January 13, 2008

Drooling Male Syndrome

I’ve been on this free language learning site called Livemocha for a couple of days now. It’s pretty interesting (and effective) as a language learning tool but that’s not what this post is about :p Laurie signed up yesterday because I’ve been sitting next to her practicing my Spanish phrases and she wanted to regain some mastery of French. She signs up with her personal details and uploads a picture of herself and not two minute pass but wham! She gets a request for chat. She doesn’t realize that the guy wants to voice chat till she’s halfway into the request but rejects it at that point. A minute later, another and then another and another …

So what makes guys act like drooling dogs when they see a female online? It doesn’t matter whether she’s really a woman or not, as long as the online persona has the "appearance" of being female, they just keep coming – and no, no pun was intended there :p Now I’ve been on Livemocha for much longer than Laurie but do I get any chat requests, friend requests or anything of the sort? Nope! Of course, it might be that they see my profile and the strange, unfamiliar name and think that I’ll probably go "I keel you!" (OK, sorry about that one but I saw this guy on TV about a month ago with a skeletal dummy with an Arabic accent who said that all the time and I find that hilarious for some reason :p) if they tried to befriend me. Or maybe it’s the fact that I have a photograph which shows me to be male.

Speaking of photographs, Laurie changed hers to a fairly innocuous one and even changed her gender to male on Livemocha but the requests still kept coming. I don’t know if the site was doing some caching of images or these guys were so desperate that they only looked at the profile name to decide if the person was male or female. Finally, once she changed her profile name to something which was gender-neutral, the requests stopped.

So I ask again, what makes human males act like some sort of quadruped in heat each time they are online and see somebody who might possibly be of the female persuasion? Or are most males like that in real-life as well but just control themselves just a tad bit better because it’s "real life"? I wonder …

Oh yeah, Laurie has a post about this on this on her blog as well 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 12:47 pm  |  No Comments

July 27, 2007

Fighting – what is it good for?

I happened to catch an episode of "The Contender" today and got hooked in. It’s not a show that I normally watch but when they showed the families of the two guys who were fighting in this episode, my interest was piqued. For those of you who have not seen "The Contender", it is a reality show along the lines of "The Apprentice" where a bunch of hopeful boxers get divided into two teams, get trained and fight members from the other team, eliminating the loser from each fight. The last man standing gets something big I guess.

Anyway, what interested me was the fact that they have the wives and children of the fighters watching when they fight. You see the wives cheering their husbands on with comments like "You get him baby!" or shaking their heads when their husband seems to be doing badly. You also see the son of one of the contestants crying because he just saw his father get a cut over one eye. As I watched all of this, the question uppermost in my mind was, "why?"

Why do we find the sight of two human beings beating each other to a pulp entertaining? Why do we call this kind of thing a "sport"? Why can’t the wives who are cheering on their man think about the fact that their husband might be killed, maimed or injured during this "contest"? Why don’t they also think about the fact that while they are asking their spouse to beat another guy to a pulp, that guy too has a wife and kids who love him?

I guess the beat-their-chest-and-how-at-the-moon types will call me a wuss or a sissy or somebody who doesn’t understand what it means to be "manly". But is it really "manly" to beat somebody else down to show how strong you are? Aren’t we once again setting the example to our kids that it’s only strength that matters? That you will always win as long as you are strong?

Sure, I realize that boxing is not just about strength. That the strongest doesn’t always win and there is a lot of strategy, style and grace involved at times as well. But the fact remains, you have to beat a fellow human beings physically to win. What does that say about us as humans? To me it seems as if that it only says that we haven’t progressed very far from our own animal heritage – that we still haven’t learnt that control is better than force, that peace takes more effort than violence. But what do I know? :p

July 2, 2007

Fortunes of fame

We were watching an episode of "Numb3rs" yesterday (and incidentally, it’s a pretty good show) and the story was about this singer who kills a paparazzi who was hounding her. Her final words in the show were to the effect, "they always say that the hounding we get is the price of our fame and now one of them has had to pay for it".

I scoffed at that statement at first – you mean the celebrities would actually give up fame if they had a chance? They really don’t want all that money, power and adulation? Then I asked myself another question. How does one become a celebrity? Why are we (as a race) so curious about the lives and actions of those we think are rich and/or famous? When somebody is hounded because they are well-known, isn’t it really a reflection of the fact that the general populace is hungry to know all about the lives of these people? Most importantly, why are we like that?

Why do we need to know about everybody else? This is not just about the rich and the famous. We all know of neighbourhood gossips who need to know everything going on around them. We often hear of stalkers who’ve taken this obsession about people to the next level. But why is this kind of thing so important to us? Does knowing what George Clooney had for dinner change any of our lives for the better? Does knowing who Cameron Diaz is sleeping with make us a better artist or painter or writer? If such information is totally useless with regards to making a difference to our own lives, why do we obsess about it?

