drop in the bucket.

Saad arrived thirty minutes before exam time. The halls were full of nervous, chaotic students chattering about possible solutions and methods. Saad, however, felt a silent calm. It wasn’t that he was confident, he was simply tired. He had been up all night long, in bed with the textbook and problem sets, and with coffee as his companion.

When the TA had given the go, Saad decided to pace himself through the exam. Easy questions first and hardest questions last, he thought. Half an hour into the exam, his stomach started to growl. Saad had skipped breakfast in the morning, or perhaps he had forgotten. He tightened his abdomen muscles hoping no one heard anything.

With an hour left to go, Saad started to doze off a little. He quickly shook it off, and continued with the exam. He started to feel that his nose had started to run, and before he could reach for a tissue paper, a drop from his nose fell splat on the exam paper. Except that this drop was red in colour. Saad realized that his nose had started to bleed. He brought his right hand up to his nose, as a cup to hold and collect the drops of blood. He raised his left hand to catch the TA’s attention, “My nose is bleeding.”

“Are you okay?” asked the TA, a little concerned and a little suspicious.

“I’ll be fine, it’s just blood,” Saad rushed towards the washrooms.

As drops of blood fell onto the sink, Saad rolled up a piece of paper towel, stuck it up his nostril, and washed the blood off his hand. He cleaned up the sink and looked at the ceiling for a few minutes, hoping to let the blood clot and hold. Once satisfied, he took extra pieces of paper towel with him back to the exam room, just in case.

“Are you okay?” asked the TA again.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Saad took his seat in the exam room.

There were a number of problems left to solve and Saad started to work his way into the exam. After a few moments he heard a sound, “Psssttt…”

Saad looked around and everyone seemed to be continuing as normal. The TA was seated at the front of the room, reading a magazine.

“Psssttt…,” Saad heard the sound again, realising that it was coming from the drop of blood, “You had a great chance to cheat there.”

“What?” replied Saad, in a whisper.

“When you went to the washroom, you had a great chance to cheat.”

“No, I mean… what is going on? How is this possible?”

“How is what possible?”

“This conversation, I am talking to a drop of blood.” Saad looked at the drop that had now embedded itself into the exam paper and turned a purple like colour.

“So what? Who told you blood can’t talk? You’re talking to me now, so this must be real.”

“This is insane!”

“Hah, I think you had better concentrate on your exam, Saad.”

“Not with all this talking, can you keep it down? The TA is already suspicious of brown people, I don’t want to get into any trouble.”

Saad continued on with some of the harder problems on the exam.

“I think you better double check that.”

“What? Double check what?”

“That problem you just finished, the third step is messed up.”

“Holy shit, you’re right! How did you know?”

“I’m literally a part of the paper. Oh, and you should know, the answer to question number 11 is the same as question number 3. Question 11 is the hardest.”

“Wait a minute, this is cheating!”

“How is it cheating?”

“You’re giving me the answers and correcting my mistakes.”

“But I was a part of you, I am your blood. How can this be cheating?”

“Because you’re telling me what to do before I think of it. Are you just my mind?”

“No, I am your blood.”

The TA fake coughed, putting an end to Saad’s whispers. The answer to question 11 was indeed the same as the answer to question 3.

“See, I told you so,” said the drop of blood.

“Yes, thank you, but there is something so wrong about this. I need you to go away.”

“You still have a few more questions to do.”

Saad went on to finish the exam with hints from the drop blood from time to time. The exam time ended and the TA started to collect all the papers.

“I hope I never have to see you again,” whispered Saad.

“Excuse me? If you’re taking thermodynamics next semester, you will see me,” said the TA, slightly disturbed.

On the way back home all the students were discussing their answers and planning for the next exam.

“How’d it go, Saad?” asked Helen.

“It was weird, but I think it went fine. I think,” replied Saad, “I’m too tired to think. I haven’t slept.”

Saad immediately fell asleep when he got home.

Impro for Storytellers

The following is an excerpt from Keith Johnstone’s Impro for Storytellers (it’s an extension/expansion of his thoughts in Impro) that I came across today.

