Saturday, July 9, 2022

Kuwait Data Bank

Introduction

 I've been pitching the idea of Kuwait National Datacenter to government officials and parliament members since 2017, in a holistic manner, covering migration of applications, learning center, audit requirements, security, ...etc. -- unfortunately, those efforts fell on deaf ears.

Fast forward to 2021, and I got the chance to work with a fantastic group of volunteers for Kuwait Foundation for  the Advancement of Science (KFAS) to create something more specific: Kuwait Data Bank -- an entity that would hold data from all of Kuwait's government entities and government-owned companies, to do Data Analytics and Data Science.

The group of volunteers comprised of multiple disciplines; experts in law, business management, organizational structure, information technology and security. A friend of mine & I were covering the information technology (IT) and security aspects.

KFAS gave us 1.5 months, that we extended to 2.5 months max to get the initial draft out, and we were done in Oct or Nov 2021. We're now in discussion with KFAS to see how to proceed & hopefully we get to see this project go live at some point!


Project Scope and Goals

We've checked regional and international open data projects, and almost all had very limited sets of samples of data, over inconsistent timespans, and sometimes one time shot kind of data only. Our project's aims are ambitious and exceed anything we've checked.

  1. Initially, we'll focus on 1-5 critical reports to the Council of Ministers for decision making support.
  2. Gradually, as we sanitize data, and find a source with the most truthful data (or combined sources), then we aim to make data pulling and reporting mainstream and real-time.
  3. Data and reports will be available/accessible in this order:
    1. Council of Ministers
    2. Expand access slowly to government entities in need of help in accurate decision making
    3. Universities in Kuwait
    4. Public access inside of Kuwait
    5. International access to data and/or reports or reporting services
  4. Leverage latest technologies of graphics card acceleration and Massive Parallel Processing (MPP) databases in software (non-appliance) to keep things agile and portable.

Data Access & Analysis Methodology

  1. Start slow with as few sources of data as possible to deliver the critical reports
  2. Deploy data masking & replication connectors to the various databases at the sources
  3. Anonymize data at the source, then replicate to our organization's repository/repositories
  4. Sanitize data and compare accuracy with help from people at each data source, initally
  5. Run Machine Learning models on highly parallelized data access databases
  6. Produce reports or dashboards with results of multiple ML models and compare results
  7. Initially, those reports will be private and delivered only to the Council of Ministers or KFAS, but gradually, the platform will expand to allow real-time access to reports, and then later, our anonymized data sources
  8. Data access & reporting may be monetized to help the platform grow and become self-sustaining, in addition to providing services for companies to run analytics on their data, or using our data sets.
  9. Legal aspects of data access, anonymization & privacy, and cooperation from government entities have been addressed in our report/proposal, but I'll not get into that here.

Privacy & Anonymity

  1. A primary design aspect is to respect privacy and anonymize data at the source, before it's sent to our repositories/databases
  2. Example: if we're to take everyone's full address, we'd remove the house number, but keep the area, and area's block number
  3. If our systems get compromised, there will be no personally identifiable information (PII) that would cause personal risks
  4. We believe that leaving the data masking (anonymization) in the hands of each government entity giving us access is probably the best approach, so that we will never be able to make changes to what data we receive, without manual intervention from the data sources (government entities)

There's a lot more to the project, but I'll stop here and then maybe revise things once we see how the project will move later.

It's an ambitious project, which is why we need to grow gradually and cater for specific needs that help the country's decision makers in making critical decisions and answering crucial questions, before making a decision.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Conceptual Work-Life Balance

 Introduction

I've always worked in the (IT) private sector since graduating from college, as opposed to the majority who prefer to go for government jobs, as they work less hours and have a guaranteed position/job. Working in the private sector is rewarding, but exhausting. 9 AM - 6 PM, or longer, depending on the projects at hand and time of year. There's little time for personal recreation after work, and the weekend is mostly spent on sleep to recoup from the exhausting work-week or running personal errands. No time for personal hobbies or skill growth in non-work related subjects.

