b is for bad poetry

A couple of friends gifted me “B is for Bad Poetry” in order to commemorate the anniversary of my birth. This is a fantastic book. Witty, hilarious, crazy, stupid and bad. All balled into a book. I recommend this to anyone who is not a “OMG!!! that’s not poetry because the metres are all off! NO WAY! DIE NON-TRADITIONAL POETRY!” type person.

Inspired by the poems in this book, I’ve tried to follow in its footsteps. This is not to say what I wrote before wasn’t bad. I’m sure it is. The thought that allows me to share what I’ve written is believing that what I have written is bad. But moreover, all of what is written is bad. If I tried to achieve some sort of standard of “good”, it would be very unlikely that I would write anything, and if I did, it would be highly unlikely that I would share it. Lest it not be “good”. I simply can’t be bothered trying to be good in this matter.

I will post a series of lines that follow in the style of what is in “B is for Bad Poetry”. I’ve posted most of these on facebook, but some of them I have not. And yes, these lines will probably be no different than those before.

open-source textbooks – connexion

This is absolutely brilliant. It is brilliant to the point that it excites me. Open source textbooks. Books that are open to everyone, and books that can be freely shared, modified, copied, reprinted etc etc etc. Brilliant.

As Richard Baraniuk says in his TED talk (please watch it below), this allows knowledge to be contextualized for the cultural and social regions it will be used in. That is not only brilliant but necessary. Not only that, but this allows knowledge to be customized and specialized per student. Ideas are good alone, but they are better when they are shared.

Textbooks should be free. But they will not be free if students keep paying absurd amounts for them. Knowledge should be free. Free to access, free to share, free to use. If students were to stop buying textbooks they could change the way universities do business. Hah, that won’t happen anytime soon. But in the meanwhile, we have the opportunity to spread the word and contribute.

This is why technologies like the Internet are so important. They allow for things like this to happen, the Internet makes this easier. And that is awesome.

what will I do?

What, oh what, will I do?

I took the next week off from work. I have an exam on Thursday and a (small) paper due Monday. In my mind I’ve divided the time up, in terms of where I will spend it. I will spend Friday night (tonight) working on the paper and finish it off on Saturday. Then, starting Sunday, I will pull out the humongous Financial Accounting textbook and it’s accompanying Case Book, go through each chapter and draw notes on the important points. From those notes I will make the cheat sheet I’m allowed to take into the 3 hour exam. I will have Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to study. That’s four days.

So far I’ve spent today reading a small graphic novel I picked up from the book sale at work. I picked up a whole bunch of other books too. I don’t understand. I still have piles of books I have not read, that I ought to read. I have books I’ve borrowed from friends, those books I ought to read. But I read this book first, the new one that I just bought. And I read it when the plan in my mind was to start on that paper. Did I make mention of how I don’t understand?

In reality I know I will do the paper on Saturday, or maybe even on Sunday. It’s due Monday after all. This plan in my mind will mould itself to the shape of wasted time. But really, if you enjoy the time you waste, is it really wasted? Maybe it’s just misplaced somewhat.

I’m here writing this post, about how I’ve planned to study, but will probably spend that time not studying. My point exactly.

Maybe I will stare a little at the static internet, if I stare long enough the words and images may change. Maybe I will watch a TV show, or two, or three. Perhaps I will watch an entire movie, or two. I just might read the new books I now find around me.

Maybe, just perhaps maybe, I will study.

What will I do?
What will I do?
What will I do?

a fine balance

This must be the fifth novel I’ve read in as many years. I’m no judge of what a good novel is, I don’t read much into the themes, the imagery, the character flaws, I just mainly read the story and I also write a lot of run on sentences. So it’s mainly about the story and how I relate to the characters.

After having seen Pinjar, which is a fabulous film that you should watch, I’ve wanted to write a story/screenplay that was similar in nature. The movie starts off all happy, gets depressing, and then gets more depressing, and then when you think it couldn’t get more depressing, it gets more depressing. Generally stories or movies that do this are done very poorly, with poorly concocted and forced situations that don’t really fit into the plot. Pinjar did it all extremely well. I wanted to write something that was more in “our time”. Clearly I haven’t done this, I must have seen the movie back in 2004 sometime.

So then I start reading ‘A Fine Balance’, Oprah book club sticker and all. I wonder why that bothers people so much. Is Oprah not allowed to like a good book?

‘A Fine Balance’, between hope and despair, it said. Although I’m a bit lost here, it seems the main characters experience hope in bursts and despair in continuity. Even the cursory characters go through similar despair: Monkey-man, the rent collecter, Avinash, etc. Maybe the balancing factor is that Rajaram finally figured his true-calling as Bal Baba, Vishram becomes a large restaurant. And that Ruby finally gets to use her club membership, can’t let that money go to waste.

I got to about page 610 and thought to myself, “Yeah, I could write a more depressing story than this”. Then around page 650 I conceded, “Mistry, you win. I can’t write a story more depressing than this”. This was around the time Ashraf Chacha dies, Om gets castrated and Ishvar loses his legs.

I loved the book, it’s the type of story I like to read. There are moments in the book where your eyes want to turn the pages faster than your fingers can. I had similar moments when reading The Kite Runner. But in the Kite Runner certain portions had too much detail or what I like to call “paper real estate”. While similar situations in A Fine Balance took up less real state, leaving your imagination to fill the gaps. For instance, the fight between Assef and Amir lasts forever (the Kite Runner), while the execution of Narayan happens fairly swiftly (A Fine Balance).

But in The Kite Runner you have instances like Amir meeting a beggar in Afghanistan that happened to have worked with his mother (what a coincidence), and then shortly thereafter discovers that the Taliban person who has Hassan’s son is Assef (what a coincidence!). While the coincidences in A Fine Balance seem more natural; Dina running into Vasantrao Valmik at the court house and then later Maneck running into him again while he’s Bal Baba’s assistance. I liked the Kite Runner too, I enjoyed reading it, all the coincidences aside, the way the book was written was something else.

At some point through the story (A Fine Balance) I thought this was Om’s story. Because so much happens around his character and the stories of Dukhi, Narayan and Ishvar all lead up to Om. But he doesn’t get too much ‘real estate’ toward the end of the book. Dina’s character goes through massive transformations all through out the book, and I’m not sure what to make of Maneck yet. There is a balance in real estate amongst the main characters. Some die and the others find no particular reason to, so they live.

In the Kite Runner I had a particular favourite moment, where Hassan’s son (during the fight mentioned earlier) holds up his sling shot aimed at Assef’s eye. As if the whole thing was written and setup for that one moment. I don’t know if I have any such moments in A Fine Balance. What I connect with in A Fine Balance other than moments are the items. Like the name plate, the violin, the umbrella, the Singers, the chess set, Shankar’s ghaadi, the lawyer’s pens, etc (note that I purposely left out the patched quilt). But if I had to pick a moment, it would be when Ashraf Chacha’s board is modified to “Krishna Tailors” and the mob comes to effectively burn the place and Ishvar and Narayan are made to pull down their pants to prove they’re not Muslim.

I really liked how the story is woven together (like the quilt!). The items mentioned before and how their stories are revealed along with the characters. We see the name plate early on in the book, and then learn about how it came to be later on in a flash back type section in the book. The story keeps on weaving itself in this manner as past and present come together to make some sort of sense. Kind of like when you pull up a zipper and the parts lock themselves making a whole.

I would like to end by talking about the size of this book. This book is huge! Over 700 pages. I think my wrist is stronger now.

In either case, what this book needs is an “Adnan’s Book Club” sticker.


“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]