On the flip side, would all of these celebrities be such celebrities if we didn’t make such a fuss about them? Yes, there are good artists, painters, actors, musicians etc. but why do we have to get into personality cults about them? Isn’t their work what is important and not the person? If we didn’t elevate them to such a high status and didn’t care one jot about their lives, would they be hounded by paparazzi? I don’t think so.

I find it a really interesting fact about humanity that we care more about learning about somebody else and their private life than we do about enriching our own. What does that say about us as a species? You can be the judge …

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Posted by Fahim at 9:08 am  |  No Comments

June 13, 2007

The Aardvaark

Discovered an interesting web service today – ToonDoo 🙂 They allow you to create your own webcomic by dragging and dropping various components via a pretty easy to use web interface. What I came up with appears at the end of this post.

My cartoon is not a commentary on America or the Bush government or politics in general :p It’s actually about something which happened a couple of days ago in a mailing list I was on.

The thing is, I think that most people take that kind of behaviour for granted and don’t see the harm in it. We punish small children to stop them from doing something bad. Sometimes we spank them. We see nothing wrong. In fact, we’ll come up with all those old truisms like "spare the rod and spoil the child". But what are we actually teaching the kid? If we don’t explain things to them, then we are simply teaching them that it’s OK to physically intimidate somebody else.

And don’t get me started on how we carry on this kind of behaviour after we (supposedly) reach adulthood. I’ll let the cartoon speak on my behalf :p

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Posted by Fahim at 3:00 pm  |  3 Comments

March 18, 2007

Bogeymen, strawmen and cowardly lions

I couldn’t sleep last night and for some reason, I started thinking about how American presidents seem to personify America itself for that particular decade as well as how America is perceived by outsiders. That, in turn led to a musing about how America seems to have had a bogeyman for most of its history in one form or another. (The one about American presidents will have to wait for a blog entry on another day … :p)

But before I get into that, a few disclaimers 🙂 When I say America, I use it in the sense of either the American government or in the sense of what I call "greater America" – it’s that amorphous, faceless mass that get characterized as an entire nation, not the individuals. I know a lot of Americans and most of them have been good, kind, caring people – just like everybody elsewhere. But "greater America" is more like a mob animal – it’s the overall impression that a nation gives and this, with regards to America, is not usually pleasant. And I’m constantly surprised by this duality. Or maybe I shouldn’t be, since this seems to be part of human nature in its many varied forms. But I digress, so back on track …

The reason that "greater America" is seen in such a negative light might be the fact that it has been confrontational (or pugilistic) most of its lifetime. Now note, some of the conclusions I draw later on might not be historically (or statistically) accurate but my impressions are drawn from popular culture (books, TV shows, movies) and that’s what shapes the impressions of most people – not historical fact. (The statement that "history is written by the winners" dovetails into this but that’s another tangent :p)

We have the birth of America and the war against the Red Coats. Then you had the fractured internecine civil war where the bogeyman was either the Rebels or the Yankees. Then you had the heathen redskin who had to be put down. Next you had to go to war against the Kaiser and immediately after, it was the Jerries (or Huns or Krauts if you prefer) again. Then it continued on with Russkies, Commies, pinkos, Charlie (better known as the VC or Viet Cong) till you got to modern times and met Al Quaeeda, Taliban, Islamists, Axis of Evil, Islamofacists … what-have-you. Always somebody to hate, always somebody to fight.

Of course, the interesting fact is that you can trace similar lines (perhaps not as clearly) for most nations and for the whole of humanity. It’s just that I was thinking about America when I started the speculation and the different instances came up easily without having to do any research at all. But the critical factor is that this is our history (our as in humanity’s) – our pattern of operation. We always seem to need somebody to blame, somebody to fight, somebody to put down. Why is it that we cannot fight hunger, corruption, hatred, injustice and prejudice with as much vigour? Is it because we need a face to our opponents? Or is it because we need our opponents to be human?

I wish I knew …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:57 am  |  3 Comments

February 17, 2007

Free or fee?

I’m on this mailing list for Movable Type developers and over the last couple of days they’ve been having this discussion about how some Movable Type plugins are more expensive than some of the commercial versions of MT itself 🙂 I had no opinion on this one way or another since each developer has to work things out according to their own needs/goals and while overcharging people doesn’t sit well with me, I believe that the market will ultimately determine the price – if it’s too highly priced, nobody will buy it.