Journey without Maps

My son is scowling at a piece of paper.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“A semantic map!”
“A what?”
“I have to write a story and I’m supposed to map out everything that’s going to happen so that my teacher can mark it. She says it’ll stop me writing the wrong things.”
(He’s aged ten and yet she’s already destroying his pleasure in writing just as someone once destroyed hers.)
“Why not draw the map afterwards?”
“But how will I know what to write?”
“Have you ever been on the beach and discovered a cave?”
“Did you go in?”
“Of course.”
“Well – writing a story can be like creeping into a forbidden house, or lowering a gigantic hook into a haunted lake.”
He likes this idea. “But how do I begin?”
“Start with something ordinary and then have something mysterious happen.”
He goes away for a while, full of enthusiasm, but then he comes back disheartened, and says, “I’m stuck!”
“What’s your story about?”
“It’s about a boy who has to write a story.”
“Is he in trouble?”
“Well, stories are about people who get into trouble.”
He rushes off for a whole hour and comes back looking pleased. “He’s in such a mess. Now what?”
“Either rescue him or make him suffer more.”
“But how can I end my story?”
“Feed things back in that happened earlier. Where did your story begin?”
“At school.”
“Then why not work the school into the end of the story? Stuff you’ve mentioned earlier should be reincorporated.”
“Fed back in. Oroborus.”
“What’s oroborus?”
“A snake eating its tail.”
Stories seem so well constructed that it’s natural for teachers to assume they were thought up in advance, but Gregor Samsa could have mated with another cockroach, and Humpty Dumpty could have been unscrambled by feeding him to a chicken.


We were made to do the MBTI Personality Test as part of the Organizational Behaviour course. I’ve done one on the internet before and have been classified as an INTP type. I was curious to see whether doing the “official” test would result in the same, it did. When the professor asked us our opinions about personalities and personality tests I wanted to raise my hand and say, “yeah, so I did the personality test, and it says that my personality is awesome.”, but I didn’t.

I find personality tests both odd and interesting. It seems to me that a personality test would tell you what you think of yourself since you are the one answering questions about yourself. This way the result will be what you think of yourself. So if in one of those blog quiz personality tests you get the results saying that you are awesome, it might not be because you are awesome, but because you think you’re awesome. It would be interesting to see how the results would differ if someone else were to fill in the test for you. I did say that in class, that the results are what you think of yourself. The professor said that the tests are designed to work around that. I’d be interested in reading stuff by Carl Jung and David Keirsey.

I think that the description of an INTP is fairly accurate in describing me, but then again, I think that it’s what I think of myself anyway.

Here is what Wikipedia says about INTPs:

INTP types are quiet, thoughtful, analytical individuals who don’t mind spending long periods of time on their own, working through problems and forming solutions. They are very curious about systems and how things work, and are frequently found in careers such as science, architecture and law. INTPs tend to be less at ease in social situations and the “caring professions,” although they enjoy the company of those who share their interests. They also tend to be impatient with the bureaucracy, rigid hierarchies, and politics prevalent in many professions, preferring to work informally with others as equals.

INTPs organize their understanding of any topic by articulating principles, and they are especially drawn to theoretical constructs. Having articulated these principles for themselves, they can demonstrate remarkable skill in explaining complex ideas to others in simple terms, especially in writing. On the other hand, their ability to grasp complexity may also lead them to provide overly detailed explanations of “simple” ideas, and listeners may judge that the INTP makes things more difficult than they are. This to the INTP, however, is incomprehensible: They are merely presenting all of the information.

INTPs’ extraverted intuition often gives them a quick wit, especially with language, and they can defuse the tension in gatherings by comical observations and references. They can be charming, even in their quiet reserve, and are sometimes surprised by the high esteem in which their friends and colleagues hold them.

When INTPs feel insulted, however, they may respond with sudden and crushing criticism. After such an incident, INTPs are likely to be as bewildered s the recipient. They have broken the rules of debate and exposed their raw emotions. This to an INTP is the crux of the problem: their emotions are to be dealt with in a logical manner. If improperly handled, they can only harm.

Here is what Wikipedia says about Architects (Keirsey’s equivalent of an INTP):

Architects are introspective, pragmatic, informative, and attentive. The scientific systemization of all knowledge, or Architectonics, is highly developed in Architects, who are intensely curious and see the world as something to be understood. Their primary interest is to determine how things are structured, built, or configured. Architects are designers of theoretical systems and new technologies. Rearranging the environment to fit their design is a distant goal of Architects.

Of all the role variants, Architects are the most logically and verbally precise. In casual conversations, they may be tempted to point out errors the other speaker makes, with the simple goal of maintaining clarity within the exchange. In serious discussions, Architects’ abilities to detect distinctions, inconsistencies, contradictions, and frame arguments gives them an enormous advantage. In debates, Architects can sometimes be devastating, or alienate themselves from the group with overly logical arguments.

Of all the role variants, Architects have the greatest ability to analyze the world in depth. They prefer to quietly work alone and they may shut other people out if they are focused on analysis. This, coupled with the fact that Architects are usually shy, makes it difficult for other individuals to get to know them. In social exchanges, Architects are more interested in informing others about what they have learned than they are interested in directing the actions of others.

Credentials or other forms of traditional authority do not impress Architects. Instead, logically coherent statements are the only things that seem to persuade them. Architects highly value intelligence, and can be impatient with people with less ability than they have. Architects often perceive themselves as being one of the few individuals capable of defining the ends a society must achieve and will often strive to find the most efficient means to accomplish their ends. This perspective can make Architects seem arrogant to others.