Why stay in private sector then? The pay is higher. Much higher. If one does manage to grow their skillset to be of unique coverage, many doors open and with that, high compensation comes along. There's still little time for personal hobbies, unfortunately.

This post is just a thought that came to mind on creating balance, from someone like myself who gets burnt-out from work every now & then and it's difficult to try many things of what I want to do in life, other than work, such as learning diving, visiting museums (they close in weekends here), and other things on my growing list of things I don't have time for.


Conceptual Corporate Work Options

I had the thought that assuming I run my own business & have employees, I'd give the following options:

  1. Employee gets full salary.
    Works 9 AM to 5 PM (8 hours a day, 40 hours a week).
  2. Employee gets 20% of salary deducted & it's put into a corporate-managed investment fund. The company takes 25% of profits as management fees.
    Works 9 AM to 5 PM (8 hours a day, 40 hours a week).
  3. Employee gets 20% of salary deducted & it's put into a corporate-managed investment fund. The company takes 40% of profits as management fees.
    Works 9 AM to 2 PM (5 hours a day, 25 hours a week).
I thought of these options, because as an employee currently, I wish there was such an option, especially option 3. Benefits:
  1. Each employee gets the choice of time vs money, and having an investment option available for those not savvy enough to do it on their own (banks here are terrible in such options).
  2. Not rely on country-owned pension funds that cap the retirement salary & usually not enough to fight inflation by the time of retirement.
  3. Option 3 would provide the employees the luxury of extra time per day, reducing burn out episodes, increasing productivity, and forces the corporate & the investment fund to choose the right investments to maximize profits to hire more people to compensate for the needed time to finish tasks/projects.

Employee and Corporate Restrictions

  1. All employees, including management, are limited to withdraw a maximum of 20% of investment per year, to guarantee stability of investment fund.
  2. Employees will take 100% of their investment when leaving the company (fired or quitting).
  3. The investment fund must be operated by certified investors, or an investment company, and all withdrawals, partial or full employee exit ones, must be approved and audited by the government to prevent theft or manipulation.
  4. Corporate cannot withdraw or touch the fund without full disclosure to all employees.
  5. Corporate management does not receive incentives nor bonuses from the fund. It's purely voluntary for employees to join the fund (out of the work options above).
  6. The corporate's profit cut is fed back into the fund and is owned by the shareholders of the corporate (if a publicly listed company) or the founders (if privately owned). The same 20% cap applies on withdrawing any profits from the fund.
  7. Work options 2 & 3 encourage employees to stay longer in the company, as their investment profits would grow larger with time.
    Kuwait suffers from people who frequently hop between jobs, because Human Resources (HR) here have a practice of increasing an applicant's salary by 5-10% based on their previous job's salary, not part of a package dedicated to the available job function! This results in having employees jumping from one company to another every 1-2 years to keep getting a raise, as the companies don't increase employee salaries often (sometimes not at all for 10 years!).


These are probably just late night/early morning ramblings of someone who longs for short work hours, a good pay, and big list of things to try in this life...

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Setting Up My Home Cinema

Introduction

I have a 4x6 meter room in the basement that I intended to make a cozy cinema room, and started to look into parts in 2017.

The initial intention was to use Optoma's 4k laser ultra-short throw (UST) projector, (good short review here) however, looking at best viewing distances and the room size, the projector idea wasn't that suitable in my opinion, in addition to overall costs involved, since the projector will need an Ambient Light Rejection (ALR) screen to make sure the picture is crisp and clear.


Table of Contents

  • Room Dimensions and Final Layout
  • Items
    • TV
    • Surround System
    • Recliner Seats
    • Speaker Stands
    • Cable Management
    • TV Table
    • Carpet
    • Multimedia Player for Transcoding
    • Keyboard
    • HDMI Cables
    • Paint
    • Power Transformer
    • Sleeved Blankets
    • Wireless Access Point
  • Costs
  • Pictures


Room Dimensions and Final Layout


I used the free service from floorplanner.com to create the above layout, and experiment with multiple possible layouts.

