sociopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter (You've probably heard of Hannibal the Cannibal), the title of the post is a quote from the movie.

I was surprised to learn that he is a fictional character from a series of novels. I always figured from the notoriety of the name that Hannibal was a real person that existed in the past, turns out this movie made it famous. I was even more intrigued when the part of the Doctor was played by English actor Anthony Hopkins whose breathtaking performance in Instinct scarred me for life.

So I watched the film, liked it so much that I found and watched the sequel Hannibal right away and yes my next Halloween costume will be the #1 villain in the AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains list: Dr. HANNIBAL LECTER.

P.S: From a post on geek Love to a post about a Halloween type horror story.... My life is messed up!!! :)

Jun 11, 2011

The Guide to Geek Love

I happen to think of myself as a computer enthusiast, or as the society describes it: having geek tendencies (did you know that roots for the word geek mean freak or crazy?). It is a general consensus that "we" are not meant to participate in human relationships, and I am no exception to this rule considering my personal disastrous dating history. Being a faithful listener of the Buzz Out Loud tech podcast, I wanted to share the guidelines to finding geek love posted by a listener, in the Computer Love section of episode 1487 of the show (this has been a little modified and I added some comments, the original can be found here).

Based on my experience, this is my guide to finding geek love:

1. Get Real. I had a couple of internet dates, and while my wife and I met in real life, we did most of our early flirtation via email. The problem with that is that I did a very plausible online impression of someone with his life in gear, but in real life I was much more messed up. You really have to meet me in person to realize how annoying this can be. But I found someone who kind of likes it.
Comment: Yeah, this is totally me, online I am a serious, funny and well organized kid....In real life, not so much :(.

2. Hope for Failure. The percentage of the general population who will intentionally date a geek is probably in the low teens. Add to that your own criteria (weight, height, hair color, Star Trek vs. Star Wars, has a job, bathes) and your pool starts shrinking. This is not a bug, it's a feature. A bad date or a rejected pickup is not a disaster, it's just another iteration in your own personal sorting algorithm (Comment: I love this line). 

3. Define Success. I knew I was in love because my happiness had become contingent on hers, and when I was with her, I was a better version of myself than when I wasn't. Of course, I'm kind of an idiot, so it took me a long time after falling in love to even realize that it had happened. I almost drew charts, but even I recognized that would be a bit much. Instead, I proposed. Ineptly. But she said yes anyway.
We've been married 5 years. We have a 4 month old who just outgrew his first Star Wars onesie and a three year old who starts most of her sentences with ""Well actually..."" Love is good.
Comment: This is the mushy part that I hate when others talk about the love thing.

All in all, if you know a geek, just give him/her some Love. It may not look like it, but "we" always have a lot to offer.

Jun 2, 2011

Digital Forensics Debut: Honeynet Challenge 7

In case you didn't already know, I recently developed interest in Digital Forensics witch is a branch of Computer Science that deals with recovering and/or analyzing data from media devices like hard drives and RAM, usually in an attempt to determine the how and the why of computer related attacks on individuals and businesses (Thanks Wikipedia...).I am fairly new to the topic and before December, I am supposed to master the subject contents (My degree thesis is on Linux Forensics- I will probably talk more about it some other time).

To have a better feeling of the field and get some hands-on experience, I joined the Computer Forensics Group at JMU. As beginners, we participated in the Honeynet Challenge No 7 (see, which provided us with an image of the hard drive and the RAM of a compromised Linux machine and we had to figure out what happened.

The group spent a few days on it using open source tools like Autopsy for file system browsing, the beta version of Volatility 1.4 and Volatilitux. Though we were not among the winners, we were half a point shy of a 4-way tie for 3rd place (i.e. 6th out of 16 participants). That's pretty good for beginners :D.

Hopefully, we will do better the next time. Oh and yeah, the group next project involves Facebook and is very interesting :).

P.S: You can get a copy of our submission upon request.

May 13, 2011

The Confession: Discussing Religious Morals with Jack Bauer

We have all been fans of 24 right? The innovative show (in terms of story line) where Jack Bauer the secret agent solves terrorist and conspiracy plots in 24 hours, not hesitating to use the most drastic techniques (extensive torture and even shooting his team and family members) to uncover the truth? Wait you don't know what I am talking about? Shame on you :).

Well, Kiefer Sutherland, the actor who played the charismatic role in the show has done it again; This time in a smaller scale, through a 10-episode web series that he created: The Confession. The plot is rather simple: a professional killer (played by Kiefer) and a priest engage in the only truthful conversation that can happen, in my opinion, between such characters, i.e. the meaning of good and evil, all in the secrecy of a confessional.

I absolutely love the format of this series. It is web-only (mainly on, unfortunately available only in the US, deals are signed for internatinal distribution, I just don't know what sites), 7-10 minutes per episode and really fast-paced.

Good Job on this one Kiefer, can't wait for more of your projects or more web-only specials like this one. See the trailer below:

Breaking Out of "Jail" : Restricted Shell

No, I am not writing a sequel for the show "Prison Break", though I would love to see it come back to the screens :).

