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Friday, 29 July 2005

Time is a treasure

An alim once told a student, time is a student's wealth.

This advice of course was directed to students (since students rarely have any property of their own) but it holds significance to every one of us. I once heard from my ustaz in secondary school that time is life. If you are wasting your time, you are wasting your life. Sounds a bit alarming, when you think of it that way.

Let us do our best to make best use of our time, for time past is time gone. Allah says in surah 103, Al-Asr:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

[103.1] I swear by the time,

[103.2] Most surely man is in loss,

[103.3] Except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.
Ulama says pay attention to the word 'and' being used, and not 'or'. To be successful we need to believe AND do good AND enjoin on each other truth AND enjoin on each other patience. We need to fulfill all the criteria before we can consider ourselves as no longer among the loss.

May Allah give taufik and hidayah to practice it and convey it to others, amin.


(UPDATE)

A time to be joyous

I've just received a wonderful piece of news. The daughter of my dearly departed neighbour, Pak Ad, is getting married tonight with the walimah to be held in our surau at 8 PM.

I hope to be there to not only celebrate the joyous occasion but to also honour the memories of a man who has taught me and watched over me all these years. May Allah place you among the pious and successful, Pak Ad, amin. Only He can repay your kindness to us all, the people who you've helped during your lifetime.

Thursday, 28 July 2005

Papadom



What is it about papadom that I find so irresistible? Yesterday, we fried an entire roll of papadom and barely by the day's end I myself alone managed to finish about 5/8 of them.

The persons who taught me the wonders of this crispy delight are my Tok and Tok Wan. Papadom is a common item especially found in the kitchens of North Malaysia households. Sometimes when we go balik kampung, we the grandchildren would raid the kitchen for papadom. Then when meal time comes, Tok Wan would ask for papadom, since it is normally eaten with rice and lauk, and Tok would tell him to turn his head towards us. All the culprits would then smile back slyly at him like guilty foxes who cleaned out the chicken coop.

Wednesday, 27 July 2005

Busy facelifting and reading birds

It's been a while since this blog is updated. I'm not sure if anybody notices or not, but the template underwent a facelift of sorts.

Despite the opinion that I get from many people saying the colour white is boring and bland, I still can't find a colour that matches white's flexibility. It complements either light and dark colours and it improves readability on computer screen displays. A versatile and underappreciated colour white is, IMHO.

It took me many, many, many hours to tweak the template in order to get it to look like now but alhamdulillah it turned out better than I expected. I was about to give up half way when I couldn't the suitable colours to go with one another. It's times like these when I really wish I have a web colour chart with me so I can see and pick the suitable colours more quickly. I believe webmasters buy colour chart/poster/book/guide that lists all the possible colours usable on the web with their value to help them with their work. Colours are often represented in RGB (red, green, blue) or HSV (hue, saturations, value) values.

There are still design bugs here and there, maklumlah, a work in progress.

As a result, no posts were written for some time. That plus assignments and group works from my classes. My group is up for an accounting presentation this Thursday night and I'm the slides-preparer of the group, which is good because it frees me from having to present. I still have to go in front and help control the slides' transition, but still, better than having to present. My classmates are one tough crowd to please.

See bird, write bird



Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'
-Anne Lamott
So goes the story behind this book's title. I found it at Pay Less Books in Ampang Point.

This the second book about writing that I bought and actually read. Books like these really open up a whole new world for you as they invite you to view writing in entirely different ways.

Got too much on your mind? Write them all out, they say. The children acting up? Mothers, the pen and paper are never too far from reach. Horrible childhood? According to writer Flannery O'Connor, anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.

In short, they claim writing to be therapeutic, calming to the mind and spirit. It liberates oneself from hidden fears and unlocks the hope that is trapped somewhere in the psyche. And I'm beginning to see it too.

Usually the inability to come up with something to write stems from the fear of having to search into the mind and having to conjure up something unpleasant about one's self or others. The mind needs to sort the details out and rationalises the whole thing thoroughly, be it a school trip to Melaka (I think every school in Peninsula Malaysia do this) or a family tragedy or a thing that only you yourself know. It's a daunting and mentally exhausting exercise, and people rarely went through the process till finish.

But the payoff is both stimulating and satisfying. You'll be able to form a clear and concise train of thought and your communication skills will improve significantly. You'll see yourself, others and the whole world in a different light as your mind will continuously amaze yourself in its undying wonder and unrelentless pursuit for greater understanding of things.