Initially, I wanted to have 6 recliner seats, 3 in each row and have the 2nd row raised on a wooden platform, but when considering the surround systems' recommended distance for the speakers, I changed the layout to the one above and shifted the TV to be on the side rather than at the bottom.

It's important to understand the available distances in your room to choose the correct TV/projector resolution, and understand the surround system's best placement for the speakers, whether you're going with a soundbar or a dedicated sound receiver and speakers.

Originally, I thought I might have bean bags around as extra chairs, but the space is actually tight and won't be suitable to have a bean bag in front of the TV (kept behind when not in use).


Items

TV

In late 2019, I bought a LG B9 65" 4K OLED TV. I spent a few months looking at reviews and forums before purchasing it and reasons behind my purchase are:

  • LG is a top leader in OLED panel manufacturing. OLED screens are FREAKING AMAZING when having the right content played. The colors are beyond fantastic. The best benchmark is Planet Earth 4K content.
  • LG keeps its TVs up to date along with the store, unlike Samsung
  • LG's B9/C9 models scored highest scores (as well as their latest CX) on rtings.com
  • RTings website offers excellent & unbiased comparisons
  • I used RTings' distance calculator to see which resolution works for my layout. Scroll down to mid of the page to see their "Optimal viewing distance by size of TV and resolution" -- also pasted below for ease of reading.
  • I intentionally bought the US version rather than a local one, to make sure I have access to US apps and firmware updates. A friend who had a UAE version didn't have the latest firmware on it until he used a magic remote to enter engineering mode and change the region of the TV.
  • This model cannot handle TrueHD 7.1 surround sound decoding or some video codecs, so I got a Shield Pro. More details below.
  • The TV's ethernet port is limited to 100 Mbps, so if you plan to stream 4K content (from Internet or from a media player in your house), get an access point that supports 802.11ac or newer.
Optimal viewing distance by size of TV and resolution - rtings.com

copyright to rtings.com

I should note that the LG TV was shipped from Amazon USA, and its electricity is 120 volts. There are many forum posts that state it can handle 240v, but there's nothing from the official documents nor LG's website mentioning that, so I used a transformer to convert our 240v electricity to 120v.

It's difficult to find sellers on Amazon USA who ship to Kuwait directly, and you should NEVER use shipping forwarding services, because your warranty will be dropped from the seller. The other alternative is buying from BHphotovideo. Multiple people I know have bought the newer models from them and shipped successfully to Kuwait.

In the following months, I got busy and didn't finish the room in one shot, so I took my time to put the pieces together.

Surround System

Again, thanks to rtings.com, I ended up choosing the 9.2.4 Nakamichi surround system soundbar and speakers over the Samsung HW-Q90R. The Nakamichi made more sense for these reasons:

  • I got the 9.2.4 Spatial Surround Elevation (SSE) edition.
  • I intend to use it for movies and TV shows, rather than music, and it offered better surround system experience.
  • Nakamichi has an international shipping option, while Samsung was almost impossible to find anywhere online that can ship to Kuwait.
  • Nakamichi's powersupplies accept 120-240 volt electricity, so I wouldn't need to worry about using a transformer.
  • I opted for a soundbar rather than a full receiver system and speakers to keep the cost down and the setup simple.
  • The Nakamichi setup is brilliant: a soundbar that connects via ARC/eARC, and 2 subwoofers that connect to the soundbar wirelessly. The 4 surround/ATMOS speakers connect to the subwoofers through RCA cables. Every 2 ATMOS speakers connect to one subwoofer.
  • I contacted their "Ninja Support" team to ask questions about the system, options, best layouts, and so on, and they were extremely helpful!

Recliner Seats

I got 3 recliner seats from Midas Kuwait. Each has 2 cup holders. The reclining mechanism is manual through a handle on the side. This keeps things simple and no need for extra electricity and wiring for each chair.


Speaker Stands

I got my speaker stands from BHphotovideo: Auray TMS-135. Each item has 2 stands in it. I chose these because I wanted a flat surface to put the ATMOS speakers on. It has foam pads stuck on the surface to help with sound/shock dampening so the speakers won't move or vibrate.


