Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Help

A page turner. Although, I am as concerned as Ms. Stockett herself is to read a story about the "people of color" from the perspective of a white woman, but my worry soon is replaced by a great sense of curiosity. I meet Hilly Hollbrook, Eugene Skeeter Phelan, Elizabeth Leeflot, Aibleen, Minny Jackson, Celia Foot and learn about their lives, goals, intentions, personalities and each sure has a big story to tell one that keeps you absorbed and flipping the pages quickly. The story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, during a highly conservative time of American history, where the integration of white people with people of color was violently frowned upon. Yet, I don't believe it is the intention of the author to depict history through this story. She is a storyteller. A very good one as a matter of fact. She keeps it interesting by adding enough suspense to each of these characters. And I like that she is an optimist and ends on a high note.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Upscale Rustic Cuisine

Eating out is one of the pleasures of life. I always read the restaurant reviews with so much interest; coincidentally, most are good. I have yet to see a review that blasts a restaurant. My review of "Upscale Rustic Cuisine" is no exception.

We dined there on a gorgeous, sunny, warm Fall day, early October, the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. We were a bit inconvenienced to dine in a dim, dark restaurant on such a beautiful day, but hey we were there to eat not to sun bath. :)

Our waiter arrived, wearing a big smile, menu in hand. We took a quick glance and couldn't find the typical brunch dishes: omelet, sausage, bacon, and french toast, on the menu. I often accept these sort of situations, like when you are let down because you get something other than what you expect. I think expectations are merely barriers to taking risks, trying out new things. But my company was not too pleased. In any case the waiter was there smiling expectantly at us, so we had to get the ball rolling.

I picked "BENEDICT" OF THE WEEK. The food arrived late, but only to give us time to savor the variety of freshly baked, hot out of the oven breads with handmade butter. There were three different types of breads and scones. Each garnished with garlic and a different herb.

One word of advice if you dine at Upscale Rustic expect to get garlic in all your food and take a pack of gum with you, it comes handy. :)
The main course arrived shortly after the empty bread basked was removed from our table. Describing my "Benedict" as delicious is an understatement. The egg was simply flavor perfect. It was creamy, it was soft, it melted. I couldn't distinguish between egg white or yolk. I had some pulled pork on the side, which was equally yum.
I definitely recommend this restaurant. But, better to go on a rainy, gloomy day to feel cozy in this dark rustic restaurant.

Garlic’s of London - Upscale Rustic
481 Richmond Street
London, ON
N6A 3E4
P- 519-432-4092
F- 519-432-2918

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Possessed - Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read them

This morning I finished reading Elif graduate studies and research memoirs; I am talking about "The Possessed" by Elif Batuman. Admittedly, this book is different than other books I've read. I liked and learned from it.

Her stories about life in Samarkand was sweet and witty, duck-soup, Satan in belly, Habib the janitor, Gulya and her greed for material life, Dilorom (age of maturity is between 45-60 :)), Muzaffar and his marriage obsessed family. These stories were intertwined with stories about Uzbek language and culture. I really enjoyed reading about Navoi's work, Leili and Majnun, Shrin and Farhad, and The Logic of Birds by Farid al-Din Attar, a Sufi of Nishapur, Iran. It was absolute pleasure to read Dilorom's interpretation of Shirin and Farhad: "the eternal problem of social inequality" and "crop irrigation". The latter refers to the sixty-kilometer canal Farhad carved to prove his love for Princess of Persia Shirin; it is called Farhad-Tarash in local language and located in Province of Kermanshah in Iran.

Her research about Russian literature and history, which side tracked in many different directions, Empress Anna Romanov's lavishes, Babel, Tolstoy and Chekhov, Dostoevsky was very informative. But fell short of the expectation built around the title. Afterall, the title suggests adventures with Russian books.