If you have never used a Linux or Unix-like terminal to administer a computer (yeah, it's a geeky post), you better stop reading now. The purpose of this post is to give some ideas on ways to get out of restricted shells on Linux systems.

- "But what is this restricted shell thing you are talking about?".
I assume as a Linux user (if you are not, you should have stopped reading by now :D), you know that each time a terminal is launched, a special program is started to read your commands: The Shell. There exist many shells (Boune shell or bash, Korne Shell or kshell, and more) and they are very powerful as you might expect. However, mostly in production environments where multiple users can remotely access a shell of a machine, it is good practice for administrators to apply restrictions on the commands that a normal user can execute on the host with the help of restricted shells (a good example is rbash and this post How to restrict access with rbash describe a way to implement it).

- "So how do I break out of this restrictive "prison"?", two words: Shell Escapes.
Many command-line applications provide a way to fall back into a shell, restrictive or not. The one I will mostly talk about is offered by vi/vim the text editor, since it can permit you to access an unrestricted shell following these instructions:

1. Once in vi/vim, type ESC, then:
  • Type “:set shell=/bin/bash
  • Type “:shell” and VOILA!!!!! 

Unfortunately, vi/vim also has a restricted version rvi/rvim in which this trick will not work. If you are stuck with rvi, you can try the following methods to access vi with other applications:

2. Using the text-based browser lynx:
  • open a local file with lynx (e.g.: $ lynx /etc/passwd)
  • type “o” to open the options; change the second option (Editor) to “/bin/vi” and save the changes to go back at the main page.
  • Type “e” to edit the file with vi
  • Follow instructions in 1.
3. Using the mail (local email client) command:
  • $ set VISUAL=/bin/vi
  • $ mail -s "subject" "destination email"
  • Type "~v" on the next line to edit the mail with vi.
  • Follow the instructions in 1.
There are various other ways to obtain the same result, this was just a the tip of the iceberg.

UPDATE: Guess what?? The browser Elinks is also vulnerable to shell escapes. This is based on the feature (hacking feature?) allowing users to edit the contents of text boxes on a webpage using external editors (i.e. using other applications on the machine... Yayyy vi/vim). All you have to do is setup the $EDITOR environment variable with "/bin/vi" and the rest is history... Wait you need more details?? OK:

  • $ set EDITOR=/bin/vi
  • Open a webpage containing a text box (should be easy to find on the Internet. If you can not, well lmgtfy!!!).
  • Navigate to the text-box area and Enter to edit, the press F4 (or whatever is used in the configurations) to edit the text box externally, and you should see something familiar :=)

Apr 14, 2011

Specialization is for Insects

It's been ages since my last post! I have been (and still am) outrageously busy with my academic work. Hopefully, I will fill the gaps by posting a little more than usual in the upcoming months.

Today, I wanted to mention and briefly discuss the following "quote":

"A human being should be able to
change a diaper,
plan an invasion,
butcher a hog,
conn a ship,
design a building,
write a sonnet,
balance accounts,
build a wall,
set a bone,
comfort the dying,
take orders,
give orders,
act alone,
solve equations,
analyze a new problem,
pitch manure,
program a computer,
cook a tasty meal,
fight efficiently,
die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects. " - Robert Heinelein - Time Enough for Love.

In this world where there is so much to discover, people tend to stir their lives towards one or two areas they master or have expertise on. Robert Heinelein suggests that as human beings, we can and should do as many activities as we can. This reminded of a quote that I loved to say when I was younger to explain to my friends why I loved going to school (I was the biggest nerd ever at that time, I have met worse than me recently!!!):

"Il est parfois mieux de connaitre quelque chose de tout que de connaitre tout d'une chose." (Translation)

Mar 27, 2011

On Time Management

            TIME, four letters that could make your life very exciting or completely miserable. If like me and every body else you are engaged in a number of activities, then you had to, at a certain point in time, deal with this beast. We have all heard magic words put together by "great thinkers" to display the necessity of efficient time management for a successful life:

"Time is money."
"Never leave ’till tomorrow which you can do today." - Benjamin Franklin.
"Never let yesterday use up today." - R. Nelson
"The time for action is now. It’s never too late to do something." - Carl Sandburg
"Make use of time, let not advantage slip." - William Shakespeare

And blah, blah, blah.... Don't get me wrong, I am not saying time is not of importance and should not be considered at all, I am merely suggesting that it should not be taken too seriously. Time should not control your life; on the contrary, having a life of fulfillment involves among other things a control of time.
If you have a 30-page paper due in two weeks and you are not very excited about writing, why would you want to refrain yourself from watching two hours of that TV show that makes you smile or getting excited by the MADNESS of this year's NCAA tournament or even spending a full day hanging out with your favorite peeps?

After reading my last paragraph, I see how foolish it sounds. I guess I am just trying to justify my current excessive procrastination :).
Ignore everything that I just said, and just live your life to the fullest; the key is in not spending time, but investing in it!!!

