Unwrapping the Multiverse from a 3lb Package

Stardate: 11294.2

And, here is the final version – ready for submission on the 13th! Thanks for all your insightful feedback!

PS: The Topic for the essay again is: “brief summary of your academic interests, career goals, and relevant background experience.”


“I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” – Emo Philips

The two-fold purpose of acquiring knowledge is to better understand the fabric of existence and to serve others. Period. This strand from my ethical genome is the basis for my interest in, and application to, the Neuroscience theme at the UAB GBS. And, I believe, my interdisciplinary educational background, with its strong emphasis on research and innovation, coupled with two decades of professional experience and global service engagements form a strong foundation for successfully completing the program. In addition to highlighting supporting biographical elements, I will also share some of my observations on the history of our future related to neuroscience and the contribution I hope to make in shaping that future.

During my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to conduct extensive research in computer science, materials science, and economics. At the time, C++ was in its infancy, much about the fundamental properties of borosilicate glasses was yet undiscovered, and the Eurozone was little more than a treaty signed in Maastricht. And yet, two of these research projects culminated in honors theses earning me a magna cum laude and the designation of a double Richter scholar. Much of this success was due to the deliberate inculcation of research fundamentals by my faculty advisors. While the journal publications and theses are now two decades old, the inculcated principles of perseverance, objectivity, and curiosity remain fresh. And fortunately, these enriching encounters with the edges of human knowledge did not end with graduation.

Over the last twenty years, my career path has meandered through many exciting sojourns of collaborations with brilliant minds to develop innovative business models and exciting computational solutions – including artificial intelligence engines to solve NP-hard problems. Intertwined with this, like the second strand of a double helix, my volunteer service engagements add a global context, highlight the role of knowledge deficits in creating socio-economic imbalances and the economics of poverty, and offer a platform for deploying time and knowledge in advancing humanity. As I look to the future from this lens, I see three emergent trends – here in the United States and globally – which provide the impetus for my engagement in the field of neuroscience.

First, longevity is increasing. While this is desirable, enhancing the quality of life in tandem with the increasing quantity of life is a better outcome. However, any viable pathway toward better quality of life in this aging population will invariably be built upon fundamental neuroscience research. For instance, our understanding of brain plasticity could help mitigate or even reverse aging induced impedance to cognition, memory formation, and possibly motor control. Similarly, understanding neuronal cellular and molecular dynamics could help control neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Second, the information revolution is rapidly transforming ours into a knowledge society where knowledge and access to knowledge continue to exponentiate. However, even with this, there is little abatement in the costs of secondary and tertiary education. This condition is of particular concern in the developing world where in some instances access to tertiary education is virtually non-existent. Ironically, it is this part of the world that most needs access to quality education to lift itself out of the generational cycle of poverty. The economics here clearly favor early childhood development programs. Programs designed to undergird cognitive, emotional and social foundations, during critical periods of early brain development such as rapid synaptogenesis, for efficient knowledge acquisition in later years. This could have a profound impact on the socio-economic development in much of the developing world over the next three to four decades.

And third, the sustained population growth; projected to take us into the nine billion plus range over the next three decades. Contrary to the pessimistic models put forth by Thomas Malthus and later Paul Ehrlich, I believe our planet and humankind will accommodate this growth. Having said that, anticipating, planning for, and mobilizing resources ahead of this growth can significantly improve outcomes. The challenge lies in the inherent complexity of simulating these growth patterns and the corresponding impact on demand and logistics of resources such as food, water, and energy vis-à-vis environmental impact, quality of life, and continued sustainability over larger population sizes. With deeper insights into the functioning of the brain – specifically its parallel processing ability – new computational models and neural networks could be designed to significantly alleviate this complexity.