The last chapter was a shocker! It made me wonder about her real intention of writing this book. Are we reading a mad woman's or a woman madly in love and heartbroken memoirs. Is she ok? In search for an answer, I found this review of the book on very helpful. Here is an excerpt from the review that answers my question:

She even argues that theory can help us navigate our own lives. When Matej, a charismatic grad student, wreaks emotional havoc on Batuman and her female colleagues (and some of the males, too), she makes sense of him by invoking Rene Girard's theory of "mimetic desire." Beyond all the jokes, this may be the most important contribution Batuman has to make in The Possessed. By fusing memoir and criticism, she shows how the life of literary scholarship is really lived—at its most ridiculous, and at its most unexpectedly sublime.

Overall I found this to be a good, informative, funny book about many different things! It would look better if it were published as a collection of essays or named differently. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveller's Wife, by the same author is an international best seller therefore readers expect a repeat of a similar experience reading this book.
I had not read Audrey Niffenegger's: "The Time Traveler's Wife", in addition I am a novice in the supernatural, paranormal book genre.
When twin sisters Valentina and Julia Pools are told that their aunt Elspeth, who they have never seen, has left them her estate on the condition that they stay in her flat in London, England, close to Highgate Cemetery, for one year, they think this will be a nice change in their aimless lives.
At the age of 20, the twins are still living with their parents, Edwina and Jack, in Chicago. They have pursued higher education only to drop out, claiming that they want to find the subject they both like and more importantly guarantees they can be together all time. Julia, the stronger of the two, is making decision for both of them, unaware that Valentina, the subordinate twin is unhappy with her life in Julia's shadow.
The sisters, each for different reason, welcome the opportunity to live in London on their own for one year. Their mother, Edwina, however is quite worried about the prospects of the twins living on their own in Elspeth's, her twin sister's, flat.
Edwina is keeping a dark secret from her family. The secret explains why Elspeth and Edwina have not been talking, visiting, and writing to each other after Edwina got married to Jack and moved to USA. The only other person who is carrying the dark family secret is Robert, Elspeth's lover, who inherited Elspeth's diaries after her death.
Elspeth's death is an opportunity for this dark secret to be revealed, except for Elspeth is not entirely dead. Her soul is lingering around her flat waiting to be discovered by the twins, Valentina and Julia, and restless to communicate with her lover, Robert.
How and when the secret is revealed to those who don't know it and are most affected by it? Who gets what she/he wants? Who gets what he/she deserves?
There is a lot of twist and turn to the story and the events leading to secret being revealed become really bizarre and unrealistic. The main point of the story, I think, is love: love between the twins, and between the couples, when alive and after they die. Although about love the language is hardly romantic; and the events showing the love is built on trickery.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Random Hacks of Kindess #3, Toronto

We live in a fast paced world. But every once in a while we get to stop and smell the roses. For me attending RHoK#3 Toronto was like "smelling the roses".
This was my first RHoK, (pronounced rock). I went to the event not knowing what to expect and came out of it expecting to attend every future RHoK organized, (next one is in October, check it out!).

It was a surreal experience and I tell you why. Firstly, the event was well crafted and get this by a group of volunteers who had taken care of everything: from finding a good location to host the event, OISE UofT, to sponsors who provided food, and snacks, (loved the Kinder Eggs, thanks!), to freebies, even to live streaming of the Stanley Cup Finals, (hacking while watching hockey, cool!). Secondly, the individuals who attended the event, I must add: from all walks of life, had one common goal/interest: to be part of a solution. Thirdly, and this impresses the most, the teams made of these individuals were able to design, develop a solution for a problem definition in a day.

Let me tell you my story attending RHok#3. I joined the Wound Classification Application team. The problem, suggested by Yaser Alyounes, was to design a prototype for an application that will be used in refugee camps or in areas troubled by war to streamline the process of classifying war wounds by taking pictures of the wounds. The benefits triaging the wounded far from qualified doctors and facilities quickly and efficiently.

We had very talented individuals on our team who quickly dissected the problem, analyzed each piece, and constructed the decision tree. By 12:20 pm we had a flowchart and owners/developers for each section. Some dived deep in the areas of their expertise and others researched, downloaded, and mocked around with software and source that were unfamiliar with.

