MonthJanuary 2008

reading

“I don’t read books”, I hear myself saying that over and over for years. I don’t know what it was about reading books. Why would you read one if you didn’t have to, like for a book report or a text book?

I think I was okay with the plays, I liked Macbeth and Hamlet, as both stories and written words (what little I understood). But reading novels was, and to some degree still is, beyond me. Stone Angel had to be the most boring book I never read.

I remember this one English class (OAC English) where the teacher distributed a poem and she asked people at random how we felt about that poem. People gave their answers, answers that the teacher wanted to hear. Though the answers may have been sincere, they felt constructed, custom made and packaged to get grades. So, as what I consider punishment, I was asked to tell everyone how I felt about this poem.

“right, so I just read this, and I don’t really feel anything”
“really Adnan? do you want to read it again”
“no, I read it already, and I’m just being honest, I don’t feel anything”

It turns out that honesty does not get you good grades in English class. It’s not as if I was a total dud. I got nearly perfect grades on the Heart of Darkness quizzes and essays, my skit based on Grapes of Wrath was awesome. But I can’t be expected to manufacture feelings. You can ask me what I think the poet was trying to convey, and I’ll make things up, but don’t ask me how I feel and expect anything short of honesty.

Another time, this girl had made this thing for a project, it was a chair with rose petals on it, all enclosed in this see-through cylinder. This was supposed to symbolize a key theme from the book she was reading. I remember the English teacher saying, “See, isn’t this beautiful symbolism? And [insert girl’s name here] has only known English for [x] years”. This annoyed me much. While the symbolism may have been fabulous, how is creative thought process a subset of the English language? As if people who think in Spanish are incapable of abstract thought and symbolism, and there is a correlation between creativity and the number of years you’ve known the English language. Oh please, get over yourselves.

I’m not sure why I preface this post with that. But I did. I suppose it has to do with the type of analysis that is required in English class, at least at a high school level. Where we read so much between lines we might as well write between them. Maybe it was the highly speculative nature of this analysis that turned me off. How do we know that the role that women played in Heart of Darkness is a direct reflection of what the author thought of women? Why could the roles not have been carefully designed and crafted that way to fulfill a purpose in the novel? disconnected from the author’s personal (and supposed) prejudice? It could be either, but how can you say no when you do not know?

In either case, I didn’t read much if it wasn’t for a book report or a text book. Then during my PEY internship (2004), I bought books on Perl and read them from cover to cover. I had bought books on Java during high school, but that was for reference purposes or to learn something specific in a certain section, not for cover to cover reading.

Through out my PEY internship year I purchased a number of technical books and read them cover to cover, books on the Apache Web Server, MySQL, PHP, Code Complete, Design Patterns, XML, XSLT and a slew of other tech books. Over $1000 in books. That’s how I started reading with a cover to cover mentality. However, this was all still tech. Not that tech is bad, most people in tech don’t read tech. They think that coming out of school, they know what they need to know. Yeah, well you don’t. Go read a book. Later, while I was working part-time, I gave one of the interns Code Complete in a very “here, read this book” kind of way. In conversation with him a couple of years later he told me, “you were the biggest mentor I had, just by giving me that book”. So if you’re in tech, you’re not as clever as you think, go read a book and get over yourself.

Anyway, back to my PEY internship year. On Fridays, I still went to pray at Hart House, because that was familiar territory. On the way back to work, I dropped by at the UofT bookstore and started browsing. I happened to come across the single copy of Joel on Software. Joel on Software is a collection of blog posts Joel has made over the years. These articles range from technical material, to user interface, to writing documents, to managing people, all over the board. Joel on Software was my gateway drug into non-tech software books. I went on to pick up books like Mythical Man Month, but not at the same pace as I had picked up the tech books. (Haha, if you can find me 5 college students in your city that have read this book, I will hire at least 3 of them).

Fast forward to 2007, where I find myself in India. Books in India are much cheaper than Amazon. So I went to downtown Mumbai with a co-worker to check out the books. We found this one bookstore that had a number of books I had wanted for a while. So you can understand my excitement. So much so that my co-worker said, “there was this look in your eyes, the only time I’ve seen someone that excited was when [use your imaginations here people]”. So I bought about 11 books, however I wanted to come back again for more. So I did. I went back and picked up about 14 more. These weren’t just tech/programming books, they were also management/project management books. Books like: Peopleware, Death March [death march], Catastrophe Disentanglement.