At first glance, opportunities embedded in this history of the future may seem overwhelming; requiring the intersection of skills and experiences from diverse disciplines such as computer science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, economics, international and inter-agency relations, quality of life and aging, and of course, neuroscience. By bridging my current background with an immersive study of neuroscience, I hope to be at that optimal intersection of disciplines and experiences to serve humanity in effectively harnessing these opportunities. And, it is to build this bridge that I respectfully seek admission to the Neuroscience Ph.D. Graduate Theme at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Now, on the matter of the Student-CEO equilibrium, I would like to emphasize that while my workload as a CEO is considerable, it is balanced by an equally considerable flexibility in schedule. Based on past experience, I see no difficulty in structuring my work commitments around the demands placed by the Ph.D. program. In addition, I have already initiated the process of relocating my company office closer to the University to reduce the commute between responsibilities. But, despite my willingness and ability to restructure time and reconfigure space, events will occur along the continuum where this equilibrium might be strained. Here, I would like to humbly offer a quote made by my research advisor during my undergraduate thesis defense: “Karim, you often undertake an impossible load but somehow manage to make everything work – easily.” Finally, having already established a successful career as a founder and having served as an international trade ambassador for the State of Alabama, upon graduation, I would be looking to create new – rather than look for – opportunities for furthering neuroscience research and development in Alabama and beyond.

Thank you for your consideration of my application and I hope that my letters of recommendation, GRE score, and this application package, make a strong case for my acceptance into the program. I look forward to working with you in our quest to unlock the secrets of the brain.

Re-Wrapping the Multiverse in a 3lb Package

Stardate: 11288.2

Thanks for the excellent feedback on the first draft everyone. Here is version 2.0 of the application essay. As before, please review and provide your valuable insight, comments, and suggestions. Target date for application submission: December 13, 2012! Thank you all again for your help and positive vibes!

PS: The Topic for the essay again is: “brief summary of your academic interests, career goals, and relevant background experience.”

PS2.0: Here is v2.0 of the essay:


“I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” – Emo Philips

The two-fold purpose of acquiring knowledge is to better understand the fabric of existence and to serve others. Period. This strand from my ethical genome is the basis for my interest in, and application to, the Neuroscience theme at the UAB GBS. And, I believe, my interdisciplinary educational background, with its strong emphasis on research and innovation, coupled with two decades of professional experience and global service engagements form a strong foundation for successfully completing the program. In addition to highlighting supporting biographical elements, I will also share some of my observations on a history of our future related to neuroscience and the contribution I hope to make in shaping that future.

During my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to conduct extensive research in computer science, materials science, and economics. At the time, C++ was in its infancy, much about the fundamental properties of borosilicate glasses was yet undiscovered, and the Eurozone was little more than a treaty signed in Maastricht. And yet, two of these research projects culminated in honors theses earning me a magna cum laude and the designation of a double Richter scholar. Much of this success was due to the deliberate inculcation of research fundamentals by my faculty advisors. While the journal publications and theses are now two decades old, the inculcated principles of perseverance, objectivity, and curiosity remain fresh. And fortunately, these enriching encounters with the edges of human knowledge did not end with graduation.

Over the last twenty years, my career path has meandered through many exciting sojourns of collaborations with brilliant minds to develop innovative business models and exciting computational solutions – including artificial intelligence engines to solve NP-hard problems. Intertwined with this, like the second strand of a double helix, my volunteer service engagements add a global context, highlight the role of knowledge deficits in creating socio-economic imbalances and the economics of poverty, and offer a platform for deploying time and knowledge in advancing humanity. As I look to the future from this lens, I see three emergent trends – here in the United States and globally – which provide the impetus for my engagement in the field of neuroscience.

First, longevity is increasing. While this is desirable, enhancing the quality of life in tandem with the increasing quantity of life is a better outcome. However, any viable pathway toward better quality of life in this aging population will invariably be built upon fundamental neuroscience research. For instance, our understanding of brain plasticity could help mitigate or even reverse aging induced impedance to cognition, memory formation, and possibly motor control. Similarly, understanding neuronal cellular and molecular dynamics could help control neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Second, the information revolution is rapidly transforming ours into a knowledge society where knowledge and access to knowledge continue to exponentiate. However, even with this, there is little abatement in the costs of secondary and tertiary education. This condition is of particular concern in the developing world where in some instances access to tertiary education is virtually non-existent. Ironically, it is this part of the world that most needs access to quality education to lift itself out of the generational cycle of poverty. The economics here clearly favor early childhood development programs. Programs designed to undergird cognitive, emotional and social foundations, during critical periods of early brain development such as rapid synaptogenesis, for efficient knowledge acquisition in later years. This could have a profound impact on the socio-economic development in much of the developing world over the next three to four decades.