I worked on the FrontlineSMS, an application that allows user mass communication via text
messaging. FrontlineSMS is an open source project that has been used in disaster relief situations. By connecting a mobile device, or a GSM modem with a SIM card to the computer where FrontlineSMS is installed you can send and receive messages to other devices that accept text messaging. I had some problems with the software, but I was able to test its send and receive capability, literally at the eleventh hour. By that time the team had decided to replace FrontlineSMS with a phone application that would let the volunteer to identify the four coordinates of the picture taken of wound. :) The coordinates of those four points will be sent from the app to the database. Once they are in the database, the algorithm calculates the dimensions of the wound based on those coordinates.

All in all this was great fun. Events like RHoK makes solving problems that our world is struggling with so much easier.

A big shout out to all those behind RHoK!

Friday, May 06, 2011

What's next for Canada in the next four years? 2011 - 2014

This will be the last post on politics, at least for a while. the past election was an opportunity to dive into an unfamiliar area of knowledge; I gathered information about policies and understood less, because one contradicted the other. How could we cut deficit when we want to spend billion dollars on, unfortunately, stuff that in no way and shape boost our GDP?! How could we cut deficit when we intend to reduce corporate taxes?! Where is the revenue going to come to balance the spending?

I am befuddled!

Rick Mercer, Canadian political satirist, encouraged all of us to vote; his vote rant to, specially, encourage the young demographic was quoted in newspaper, on Facebook and other places. Here is a quote from the rant:

So please, if you're between the age of 18 and 25 and you want to scare the hell out of the people that run this country, this time around do the unexpected. Take 20 minutes out of your day and do what young people all around the world are dying to do.

Quite true. There are people who are giving up their lives to earn the right to vote for the future generation of their country. Voting has been the symbol of democracy.

I voted!

Once all votes were counted and results were announced, I felt no one heard or cared about what I voted for. My one vote had very little effect on the outcome.

What now? Well, Mr. Mercer we need a follow on rant to tell us what is the next step for us "in the country with one of the greatest democracies on earth." :)

Mr. Stronach suggests “people representatives” that will work alongside the elected parliamentarians to vote on the legislation proposed. This is a start to thinking beyond the once in a four years chance of influencing the future of the country. It high lights the need to understand how democracy can lead to prosperity and security. This proposal is made by a man who has built a company of $25 billion a year in sales which started its humble beginning in Toronto forty years ago.

I hope some one is listening; especially the educators. It's important to build a knowledgeable body who understand business in the context of policy making. And it's important to encourage this body of knowledge to then proceed into policy making jobs in government. This will, hopefully, put an end to making conflicting promises just for the sake of being re-elected.

What's next for Canada in the next four years is, what we want it to be. And this is not an idealistic rhetoric. There are many grass roots movements in this country that tackle the real issues.

Democracy is definitely NOT what this cartoon says!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Should a candidate earn my trust before earning my vote?

Living in a country with a voting and multi-party systems one bears a great responsibility and that is "NOT to take democracy for GRANTED!"

I love this quote by Joe Wilson.

The responsibility of a country is not in the hands of a privileged few. We are strong, and we are free from tyranny as long as each one of us remembers his or her duty as a citizen. Whether it's to report a pothole at the top of your street or lies in a State of the Union address, speak out! Ask those questions. Demand that truth. Democracy is not a free ride, man. I'm here to tell you. But, this is where we live. And if we do our job, this is where our children will live.

I heard this quote for the first time in the movie Fair Game, based on the true story of a secret CIA agent, Valerie Plame, whose identity is revealed by the U.S. authorities as way of silencing her husband Joe Wilson, who wrote an article for New York Times criticizing the Bush administration move to attack Iraq based on alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.

With a federal election looming, I feel more than any time else under pressure to realize my duty as a citizen. To cast a well-informed vote.

There is abundant of information available. The information is only as good as the people who provide it. I refuse to trust one without trusting the other. Therefore, I have a dilemma. None of the candidates, and or the party leaders have done anything to earn my trust.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Promise: Tax Cut Test ... A thumbs ....

I spent the last two hours researching tax cuts. Before, I share the "new found knowledge", I have to write the motivation behind seeking the knowledge. I have to vote on May 2!