Mar 21, 2011

Courage to Engage

Me trying to speak in public :)
This was the theme of this year's edition of ISLC (International Student Leadership Conference), a panel of internationals, for internationals, by internationals, organized and hosted by James Madison University and Eastern Mennonnite University.
Students from all parts the US get together to learn and discuss the tips and tricks necessary to a successful leader, coupled with fun activities (dance party for example). It is a great occasion to meet people from all around the world studying or living in the United States, hear their stories and learn about their culture. I can not possibly layout all the lessons that could be gained throughout the conference (go next year if you can, and experience for yourself!!), but I will discuss a couple points I personally gathered.

          First, a general overview of the theme: "Courage to Engage". A leader is someone that people follow and trust to develop/achieve a project, a passion or something they believe in. So each of us is a full blown tank of leadership potential waiting to burst. This does not mean that everybody has be the president of a group or war leader or anything like that (though these are included), it all starts with the little things such as having the courage to engage into a difficult conversation or with a stranger or simply getting out of your comfort zone to have a connection with your alter ego.

          One example can be derived from the inspiring documentary movie "Crossing Borders" by Arnd Wachter, which follows 8 students (4 Americans and 4 Moroccans) living together in Morocco for a week (see trailer below).  The movie was shown at the conference, followed by a very interesting group discussion on the topics developed in the movie (the previous picture was taken at that moment), moderated by the author himself Arnd who gracefully accepted to participate at the event.

CROSSING BORDERS (Trailer, 3 mins) from CROSSING BORDERS on Vimeo.

"There is enough religion in this world to hate each other, but not enough religion to love one another" - King Abdullah II of Jordan

Mar 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day....

First 500 decimal digits (π)

Today, 3.14 (March 14th) is π day. The math and geek communities celebrate this powerful, overused yet strange number every year.

I just couldn't end the day without mentioning it. If you want to know, what Pi sounds like, watch this video.

See more funny videos and funny pictures at CollegeHumor.

You can also have a slice of Pi (I mean Pie :|): HAPPY PIE DAY!!!

I'm in love with Zach Galifianakis!!!

There I said it :)

 After my previous post on the terrible tsunami/earthquake in Japan (update in 3 words: nuclear power plants), I am writing on something less sad, more hopeful, less stressful.
This guy on the left has the power to make me scream with laughter. I can't decide whether he is stupid or very smart; maybe he is stupidly smart or smartly stupid. His punchlines are dumb but brilliant.
Yes i know, I'm babbling...... Oh common, this is funny: "The only time it's good to yell out I HAVE DIARRHEA, it's when you are playing scrabble.........Because it's worth a crap load of points!!! ", taken from the best SNL monologue ever (Source).

So yeah, since Hangover, just looking at him make me burst into tears....

Mar 11, 2011

A sad first post!!

Well, My first post is related to a sad, sad situation.
A gigantic 8.9 magnitude earthquake is currently hitting Japan (a country I am very found of...) and can escalate to cause a tsunami. The east cost of Honshu-Japan is under siege and reports say there are already hundreds in human casualties and "tremendous damage" (from Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan). My thoughts go to the suffering population.
This and similar situations make me wonder about earthquakes (and other natural disasters) early detection techniques. First, let me mention that I do not know much about it, but from what I read, there are some precursory signs before they happen. Earthquakes for example, are manifested through energy waves that can be accurately detected. Apparently, our current GPS satellites already have the technology to record magnetic fields and electromagnetic waves; they just need to be tailored to monitor tectonic movements. If implemented, they could provide warnings as early as weeks before the occurrence of the disaster.
This "will provide the key element in a fight against earthquakes and tsunamis: TIME" (Source).

If only there was an industry already investing money in satellites to help out. Oh....wait are we talking GPS satellites? like the ones that we use when we drive?
You are right, the car industry is already in this business. I can hear it from here: " Yo Ernest, they already make efforts to ensure that your vehicle can roll on broken roads when there is an earthquake!" Oh well, they wouldn't need to do that much if we can tell the people to drive on the nice road and get away weeks beforehand.
All I am suggesting is, the car companies could be generous and give out some cash (maybe they already do, I don't know), so we could know in early December 2011 if 2012 will be the end of the world :).

And to the Japanese population: Watashi wa watashi no inori de tamotsu!!!

Mar 10, 2011

Yet Another Personal Blog!!

Hello World!

Welcome to my first and so far unique personal blog.
I intent to use this space to rant, praise, discuss, give my point of view on all sorts of subjects of interest.

I am a computer science student, so do not be surprised to see mostly tech stuff on here. I am also a movie enthusiast, I love listening to music (no particular favorite...) and like most guys I am a sports fan, mostly Basketball and Soccer. To know more about me visit my Student Website.

J'espere que je pourrais poster regulierement (pas de promesses :|), tout dependra de mon temps libre. Oooops... yes do not be alarmed if you see some French, we all have a friend that can help us translate right?

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