Dr. Hamayun Mian – A Rare Visionary
By: Ms. Kiran Mian
The loss of Dr. Hamayun Mian, was not just a loss for us as a family but it was also a big loss for Pakistan. After reading tributes to my father there are some things I would like to clarify and by doing so also thank those who supported and appreciated Dr Mian’s work. It is true, as said that Dr. Mian is/was the pioneer of software development in Pakistan. What is not completely correct is that after 2002 he did not make many significant contributions to Pakistan and software. For this, I will divide his work into two parts, the time before 2002 and that after 2002.
Before 2002, Dr. Mian was responsible for many groundbreaking works in software development including Y2K, computerization of the Punjab examination system and so the list can go on; and for this I leave the description to professionals who knew his work much better than me. However, as his family what we do know is that out of all his work during that time, perhaps “Raakim” was his greatest love. I remember the shine in Dr. Mian’s eyes when he would spend hours explaining to us the importance and beauty of this software program. Dr. Mian would have loved to have been an Urdu poet himself, but even though he was just not made for that, he still wanted to make a contribution to Urdu as his tribute to this beautiful language. And thus his homage to Urdu and gift to Pakistanis was Raakim, which opened doors to the possibility of actually writing programs in Urdu and by this program he brought Urdu into the Modern age of computers. This task had not been an easy one because when Dr. Mian decided to take on this project, experts had previously believed and told him that devising the Nastaliq script on software was impossible, but as usual Dr. Mian proved them wrong and eventually created this software as his gift to Urdu and the Pakistanis.
Though in some aspects his admirers believe that when my dad had his second heart attack in 2002, Dr. Mian withdrew from this software development world, this is somewhat incorrect. It was after 2002 that Dr. Mian broke away from all conventions to work on projects that he truly believed in and thought would be beneficial to Pakistan. Most of his work after his illness was dedicated to finding solutions to Pakistan’s most pressing problems like education, energy and social development. For example, he developed “Smart Huts” for the Kashmir earthquake victims. These huts were designed to be so light that volunteers were able to easily carry them to the remotest parts of Kashmir, to places where others were not able to go. I remember him telling me that these huts were just temporary, but they could tolerate almost any level of earthquake, were insulated to provide protection against the harshest of weather, and most of all unlike many such projects, these huts were totally made in Pakistan, were cheap and met the needs of the people. In other words, unlike the tents provided by international donors; where many were burnt alive because of using stoves inside them, these huts were equipped to handle such needs.
Another project that he devised was known as “SmartSchool”. According to Dr. Mian bad teaching methodology was responsible for ruining Pakistan’s future – our children; he strongly believed that computers could solve this very problem. For this he developed software that would substitute the role of teachers in classrooms. This project did not turn out to be financially feasible because his vision, as usual, was always way ahead of his time. But when the time comes, Pakistanis will realize that this idea in fact might be their only solution to the salvation of Pakistan’s frail education system. In this project he created software for a curriculum that would adjust its level and method according to the learning ability of each individual student. In his school, every student did their work on a personal computer and all the subject programs adjusted according to the answers and work done by the students. Here, the role of the teacher was of just a supervisor, this Dr. Mian believed would help resolve bad teaching in the classroom, allowing each student to learn the best he could.
Additionally Dr. Mian was a strong advocate of Solar Energy. As a start off he was in the process of converting our whole house to solar energy by creating a solar energy panel system made and developed in Pakistan, but alas his life was cut short! But his belief that only solar energy could solve our energy crises remains unfulfilled.