The phrase tax cuts is frequently used in a non-fact based rhetoric by politicians as a way of promoting the partisan agenda of the party. Although there is nothing offered in the promise to substantiate what tax cut means, the term has a very powerful effect on non-interested voters, who will give you five minutes to make your pitch, and casual voters, who will skim literature, read headlines and can be seduced by a meaningful phrase.

I skim literature and read headlines, but I am a skeptic and do my own research and find my facts before believing what I read, or hear.

Here is what I found out around and about the world wide web on this topic.

The tax cut increases disposable income and encourages consumer spending. The increase in consumer spending increases the GNP, Growth National Product, which is an economic indicator of nation's wealth. At the same time the tax cut decreases government revenue which may create a budget deficit, or prompt cut on many government funded or subsidized programs to avoid the deficit.

Taxes are a percentage of a value, where percentage is 1, 2, 16% and the value is income, price of goods or any other item or category that is taxed. Clearly the larger the value the higher the tax therefore lowering the tax rate is equal to higher savings. For example lowering sales tax by 1% will save ~$150 on the purchase of Honda Fit ($14,480 CAD) and ~$400 on the purchase of a Mercedes C 250 ($38,800 CAD).

Bottom line the major benefactor of tax cuts are those who are well-off and don't rely on any federally funded program.

Canada has the lowest Corporate Tax in the Group of G7, 16.5%. The government is going to decrease this rate further by 1.5% to 15% (effective Jan 2012). The budget deficit is $5.93 billion. Government needs to think strategically and prioritize according to what is needed for the majority of the citizens not a select few.

My verdict for the platform who is committed to lowering the corporate taxes further before the federal budget deficit is handled is a big thumbs down.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Can one make a "project" out of "happiness"?

I turn everything into a project. I have projects tackling career, relationship, and house chores. I break each project into smaller projects and then assign each a date. I track my progress diligently. If I procrastinate I start making notes to myself. The notes are supposed to serve as reminders; but they become source of frustration. Source of frustration because I dislike clutter. When I see one of these notes, I become more motivated to complete the task jotted on it so I can get rid of the note itself.

I am so comfortable with "projectizing"!

However, I have to admit the title of the book I recently read, "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin, made me uncomfortable at first. I couldn't imagine an end date for such project, in fact nothing about it fit the definition of a project.

A project, by definition, is a temporary activity with a starting date, specific goals and conditions, defined responsibilities, a budget, a planning, a fixed end date and multiple parties involved.

I have always been curious about the topic. Is happiness a "what" or a "how"?
What makes me happy?
How do I become happy?

Is it one or the other, or both? Does it matter? Should we think about it? Probably, yes! Somewhere in the book, Rubin asks this question on her blog , "When is the right time to think about happiness? Before or after catastrophe strikes?" . Some of the high lights of the comments are in the book. One person's comment stood out for me.

money, you can't save for when you get laid off, after you get laid off; rather, you have to save while you have a job and the money is still coming in. Life is like that, you have to DO while you are able to think of what you want, what you like, what needs it will fill, how it will enhance your life, how it will help you to maintain you, so that you have some reserves when cruch time comes.

Rubin's approach in finding happiness is very "systematic". Hence the name "project" is appropriate, (I found this out after reading the first two chapters.) She has been honest. Honest, because she doesn't imply that her book is a one hat for all, example: those who look for a philosophical way of discussing, what is happiness, or how to be happy know what not to expect from the book right away.

Honesty is the trait that Rubin demonstrates frequently in her writing. She builds her stories around facts, her former profession, related to Law, is probably the reason she is diligent about not coming across as phony or pretentious. I liked that about her writing.

Rubin's message is: I have to be happy. It sounds selfish, but if I am not, I will make people in my life unhappy. To become happy could be as simple as taking a look at my day to day movements, existence and identifying areas for improvement. This is something I can relate to. Once I have less clutter in my life, or I am more on top of my to-do-list, or I am more in touch with people I love and care about; I am happier. If I am happier, I am more productive, become better at what I do, and the world becomes my oyster!

Monday, January 31, 2011

The impact of pervasive computing on the education system

Here is an interesting fact: the term pervasive computing was introduced by IBM in 1999. What it means is: technology is available anywhere at anytime. This vision for the future of technology continues to change the way we live, socialize, have fun, and learn.
I am curious about the impact it has had in the way we learn, more specifically in the classroom; on the education system.