Cable Race Tracks

The cables from the speakers were sprawling everywhere, along with the power cables, so I found these race tracks from Stageek on Amazon. I like them for these reasons:

  • Black color. No need to paint the raceway and blends in well in the dark.
  • Has cable entry points from up and down sides, so no need to cut the pieces to let cables in and out.
  • The tracks are easy to pull in and out and the back has double-sided glue. I've had them for 2 weeks now and they're doing good.
  • One downside to it is that the accessories included are not enough for corners or proper alignment, and you cannot buy them separately, but I bought multiple packs, so that helped.
  • Each pack contains 9 raceway tracks, each is 38 cm long.


TV Table

I bought mine locally from Best Yousifi. It had to be a table with a VESA mount at the back that can handle a 65" TV and allow me to flexibly move the TV up or down from the VESA mount brackets.


Carpet

I had a thick carpet installed with long and soft fibers, as shoes are not allowed into the room, and the carpet helped reduce the echo in the room tremendously. I had normal Persian house carpets that I borrowed from my mom when I first got the TV, but I suffered from lots of echo.

I don't know the specific carpet brand, but it's Swedish, and I got it from Bukhamseen carpet shop in Dhajeej area.


Transcoding Content

I bought the NVIDIA Shield TV Pro for these reasons:

  • Supports 4K HDR decoding
  • Supports Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround sound decoding
  • I installed Plex Media Server on it, and connected and configured it to my Synology NAS, so I download content on the Synology, and then watch the content on the TV via Plex.
  • The seller didn't ship directly to Kuwait, so I shipped using my forwarding box in USA. I didn't check at the time with BHphotovideo.


Keyboard

Typing passwords, IPs, and anything else with the Shield Pro's magic remote is a huge pain, so I bought a Logitech bluetooth keyboard. It allows connecting to multiple devices, but a downside is that it's not illuminated.


HDMI Cables

Latest specs for proper high throughput 4K content require high spec cables. Those can be quite expensive, so I got mine from Amazon. I got 2 different brands and both have served me quite well for the past year. One downside to the longer one is that the cable is too stiff, so it's not easy to tidy the place.


Paint

I had a painter we've been known for a long time do the matte dark paint for walls and ceiling. I didn't see the brand as I left it for him to make the choice. I only chose the color.


Power Transformer

Converting 240v to 120v for the TV was through a 750 Watts transformer. Even though the TV doesn't consume more than 300 Watts, I went for 750 Watts to give it enough room and avoid over heating. I bought my transformer from RTC shop in Mirqab (they have another branch in Hawally), but I later found the same transformer being sold in Mishrif co-op family utilities branch.


Sleeved Blankets

A hotel we went to last year in winter had these Pavilia fleece blankets available for outside seatings and I loved how soft, light and warm they were, especially that they had pockets and sleeves! I was happy to find them on Amazon.


Wireless Access Point

As part of my home setup, I already use Ubiquiti access points (APs) along with the central controller and switches, so I was adding just another component into an existing stack here. I bought the Mesh AP for some other purpose, so it got repurposed for this room. Do NOT buy a single Ubiquiti AP, if you don't have a full home setup. (you should move everything to Ubiquiti, though. Easier overall management of your home network).

The AP supports 1167 Mbps throughput on 5 GHz frequency, and the TV supports 802.11ac, which is compatible with these high speeds. Useful to stream 4K Ultra HD content.