Getting published, receiving rave reviews or clinching the best-seller list are just bonuses that may result from writing. But they should never be the true reasons for a writer to write. Otherwise the writer will miss out on the delicate but delectable fruits that bear from the patience, discipline and humility of being 'just another writer'.

Start small, the writing teachers often say. Scrap paper, the back of an envelope or business card or unused diary of years past can be used to get your writing engine started. And few lines every now and then is enough to get you going as a writer.

So go and write something, and get creative. Come up with a shopping list for your next shopping trip and write short anecdotes for each items if you can think of any. Mine would go: "Milk. A wonderful natural bounty. And it makes me wonder how lactose-intolerant baby cows cope with their intolerability..."

Not just that though, but don't just go unleashing your creativity everywhere. Your boss may not be too impressed by your jabs about the office's working condition that you so funnily (and accidentally) describe in the report you have prepared for him.

Be smart, be creative, be kind to your learning self, be patient, be crazy, be inquisitive. Anne's brother went writing bird by bird. Others may go from a short story to another. Or a diary entry to the next. I often go from scrap paper to empty space on a newspaper to whatever paper I may find at the moment when ideas struck inside my empty head. No matter what you wish to write on and what pace you may decide to take, just keep going and picturing that one day you will reap the bounties of writing that only you may be able to taste and enjoy. If anybody else wishes to savour them too, then tell them to "get a pencil and paper, and..."

" ... write whatever you feel like writing."

Saturday, 23 July 2005

A slacker's confession

In my class, most of the students are working people. Only a few are not working and in-between jobs. And there's me, the full-time slacker/'si penghabis harta orang tua.' Someone in my class offered a part-time job at her office but so far no news from her yet. The best I can do now is to give my service to my family as needed (or rather as required, according to Islam).

Actually I'm torn between two opinions: one camp is exhorting me to concentrate full time on my studies as I'm not in any financial difficulty and that I should try to graduate as soon as possible, while the other side is querying why I'm not working, serving the nation and contributing to the economy like the rest of the hard-working rakyat.

Yes, I understand all of their concerns, but let's not forget that in post-grad studies it's B and nothing less. Failing to achieve the minimum of 3.0 CPGA upon graduation means you've fail the entire course. Although getting 3.0 is sufficent, I'm hoping to get a better result than the just minimum. Coming from the engineering line as an undergrad, getting an A was quite difficult for me because I'm an uneven performer. Unless you score in all aspects like your quizzes, labs, mid-terms and finals, then A is dalam tangan. But me, usually when I score in some areas, I somehow manage to mess up in the rest. Like if I score in my quizzes and mid-term, I would usually mess up my final or my lab marks. And vice-versa. In this situation, an A (or A- or B+ for that matter) is galaxies away from my reach. And I hope and pray that I will do better in my post-grad.

I know there are others with bigger responsibilities than me who both work and study, but I've stop measuring myself against others years ago. Since then I've understand myself better and I'm less frustrated with myself. In fact, I work harder and rely less on others than before. Alhamdulillah.

As for other people, I salute you for what you are doing. Taking care of your own family while pursuing your studies. They even have specific reason for doing post-grad studies. From the few I've heard from: to get promoted, to switch to the managerial line, to join the government sector and one Mejar in my group took the course in order to get his child to study harder and to become a good role model (his child is now studying law).

Unlike most people, I haven't a clue on why I took the course. I don't know what to expect when I go out to the working world once I finish with this and I don't know what I really want to do. There's so many things to explore and discover, how can I make up my mind?

All I know is that most ustazs say that if we have the chance to study, then study. Study to the highest level that we can manage. That's my reason for doing course actually. To study and to do well, to the best of my capability.

So forgive me, my dear fellow rakyat, for being a liability and not an asset like all of you. I shall pay back all of you someday, but I still don't know when and in what way. Please pray for this slacker so that he could humbly be of your assistance in the near future, insya-Allah. He's a slow learner but he's trying his best.

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Privacy matters

Recently I've created a stir among a few people when I asked them to not refer to me with my real name whenever online. I cited privacy reasons for the rationale of it.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study Computer and Internet Security as an elective in my final year as an undergraduate. It helps me understand a bit about the intricasy or complexity of maintaining order in wide, wild world of the world wide web.