Today a plethora of computing solutions are available to students from a early age.
From tool based applications such as word processor and spreadsheets, modeling soft- wares to emails, podcasts, blogs, and much more. What impact has technology had in facilitating education?

The most famous study done in this area is ACOT, Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow. Since 1985, the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT)SM research project has provided teachers and students at five public school sites in five states in the US with individual computers for use at school and at home. Students and teachers also have access to video, printer, scanner, CD-Rom drives and hundreds of software packages.

On an on going basis the changes of the behavior of students in the classroom has been observed and documented in this research project.

In the report ACOT teachers rave about the positive impact introducing technology has had in the process of learning. Here are three examples:

  • access to modeling software has made the learning of math more attractive to the students
    ACOT students' grades were marginally better or neutral relative to the grades of students who don't use technology in the classroom. This implies that what teachers indicate as "attractive" has more to do with the students' reaction to math and not necessarily their understanding of it. In other words the technology has not been able to facilitate learning of math concepts.

  • access to technology has improved the spirit of team work and collaboration; the usual example in this space is access to the world wide web, pod casts, emails and blogs. these tools have opened up a world of opportunities for both students and teachers to learn and share experience.
    Collaboration and team work has always been at core of education. The interaction students have with each other is the only reason they learn. The time students spend on the world wide web, and listening to podcasts can only reduce the time they spend with each other. In fact in another section of the report we read: students reluctantly leave their classroom during the recess.

  • access to tool based applications such as word processor and spreadsheets improves students organization skills
    An essay written on paper using a pen and pencil is many times richer in content than a word processed one, where half of the productivity time is spent on undoing and redoing the cosmetic changes. Similarly a statistic problem done without using the spreadsheet allows students to learn and reinforce their learning of math operations.

As you see, I am a skeptic!

What I am afraid is happening is education system is becoming a market place for computing companies. The research projects funded by them is biased; of course from their point of view the impact of technology in the classroom is positive and improves the process of learning. The educators, however, need to think more critically. Instead of glorifying all that technology has provided to the classroom, they should think about what it has taken away from our learning process. Only in this way we can discover the best use of technology in our education system.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Little Bee, Chris Cleave, A novel

This book has received great reviews and the status of New York Times Bestseller. I started reading it the day I got it from the library not knowing what to expect. The picture on the cover shows a girl with curly hair; the book title, "Little Bee", doesn't provide much of a clue to the reader about the story content.

I soon found out that Little Bee is the name of one of the two protagonists, and I am guessing the drawing on the cover is her, although, as I read more about her, I pictured her differently.

Little Bee is a sixteen year old Nigerian refugee, she is the last member of her family. Everyone else is dead. With all she had to witness, one wonders if she is better off dead or alive. She travels thousands of miles to escape death but she is always ready to take her own life when the "men come".

The other protagonist is a well off journalist, Sarah Summers-O'Rourke, who lives in the posh suburbs of Kingston upon Thames, with her husband, Andrew O'Rourke, also a journalist. They have a four year-old Batman-costume-wearing son, Charlie. Sarah although a caring mother but she is an unfaithful wife.

These two strangers whose vastly different lives would make it highly unlikely to cross path are both in search of a new beginning, when a horrific event on a Nigerian beach connect their lives for good.

I think Mr. Chris Cleave's true intention of crafting the story of Sarah and Little Bee is to bring to our attention the murder, torture and unfair treatment of thousands of innocent people living on oil rich lands in Nigeria and the mass exodus of the survivors (of these attacks) who sought refuge from countries such as Britain, only to find themselves in inhuman, harsh and painful situations at the refugee detention centers of these countries.

It's a good read!

A National Bestseller...A New York Times Bestseller...Shortlisted for Costa Novel Award, Commonwealth Writers' prize....Best Book Europe and Asia.

Praise for Little Bee comes from all over!
The Guardian UK calls the Book, "Ambitious and Fearless"

The Globe and Mail Canada refers to it as, "Enthralling"