And third, the sustained population growth; projected to take us into the nine billion plus range over the next three decades. Contrary to the pessimistic models put forth by Thomas Malthus and later Paul Ehrlich, I believe our planet and humankind will accommodate this growth. Having said that, anticipating, planning for, and mobilizing resources ahead of this growth can significantly improve outcomes. New computational models and neural networks modeled on the functioning of our brain could significantly alleviate the inherent complexity in simulating these growth patterns to derive efficient resource management plans including food, water, and energy production, logistics, and consumption vis-à-vis environmental impact, quality of life, and continued sustainability over larger population sizes.

At first glance, opportunities embedded in this history of the future may seem overwhelming; requiring the intersection of skills and experiences from diverse disciplines such as computer science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, economics, international and inter-agency relations, quality of life and aging, and of course, neuroscience. By bridging my current background with an immersive study of neuroscience, I hope to be at that optimal intersection of disciplines and experiences to serve humanity in effectively harnessing these opportunities. And, it is to build this bridge that I respectfully seek admission to the Neuroscience Ph.D. Graduate Theme at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Now, on the matter of the Student-CEO equilibrium, I would like to emphasize that while my workload as a CEO is considerable, it is balanced by an equally considerable flexibility in schedule. Based on past experience, I see no difficulty in structuring my work commitments around the demands placed by the Ph.D. program. In addition, I have already initiated the process of relocating my company office closer to the University to reduce the commute between responsibilities. But, despite my willingness and ability to restructure time and reconfigure space, events will occur along the continuum where this equilibrium might be strained. Here, I would like to humbly offer a quote made by my research advisor during my undergraduate thesis defense: “Karim, you often undertake an impossible load but somehow manage to make everything work – easily.” Finally, having already established a successful career as a founder and having served as an international trade ambassador for the State of Alabama, upon graduation, I would be looking to create new – rather than look for – opportunities for furthering neuroscience research and development in Alabama and beyond.

Thank you for your consideration of my application and I hope that my letters of recommendation, GRE score, and this application package, make a strong case for my acceptance into the program. I look forward to working really long hours with you in our quest to unlock the secrets of the brain.

Wrapping the Multiverse in a 3lb Package

Stardate: 11286.7

As some of you know, I am applying for admission to the Ph.D. program in neuroscience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As part of the application, I have been asked to submit a “brief summary of your academic interests, career goals, and relevant background experience.” Here is the first draft of my response. Please review and provide your valuable insight, comments, and suggestions. I hope to submit the application by mid-December, so please wish me luck and send me your feedback – via public comment, facebook, or email – at your earliest. Thank you very much for your help in this endeavor! Here is the essay:


“I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” – Emo Philips

In my mind, the two-fold purpose of acquiring knowledge is to better understand the fabric of existence and to serve others. Period. This aspect of my philosophical genome amplifies my interest in neuroscience – the window into the seat of human knowledge, the behavior resulting from that knowledge, and the subsequent loopback into that body of knowledge.

During my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to conduct extensive research in computer science, materials science, and economics; at the time, C++ was in its infancy, much about the fundamental properties of borosilicate glasses was yet undiscovered, and the Eurozone was little more than a treaty signed in Maastricht. My research advisors and fellow team members helped me rigorously explore, fully internalize, and, subsequently, distill and share the resulting knowledge. Two of these research projects culminated in honors theses earning me a magna cum laude and the designation of a double Richter scholar. Fortunately, these enriching encounters with the edges of human knowledge did not end with graduation. Over the last twenty years, my career path has meandered through many exciting sojourns of collaborations with brilliant minds to develop innovative business models and exciting computational solutions – including artificial intelligence engines to solve NP-hard problems. Intertwined with this, like the second strand of a double helix, my volunteer service engagements add a global context, highlight the role of knowledge deficits in creating socio-economic imbalances and the economics of poverty, and offer a platform for deploying time and knowledge in advancing humanity.