I cannot write about all his work in one article, as the list is very long… Unfortunately his life was not; but whatever Dr. Mian did was dedicated to Pakistan’s betterment. So many times we begged him to leave the country but he would flatly refuse, and in the end, when it came to his hour of need, all the Pakistani doctors in Lahore abandoned him saying ILD is a killer disease. I am not a doctor but I do know that this is not wholly true, there is a life after ILD and intelligent decisions that were not made for my father could have prolonged his life significantly. In the end, I do curse those doctors responsible for his death, but I am also truly and humbly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who appreciated and supported my dad’s work throughout his life. I am most of all grateful to the doctor who did in fact save Dr. Mian’s life back in 2002, but wonder why he didn’t help as much this time. I would however still like to thank him for giving us those eight years with my father, I will always be indebted for that. It is this that makes his heirs feel determined to continue his legacy and dedicate ourselves to making Pakistan a better place. For we all know that had Dr. Mian been a medical doctor himself, and had he had a patient like himself, then I am quite sure that that patient would have been alive today. As in his own profession, Dr. Mian always found a way inspite of all the odds being against him. After all, not many people are born with the highest level of commitment, dedication and intelligence as Dr. Hamayun Mian.
Dr. Humayun Mushtaq Mian
Wherefore we praise thee in the deep
By: Ammar Babar XC – SRC I
Born on March 31, 1944, Dr Humayun Mushtaq Mian was a child with unique and unparalleled abilities. Brought up in Lahore and a student of Central Model School, Humayun could do things about which his peers could only imagine. By the age of nine he had tuned his first automobile and by the age of 11 he could open a car’s engine and re-assemble it. In his alma mater he was the most endued student with a highly creative intellect, a sheer genius and an innovator. Humayun Mian passed his matriculation examination and then proceeded to Govt. College University (G.C.U) Lahore for his pre-engineering degree. He did his B.S.C (Honors) in Mechanical Engineering from U.E.T, Lahore in 1965. During his stay in U.E.T he bamboozled and impressed everyone by fixing a machine which no one was able to fix from the past 15 years. In 1968 he completed D.R.C.ST (post graduate diploma) in Production Engineering from Royal College of Science and Technology, Scotland. Two years later he did his M.Sc in Operational Research from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow and finally his P.H.D in Computerized Planning Systems from the same university in 1975. As a student Dr. Humayun Mian had a lust for knowledge and throughout his educational career his hobby was to read with his interest resting in Physics, Philosophy and religion especially Islamic history. He possessed true agony for the persisting opressed and outcast condition of the Muslims globally and wanted to make a change so that the Muslims could rise again.
The character and personality of Dr. Humayun Mian equally matched his extraordinary educational and practical abilities. He was a very generous man with a soft-corner for the mankind. He was extremely humble and was willing to help any one in despair. My personal experiences and instances of his life (which I have heard) have forced me to acknowledge that there wasn’t any person kinder than him. He would help struggling people with their work, check thesis for people and even help people by fixing their broken machines. Once a man came to Dr. Humayun Mian and asked him to come and take a look at the garage he had been constructing and for the next two days Dr. Humayun Mian was tagged missing by his family who had absolutely no idea where he had gone. After two days, he came back home all smudged and sweaty after working with that man for two days and nights.
Perhaps, it was his cooperative nature which attributed to his ability of excelling in teaching. He was an amazing teacher and gave the most intricate concepts with sheer case so that the person never had any problem understanding what he was trying to teach. He held the position of lecturer in UET, Lahore for two years and of an Associate Professor for Operational Research in the University of Strathclyde for eight years. Dr. Humayun Mian’s dream was to see actual education to be practised in Pakistan. He emphasised on concrete conceptual knowledge accompanied by technical and practical application of the knowledge gained. To convey and apply his ideology he made many attempts to improve the educational system. He was the author of the computer studies for the Punjab text books for 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students and the place where our school (L.P.S) is standing used to be the home of Dr. Humayun Mian which he donated so that a difference could be made by revolutionizing education through one new institute. Dr. Humayun Mian introduced smart school (education via computers) but his brain child did not succeed as this idea was way ahead of its time. Throughout his life Dr. Humayun Mian wanted to do something big for Pakistan. He wanted to see Pakistan as a developed and educated nation and Urdu language as one of the major languages of the world. To implement this, he worked day and night to establish software suites in Urdu but his ideas were not supported and the theme could not be applied due to lack of investment and support.