However, some of the developer reaction to this suggestion appeared to be extremely negative. They got defensive – How dare anybody suggest that prices should be moderated? Didn’t people know that they spent a lot of time on development? This I found to be both humorous and a bit annoying :p

I’ve spent over 10 years on developing (and supporting) a variety of freeware apps and I ran into the same issues that these people are complaining about. But I didn’t think of charging anybody for it. Somebody said that they had to deal with a lot of non-licensed user support issues and they were not compensated for it. So another person suggested that they use forums. The first person said that forums were ineffective. Now I’ve run support forums for several years and I’ve found them to be extremely effective. Once you build up enough answers to common issues (and have a FAQ) most of your user support consists of pointing to the relevant thread or to the FAQ. Sure, it takes a little bit of time which might be better spent coding but in the end, the end-user appreciates that time. Of course, not all of them thank you but if you develop software expecting money or thanks, then you are most probably in for a rough time.

But then again, I guess that was the crux of the matter in the discussion – what did the developers who charge money actually want? Did they want the monetary compensation? Did they simply want less support hassles by providing support to only those who paid them? Did they want to elevate their code from a simple "freebie" to something with a bit more stature because you had to pay for it? I don’t know. Each person’s motivations are different. But some of the arguments did ring hollow to me – it was as if they actually wanted to be paid but didn’t want to say so.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be paid (or not paid) for your work. Just be honest about your motivations instead of hiding behind excuses. At least, that’s the way I feel 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:09 am  |  No Comments

January 20, 2007

The racial race

I met a Sinhalese nationalist yesterday. He was a new trishaw driver that I got to come back home from a meeting. He started talking to me about the state of the country and I joined in. As the conversation progressed though, it became apparent that he was a nationalist – basically a person who believes that the country belongs to the majority community :p

Now I’ve never understood that mentality or why people believe that a nation cannot be composed of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. I consider myself a Sri Lankan at worst and a citizen of the world at best but most people can’t seem to get beyond their own race/caste when considering their nationality. I consider Sri Lanka to be particularly bad in this respect. There are very few Sri Lankans – everybody is a Sinhalese, a Tamil or a Muslim. When a nation is fractured and pulls in so many different directions, how can the country expect to progress?

In the course of my conversation with the trishaw driver, he made a comment about the public transportation system. He said "oh the minister is a Muslim" as if that explained all that was wrong with the system. Perhaps to him, it did. When I was growing up, the awareness of the racial barriers were much stronger. If you were a Muslim, you got called names, had to listen to crude jokes about the fact that Muslims were circumcised while others here are not and so on. It has changed a lot (or at least appeared to) in recent years but I was suddenly brought face to face with the fact that old prejudices die hard 🙂

Then, in the evening, I ran across this article. It appears to have been written by somebody in/from the US, who has no clue about the actual situation here in Sri Lanka. He goes on to paint a picture where he makes no difference between the LTTE and the rest of the Tamil population. Everybody is a Tamil and they are all being discriminated against. Sure, on the other side of the fence, there is the same mentality but in this case, they think most Tamils are terrorists. Neither one is correct. The LTTE is not totally blameless nor is the Sri Lankan government composed of saints. But what I do find interesting about that particular article is the fact that every single one of the people who commented on the article are Tamils and a lot of them are claiming genocide and how the Sinhalese government is driving Tamils out of Tamil occupied areas. Of course, they forget to mention the fact that the LTTE has a similar program where they are driving the Muslims out of the same areas :p

In the end, whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, each side has their own grievances and their own injustices that they feel need to be righted. But as the old saying goes, if you all took an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we’d all be blind and toothless :p What Sri Lanka (and the rest of the world) needs is to set aside our racial and ethnic differences and realize that we are all one race, that we all bleed the same, that we all have the same hopes and aspirations. But will we do that before the world implodes? I doubt it …

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Posted by Fahim at 8:03 am  |  No Comments

August 9, 2006

Signs of the times

Does popular culture reflect the fears and phobias of the time? I remember a few decades back when stories (in books and movies) abounded about how the US president (or his wife or his vice-president) is replaced by a look-alike. I didn’t think that reflected the paranoias of the time at the time, but now I’m not so sure.

We’ve watched (or are in the process of watching) two US TV series from 2005-2006. They both show the leadership of the US as being morally ambiguous or corrupt. The shows? "24" and "Prison Break" 🙂 (Incidentally, "Prison Break" is my favourite new show :p) In "24", it’s the president of the US who has no care for his own countrymen (and women) in his quest to do "what needs to be done to secure the nation’s future". In "Prison Break" the vice-president will go as far as to frame an innocent man (and kill several others) so that she can win the presidential election. All for the "good of the nation".