As I look to the future in my current professional and volunteer capacities, three emergent trends – both here in the United States and globally – provide the impetus for my engagement in the field of neuroscience. First, longevity is increasing. While this is desirable, enhancing the quality of life in tandem with the increasing quantity of life is a better outcome which can be achieved through a deeper understanding of brain plasticity, for instance, and its implications on lifelong learning and in mitigating debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Second, the information revolution is rapidly transforming ours into a knowledge society where knowledge and access to knowledge continue to exponentiate. However, even with this, there is little abatement in the costs of secondary and tertiary education, highlighting the cost-value advantage of programs designed to strengthen cognitive, emotional and social foundations during critical periods, such as the rapid synaptogenesis, of early brain development as the undergird for efficient knowledge acquisition in later years. In many countries, such a shift in focus to early childhood development could help dramatically impact its socio-economic development over the course of the next three to four decades. And finally, the sustained population growth; projected to take us into the nine billion plus range over the next three decades. Contrary to the pessimistic models put forth by Thomas Malthus and later Paul Ehrlich, I believe our planet and humankind will accommodate this growth. Having said that, anticipating, planning for, and mobilizing resources ahead of this growth can significantly improve outcomes. New computational models and neural networks developed based on the functioning of the brain would be needed to alleviate the inherent complexity in simulating these growth patterns to derive efficient resource management plans including food, water, and energy production, logistics, and consumption vis-à-vis environmental impact, quality of life, and continued sustainability over larger population sizes.

By bridging my current background with an immersive study of neuroscience, I hope to be at the optimal intersection of disciplines and experiences to serve humanity in effectively addressing these challenges. And, it is to build this bridge that I respectfully seek admission to the Neuroscience Ph.D. Graduate Theme at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Now, in speaking with Patricia about the program, I learnt that the neuroscience theme at UAB is very intense and that applicants with a full time employment may trigger time management concerns during the application review. As a CEO, a father of twin toddlers, and a citizen with substantial community service commitments, there may be some concern about my ability to juggle these responsibilities and still contribute successfully to the neuroscience program. In order to put those concerns in perspective, I would ask the admissions committee to please consider that while my workload as a CEO is considerable, it is balanced by an equally considerable flexibility in schedule. Based on past experience, I see no difficulty in structuring my work commitments around the demands placed by the Ph.D. program. Here, I would also like to humbly offer a quote made by my research advisor during my undergraduate thesis defense: “Karim, you often undertake an impossible load but somehow manage to make everything work – easily.” Further, I would like to ask the admissions committee to consider the positive aspects of my having established a successful career as a founder and CEO of an innovation-based enterprise and recently an international trade ambassador for the State of Alabama; upon graduation I would be looking to create new – rather than look for – opportunities for furthering neuroscience research and development in Alabama and beyond.

I recognize that the program is very competitive, however, I hope that my letters of recommendation, GRE score, and this application package, make a strong case for my acceptance into the program. Thank you and I look forward to working really long hours with you in our quest to unlock the secrets of the brain.

What’s in a Name?

Stardate: 11144.8

What’s in a name? Well, it depends. When you stop and think about it, a name is one of the most durable – not to mention, cost-effective – gifts that a parent can give to their children.  And in my case, this gift was particularly valuable, as it’s meaning “noble and generous” helped me with various decisions in life.  At any crossroad, I simply had to ask myself, what would be the noble or generous thing to do!  Yep, my parents were simply genius in their approach to naming!!