One of the things that I learn from the course is privacy. Privacy in the computer and Internet security context is seen as others having access to information about us while we are holding the power to control who can get the information, how much information should given away, when and with our awareness and consent.

Privacy is a right. Yours, mine and everybody else's.

We can share things about ourself with others online, and as a blogger, that's one of the reason behind the blog itself. But remember, it is we who chose to write about ourself and to put pictures about say, our friends' wedding, our bundle of joy, or your imaginary pet whale. We write and post pictures about things we want to share with others.

But sharing also means exposing ourself to not only the people who we know but to strangers as well. Thus, it is important for us to put an extra thought about what we post. Even in real life, we only share certain things with certain people.

When it comes to privacy, it's best to maintain a certain level of anonimity. We want people to know us, but not everything about us, especially about our private life. And how do we do that? Here are just some of the many suggested practices:
  • Don't easily give away our email addresses, real address, phone no. or credit card no. to untrusted parties.

  • Many sites and services requires you to at least give our email address upon registration and next thing we know the inbox is flooded with spam (unwanted junk mail). What to do? Open a special email account for sites and services registrations and use it exclusively for that purpose. Yahoo! Mail and GMail comes with (more than) 1 GB inboxes, plenty of space to trap those pesky spams should they find their way to our address.

  • Always read the agreement whenever signing up with any sites or services. The good news is most sites and services nowadays are against spam and pledge to not reveal information about you to party (yeah, they hate spam too).

  • For really sensitive and private email messages, try using encryption.

  • When we surf online, we leave a digital trail that gives away the sites that we visited which indirectly tells others about our online activity, preferences, what we buy and so on. If you prefer not to be tracked, you can surf using Anonymouse or Anonymous Browsing. Bloggers who blog about serious stuff and want to stay anonymous would want to try onion routing (blogging about sensitive issues has gotten people fired from their jobs and in some cases, jailed).

  • Try Googling yourself (use quotation marks like "your name here" for a specific name/phrase search). See how much of you is online. If nothing turns up: THAT'S GREAT!

  • Do you know that when we post or display our email online there are web bots ('robots' in the form of software) that crawls the Web looking for email addresses and collecting them for unknown parties? For a safer (and fancier) way to display an email address, try PrivacySig.
Anonimity can help fight against threats like identity thefts, where our personal information is used by other people masquerading as us to do things that like hacking or using our credit card to buy things online and making us pay for it; and invasion of privacy, where information about us are being divulged without our permission (sort of like being paparazzi-ed, but less glamorously).

There's no reason to stop we have been doing all these time which is telling people about what's going on with us in our blogs and so on. Just remember to be extra careful about what we say, how much, when and to whom. We should keep in mind about the privacy of others as well.

Blog safely and surf safely, everyone.

Friday, 15 July 2005

"Never sell your soul"

Carly Fiorina made headlines when she was appointed as CEO of HP (Hewlett-Packard), one the biggest computer and IT company in the world, in 1999. It catapulted her into the limelight as one of the most influencial women in corporate America and she was chosen 6 years in a row as Fortune magazine's most powerful woman in business.

As CEO, Fiorina made some drastics decisions regarding the company's direction including the highly debated HP-Compaq merger. I was personally affected by the decision since my laptop was still under warranty at that time and suddenly I had to go from the old service center in Jalan Semangat/Jalan Bersatu, PJ (near the Colgate factory in Section 14) to the new one currently at Bukit Damansara.

She made headlines again earlier this year when she was asked by the board to resign after seeing the company performing inconsistently under her control. She parted ways with HP with a cool US$42 million in severance payment package.

Since then she mantained a low profile and shied away from the media radar. She finally made her public appearence recently on May 7 at the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University where she delivered a speech at their graduation ceremony. Calling it her 'Mother's Day gift', she shared with the audience her experiences rising up the corporate ladder as a woman and probably for the first time some clues on how she really feels about her ousting from HP. This is one of the final parts of her speech:
Most people will judge you by what they see on the outside. Only you and God will know what's on the inside. But at the end of your life, if people ask you what your greatest accomplishment was, my guess is, it will be something that happened inside you, that no one else ever saw, something that had nothing to do with outside success, and everything to do with how you decide to live in the world.
Earlier she mentioned:
For 25 years, when people have asked me for career advice, what I always tell them is don't give up what you have inside. Never sell your soul because no one can ever pay you back.
How I wish speeches at Malaysian university/college convocations are like this. My thanks to The Buck Stops Here for posting the transcript.