I had to purchase another suit case just to carry the books back. Just so people understand, software development is not just about technology and geeks (a large part of it is), but it is also about people interaction and communication. Most projects fail not because of the technology, but because of the people (though let’s not kid ourselves, projects do fail because of bad technology as well). Above and beyond anything else the software industry will benefit from learning how to listen, then to write down what was heard. The problems that plague us now are the same problems that have been there for decades, but we don’t learn, because we don’t read.

Out of the 25 books, I did purchase a novel. While in India I met someone via Facebook, and she recommended a book. Finding myself in cheap book land, I figured “why not”. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I tried to read it at that point, but I couldn’t. Something wasn’t clicking, so while I was reading the book, I was not reading the book. More on this later. If you’ve read this far into this post, pat yourself on the back, stretch, take a deep breath, go make yourself some tea or coffee or water. I will also take this opportunity to make special mention of Scott Adam and his Dilbert books, the ones I’ve read so far are: The Dilbert Principle and Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel: A Guide to Outwitting Your Boss, Your Coworkers, and the Other Pants-Wearing Ferrets in Your Life. Does the latter sound like a book a certain blogger would be interested in? =)

I stacked them up in my room, the books, and thought to myself, “I probably won’t buy another book for the next two years”. I was wrong. It doesn’t stop. I can’t stop it. I’ve bought over 20 more books since I’ve come back. I find that the more books I have, the more I’m inclined to read them. I don’t read one book at a time. I will read Book A on the subway to work, and read Book B on the subway ride back home, and then Book C at home. It’s the way I get them read, cover to cover. Some may find boring the batch of books I read, and that’s fine. But understand that these books are from a different ecosystem than you are used to.

I have a huge chunk of my books at work. Every so often I will send out an email to all of staff letting them know what books I have available so that folk can borrow them. It makes me happy that people do come around to take the books, and that they read them. One of the reasons we don’t read is because it’s not always dead easy to get a book. Sure you say go to the library and pick up a book, but some folk won’t even do that. So when you make something so easy available, people will respond (this is a lesson in more than just books, when you make something more easily available then it was, you’re gaining a new audience, this is good). This book availability email happens often enough for people to call me “the library” at work. So here I go, from mr. “I don’t read books” to mr. “the library”.

Fast forward to end of 2007 and start of 2008. I went through an interesting mind shifting experience (it was for me). I was able to break patterns in my brain and free the occupied territories in my mind. Someday, I’ll write about that. But interestingly enough, I felt/feel the need to get away from all the tech and management books. I didn’t go out to buy books, I went to a book I already had. Zen. I’m reading it now, and I’m liking reading it. What didn’t click before is double-clicking now. What I don’t like is that I’m a slow reader, I need to find ways to improve this.

For the birthday, the siblings bought me an Amazon.ca gift cert. So now I’m scouring the Amazon for my next batch of books. This set will include books on design/creativity and books on improv. So I’m expanding my reading scale.

This is a good time to recommend a book, got any recommendations?

[If you got this far, go ahead and drink the tea/coffee/water you made]

reason

you were chosen to do this for a reason! although it may have been a… bad reason.

Feeds

hungry. eat. feed.

Feeds have changed the way we use the internet. They fit right into that Web 2.0 turn table where instead of going to the content, people fetch the content. RSS, Atom, microformats or whatever works for you, they all feed.

Google Reader is my kitchen, it is where I see what is being served and what others are cooking. The Kitchen satisfies my hunger. Content was, and is still, king.

This Kitchen is a place where I can cook my food for thought, the content delivered to me comes in various forms: appetizers, main courses, deserts… sometimes certain bits are just ingredients that I survey and choose to include in what I will make. You can even freeze (store for later) content.

Interestingly enough, I had heard about google reader before, but only started using it after yasmine blogged about it. Sometimes I can’t keep up, just a few days ago I had to mark everything as read because I had fallen behind for a few weeks and had over 2000 unread items.