He was a visionary and used to say ‘if not done now, it will never be done.”
Lest we forget such men (who never come in the limelight but work silently behind the scenes). I am giving below just one of his myriad of contributions:
Dr. Humayun Mian had a bet with the GEO of Monotype Corporation who said that Urdu nastalique is too recursive, stylish and proportional, and hence could not be computerized. He took two years off Systems Ltd. to do research on Urdu nastalique and started going to a calligraphy madrassa near Data Darbar, Lahore, sat on the floor and did takhti after takhti. After great difficulty he made friends with the old Ustad, most probably Ustaad Syed Nafees Al-Hussani and learnt the rendering techniques. However he couldn’t develop a rendering algorithm as yet, so he went to Iran and visited many universities to do his research (As Nastaliq Calligraphy is attributed to Mir Ali Tabrizi, a distinguished Iranian calligrapher of 14th century). Here he learnt of a dream that Mir Ali had, in which he saw many birds flying around. At first Dr. Humayun Mian said he could not relate to this at that time but later on realized that the tips of the birds’ wings execute an ellipse as it flies. And an ellipse is nothing but a shape which ranges between a circle and a straight line as the distance between the 2 focii of the ellipse is increased. He said he realized the logic of his algorithm. A few months later RAAQIM was born, the first Urdu word processor based on a pure Urdu Nastalique Rendering Engine. He went to UK and presented it to the Monotype Corporation executives who were delighted. Dr. Humayun Mian wouldn’t market RAAQIM as a product and for many years RAAQIM was available as a free download on Systems Ltd. Website.
Among his other achievements, he made budget compilation system for the Govt. of Pakistan, made Public enterprise performance system for Ministry of Pakistan, was the Director Of Research in University of Strathclyde, was the chief designer of Scottish management game, was the consultant on computer based mathematical modeling. He remained the M.D. of Systems Ltd. for two years, was the chairman of PITB (Punjab Infor. Tech. Board) for 2 years, acted as the Director and Chief technologist for Visionet System, Inc-USA, developed softwares like SYSPLAN, 6 PSY, COMFORT, RAAQIM and production control and Planning system.
As Dr. Humayun Mian grew older his health declined and he suffered a heart attack in 2002. He was a diabetic person suffering from arthritis and I.L.D. In June 2010, Dr. Humayun Mian’s condition worsened when he caught pneumonia. It developed into meningitis followed by pulmonary failure on 17th of June 2010 which proved fatal.
Such people are hard to find…unless we know them and acknowledge their true value. His work will always be remembered and he will always be recognized as one of the greatest computer scientists of Pakistan. We are indeed poorer today with loss of such a concrete member of our IT industry and a generous human being.
Getting rid of the bug
Nelofar Farooq reports on the millennium bug that is threatening the technological revolution and a unique Pakistani Computer company that has come up with a viable solution.
Systems Limited is a software company with the difference. It is one of the few that have cracked the problem of the millennium bug, an issue which achieved instantaneous fame after US government asked for a $30 billion additional budget to tackle the problem at a congressional hearing in ’96. Last year, major US firms dealing in stock investments advised the public to sell their stock in companies that had not been tagged as “2000 compliant” by the government.
The millennium problem itself is deceptively simple. Most of the computer software was written in the 60s and 70s when computer storage was very expensive. Therefore, programmes allocated only two digits to the year, not realizing that this software would last till the turn of the next century. With the computer recognizing the year as a two-digit number, it does not have the ability to tell if 00 denotes 1900 or the year 2000. In all information processing, each and every entry is being aged; i.e. every entry transaction is given a corresponding date. Also all calculations are date-based but if the computer is unable to read the correct year, this will affect its entire operations. “The problem is simply that of bridging the two centuries”, explains Aezaz Hussain, managing director at Systems. “There are billions of programmes code that need to be searched and corrected but to do this manually is impossible. The world was expecting a ‘silver bullet’ to solve this problem but we at Systems realized the futility of such wishful thinking”.