Is this how entertainers (and a good portion of the population) view their leaders? Or are these stories just coincidental to the current political/social climate? Here in Sri Lanka, nobody would dream of using mass-media to criticize their leaders. Sure, there are shows which are critical but the criticism is more covert. For the longest time, if you dared criticize the government, you could expect a call from the goon squads and it wasn’t going to be a friendly visit either. However, the people do express their opinions of the government (and the opposition and of politicians in general) fairly openly. The problems crop up only when you start expressing your opinions to a lot of people via the media :p That’s kind of weird, I know.

On the other hand, I get the impression that in the US, the media will lambaste politicians while your average Joe, the man on the street, will not care enough to discuss these matters. Here, politics is more of a topic for common discussion than the weather. Over there, I get the impression that it’s the other way around. The only similarity that I see is that in the end, whether you speak out or not, whether your discuss corruption or not, the apathy remains. We keep electing the same bunch of crooks (or their counterparts) come election time. Sure, we might justify it by saying that one side is less crooked than the other but if we know that they are all crooked, should we be making a distinction as to how less crooked one side is than the other?

June 9, 2006

It’s the knowing that’s hard …

We watched “Home Delivery” yesterday. It is a Bollywood comedy but it really wasn’t that funny :p It took way too long to set up the characters and their back story and then where it could have been funny, it kind of skipped over the possibilities and simply opted for more boring stuff. It did have some great feel-good moments towards the end but most of the audience (except for us masochists of course :p) would have either turned off the movie or walked out long before that.

Sometimes though, even a bad movie can lead to an epiphany 🙂 As I watched the movie, I began to see similarities between how the movie’s plot evolved (or didn’t evolve) and my novel, “Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog“. The thing is, I’ve not been able to get much feedback on “Honest” or the writing style I use there. When I submit a chapter for critiquing, I get arguments about whether I should have used blaster or credits in there instead of inventing a term. Or I get told that it’s cute but that my humour gets annoying after a while :p Of course, on the other hand, there are others who’ve said that they like the writing.

To be honest, I don’t really let the criticisms or compliments bother me since I know that both are weighted by individual preferences. Sure, if everybody was unanimous in saying that I sucked, then I’d give up writing but so far that hasn’t happened (and that’s not to say it still might not :p). But basically what I’m getting at is that I haven’t used gotten any concrete critiques (except from a couple of people) that I can use to specifically “fix” my novel. But watching “Home Delivery”, I thought maybe my problem was the same as the movies – it sounds good as an overall idea but the execution meanders too much to make a good story :p

I don’t know if that is actually the case or not. Maybe I just haven’t found the right person to submit my work to but any avenue is worth investigating and I feel that my story perhaps has too many characters and too much meandering. So I’m going to use “Home Delivery” as a template of what not to do and then take apart one of my favourite novels to see how things work there. Then I’ll decide how I go on from there – whether “Honest” can stand as it is with a few tweaks or perhaps if I should simply rewrite it to be leaner and meaner 🙂

June 7, 2006

How do you cope?

How do you cope with all the stuff that needs to be done in one single day? I’ve often talked about Stephen King‘s assertion that life is like a pony – that it sometimes canters, sometimes gallops and sometimes walks. (Or words to that effect – I couldn’t find a reference online after doing a casual search :p) At the moment, the pony of my life is galloping for its life – in fact, its running so fast that its likely to break its own fool neck :p

I’m so far behind on stuff that I need to do that I can’t even see the back of the line :p I’ve got articles that I need to write for TechPedia; a crit that I’m supposed to send out to my crit pal of his next chapter and I’m working like crazy on my blogging app, Blog, every spare moment I get to get some features that I really want working. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. I’ve also got to do at least two installations – one an auction system for a friend to test out and another a forum + WordPress integration installation to test out some functionality. Yeah, life is full 🙂

No, this is not a whining thread where I talk about how hard my life is :p I actually wanted to talk about how you deal with such a situation. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed when things are piling up and you feel so pressured to get things done but all that happens is that you get more and more worked up and everything starts crowding you in? First of all, take a deep breath. Then do the same thing that you do when you walk – lift up your foot and put it down and do the same with your other foot 🙂 Just take things a step at a time. That’s about the only way to deal with a situation like this. Of course, it would also help to prioritize but for somebody like me who does things on impulse, that doesn’t really work. So do what comes naturally (except to panic that is :p)

There will always be things to do and most probably, all of them are going to be urgent. The trick is not to let things get the better of you. Tell yourself that you are in control. Do what needs to be done now and put the rest off till later. Hopefully, you’ll come out on top … if not, I’m already at the top of the tallest building I can find and you can join me there … to enjoy the view of course :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:56 am  |  No Comments

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