Wednesday, 13 July 2005

Signboards

stock.xchng is one of my favourite spots on the Net. It houses a huge collection of stock photos for both commercial and non-commercial uses. I go there because I love looking at beautiful photos and the fact that I don't own a digital camera.

I was there not so long ago, scouring its archieve for a photo for a photo-editing project. While I was there, I found some photos of signboards sent in by people from all the world. These are some that really caught my attention, and they are a 'sign' that the world is one big funny place. Or at least, that's how I see it.



Most signboards are hanged or mounted. But this one is left floating on the sea's surface in order to serve its purpose.



Due to the rising number of accidents involving mosquitoes, the local municipal council decided to put up this signboard.



"Oh, people, come on! Have a heart..."



Can't seem to find the summit you're trying to climb? Try turning right.



Some people simply like to make generalizations about everything. And a number of them ended up working as signboard makers.

That Wednesday feeling (?)

Actually, there isn't such a thing. It's the same on any given day. The feeling that resulted from having some time on your side, but after spending too much time thinking about how to spend it that in the end you're left with only a little amount of time, which is the actual condition that you were trying to avoid in the first place.

Plenty of time is nothing if it is not properly-managed and spent. And as any management text would suggest, management begins with planning.

Planning is crucial but it should be done swiftly and effectively. If the planning itself has already taken a large chunk of the allocated time, you'll get the feeling that I've mentioned earlier. In the Islamic syura (mutual consultation) concept, more time should be given to the task, not the meeting, discussion or plannning. Even the Japanese practice the same principle in their industries and managements.

I'm not sure where I got this but it does echo a deep truth about our lives.
Yesterday is gone and will never return. Tommorrow might not even come at all. All you have is today.

GTD goodies

While we are still on the topic of management, I'm happy to share with you some good stuff that I've amassed during my early morning Net-surfing today.



Earlier, I've mentioned about the book Getting Things Done (GTD) and how profoundly it has affected the thinking or viewpoints of many people and businesses. Some helpful people including the author himself have visually illustrated the system in diagram forms.

The original chart is shown below (click on it for larger view) and you can also download a PDF version of it. It can be a bit tricky to make sense in the begining but it's real beauty can be fully appreciated when it is running in full swing, according to the thousands who swears by it. I myself am still figuring how it works but judging from the enthusiasm shown by these people, I also might become a GTD sytem adopter in the near future.



There's also another more colourful and more advanced version of the GTD flow diagram also in PDF, by Scott Moehring.

But if text is more your thing, then read Matt Vance's wiki on GTD. It pretty much covers the basics of GTD without glossing over too much on the detail. Or better yet, grab the book from a library or bookstore (just don't forget to pay for it) and go straight to the source.

With that, I wish everyone: have a nice day and a productive life. Insya-Allah.

Sunday, 10 July 2005

Week wrap-up

Busy, busy week. Busiest period of my life for quite some time.

Graphics grokking with the GIMP

Earlier in the week I was asked to design a logo for a sports club of a department in a government agency. Okay, I replied, give me a few days and I'll see what I can do.

Later, I got in front of PC and started playing around with my graphics software. I tried to couple of this and that and 10 minutes later, voilĂ !: I finally realized that I'm a complete graphics noob. My knowledge of graphics manipulation and editing is actually next to nothing.

gimp-splash-1.6

I'm using GIMP 2.2, which is an excellent piece of software, by the way.

A noob like me needs all the help he can get. And as Carey Bunks would say, I need to grok graphics and the GIMP.



Grokking the GIMP is a book and website by Mr. Bunks himself. The book covers the basics on how to use GIMP as well as concepts related to graphics and photo editing. The book's entire content is available online and it's even downloadable in .tar.gz archive format. .gz is an archiving format similar to .zip that Window users often use, except .gz is more oftenly used in Unix and Linux.

But what is grok or grokking, anyway? In the introduction to the book, the author wrote,
The title of this book, Grokking the GIMP, is drawn from Robert A. Heinlein's classic science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. His story is about Valentine Michael Smith, the only survivor of the first human expedition to Mars and raised from infancy by Martians. The rescue mission arrives twenty years later to bring a young man knowing nothing of his own kind back to earth. The story recounts his repatriation and his adventures as he comes to grok the human race and his place in it. Grok, a word he often uses, is the Martian word meaning ``to drink,'' but which also serves as a quasi-religious metaphor in the Martian culture for having a profound appreciation and understanding for something.

