Sunday, October 7, 2012

I had a dream...

It was 12 years or so ago. At the time there was no such thing as a smart phone. I had a dream one night, where I was sitting in front of a computer and was looking at the world map. I was zooming in and in and in, and eventually I was able to see all the details down to roads, buildings, trees, etc. The only difference from today's map applications with satellite view support was that, it was all live! Looking at Apple's new map application with the 3D turned on over Manhattan suddenly reminded me this long forgotten dream.

It seems so many people have complained about Apple's map app. Unlike what most people say, I like it better than Google Maps on iPhone. First of all, it supports vector graphics, so the maps are crystal clear and do not require downloading different images for different zoom levels. 3D views with buildings is also great. Most importantly, it brings turn-by-turn directions with voice support. There are two missing things though. First is the public transportation data. Google Maps was great for finding subway routes and times in NYC. Second is the inaccuracies in the map data. This latter thing is only a matter of time to fix. I don't criticize Apple for releasing the app. They have to start from somewhere. I am sure within a year all inaccuracies would be fixed in the map data.

What I hate about Apple is their DRM stuff though. I had 30 episodes of Twin Peaks and 14 episodes of Firefly bought from iTunes. I wanted to move them to my external disk so that I can play them on my TV without hooking up my computer to the TV. Guess what, you can't do that without buying an Apple TV. After some searching around and with the suggestion of a friend, I found the software called Requiem. It is the only free DRM removal tool that can wipe out the DRM from your movies without playing and re-recording them (there are many paid tools that do the latter). So you get the same original content, just without the DRM on it.

The tool works like a charm, but it is somewhat hard to get to. Due to legality issues, it is hidden behind the Tor network (which uses onion routing to hide the web end points). It can be reached from here: and works for the latest version of iTunes. It took around 10 hours to remove the DRM from 52GB worth of video. There were no problems.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Long time no see

It has been some time since my last entry. I have been busy with settling down in a new place and starting a new job.

I am now living in Ankara, more specifically in Bilkent/Ankara. So far it has been great. I knew I had a longing for coming back to Turkey, but it turned out my longing was even stronger than I thought. I feel like a small kid who is overjoyed at getting ice cream.

Ironically, after more than 10 years and 10s of thousands of miles, I ended up moving 100 meters away from where I used to live in Bilkent when I was a student :D

It is not my observation, but as an American friend has observed and very aptly so, people are friendly but rude in Turkey, as opposed to being polite but distant in the USA.

While waiting in line for something, the guy next to you may start telling you about his entire life, or after learning that you are a computer engineer, may ask you to fix a problem he is having with his mobile phone. I don't mind though, I have missed my own people, the way they are.

One of the things I really enjoy is that, I am not the crazy driver anymore. In fact, I feel like a really good driver after seeing what everyone else is doing in traffic. This is a major change, as in the US I was getting traffic tickets regularly, and was feeling really bad about it. I am not used to being the bad guy. Finally that problem is solved.

Food that I love and food that I used to eat is finally back in my life. This is by itself worth everything. In fact right now it is Ramadan, which means I get to see more variety in food. Also, it is the first Ramadan back at home after 10 years. Feels great to eat with long time friends and family.  

There is one annoying question I sometimes get from some people though: "Why did you leave such a wonderful place and job?" These people have unrealistic views of how life is in the US, most likely influenced by what they read in the media and what they see in the movies. I get annoyed at this question because it is asked as if the questioner has perfect knowledge of the issue, but in fact he/she knows nothing about it :D

Having a satisfactory job in Turkey is key to happiness for those returning back. Most people who came back like me are extremely satisfied, as long as they are happy with their jobs. Usually the job opportunities and the amount of money you can make is not as good in Turkey, but there are other things that can balance it out.

So far I am enjoying being an academic. Teaching is fun. Being with young people and helping them learn makes me feel better about myself. Research opportunities are decent here as well. I think I have done enough development over the last 6 years in the industry, so that I have no qualms about not having done practical work in my field. Now it is time to go back to full-time research and have fun.

Btw, we are finally finishing our book on Stream Processing. Below is what the cover would look like (yes, the breve in my name is missing, but this is just an initial draft :D). We are going to have a web site as well: I will be teaching Streaming Systems in Spring 2013, hopefully using this book. And my co-authors will teach the same course in Columbia University!