Friday, 31 March 2006

Working in groups part 2

In last night's Strategic Management class, we had a rather fiery group-against-group discussion on a US telco called Nextel. Definitely one of this semester's most intense battle of wits (IMHO anyway).

Our lecturer, Dr. Y, has randomly sorted us into 5 groups and to my surprise I ended up with two of my former group mates from last semester (but actually it's relatively a small class). The team is completed with two other members, a new student form last semester's intake and a teacher with a rock star's hair from Maldives (he said he would never be allowed to grow his hair that way if he were teaching and his wife thinks it's very cool).

My Maldives friend is well known for his questioning ability. His questions will usually make the recipients (including lecturers) sit or stand uncomfortably or be taken aback for a moment, pausing in thought. You wouldn't expect anything less from a teacher now, would you?

The new student is an akak whose's also a teacher, I think. We haven't talked outside the group yet.

As for my old group mates, I owe them for what they taught me last semester. They help me to view things in the real world situation. I can be a bit too idealistic at times and we argued a lot (constructively, of course). But I admire their cooperativeness and analytical abilities. They're incredibly insightful people.

The others group are nothing to sneeze at either. They comprise of highly intelligent and capable people of tremendous experince from various industries. Needless to say, our Thursday nights won't be the same again. At least for several weeks to come.

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Have you read a single word I wrote?

One of the books I'm reading right now is about a middle-age, childless housewife and charity program volunteer living in London whose husband left her for another man and is slowly spiraling into insanity. I have nothing much to relate to her with, except maybe for the spiraling part.

The story is told in a series of letters, written by her to a neighbour, Joan, who happens to have abandoned her family (for some unexplained reasons) to travel the world alone and manages to end up in places like Dacca (Dhaka, Bangladesh), Kurdistan (maybe when the country still existed) and Prague. But as the reader, we have no clue of Joan actually receiving the letters, let alone reading them.

It's a second-hand book I bought last year. When I got it, I have no idea what was waiting between its covers.

I'm going to continue reading it for a few reason. One, it won a major award. I want to how good it is as a novel. Two, it somehow takes me into the mind of the lead character, Eliza: a middle-age woman, emotionally marooned, with no means of to support her life, unconfident and gives herself to others around her with no idea what she should receive in return. Third, I bought it, so I might as well read it.

The more I think I of it, the more I'm convinced that I've come across a few Elizas in my life so far. They may not live in London, volunteer to clean the bedpans of the dying during their free time or have a husband who likes other men, but I think I know that they feel very much like what Eliza does. Half-way through life with a little sense of what is going on and is supposed to happen.

Usually I read non-fiction stuff and it's been a quite awhile since I've read anything fiction. I may not be able to relate entirely to Eliza character, because of the different background and values, but at least now I have a bit of an idea what the Elizas of the world are going through. We may not the solution to the problems of the Elizas in our life. But the least we could do is offer them a listening ear over the phone, or over a cup of warm tea.

Friday, 24 March 2006

Talking, in SVG

After I downloaded and installed Inkscape last year, I didn't really know what to do with it. I played around a bit with the tools and they reminded me of the ones in Macromendia Flash (a software I'm horrible at).

One day, I decided to use Inkscape to 'replicate' the designs I see around me. I started with the Malaysian flag (only the star and moon parts though), some unidentifiable shapes and a magazine cover (PC Magazine Malaysia). Just simple stuff, nothing that a 3-year old couldn't top.

Slowly, I moved to 'replicating' things that are slightly more challenging. One of the results is what you above. It quite simple-looking, but it did took me some time to finish. Especially the speech bubbles, which were built using ellipses and distorted triangles (no template for speech bubbles in Inkscape).

The original source is at this post of Communication Nation (my apologies, Mr. Gray).

You can click it to get a bigger view. If you want, you may use it in any way you feel like, except for two things: anything commercial or claiming that you made it yourself. Like the rest of this blog, it's licensed under a Creative Common License.

Next project: a sign that goes, "Unoriginal 'replicator' at work."

Friday, 17 March 2006

Freedom from clutter

I've read a couple of times about the importance of clarity of mind in attaining focus and optimal level of performance, and how this can be easily achieved by removing clutter.

In secondary school, I heard someone told me to treat our study or work space as the sejadah (praying mat). I'm not sure if he was hinting at making our space sacred, but I can't say I've seen any sejadah that is crowded with stuff, other than maybe some tasbih or telekung or maybe some serban. Regardless of that, I'm pretty sure he meant to say that we should clear our space of any unnecessaries.