The company was able to come up with the solution, marketed under the name Millennium/400, because of a strong commitment to research and development. The strategy began way back in ’94 when Systems began its research into reverse engineering. Revise or re-engineering analyses and existing programme and then instruct the computer to modify itself in order to give it a different property than the existing one. Thus the computer is doing automatically what previously would be done manually, understanding what is within a programme or code. Once mathematical model has been prepared of what is in the computer, the next step is verifying what needs to be altered. The millennium problem comprises of modifying an existing piece of software so that it appends the ability of reading the change of the century into its existing code. From the genetic point of view, the process involves a change in the characteristic of existing software by giving it a new property.
According to Dr. Hamayun Mian, the brain behind Millennium/400, a far more serious challenge is the European Union’s conversion to a single currency or January 1, 1999. “The software of the European markets will have to be altered to be able to handle two currencies at the same time, the local currency and the Euro-currency”, explains Dr. Mian. Another problem of a far greater magnitude is that trillions of lines of software or computer codes that are being used by countless companies around the world were developed in the 60s and 70s. This older software is no longer compatible with the newer version that incorporates graphics, multimedia etc. therefore companies are having to modify their existing computer facilities but scrapping the existing system and sanctioning an altogether new one is not only a high cost venture but one in which the reliability of the new system, as compared to the older one, is justifiably doubtful. “A company like Siemens is sitting on approximately two billion of code and it is one of the smaller companies in the international market”, elaborates Dr. Mian. “Companies are looking to facilities which can automatically read their current software, change it and render it more modern. This market, for what can be called the objects technology, is going to last well into the first decade of the next millennium”.
With systems investing heavily into reverse technology research throughout most of the 90s, they were given a golden opportunity to test the market with their solution for the millennium bug problem.”What is important for us at Systems is not that we have been offered business opportunities in the West but the kind of clientele we have garnered in a relatively short span of time”, says Aezaz Hussain. Their corporate clients include Reynolds Metals, a Fortune 50 company’ New York City Transit Authority, a government utility and Titleist, one of the largest golf manufacturers. Other more well known clients include Nestle, Toys R Us, Polo Ralph Lauren, Abbott Labs amongst others.
“These are companies that would not have anything to do with a Pakistani software firm in normal practice”, remarks Dr. Mian, “what went in our favour is that we have the technology to do things automatically which others can only do manually”.
Having found a niche in the international market, Systems has acquired a reputation as a facility which is on the cutting edge of computer technology and not merely a company which is useful because of its relatively cheaper rates. “A Fortune 50 company that lets us tamper with its computer code is not concerned about how high that cost be”, he says “Because at the turn of the century it may cease to exist if it is unable to tackle the problem of the millennium change. These are companies whose annual computer budgets can be half a billion dollars. They will not be concerned about spending two or three million dollars but will be more interested in the technological guarantee that their systems will be able to handle the change of the millennium”.
“We at Systems have, with our small elite force of computer scientists, knocked a strategic hole in the international market”, explains Dr. Mian. This is a valuable lesson for the government that has wasted valuable time and energy in attempting to copy India’s example of exporting software. In doing so, the government has overlooked the fact that as compared to 90,000 computer graduates in India; a mere 2,000 Pakistanis pass out of a handful of computer institutes. Indeed it is this paucity of computer professionals in Pakistan that is forcing Systems to consider setting up a permanent facility outside Pakistan. For the time being however, Systems Ltd. has acquired a firm foothold in the rapidly shifting sands to the technological revolution and are boldly going where few Pakistanis have gone before.
Insight Friday Times, March 13-19, 1998
Humayun Mian Chairman – PITB
At first glance, Mr. Mian looks like the dean of a prestigious university, i.e. like a man who has taught it all and seen it all; rather than a man who has been entrusted with nurturing of IT in Punjab. May be it’s the crisp, well punctuated and thoughtful speech. But then you would expect that from a man who has spent more than 16 years studying, teaching and heading research departments in various prestigious universities in the United Kingdom (A job done so well that offers still pour in). Not only is he a teacher but also the founder of one of the first and most exclusive software houses in Pakistan, ‘Systems Ltd.”, an institution of which he is still an active member.