What does your type look like?

your neighbour’s house – part 4

But from where we were, we have all this crap going on around us. We kind of, sort of care, but not quite enough to do something about it. Letter writing is nice, but it’s like calling a non-functional fire department. That truck will not come around. So what do you do?

You still need to put the fire out. We know that you can’t do it alone. So you have to get help. You need other people. A collective, if you will, or a ‘collective will’. I think we lack this collective will.

It’s not that small actions don’t matter. They somewhat matter. But they need to have the potential to snowball into something larger. Like when a snowball rolls down a hill, it gets larger and stronger. A snowflake alone, even though it has a pretty pattern, isn’t quite enough.

We can complain that “special interest groups” and lobbyists have control of the laws and decisions that are made. To me this means that the collective will of the special interest groups and the lobbyists is stronger. We lack a relentless collective will.

But how do you build a relentless collective will? How do you sustain it? What actions come of this will?

Regardless of whether you’re right leaning or left leaning, I think we can agree that there need to be better measures for government accountability. That voting is not enough a measure. Also, I think this concept that “you can’t complain if you didn’t vote” is bullshit. Because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter which party is in power. This is the ground I live on, and this is the air I breathe, if I have something to say you had damn better listen, and I will do the same.

But what are these measures? How do we get them into place?

At some point in 2003 I really stopped caring. At least I ignored the news, so that I didn’t have to listen to everything that was going on. I didn’t have to follow the Israel-Palestinian issue, I didn’t have to know how many people were starving in the city. I just did my school thing, then the working thing and trying to live in ignorance. But that’s like abstaining, similar to how the European countries (or the US) abstained from voting on UN resolutions. How can you abstain? How the fuck can you abstain? That’s absurd.

Abstaining is bullshit.


I have been tagged.


Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 16 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 16 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

  1. I love the Internet, though it was not love at first sign-on. It kinda just grew. I really like HTTP and am fascinated by TCP. It’s amazing how certainty and order (TCP) is built over uncertainty and chaos (IP). The fact that it all just works is amazing. And then you have HTML, CSS, Javascript and the lot. The growth of entities like Wikipedia, the spread of open source software, communities like Flickr and all. It’s unreal.

  2. University years: I did not participate in a single extra-curricular activity during my university years. In fact, I barely attended lectures and only one of my professors knew me by name. I graduated from Computer Engineering, but didn’t actually get in to it. I got into Mechanical engineering and switched the year after. Oddly enough, I had a rep of being somewhat clever. For the record, my highest mark in a course was 95 (in my first year) and lowest was 51 (last year).

  3. I started magic when I was 23. I get envious of people who started when they were 9 or 12. They got over a decade more time with magic than I did. I want to make a video of me doing magic for random people, except that I need to get over my shyness in those situations. (I also need a person to operate the camera). Someday I want to do magic professionally.

  4. I still wear shirts I wore in high school (I graduated from high school in 2001).

  5. Swimming makes me dizzy.
    5a. I once killed a frog with my bare hands.

  6. Work: I once co-wrote and performed a skit at a company Christmas party after which people came up to me, shook my hand and said “that was a great resignation letter”, and “well, it’s been nice knowing you”. At another time, in order to make a point, I came into work and started to clean my desk and did no work the entire day.

  7. In high school, after having been shown a video on the “top influential people of the millennium” in physics class I argued with the teacher whether Shakespeare should have been that up high. The next day my English teacher asked me, “what was it that you said about Shakespeare?”. My English teacher and physics teacher were married.

  8. I don’t like complimenting people, so if I do it, I really mean it.

  9. This is the first time I’ve been tagged, or have tagged anyone else in an Internet meme.

  10. Living in Saudi, I used to think that “betrol” was the proper spelling and that “petrol” was a typo.

  11. I have seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy (minus the latest episode).

  12. I spent over a month in Mumbai in 2007 and did not go sightseeing even once. I am an idiot. I did, however, go to visit family in Hyderabad for one day. We went to visit approximately ten houses that day. My stomach was sick for the next week and a half.

  13. A lady at Subway (sandwich/subs) once asked me if I was Australian.

  14. I was in the Boy Scouts of America when I was in Saudi. We used to go camping and tie knots and things. I still have shark teeth that I once found during a camping trip.

  15. I regret not having taken drama in high school.

  16. I want to write a children’s book that will make children cry.

I don’t know 16 people and Iffat already tagged most of the people I would have tagged.

I tag: Basit, Faiqa, Sophister, and Waleed.

Also, 5a is not true.

in the dirt

out on my daily grind
in the dirt a puzzling find
two round buttons in the grass
the choice to make, to take or pass?

what do i do with the buttons in the dirt,
do i needle and sew, and mend my shirt?
or do i stick the buttons on my eyes and put cotton in my ears,
and drown out the maddening cries and hold back my tears?

your neighbour’s house – part 3

The following was written January 16th 2002 (7 years ago!), and addresses one of the things I want to get to.