Feeds are fascinating, because not only do they distribute individualized content, they allow for mashups. There are plenty of good mashups out there, one of my favourites now is : TTC Google Maps.

Some folk may not like the idea of distributing content as that may mean losing traffic to their site. I think that’s just silly. Distributing good content will generate both interest and traffic. And the more channels you can use to distribute content, the better.

Feeds are good, because they’re changing the world.

work

and today, I got my hand under a tap of boiling water.

karma: she strikes again.

a “such as” moment

such as

usage:

“I had a ‘such as’ moment, and I said something totally irrelevant” 

 ”dude, you just put your hand in the hot boiling water, that is so ‘such as’”

crisis

I’m continually in a mid-life crisis, because you never know when it will end.

brevity

brevity is the soul

not zen

in this moment,
I am not zen.
I can see the world,
and the world can see me.

I am not zen,
I am dead inside.
not a little,
but a lot.

I am dead to this box,
and this box dead to me.
there is no flow,
the movement is not symphony
as I pry my fingers against these keys.

even though the box complies,
I am not satisfied.
I am not happy.
I am at a loss, so no,
in this moment,
I am not zen.

2007

For some reason, 2007 seems like a long long time ago. Almost like another world, as if another person lived it in my place.

taare zameen par

[IMDB Link]

This is a very very very good movie, and you should see it.

There is one particular exchange in the movie that I absolutely loved, it pretty much made the movie for me.

It’s when Aamir Khan’s character is at the parent’s house and he shows the father a painting that Ishaan made.

aamir: yeh dehkiye Mr. Avasti, yeh tez dimagh hazaar khayal bol rahe hai rangoon main, aap ki aur meri khabiliyat se kahi aage
father: lekin is ka faida kya hai?
aamir: is main aap faida kyon dhoond rahe hai?

English translation [thanks iffat, I did modify it slightly to convey the context]:

aamir: look at this Mr. Avasti (holding the painting up), this bright mind is speaking a thousand thoughts through these colours, far beyond your and my (cap)abilities

father: but what use is it? (what are we getting out of it?)
aamir: why are you looking for benefit in it?

10/10 – I would give it 10 just for the above conversation, but the rest of the movie was really good too. =)

wikipedia

Unbelievable, the power of collective collaboration.

Go now and search for something common on Google, first page of results has to have the wikipedia article.

The fact that wikipedia even exists and works is unreal. Anyone can add or change any article, opening itself to mischief from the unforgiving world, and yet it works. I love its self-healing nature. I like self-healing systems.

This is an open, free, social self-healing system. Even better. This is good design.

I was browsing edge.org’s world question, “what have you changed your mind about?”, Kevin Kelly’s response was wikipedia, one particular run of sentences I found interesting:

The Wikipedia is impossible, but here it is. It is one of those things impossible in theory, but possible in practice. Once you confront the fact that it works, you have to shift your expectation of what else that is impossible in theory might work in practice.

I am not the only one who has had his mind changed about this. The reality of a working Wikipedia has made a type of communitarian socialism not only thinkable, but desirable. Along with other tools such as open-source software and open-source everything, this communitarian bias runs deep in the online world.”

sudoku

Sudoku is for people with crossword puzzle envy.

Wikipedia will tell you about the history of the game and the rules. I will tell you why I like it.

I like sudoku because it’s a simple game. You don’t have to know a thousand words and their quirky meanings. You simply need to know:

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9

Not even zero. You think in horizontal, vertical and box. Here, you must think inside, outside and yes even around the box. 🙂

The easy ones can be done within 5 minutes, most of them within 12 minutes, and then there are challenging ones that are nearly impossible to get.

I, personally, use the dot notation and it seems to be working well for me. I don’t like guessing, so if I have exhausted all options and have to guess a number for a box, I won’t bother completing the puzzle, will move on to the next one.

Simple is good. Sudoku is good.

designing for debt

The TTC is currently (and has been for a while) running ads for debt management. There are two companies that are running their ads, CreditCanada.com and InChargeCanada.ca. Let’s compare.

