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Monthly Archives: April 2007

Cryptic title huh. I’ll get straight down to explaining. In the last month, I’ve radically changed the way that I use the internet. Once upon a time, when I was young and girls were pretty and you could breath HK air without coughing and…., okay back on track….focus focus. Take Two. Go.  

When I woke up in the mornings, I’d methodically click through a list of links to all my favorite sites and check if they had updated. I used to have my own custom homepage saved locally that was just a table full of links, to make it easy and ensure I didn’t forget one of my regular stops. Now all of that is over. The smart people at Google have made it unnecessary.

I’ve gotten into the habit of using Google Reader. Google Reader works by taking RSS feeds and…..Oh yeah RSS feeds, the cryptic title, explanations. Right, on that boss. I’ll try and keep it simple, but it is a bit technical. And if you don’t care you can skip the explanation. Though the rest of this post won’t make as much sense if you do. Although given what Zaineb says, I doubt I make sense to anyone half the time anyhow so being overly technical would just be marinating an open wound in salt and vinegar (crisps? I haven’t had S&V crisps in forever… I should retitle this blog Soliloquy From a Raving Loon. But I digress. Google Reader is nifty enough and cheap  (read free) that you might want to use it yourself.

An RSS feed is a way of making content on the net syndicatable. Put simply, they take the content from a website, and strip away all the appearance related things and make fundamental information like the title, the text, the site its from and the authors name available to any RSS Reader. (Easy RSS Explanation) (Even Easier Video Explanation of RSS)

An RSS Reader, such as Google Reader,  is software that collects together all the disparate feeds that you are interested in, and then displays them in a standardized format. That means you can take every website that you visit (provided it makes an RSS feed available, and most do now) and then save it in Google Reader. Then all you have to do is visit Google Reader’s site, and then it visits all the sites (or their RSS Feeds, which are the same thing) for you and grabs any updated content for you.

For me this has had two huge advantages. Firstly I don’t have to look to see if any content is new. Google Reader will only show me content that I haven’t seen before. You can configure it to just distinguish content you have seen from content you haven’t seen, but I find that is not as efficient nor is Google’s way of distinguishing them through light and dark blue clear cut.

Secondly, and I’ve given it away by talking about efficiency, is that it makes things so much faster. As I recently said, I’m reading a lot more stuff (current count 46 sites and increasing) recently, and  I’m adding more new sites each week. There’s no way that I could keep up with that kind of volume of information without pulling it all together in an understandable and manageable format.

Thirdly, Google Reader uses keyboard commands to work through the feeds, meaning that if you spend the few minutes it takes to learn the basic ones, you can slice through a huge amount of material, and you can single out wait you’re going to read, what doesn’t interest you and what you’ll take time to come back to later because it may be interesting.

The base line really is that RSS can revolutionize the way we deal with the internet. It makes everything infinitely more accessible, and so much easier to do. You can spend so much more time on what matters: the content. And if you do try out Google Reader, the feed for this blog can be found at: https://motalib.wordpress.com/feed/

Link to the Original

My blog is too stuffy and too text focused. There’s other stuff out there that I want to put on here. Every Saturday from here on, I’ll put up my photo of the week, one that I’ve found in my surfing, which sticks in my head.

Central Streets

Sprawled across the front seat, the bus winding through the streets of Central, U2 blasting in my ears, and they’re right, it is a beautiful day. The sun is streaming across, and the buildings are casting epic shadows, shielding the scurrying masses from the full impact of the midday sun, reducing the blasts of solar light to manageable proportions through haphazardly distributing the light.

He’s walking with a swagger, the swagger is what caught my eye, light blue shirt, dark blue jeans. Boots. Who wears boots in Central? Confidently darting around the people in his way, walking with the precision of a racing driver, without hurry. Cooly dispatching all the marks in his way. I wonder, does he see people as marks? Or is that me? He has a laptop bag but it has an unnatural stillness even as he cut in and out of the crowd. Either the arms are very strong or the bag is very empty. I round a corner and he’s gone, no doubt dissecting more people.

The people. I’ve started watching the people now. Indulging my imagination, concocting elaborate stories for them, generating challenges and success. Sometimes just wondering at them. What made this person be here at this time. Why now? Where are they going? Do they want to? What does their body language say about them? Their style their expression.