Note: This is just my opinion, take it for what it’s worth…

Canadian Democracy?

Canadian democracy. Where is it?

Are we deceived?

When you turn on the television you will see the “expert” saying that our right to protest is a sign of democracy. This “expert” will also show a clip of a person voting will say that also is a sign of democracy. But sadly it seems that is all democracy offers in Canada.

If you think about it for a moment, we elect our dictators. Once a majority government is elected, they practically have dictatorial control. Regardless of what the citizens think or want, the government can pass any bill they want. The education bills passed during the Harris administration in Ontario were done with a lot of dissent from the general public.

There were mass rallies held to protest the bill. That didn’t change anything. It was a majority government. I call that a dictatorship.

The mega city bill is another example. Did we have a choice? And if so, did it matter? Does it really matter if we phone our MPs and tell them that we would like them to vote a certain way for a bill? The MPs will most likely vote as the leadership tells them to.

Some raise a point that the minority governments are kept “in check”. This unfortunately is not true. In Canada if the government is out voted on a bill, they are expected to call an election. This would imply that if the opposition parties didn’t like the minority government, they could easily build a coalition to defeat the bill proposed by the government and thus forcing an election. Or, if a minority government sees that support for them has risen, they can likewise create a bill where they will surely be defeated. Then an election can be called so that the minority government has a chance at becoming a majority government. Trudeau did it.

To me it seems like we are being played around with. Our protests amount to nothing, yet we pride ourselves in being able to protest. We elect our dictators, and then we hear about new bills after they have already been passed.

While governmental parties play with politics, the citizens lose the game.

Just my 1.8 cents.

(still to be continued…)

your neighbour’s house – part 2

Let me preface this post by saying that this is probably the type of post I would cringe upon reading elsewhere and totally avoid writing something like this, probably because it seems pretentious and self-righteous. But whatever. Also, these are fairly scattered thoughts.

So, where were we? Your neighbour’s house is burning, what do you do?

The natural course of action, it would seem, is to get to the closest phone, dial 911 and wait for the fire truck to arrive. This seems like the thing to do, it’s what we’re trained to do. But I wonder if that’s where our responsibility ends? Can we hang up the phone and say, yup, pats on the back for me, I’ve done my bit? Or do you think, there must be something else I can do?

What do you do when the fire department doesn’t respond? Do you keep calling? Do you get other people to call too? And what if they’re still not responsive? What then? Does your responsibility end because you’ve made the call(s)? Because the house is still burning. You can start to get buckets of water and start to try and put the fire out. But you can’t do it alone, you need help from others. It is possible to put out the fire collectively even when the fire department does not respond. There are ways beyond the phone call.

And I think that is my problem with efforts such as http://www.demandastance.com/gaza/, or just letter writing in general. Yes, yes, every letters counts and every voice matters. Sure. But is that where it ends? It’s too easy. I clicked a few buttons, or mailed a letter, or made a call. But is that enough? Can you say you did whatever was in your power to do? Or did you just do what was easiest, did you do what was least inconvenient?

It doesn’t seem like enough. It isn’t enough.

But it’s not just this issue. There are plenty of problems that need our attention, both around the world and right here in Toronto. We can always say that it’s not our problem. I’m sorry, but it is. These are all our problems. But one could say that, “not my problem”. People dying in Darfur? Not my problem. Starving people in Toronto? Not my problem. Occupied/oppressed people around the world? Not my problem. Some people go around shooting other people in Mumbai? Not my problem.

Ummm… no. It is your problem. It’s our problem. It reminds me of the hadith that says that the Muslim ummah is like one body, that if one part hurts then all of it suffers. But I think this ought to extend beyond Muslims. These are all our problems, Muslim or not. We can choose to ignore them, but they remain our problems.

So what is it that causes us to ignore these issues? Do we not care? I think we do care, but I don’t think we care enough. Or at times we don’t care to care. I think we’re too comfortable where we are in way that we can (or choose to) disconnect ourselves from our surroundings. You’re born, you eat, sleep and cry. You grow up and go to school, where you’re taught to conform, colour within the lines and not question the status quo. You go to university, where the main goal seems to be to produce people fit for the “work force”, at least that is where the “value” is placed. You get into the work force, and you work, day in and day out, busying yourself from other things. You get married, have children, and then make sure that the pattern is repeated for them.

The problem is everywhere, schools, work etc. But shit happens because we let it happen. Education that doesn’t make you think and question isn’t doing its job. At the same time, if it doesn’t engage you enough to act, it is also not doing its job. Sure, the problems we face are not simple, they are complex. But they are worth solving.

(more to come… maybe)