So, obviously, when it came time to pick names for our darling twin boys, Henna and I paid particular attention to the meaning, philosophy, and attributes around the names.  Oh, and Henna loves long names, so the names had to be substantial!  ;-D  We sifted through history, philosophy, and mythology texts to divine names that drew upon our heritage to reflect (a) a celebrated friendship, (b) a unifying message for humanity, and (c) have a certain “muchness” about them!

Our quest for celebrated friendships began with that of Prophet Mohammed and Hazrat Ali, followed by various esoteric parallels such as Prophet Moses (Musa) and Aaron (Harun) in Judaism and further on to the primordial souls of the Creator – Guru Brahma – and the Sustainer – Bhagwan Vishnu from the Vedic scriptures. It would be appropriate to mention at this point that Bhagwan Kishan (or Krishna) is an avatar of Bhagwan Vishnu.  With these as anchors, we reached out across cultural frontiers to identify their second names (did I mention Henna loves long names?) to complete the message of cross-frontier unity.  The result:

Brahma Mubarak and Khidr Kishan!

While the arabic word Mubarak has no direct translation in the English language, it can be described as infinite blessings in, both, the spiritual and temporal realms. And Khidr, with his timeless knowledge and wisdom, is the mythical teacher of the Prophets in the Abrahamic traditions!

So, what’s in a name?  Well, for our darling twin princes: the souls of the Creator and Sustainer coupled with infinite wisdom and blessings to serve and unite humanity!

*Key: [BRuh-Mah,  Moo-BahRuhK]   and   [KHi-Der,  Ki-SHuhN]

T-SQL Pseudo-Constants

Stardate: 11047.9

How many times have you come across unfriendly T-SQL such as “IF( @statusID = 1 )” wishing instead for a more meaningful encounter such as “IF( @statusID = ActiveCustomer)”?  And if you think that is bad, try searching for all logic pertaining to active customers!  Right from CS-101, littering code with non-obvious literal constant values is strongly discouraged which is why it is really surprising that even after the release of SQL Server 2008, there is no native support for constants in T-SQL.  While we are on the subject of missing language constructs, another addition that I would really like to see in T-SQL is support for an Oracle-like “CREATE OR REPLACE” to obviate awkward “IF EXISTS…DROP…CREATE” sequences not to mention the associated chain of security processes to reapply access control.

In fairness, a CLR-based mechanism was introduced (which I will cover in a later post) to support constants in T-SQL with SQL Server 2005.  However, that requires deploying .NET assemblies making the implementation disjointed at best.  In any case, for all T-SQL developers out there, here is a work-around for implementing constants entirely in T-SQL!

First, because support for a “CREATE OR REPLACE” syntax is missing, create a helper procedure as follows (this is not entirely necessary, merely for convenience):

PROCEDURE ei_const

Next, create pseudo-constants to your heart’s content  as follows:

Defining Constants

And there you have it!  Never again be faced with the frustration of coming face-to-face with: “IF( @statusID = 1 )”

The Dark Side

Stardate: 11038.0

A few years ago, I – a Microsoft Windows man – would have firmly and unequivocally dismissed the idea of ever using a Mac.  After all, “I’m a PC” – right?  Well, I must confess, I have inched over to the dark side – if ever so slightly.  Due to my crazy travel schedules, I figured it would be prudent to buy a light-weight laptop with a long battery life.  Enter the Mac.  Specifically, the 13″ MacBook Pro MC375LLA with (apparently) a 10 hour battery life!

Ordinarily, the 10 hour (or even if it were 50 hour) battery life would not have pushed me over the PC-Mac divide considering that all my software – both what I use and what I develop – runs on Windows!  But that’s where things have improved considerably on the Parallels/Bootcamp front.  Although, either option would have been fine, I opted for Bootcamp.  And here is where things got interesting.

As part of our corporate standard – rooted in the notion of separation of concerns – the OS partition should be separate from the data partition.  This is easily done on any PC; while setting up Windows, you simply split up the drive into multiple partitions and that’s it.  However, with Bootcamp, it isn’t quite that simple.  After reading various tech blogs including some that prescribed a “simple” almost 15-step process choke full of cryptic partition manipulating commands, I came to the conclusion that there has got to be an easier way.  There was.