They stand in a circle, just after the road curves. There are three of them, oblivious to the world around them, chatting away. The nearest one is dressed in all white which sets off well against the strawberry blond explosion of hair barely constrained by a hairband. She’s gesturing rapidly, arms soaring about soaring and dropping and her whole self is entranced in the dance of whatever story she’s telling. The movement is graceful , not rushed, not panicked. She must be an excellent story teller. The girl in green listens, the most absorbed. She’s very still, leaning in towards her friend, her black hair rustling in the wind and shimmering in the sunlight. It’s a very poetic effect, one I’ve not seen in real life before. She stand now with her back at me and I can see nothing more. They fade into the distance, a new person catches my eye.

I won’t pretend this is equal opportunity people watching, I’m mainly watching the girls because that’s what catches my eye. That’s not to say its totally discriminatory, some of the most interesting looking people were the guys who seemed so much more relaxed and at ease with the world. Its about the variety of people out there, so many people so many shapes so many lives. I wonder how does my story, my shape my life, fit in with theirs in the big picture. Do I feel compassion for them. Do I understand what they’re doing at any level? Should I do either of these things?

The hair is combed meticulously, parted neatly on the right and leavened with enough gel to make it last for the day. He walks smilingly into the room, his back straight and arms at his side, a military bearing. He glances at the secretary, registering her presence but deciding he doesn’t need to respond to her greeting. The smile is strained now, revealed as a convincing fake. His back turns towards her slightly, placing it as a barrier between them, and his eyes gaze down the corridor, into the heart of the office. Without a word, he strides down it purposively. He clearly belongs, yet is so uncomfortable about that fact. The last I see of him is the sole of his trainers, as an edge catches against the wall, and he turns ever so slightly to correct his balance. Taking a turn to the right, he’s lost from sight.

Why do we people watch? Is it something that we just do to pass the time? Are we fascinated at our core by other people, or are we looking for signs of sameness? Do we want our suspicion that humanity is more or less the same to be confirmed? Or is it marvel at the diversity of the human condition and experience, even within so similar circumstances as the same city streets.

I have no answers. Just the knowledge that at some level its fascinating to follow people even for the briefest moment from behind their shoulders.

Word games

Apprenticed so long, I forgot there are masters. Unaware of masters, the art is not recognized. Too sober, too somber, too sullen, too long. Reminded again, discovering the once well known by deliverance from worry and  misdirection. I find freedom contagious – that freeing a part of  you frees the whole. The snorting a good mood is liberating, self sustaining. Auto catalytic?

Feeling the fetters fall from my mind, and off my tongue Words, the reremembered Truth says, are fun. That is the meme. That is the little idea I wish to roll up and pass through you to be inhaled into your essence. That they can be parsimonious or extravagant. Parsimonious and Extravagant. Parsimonious and Extravagant at the same time. Sweeping from the depths of despair  to the highest point of joy.

Most importantly that they are only words. They are tools, our servants, they prostrate their worth at our feet. Their purpose is meaning, their purpose is interaction, but they are not defined by their purpose. They are  toys.

I require cultural literacy. Cultural literacy: the ability to converse fluently in the idioms, allusions and informal content which constitutes a culture. From being familiar with its myths, knowing its history, or understanding its slang, literacy demands an interactive understanding of culture. It is not a test of culture. It is a reminder of the richness of the human experience, how many shared assumption goes into forming something so simple as words. Words form worlds. What powerful playthings we have, you and I.

I bring more Reference to bear in all my doings. More quotations, sneakily used and often uncited, more history more myths more references to the classics and classical civilization. Diving off cliffs into awkward tangents, navigating through currents of obtuse philosophers and errant ideas. Building in jokes and catchy phrases. Or perpetuating myths that I instigate myself. Conscious of actions: they have resonance in history, great one, petty ones, mine, yours. Unconscious of resonance: you only live once.

If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering what the fuck I’m talking about. Random gibberish, neatly divided into four paragraphs. Perhaps I underestimate you and you do; it’s possible but not likely. I wish you might see, I wish you might understand. But maybe, just maybe some day you’ll have a day like this day. And you’ll understand.

Plato

Very slowly, hesitantly, dare I say timidly, I’ve begun to reconcile myself to the notion that I want to be an academic. Academia is a career choice I have long deprecated: those who can do, do; those who cannot do, teach; those who cannot teach, supervise. Words to that effect I have said far too often to too many people in too many contexts. Pride might be my first obstacle.