Heinlein's book, published in 1961, drew immediate acclaim in the science-fiction world, and the story became a part of the iconoclastic cultural sentiment of the 60s in the United States. Today, the word grok is a part of the U.S. computer hacker vocabulary, and its definition can be found in The New Hacker's Dictionary.
After some 'grokking around', I managed to do the below: a drop-shadow effect for the patterned square. Nothing nifty, but it's a start.

shadow

Classes commenced

Last week was also the first week of class, and there were surprises in store for me.

First of all, everyone was given a name-stand-thingy to be placed in front of them so that the lecturers can recognize them. Not only for the first class or the first week or the first month, but for the whole semester. Other surprises were pleasanter: post-grad students do not have to collect their ID matric card from the designated office, they GIVE you your ID matric card in class. Even the library bar sticker used for borrowing books was pasted on by them.

Did I mentioned that there is coffee/tea/Milo-making machine in the classroom? Sweet.

The people in my class are nice and helpful and come from all walks of life. Engineer, lecturer, insurance people, manager, government servant, Omanese, Thai, Eritrean, Bangladeshi, fresh graduates, not-so-fresh graduate, etc. A lovely bunch.

Looking forward to the rest of the semester.

'Death' at Kinokuniya

Over the weekend, my friend Nasir from JB was in town. While waiting for him to arrive later in the afternoon, I stopped by Kinokuniya to kill some time. And this book caught my attention. Maybe its the "decides to die" part, or maybe because it's penned by Paulo Coelho, author The Alchemist and the recently released, The Zahir.



I read the whole first chapter and about 0.5% of the second. I can see why Coelho is one of the most celebrated writers at the moment and this is my first time reading any of his works. One of the smoothest wordsmith I've met so far.

In the book, Veronika takes a trip from living to a brief death (a failed suicide attempt actually) and back to life again. In the process of killing herself with pills, Veronika encounters questions about things around her that are stilll unanswered making her think hesitatingly about dying. Slowly life unravels herself before her and she realizes that everything happens for a reason. Including why she didn't die, although I haven't got to the part yet.

I haven't saved enough money to buy it and donations are welcomed. :)

Monday, 4 July 2005

My turn...

...to go blank.

Over time, you'll find yourself mulling over what to write. And what NOT to write.

I know a friend who hasn't updated his blog in ages. Not because he didn't write anything, but because he wasn't ready to post it. So many of his writings stay as drafts. Perhaps it's because his blog is one that's slanted towards political opinions and discussions, thus he has to be extra careful about what or who he's writing about.

Me, I'm the least politically-savvy among my peers. I do hold views about things, but I prefer to question and ponder quietly and see how wise people handle things. They make the least fuss but they get their points straight and swift.

I remember there was a great alim who happened to be famous for being quiet. He didn't talk much when he was alive but he when he said something, they make complete sense and people listened to every single word. He was a great alim and many other scholars acknowledge him as the more knowledgeable among them. His father wasn't an alim like him but was in fact a lawyer.

At one time, the scholars were faced with many problems. None of them could agree on anything and it took them a long time to draft up proposal of solutions to the problems. All the proposals would be presented before the great alim and they would like to hear his views. They also expected the whole thing to at least take a few days to be finished.

Finally, the alim arrived. He went throught the whole thing and gave his answers. Surprisingly, his answers were short and concise, a reflection of how high his level of Islamic understanding is. Everything was done in about half a day, much, much sooner than earlier expected. Everyone was satisfied and relieved.

After answering the final question, he asked asked if there is anything else and of course everyone said no. Sensing the jemaah's astonishment at how fast things were handled, the great alim said jokingly:

"You know, I am after all, a lawyer's son."

Of course, wisdom do play a part. And I have none of it which makes me nowhere near their league. I think it's best for me to listen and learn. I still have a lot empty brain spaces left and I can fill them up by making/taking notes of these people.

Or I could convince my father to go to part-time law school.

Now see that

Good news from Blogger. Blogger now comes with an image uploader which means it's now easier than ever to post pictures or maps or diagrams in blog posts. Thank you, Blogger.

I've uploaded a screenshot of tasktoy for my previous post about it. It helps people understand why I've mentioned it as a no-frills when you can for yourself how simple it looks and works. Insya-Allah, more pics and screenshots coming.

By the way, I'm still blank.
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