Costs

  1. TV: LG 65" B9 OLED
    1. Item: $2,296.99
    2. Shipping: $693.82
    3. Import fees (customs fees in Kuwait): $161.06
    4. Total: $3,151.87
  2. Surround System: Nakamichi 9.2 SSE
    1. Item: $1,399.99
    2. Shipping: $298.48
    3. Import fees: $147.72
    4. Total: $1,846.19
  3. Recliner Seats: Rosia Recliner
    1. Item: 85 KWD (inclusive of delivery and installation in Kuwait)
    2. Total: 3x 85 = 255 KWD ($835)
  4. Speaker Stands: Auray TMS-135
    1. Item: 2x $49.99 (2 pieces) = $99.98
    2. Shipping: $159.21
    3. Import fees: unknown (paid cash upon arrival)
    4. Total: $259.19
  5. Cable Raceway Tracks: Stageek Cable Management Kit
    1. Item: 5x $24.99 = $124.95
    2. Shipping: $95.94 (package included other items, but mostly were lite)
    3. Import fees: $49.82 (should be lower for someone ordering only these, as this includes tax for other items purchased in the same order)
    4. Total: $270.71
  6. TV Table: Bismut brand
    1. Item: 69.99 KWD (inclusive of delivery and assembly in Kuwait) ($230)
  7. Carpet: Swedish brand
    1. Item: I think it was 24 KWD per meter square
    2. Installation: 40 KWD
    3. Total: 640 KWD ($2,100)
  8. Transcoding: NVIDIA Shield TV Pro 4K HDR Streaming Device
    1. Item: $199.99
    2. Shipping and import fees: unknown. bundled with other stuff through forwarding box.
  9. Bluetooth Keyboard: Logitech K600 TV Keyboard
    1. Item: $59.96
    2. Shipping: $67.29 (included other stuff that were heavy)
    3. Import fees: $71.31
    4. Total: $403.92, but Amazon refunded $25.31 = $378.61. (Refunds usually happen after customs clearance fees are finalized a few months later)
  10. TV Cable: 8K 48 Gbps HDMI 2.1
    1. Item1: SecurOmax = $14.95
    2. Item2: Zeskit = $25.99
    3. Shipping: $40.62 (included other heavy items in the same package)
    4. Import fees: $16.97 (inclusive of the heavy and expensive items in same package)
    5. Total: $98.53
  11. Paint
    1. Item: 250 KWD inclusive of paint material and labor. ($820)
  12. Transformer: No brand name
    1. Item: 9 KWD ($30)
  13. Sleeved Blankets: Pavilia Fleece Blanket with Sleeves
    1. Item: 6x $21.99 = $131.94
    2. Shipping: $166.26
    3. Import fees: $34.26
    4. Total: $332.6, but Amazon refunded $10.88 = $321.58
  14. Wireless AP: Ubiquiti Unifi AC Mesh
    1. Item: $99
    2. Shipping: part of the same package as the HDMI cables
    3. Import fees: part of the same package as the HDMI cables


Total: $10,639.68 (3,250.00 KWD)


Pictures

Initial setup. Nothing but painted walls and a TV.
Initial setup: nothing but painted walls and a TV!

Blanket with pockets and sleeves
Blanket with pockets and sleeves

Streaming corruption because TV couldn't handle Dolby TrueHD
Streaming corruption because TV couldn't handle Dolby TrueHD
Fixed by using the NVIDIA Shield TV Pro for streaming

Unboxing the Nakamichi 9.2 SSE
Unboxing the Nakamichi 9.2 SSE

The layout before cable management and TV table
The layout before cable management and TV table

How the TV looks when sitting on the recliners

How the TV looks when sitting on the recliners
How the TV looks when sitting on the recliners.
The 65" is perfect for the selected distance.

The Matrix 4K 7.1 streamed through the Shield Pro
The Matrix 4K 7.1 streamed through the Shield Pro

Black Hawk Down 4K 7.1 streamed through the Shield Pro
Black Hawk Down 4K 7.1 streamed through the Shield Pro

Playing music on Pandora app to abuse the surround system with Dark Electrica tracks
Playing music on Pandora app to abuse the surround system with Dark Electrica tracks
(Julian Winding's tracks are amazing)

Unboxing the cable raceway tracks
Unboxing the cable raceway tracks

Final layout after cable management and TV stand
Final layout after cable management and TV stand

Final layout after cable management and TV stand
Final layout after cable management and TV stand

Final layout after cable management and TV stand
Final layout after cable management and TV stand


The subwoofers are down-firing, so the bass comes from all directions, and no need to worry about placing their direction. I did experiment with their locations to see the different effects of bass around. I opted for one front and another in the rear to feel the vibrations from both directions, and to make cable management easier, too.