My intent has always been to DO. Teaching is the province of those who have either already done, or cannot do. Neither category one occupied by me.

My view of my career path has always been: a few decades in practice as a barrister followed by a leisurely decent into academia as a low stress alternative, in which I could both indulge my intellectual side and do something more meaningful by contributing back to society through education.

At the same time. I have a very abstract view of the world, and I enjoy applying and deploying theoreretical perspectives. I live for ideas, innovative nifty ideas that lead to clever solutions. I love the difficult theory questions, I like lacunas, I love the nitty bit of detail that contradicts every other bit of information that we’ve been given so far and that no one can explain when pressed on why its there and what it means. I love the self righteousness that every theory of everything has, and the sense of relish in attacking and deconstructing an argument back down into the scrap heap from which it came.

It’s what’s behind my vindictive project to try and ask, in every class, one question that the teacher cannot answer. Initially it was born out of frustration at Emma Ford, but its grown, evolved, matured into something that I use as a tool in its own right. It’s had mixed results so far, but the point is that I’m trying to probe the very outliers of knowledge, and I enjoy doing this in some sort of very intellectual exercise of pushing back the limits of knowledge. To reach the boundaries of everything that is knowable by any human being is also at the core of my approach to life.

And I’m also pretty sure at this stage that I want to do a PhD ( or a LLD / SJD ), just to satisfy my search for more knowledge, and maybe to keep the real world at bay. I’m not sure about that last reason, I think it may be a factor, but in a sense I’m not averse to finding ‘real’ work. I just don’t want to. I want to keep learning, keep exploring and probably ascend into boffin-hood.

It’s a very seductive path, very tempting, but I’m not sure that I want it regardless of how much I think I’d like it. And that really is a devils choice.

Stairway to Heaven

Drowning in thoughts and powerless to write, I find myself formulating, with much help from many profound external sources something close to the distilled essence of my life view. A simple code if you will, a mantra like Muad’dib’s that expresses what I believe to be true about the world, people and the nature of the self.

Right knowledge is the start, if you cannot know right from wrong all ventures fail. Right knowledge requires right action. If you can know right and do wrong you are a very deficient Human being. We all make mistakes and do things that we know to be wrong though. But no one pretends that these actions are right. In that sense we know innately and partially what right and wrong are. We must develop this sense to its full potential

Right action, done in consciousness of right knowledge, can be turned into a habit. We all know we are our habits, that trite truism. A habit for good (for good action done with good knowledge must be good) becomes ingrained: we develop good characteristics and then generically a good character. As Gandhi said, a man cannot do good in one aspect of his life and evil in another: the self is a unified whole. You forge a whole composed of good.

A good character is the essence of good people – it is and is what creates good people. A good person is pure in this sense – they are composed wholly of good. They are not naive. They know good and evil remember. They chose to be good. Their knowledge makes their choice, their actions and their character pure.

A pure character, one that naturally inclines to good thoughts deeds and results is the proper purpose of life as a human being in my simple philosophy. A simple route it seems to a very fundamental goal.

Now only if each intermediate step wasn’t so difficult.

Presentation is an art. It is theatre. It is a performance art. Like bad singing and bad acting, bad presentations are painful to endure. Unlike these first two,  its not determined by fate. It is a matter of being able to remember and internalize simple rules. Most of these rules are about preparing the presentation as opposed to what you do in it. We all have speaking voices, we all know how to talk. We have the raw ingredients to make world class presentations.

Having sat through three presentations last night, two of them average and one of them abysmal, and having watched enough good ones to know what makes them good, I share some general observations about presentations:

  1. People tend to shove all their information onto the slides. If the slides can convey all the information, what use is the presenter? Be SELECTIVE about what is on the slides. You can add a lot of content verbally.
  2. Good presenters use the slides to SUPPLEMENT the presentation. They  show off charts, graphs or amusing pictures or cartoons that help make their point better or more effectively. They do NOT copy out dull pages of texts.
  3. If you must include text – make sure its big and easy to read. If you have text up there you WANT people to read it. Make it possible. Large fonts, sans serifs, contrasting colors. Test it out if possible before hand.
  4. Backgrounds are not how you show off your sophistication. Complicated backgrounds cluttered with images DETRACT from the clarity of your presentation and makes people focus on the background as opposed to the FOREGROUND where their attention should be.
  5. Animations and sounds are the BANE of good presentations. Be sure that each one you include is absolutely essential. If in doubt, leave it out.
  6. Have speaking notes – slides are NOT notes. Try and think about what you’re going to say, what order you’ll present information in and what you can ignore on a slide, or which way you want the audience to interpret information on a slide that may be ambiguous.
  7. Do not repeat what’s on the slide. If you want them to read, you have to presume your audience is literate. Presuming they’re illiterate is the easy way to have a bored audience.
  8. Your voice is part of the presentation – use it!!! Change your tone, for emphasis, for clarity. People who speak with a monotone are the worse presenters. They sound like they don’t care about the material – and if you care don’t why should the audience?
  9. Talk at the WHOLE audience. Don’t stand to the side, don’t talk to one member, don’t focus on the lady in the middle. Look around, make everyone in the room interact with the presentation. 
  10. Ask for questions at the end. It shows confidence in your material and preparation and a willingness to engage with the audience. Answer the questions if you can. There’s nothing wrong with saying some one has asked a very good question and you can’t answer it.

If you want to see  this in action look at this presentation. It’s a classic case of turning what could be stunningly dull into interesting by the application of great presentation skills. Don’t focus on the content, focus on the presentation skill that is bought to bear on the content. Those can be universalized and used by all of us.

No Emotional Baggage

It’s amazing how fast a person can move on.

Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, moments that can seem immense, world defining moments can, over time, and with the beauty of hindsight appear to be so small and easily traversed that you almost wonder what all the fuss was for.

I make this observation in a poignant moment of irony. Someone is talking to me about FMGamer, that was, that is, that isn’t, such a part of me.

Now, looking back, and on, and through that experience, I feel nothing. Not even the slightest twinge. I’ve left it behind. It’s just another moment, another landmark, another companion left on the wayside. Another project that I outgrew and that never grew along with me. And I shrug my shoulders, and stride on. New vistas, new opportunities, new ideas.

It all happened so recently, a few months, but I find the memories of those years has become incredibly hazy. All those people I used to know intimately are starting to fall out of my memory, all the ups and downs, the struggles and the few moments of success; they’re not the subject of warm recollection, but as if handed a tabula rasa, they are gone. No impact, no recollection. Not a care for them.

I have to rack my brains for even the most basic details about those days. My most notable response is apathy to questions about this past. It just doesn’t resonate in me anymore. It almost feels like this wasn’t my past. Its fictionalized, serialized, a fake life. And now, like the skin of a shedding snake, I’ve left it behind with nary a glance back. It’s gone; without any residual effects.

Just totally gone.

Now that’s what I call music.

Half the time I have no idea what they’re singing about. Oddly, I don’t care. It sounds brilliant. The music is fantastic, the vocals compelling. The sounds, just by themselves, stop me searching for meaning.

Best thing I’ve ever heard.

(listen yourself)

To forge a samurai sword, the steel of the blade is heated, folded and beaten until the blade is formed by 32,768 layers, welded to one another. Each layer is a hundred thousandth of an inch thick. All this is done to extremely accurate standards of heat treatment, through a ritual passed down from master to apprentice over the generations. The result is an obsidian-hard blade with great flexibility. These blades are legendary for their hard edges, soft inner cores and extreme endurance.

The same is true of the process by which a boy becomes a man or a girl becomes a woman. They are steel, crafted by the hammer of life. A hundred, a hundred thousand times, and with each blow made stronger; tougher more enduring. Like steel, this process etches a sharpness into the soul. A cold cruel edge that is needed, with the constant interaction our society requires, to survive. People often regret the formation of the edge, or chide others when they wield it. But like so much in life, it is necessary.

True success, I agree, like with a samurai sword, is that the interior is soft, flexible, and enduring while the bladed edge may eventually wear down. To become all edge, to be consistently bitter and harsh is failure, but to be all inner core – soft forgiving yielding, is naivety. And we know that naivety commands the highest price, we struggle hard to maintain it for our children at great price. We cannot afford it in adults.

This is not an argument for balance, being soft on the outside and hard on the inside is fatal, just as being the inverse is vital. It is an argument that we should not be surprised when people around us grow a harsher edge, when they respond to challenges by becoming more ruthless or efficient. Their circumstances will almost always have warranted the change. An edge that is made sharper with every blow.