@ReallyVirtual FAQ

I am writing this FAQ to save everyone’s time (but especially mine), to clarify a few facts and to answer most of the (mostly redundant questions) that I am receiving via email and tweets.
I will probably end up editing this page several times, but I hope this will serve its purpose as the place to get my version of what actually happened. I also have a long list of questions in my email account that I will answer on this page.

I can start monitoring the #q2rv tag if you have any further questions for me; it would be a better use of time than giving interview after interview – especially since the information on this page is retained, indexed, and is easily accessible by anyone who needs it.

If you quote something from this page and can’t find it here later, please don’t hate me 🙂

Q: How is your name pronounced?

A: My name is Sohaib Athar, صہیب اطہر in Urdu/Arabic script, pronounced ‘Sue-hey-b’, and not Shoaib, Sohail, Zohaib, Soha or Bathar. Shoaib Akhtar is a cricketer, and definitely not me.
There is the ‘other Sohaib Athar’ – also from my hometown Lahore, who shares my name, please don’t confuse us with each other. His twitter ID is @sohaibgulbadan
The IPA equivalent for Sohaib is su:heɪb – for Abbottabad it is /əˈbɒtəbɑːd/ or [ˈaːbʈaːbaːd̪]
For further information, visit http://www.antimoon.com/how/pronunc-soundsipa.htm . (Thanks for the help @awaisathar) .

Q: Is the site reallyvirtual.com hacked?

A: The server was infected with some malware last week, which I was too busy to clean up. I *think* it is clean now (with my brother’s help), please let me know if you see any malware floating around.

Q: How does it feel to be Osama Bin Laden’s neighbor?

A: I was not Osama’s neighbor – my neighbor is a guy in the telecom industry (whose is nice enough to share his battery-backup’ed WiFi connection with me, hence enabling me to stay online from home without having to resort to my cellphone GPRS – I am sure Osama wouldn’t have done that for me as a neighbor).
The site of the operation is about 2.5 kilometers from my home, which means there are at least a few dozen houses between my home and that place.
I do not live 250m away from the site, 2.5km is 2500m.

Q: Describe what you saw during the operation?

A: I did not ‘see’ the operation, as some reports quote. I ‘heard’ what was later revealed to be the start of the operation – I did proactively gather all the rumors and facts that I could from the Abbottabad locals who were online, and tweeted them. There is a big difference between ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ that the media should ideally be aware of.

Q: How long did the gunfights last?

A: I did not witness the gunfights/shots that are being attributed to me. The gunshots were too far away from me to hear. I did hear a car/van rushing by very fast, before the helicopter stopped hovering above my neighborhood, and then I heard the loud explosion – which prompted me to talk to friends in Abbottabad who were up and online. The locals said there was firing for at least a few minutes though.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you started tweeting about the operation?

A: First of all, I was not trying to sleep when the noise of a helicopter startled me. I did not jump up and had this sudden urge to tweet about it using my smartphone, and there was no dramatic background music either. The truth is, I usually work at night, and was working (on my laptop) when I heard the noisy helicopter hanging in the air, and tweeted about it. No jumping or waking up was involved.

A Clarification
I did not start calling myself ‘the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it’. I realized it only after Maha tweeted this:

.@reallyvirtual appears to have liveblogged the raid w/o knowing it. go read.

She did say ‘Sorry!’ after my whining, but I don’t think she meant it 😀

Q: Were you visited by the police/army/ISI and specifically told not to talk about certain things?

A: NO. Government organizations have not contacted me yet, either to chat or to try to impose any restrictions on what I say or do. I hope that does not change anytime soon.

Q: How much are you charging/getting paid for interviews?

A: Nothing. I was trying to avoid the media altogether, but I have tried to respond to the ones that managed to reach me.
Even though I can not really respond to all the interview requests personally, I have replied to as many channels as humanly possible.
I did need to buy a new headset for online calls, so I am Rs. 500 in the negative _;)
Yes, I do know that ‘monetization’ is an option for me, and I do realize that I have been ‘missing out on some big bucks’ and not ‘milking the media for what it is worth’ – I just don’t have the energy or motivation to think in that direction. Or maybe I’m just plain stupid.

Q: Can I help you monetize this news / be your media filter / be your agent / act as an intermediary?

A: No, thanks.

Q: If you don’t want to talk to the media, why don’t you just tell them to go away?

A: I could probably have handled a well-spaced queue of interview requests, but I am inundated with the sudden rush of emails that begin with ‘I know you are inundated with emails but…’.

I have talked to a few random channels so far, it is hard to prioritize and is getting even harder to take out the time for it. I want to talk to them because there is too much misreporting and many distorted facts are being reported and repeated all over the world – for example, Abbottabad is not in the outskirts of Islamabad, yet it has ben called that all over the media, hence creating a mental link between the Pakistani capital city and how Osama was living in Islamabad all along.