Starting with the subway adverts:

Credit Canada

Credit Canada Subway Advertisement

This is an awesome ad. Large clear font, extremely legible, perfect spacing. The hook is the ad copy, “like hell money doesn’t buy happiness”. This literally compels you to look below and get more details. The details are also clear. Motto/slogan, followed by website, followed by phone number. Done. Message sent, message understood.

They have a number of these on the subway cars, and each one had a different ad copy, one of them reads, “Rags to?” . It’s clever, it makes you think, and once you have, you know someone else put thought into it.

In Charge Canada

*apologies for the picture below, it was taken by my phone camera. I need a spiffy camera like the one that was used to take the picture above.

In Charge Canada Subway Advert

There is so much that is wrong with this, I don’t know where to begin.

Let’s start with the distribution of information. It’s all crammed in. The spacing is awful, there is no breathing room. The mini paragraph is useless, because it’s small and hard to read. Also because it has no flow, the capitalized and bold words are used way too much, breaking the rhythm of the sentences. If your sentences require this much emphasis, they’re probably wrong.

The background color is too close to the empty lighting cover in the back, this doesn’t help draw any attention to the ad.

There are pictures of people. Big Mistake. At least in my opinion. Because I’m thinking, “ah so that’s what people who were in debt look like”. And if they are the same race or the same type of person as me, I wouldn’t be too pleased. Who do you put there? White people? Black people? Brown people? seriously, keep people pictures out of debt ads, or at the very least cleverly cover their identities.

The next part I really really hate. There are mini-flyers hanging off the ad that people are supposed to rip off so they can remember the phone number and the website and other details. First of all, the ad is so bad that they realized they should probably have some physical take away for people. Thanks, but do you really want me to get up, walk up to a terrible debt management ad and rip off your mini-flyer in front of all these people?

“Oh haha, yes, this isn’t for me, oh no no, this is for a friend, she’s addicted to gambling”.

Ummm… no. Get a better ad copy so that people remember your ad without having to exert too much effort, not to mention face possible public embarrassment. You should be grateful that someone even bothered to look at your ad.

Slogans

InCharge: Debt Solutions

CreditCanada: Debt is Manageable

Sigh, yet once again. CreditCanada completely nailed it, their slogan gives you hope, it’s as if someone is talking directly to you. InCharge’s sounds like corporate drivel, like “Web-based Solutions” what does that even mean?

Websites

It’s interesting how the design philosophies of each company is not only reflected in their subway advertisements, but also in the design of their website. InCharge is all crammed up as well, while CreditCanada is lean, clean and very well spaced out.

I land on the InCharge website and I think to myself, “what? what should I do next?”. When I land on the CreditCanada website I think, “hmmm… I want to find out more about X, and gee look, I know exactly where to click to find it”.

InCharge is too image heavy, while CreditCanada is text heavy, which is great for search engines. Taking a look at the code, InCharge is table based, while CreditCanada is using proper CSS based layouts. HTML validation shows CreditCanada to have 5 errors (minor things, really), InCharge has over 60 errors.

InCharge was way too many menu options, and the side bar on the right distracts from the content. CreditCanada has excellent consistency in the pages, and has a simple side menu.

Think about it, if you’re in debt and you visit one of these sites. If you visit CreditCanada, it seems open, lots of room to relax and breathe, and you can use that since you’re in debt and all. InCharge, however, you feel more cramped and uneasy.

If you had to choose a company to help you get out of debt, who would you choose?

the design of things

I love good design, good design makes me happy. Design encompasses a whole lot though. There is graphic design, costume design, software design. etc… Pretty much everything is designed in some form or another. There’s aesthetic design and there’s design for usability. Take craigslist.org for example, not so good in the aesthetic department, but it serves its purpose so well and is very usable, information is well organized (this is also design) and easy to find.

Great design requires great thought. So much work, planning, constraints and issues. Colors, spacing, font, words, flow, patterns… so much.
Overall, I’m not too great a designer (hopefully except for software design), but I admire good design. But most important of all, I consume design.  When I see something, I’ll quickly develop an opinion about its design.

I’ll use this ‘design of things’ category to comment on… wait for it… the design of things. All sorts of things: physical products (e.g. mp3 players), tv commercials, ad copies, logos, websites etc.

Should be fun.

no shame in losing

there’s no shame in losing, the shame is in trying in the first place.

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