However the offer of chairing the prestigious ‘Punjab Information Technology Board’ was too much to resist for Mr. Mian and he took over the reins from Mr. Jawas Ghani in August, 2001. Mr. Hamayun Mian plans to stay associated with the PITB for the next two years, during which time he shall try to use his experience to bring about a change for the better in the Punjab IT scene, after which he will retire to ‘relax, drink tea and write books’. He seems to have the ‘after’ part pretty much planned out, so we asked him about the ‘before retirement’ schedule. We asked him what exactly he has planned for the growth and refinement of IT in Punjab. Having been in office for only a few months, he and his team are still in the planning stages and have not been able to implement much. However the time that they have spent planning, has been well spent. Mr. Mian revealed some of the ideas that are to be implemented in the near future. If things go according to plan, then not just Punjab but rather the whole of Pakistan will see an IT revolution.
One of his initial plans involves the deregulation of Punjab University’s (PU) affiliation awarding status. At the moment PU is the only body that can authorize any institution that wants to start a Degree Course (Bachelors or Masters) within Punjab. All institutions have to apply to PU and have to go through a strict screening process, which involves the checking of classrooms, libraries, areas, etc. (but surprisingly not the credentials of the educators). Mr. Mian believes that such concentration of power in the hands of one body will only lead to corruption and the falling of standards, of both the institutions and Punjab’s status as a center of IT education. To avoid any such ‘mishaps’ Mr. Mian has put together a multi point agenda that states an alternative affiliation awarding methodology and has presented it to the PITB. One of the points of this agenda states the screening process that should be applied on each institute, which involves personal rounds of these institutions by a panel of diverse experts who approve or give suggestions where needed. The results of this presentation are still awaited.
His years of professional and credible work in the software industry bore fruit when he was entrusted by the government of Pakistan with a high profile software development program. A project that is still under wraps, for most IT news rags. Mr. Mian was kind enough to give us a rough idea of the project though he did not mention any specific details. The project involves the development of what is known as the ‘Software Development Kit’ (SDK).
Pakistan has been lagging behind in the ‘Cyber Race’ not because of the lack of professionals, rather we have world beaters operating out of small one room offices all over Pakistan. The only problem that they face while competing in the open market is their lack of knowledge of the English language, this hinders both communications with employers and also in the development of software which lowers Pakistan’s software developer status. For this purpose, Mr. Mian and his team have taken on the responsibility of developing a software that will let programmers all over Pakistan develop software in their own regional languages, be it Urdu, Pushto, Punjabi, Balochi, etc. Quite an ambitious plan but Mr. Mian is fully confident that his team will soon come up with a working prototype of the final version.
Speaking of ambitious plans, one of his long-term plans, if successful could change the way social welfare is looked at in his country. His plan is actually two pronged, aiming to kill two birds with one stone. Mr. Mian plans to setup a mobile computer education unit that will move from city to city throughout rural Punjab and will help local schools and colleges to setup their own computer labs allowing the higher secondary students to get their first taste of IT. In the afternoons these same labs will be used to educate the local teachers and also to conduct basic computer classes to recover some of the costs of operations. Now comes the ambitious part, after all these students have been dealt with, the labs will be left open for the local children (under 12) to come and use the systems, under observation of qualified personnel. These personnel will only help out where necessary, their major function being to market out self proficient children. These children will then be put through extensive testing to check their aptitude for IT and if they are found promising, they will be provided with a life time scholarship, from primary to graduate studies, after which they will be provided with employment by the government. Quite a long term plan indeed! The success of this plan in Punjab will decide its implementation in the rest of Pakistan.
Although, most of Mr. Mian’s ideas seem too ambitious, the PITB and we at NetXpress are confident that his capabilities and his experience will enable him to deliver what he has promised.
Netxpress Magazine / Newspaper, Feb 20th, 2002