I could point out all the incorrect facts, omissions, and creative word-twisting, but it would be wise if you don’t believe everything that everyone tells you about Pakistan and its people.

Also, I personally think that text-based media like twitter, blogs or emails are a more efficient way of exchanging information. If there is something that I can not possibly answer via this page, please let me know.

Q: Are you a recluse?

A: Part-time only. Running a coffee shop (which started off as a small experiment) has unwittingly pushed me back into the flesh-and-blood human world.

Q: Why are you not picking up your phone?

A: Sorry, my phone is acting as a music player connected to an amplifier right now, and is probably going to be mostly offline today.

(A few fun/leading (non-)questions)

Q: Did you know Osama Bin Laden was living near you?

A: I wish I did.

Q: If you knew Osama was your neighbor, why did you not report him to the authorities? Do you know how many people he had killed?!

A: Please read above.

Q: Does anyone translate your tweets for you?

A: !نہيں تو

Q: Why do you tweet in English only?

A: جب میرے ترجمان چھٹی پر ہوتے ہیں تو اردو میں بھی کرنا پڑ جاتا ہے۔

Q: Are you a CIA agent?

A: Only when playing games on my PC.

Q: Are you an ISI agent?

A: Not yet, but perhaps after an ‘: Abbottabad’ expansion pack is released.

Q: Are you an Al Qaeda agent?

(actually, I have not spotted any tweet asking me the question above. Strange.)

Q: Can you post a brief autobiography on the FAQ page?

A brief (professional) biography

(Boring stuff, I know, but since you asked for it…)

1999 – I worked at Nextbridge – a software firm that was building ecommerce websites – as a web analyst/project coordinator – just before the dotcom bubble burst, while simultaneously doing a post graduate diploma in computer science from the University of the Punjab in Lahore, Pakistan.

2000 – While studying in the first semester of MSc. Computer Science, I was selected as part of a small inhouse software team for the Invisalign Pakistan office. Invisalign is a biotech firm that makes customized invisible braces. I received training in 3D graphics programming for a few months, and worked on the internal 3D modeling applications used in the Invisalign process, while completing my MSc. in parallel.

2002 – After 9/11/2001, Invisalign decided to pull out of Pakistan/UAE and shifted their operations to Costa Rica. My software team continued to provide consulting to Align Technology for some time as Algotrek Technology Consulting. The Algotrek team is still making some fun iPhone and Android applications, and is based in Karachi.

2005 – I was part of the founding team of OrthoClear – a competitor to Invisalign – creating a similar product using a different methodology. I developed some major parts of the 3D data acquisition and modeling systems ( that used highly-accurate 3D scanners and digitizers) and worked on several technology patents. I also integrated a virtual reality system into the OrthoClear modeling software (using motion-capturing gloves and 3D shutter glasses). It was named OrthoTouch and we presented it at the American Association of Orthodontists’ Annual Session in 2006.

2007 – I consulted for the ‘Blue Brain Project’ – a collaboration of IBM and EPFL, Switzerland, an interesting research project aiming to reverse-engineer the brain at a cellular level, and then simulating electric current activity using the next-gen Deep Blue supercomputers.

2008 – I helped frontiersin.org (an innovative peer-reviewed online scientific journal) in porting and optimizing their publishing system. The frontiers development office in Lahore was shut down in 2008, the days when the security situation in Lahore was getting worse.

2009 – I moved to Abbottabad and have been working remotely as a solo consultant to a few clients that I have retained over the years.

(Version 0.08)

The Not So Frequently Asked Questions


7 thoughts on “@ReallyVirtual FAQ”

  1. Dear Sohaib,
    First i wondered that how stupid questions were asked by media. Haha,:) But you did WELL! I learned that how to respond in such situations.

    By the way, I’m much impressed by your “Non-monetization” thing.

    There is true patriot in you, keep it alive. I’m Proud of you!!!!
    I wish I could meet you, but right now NOT POSSIBLE, sorry my University’s MID Term exams are about to be started! 🙂

  2. I appreciate you giving your point of view during all of this. I have to ask you another question… Would you be doing all of the photo’s and twittering if you hadn’t ‘unwittingly twittered’ it, or do you feel a responsibility to do it because you stumbled into all of it?

    And, as a mother, I’m wondering how your son is handling all of this? In the US, my kids are lucky to not be exposed to war or foreign countries dropping in with AK47’s, aside from what they see on the news.

  3. I am an IT Security guy in Southern California. Your clear prose and level-headedness about the whole affair has been refreshing. Whether you chose it or not, for at least the next 15 minutes you are Pakistan’s Ambassador to the world. Several people I know had some wacky ideas about Pakistan and its people, and you have done a great service making a place on the other side of the world feel just like our own neighborhood.

    Best wishes to you and your family.

    Eric Nay

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