  1. Create a Bootcamp partition large enough for the OS and go through the Windows installation process.
  2. After – and only after – Windows is installed, start the “Disk Utility” from the Mac OS.  You should see two partitions – the Mac HD and Bootcamp – under the primary drive.
  3. Now create a new partition from the Mac HD – I named it “elixir” – again part of the standard.
  4. Restart in Windows and format “elixir” to NTFS!

That simple.

Chance: Get Out of… Debt

Stardate: 11024.6

The last few days made me feel like I was in CERN’s LHC, racing at near light speeds, meeting challenges head-on, smashing them to bits in soundless but resplendent encounters!  The rush of solving problems is addictive but the pace can sometimes take a toll.  So, it appears that in the world of colliders, the fast and furious conjure up loaves of bread or bird feathers simply to take a break from it all!  In the world of polymath’s, recreational cooking can help slow the pace some; aah the scent of pesto and garlic in hot olive oil!!  Had a great time whipping up (and consuming) some spicy pesto shrimp!!!  (Note: Ordinarily Henna doesn’t care for shrimp but this stuff is more than amenable to her – I think she just likes the idea of a man cooking for her while she is on conference calls… She takes this Women’s Development thing very seriously ;-D)

One of the many rabbits – umm particles – that I have been chasing thanks to the considerable motivational drive from my esteemed colleague HS Shajahan Merchant is the Debt Particle.  From an AKEPB perspective, our discussions were centered around leveraging Saleemah Ahmed‘s team to lay out, in simple terms, some strategies that both early career professionals (read: college debt, for which you may want to also investigate income based repayment) and mid-career professionals could follow to mitigate debt service burdens in the short-term and the overall size of personal debt that they may be carrying in the long-run.  Hopefully, by the end of this month, we should have a little card that provides quick pointers on getting out of (or at least reducing the burden of) undesired debt.  Over the last few months, Saleemah’s team has been hard at work helping folks with debt management, so it made sense to ask them to create a quick checklist – a “Get Out of Debt” (as in Monopoly) card.

Now, we don’t need a collider to tell us that there are both Debt Particles and Anti-Particles.  Debt can be good; the kind that fuels growth.  Without instruments such as student loans, home loans, business loans, bonds, and so forth, our socio-economic engine would slow down to an excruciating crawl.  In fact, it could lead to social injustices such as the imprisonment of the marginalized in deep wells of poverty and despair with not even a spark of hope for a way out.  On the other hand, debt can also be bad; the kind that [shaky or illusory] growth fuels.  Ninja loans anyone?

Carrying the particle analogy further, debt can be said to have mass, charge, and spin.  Mass is obvious, the amount of debt carried.  Charge, the debt service of course!  Now for spin.  This one requires a little twist to grasp.  The spin is essentially the credit score (or credit rating for bonds).  The better your credit score, the easier your access to cheaper credit – let’s call this spin “up”.  “Down” spin is truly vicious.  When you get in a credit crisis, your credit score drops (down spin), reducing access to credit and increasing your debt service.  Which in turn would effect an increased need for debt, leading subsequently, to a further reduction in credit score; down spin could become self-perpetuating forming a downward spiral of despair.

The good news is that solutions exist.  Solutions exist regardless of whether you hold Debt Particles or Antiparticles, regardless also of the mass, charge, and spin of those particles.  Now, I’m not saying that it will be easy.  Nor am I saying that this should encourage irresponsible behavior.  On the contrary.  My position remains that regardless of the economic landscape, excercise prudence in managing the mass, charge, and spin of the Debt Particles and resist the lure of Debt Antiparticles!!

PS: The “Get Out of Debt” card is still WIP.  We will bring the compilation to you soon, perhaps in another forum – perhaps even in person!  In the interim, feel free to help by sending me ideas that we should include on the “Get Out of Debt” card – while I go back to my particle smashing!