For ages I've been subscribing to the thought that if my space is messy and full of stuff, it means I'm working on something. It may not be the most eye-pleasing thing to look at in the room, but at least I feel that I'm not idle and there's always work waiting to be completed. 'I'm a continous worker', 'a man at work', 'work in progress', blabla. Or so I would like to believe.

But for couple of days now, I'm doing the exact opposite. There's nothing on my work space except a notepad for me to write down the stuff that needs to be done. And the feeling is amazing.

When people say seeing clutter creates clutter in the mind, they're weren't kidding. It's astonishing how a clear and empty space creates a sense of calmness and the drive to do things with more zeal.

I think this form of thinking arises from looking at the clear space. It somehow conveys the potential that you have in front of you (should you attempt to do your stuff). When the clutter is gone, you seem to experience a heighten level of awareness, which helps you to focus better. Plus when you clear off stuff that are finished (before tackling a new one), you're indirectly telling yourself that you've accomplished something already. This can motivate you to take on new challenges and propel you forward in what you're doing.

Clutter not only gets in your way, it also creates anxiety because of the worriness that comes from not knowing exactly where your things are. In order to feel focused, clarity of thought and the desire to accomplish targets, you need to have an organised system for your materials (files, stationaries, books, etc.). Organisation will help give the reassurance that you can work without worrying where to find the things you need.

I'm also learning that doing something opposite your routine can really lift your spirit up. I'm starting to even consider riding a horse everyday to school. Anyone knows a good used horse dealer?

Monday, 13 March 2006

New York trip in sketchy detail

Illustrator, cartoonist and writer Ruth McNally Barshaw chronicled her trip to New York for the Society of Children's Book Writer and Illustrator (SCBWI) conference in an online sketch book. I'm actually equally impressed and envious of her talents.

[Thanks, Drawn! The Illustration Blog]

Monday, 6 March 2006

Deming, in SVG


I found this diagram in one of my lecturer's papers on quality management. It's pretty straightforward and don't think I need to elaborate on it. Just something I felt like sharing for us to think together about, especially in these days of itu naik, ini naik.

W. Edwards Deming is widely regarded in this field, mostly for his contribution in resuscitating the Japanese economy after the Second World War ended. He was invited by the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) to help them tackle various issues plaguing the industries at that time. He is also well known for his 14 points of quality management and is attributed as one of the main contributors in the development of the Japanese quality management system. This system helped Japan to bounce back from a post-war slump to becoming competitive field leaders in a matter of decades. The Deming Chain Reaction shown above is said to be the guiding principle for Japanese managers since the 50s in making quality their topmost goal.

An SVG foray

(NOTE: Earlier I mentioned SVG as scalar vector graphics, but it's actually scalable vector graphics. I've already corrected it and I apologise for this careless oversight.)

The diagram above is also my first attempt at drawing a diagram using Inkscape, the open-source scalable vector graphics (SVG) editor I downloaded not too long ago.

It took some time to familiarise myself with the tools and techniques of working with SVG. My earlier tries were more on copying other people's works and drawing simple things like the stop signboard.

My first impression of SVG is that for drawing diagrams, it's awesome. I don't think you can get the graphics to appear as smooth as SVG using other tools like Microsoft Paint or Office. Paint and Office uses bitmaps, and bitmaps loses out to SVG in the scaling department. You can stretch, shrink, skew and deform SVGs in many ways and it will retain that smooth, jag-free appearance. For years now people have been using SVG to create cliparts, products packaging and artworks.

Inkscape isn't the only SVG program. Flash, CorelDraw and Freehand are just some of the few commercial packages available for creating SVGs.

The diagram was first designed in SVG and later converted into GIF file format in order to reduce its size. For this I use another indispensable graphic tools arsenal, Irfanview.

(NOTE: If you were to check the format for the diagram above, you would notice that it is in .jpg, not .gif as I claimed. Actually I uploaded the diagram in .gif, but it became .jpg after the upload was successful. I have no idea what happened because I tried to upload the GIF files twice and the same thing happened again. I suspect Blogspot/Blogger automatically convert GIF files to JPG files after they are uploaded.)

Inkscape is still in version 0.43. There some parts that is still need work like the XML Editor, but overall it is a capable performer. I've seen some of the amazing things that other people have accomplished with Inkscape and frankly I'm blown away by them. But for now I'm sticking to simple stuff first. I highly recommend it if you're interested in graphics and can't afford to burn a hole in your wallet.

The definition for scalable, according the book, A Guide to Inkscape by Tavmjong Bah.

Scalable refers to the notion that a drawing can be scaled to an arbitrary size without losing detail.

Scalable also refers to the idea that a drawing can be composed of an unlimited number of smaller parts, parts that could be reused many times.

IMHO, if you ever need good reasons to use or to like SVG, I can vouch for scalable to be one of them.
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