Thursday, September 25, 2008

The media has it all figured out

I just read Campbell Brown's: White House caught napping on financial crisis. Her piece is sprinkled with sunshine quotes (from earlier this year) from President Bush and Secretary Paulson.

My question to CNN is: What would you have preferred instead? Predictions of doom and gloom? Moreover, what were you (in the media) doing while the White House was napping?

You too were disinfecting the public with Sunshine. Weren't you?

But right now is not the time for the media to see what role they have played in this mess. Right now is the time to find the scapegoat, shampoo in the charges and rinse.

In her article, Ms Brown writes, "We need serious scrutiny and debate, and that should happen whether we are talking about a giant piece of legislation that is going to affect us all, or whether we are talking about presidential and vice presidential candidates."

Yeah right. I am glad you figured this part out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Blaming around the Bush

It is unfair to blame President Bush for the ills of our financial system. He did not invent them and he did not cause them. The root of the problem is "excess."

If you induct super intelligent MIT and Harvard graduates and ask them to fabricate instruments upon instruments of speculation, they will happily do so; and even believe in what they are doing. Eventually the reality catches up with you.

As for tomorrow, sun will still rise, trains will still run, people will still go to work, factories will still produce their goods, and this too shall pass.

But for today, lets commend President Bush and his team for swift action, taken at the right time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

mysql gem on leopard

There are many posts on the subject, but this one works flawlessly:

sudo env ARCHFLAGS="-arch i386" gem install mysql -- --with-mysql-config=/usr/local/mysql/bin/mysql_config

Here is a link to the post where I got this from.

If you try to use the gem, it might fail (which means you have been trying to install it before you read this post.) No problem, there is a short cut to fix it. Look for the gem files here:


Delete the first bundle. It got copied twice.

Don't ask me why it works but it does.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Inversion training has begun

I am now one week into inversion training. Earlier I had bought an inversion table (Teeter Hangups) from Amazon. Last week Nosheen helped me assemble it and we could finally get on it.

Starting yesterday, I could feel my spine decompressing within 2 minutes of going vertical. This is unbelievable. I am not sure what kind of buildup time I need to be able to invert for up to 30 minutes at a time. That would be "yogi" grade inversion.

Its getting to become a bit addictive. Actually 2 minutes into it, the spine does relax and results in a general sense of well being. As for the proverbial buzz in the head, I do feel pressure build up but the buzz is not there.

I will post more on inversion once I have built up to 10 minutes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Been counters get it. Rocket scientists don't.

According to BusinessWeek magazine's "The best places to launch a career" this week, Ernst & Young is the number 1 employer with the "Right Stuff." Google is number 7 and Nasa is number 16.

Their ranking is based on three surveys: Employer survery (filled out by employers and lists salaries and benefits) Campus Career services survey, and Student survey. The surveys are weighted in this proportion: Employer survey 50%, Student survey 25%, Career services survey 25%.

I respect BW for their smarts, but I think their weightage is completely off the mark. According to student surveys alone, Google is number 1.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A great article about writing

Just saw this come on. An article about article writing. The thing I find most interesting is the idea that you work on many articles in parallel. I think this is how all professionals do it.

The thing with ideas --any kind of ideas-- is that they don't come when you summon them. You could get one in Walmart, and the next one in a traffic jam. But when you take a long thinking vacation in San Diego, you remain blank.

Out riding

Slow day. Had a few afternoon meetings. After that I got on the GS and rode out to Gengras motorcycles. Met a very interesting guy who is also a GS rider. Rode around, and got back home in time to take care of errands.

It was 96F today. A hot day for summer but a nice day for September. Fall is approaching fast and there won't be many more like this. Got to take every single opportunity to get out and ride.

By the way if you live around Hartford, you will not find a better dealer than Gengras. Their whole team is superior, friendly and professional.

Their service department is unbelievably helpful and professional. Its run by a guy called Don Garneau who happens to be a BMW enthusiast himself. I think he owns a 1975 R75 if I am not mistaken. The other service staff specially Joe and Lynn always accomodate. What a team.

If you are in the market for a BMW, Triumph or a Ducati, go talk to Dave (Sales Manager) or Forest Ridley.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Copywriting Dojo

Thinking is the mother of all Martial Arts. It renders itself in countless ways. You see it in a Kung Fu kick, in a Karate chop, in a Judo throw , in a software program, in a public speech and in a written paragraph. These are all different levels of the same skill. It starts at the physical level and ends --for the sake of this post-- at the written word.

An explosive Karate kick can blow your brains out and change your consciousness for a few minutes. An explosive speech can blow your mind change your consciousness for ever. A Kung Fu master can overcome many opponents. An influential paragraph can sway the masses. Sometimes the whole world. Bodies overcome by Kung Fu are long gone. Minds overcome by speaking and writing live on and relay the messages, generation over generation.

The history of the written word goes back 6000 years. And traceable history of physical martial arts goes back 5000 years. It must have taken a thousand years for mankind to make writing powerful and meaningful. If that is true, then both forms became an “art” at the same time.

What does it take to learn learn Kung Fu and get good at it? Dedication, Attitude, the right school for the chosen style, the right teacher, the right number of practice hours. Incidentally you need the same stuff to learn to write and get good at it.

It is the teaching of these arts, which has diverged. And that is the point of my post today.

The teaching of physical martial arts has become a science. Its reliable, measurable, and repeatable. On the other hand, the teaching of writing as an art --after school and college-- is haphazard, not measurable, and a victim of quick fixes. As in “Write your mystery novel in a weekend” and “Writing killer sales letters in 24 hours,” “Write your breakthrough business book in 90 days or less.”

If you can’t learn to be a black belt Kung Fu practitioner in a weekend, how can you learn to be a black belt writer so quickly?

If I were to remodel the teaching of writing, I would do it like this:

Copywriting Dojo
Lets say I am a grandmaster copywriter who wants to teach his art successfully. I will model my teaching after the teaching of martial arts. I will never sell a course on copywriting. It will be an ongoing enrollment into my Copywriting Dojo.

Unit of work:
The unit of work will be a thousand page document. Lets call it Hazari Document. Or Hazari for short. One Hazari would be a single, one thousand word document, produced in one sitting.

A 10 Hazari student would be someone who has produced ten Hazaris in my dojo. Think of Hazari as a brick. The more you lay, the farther you get.

How I will teach:
There will be weekly 20 minute sessions on a conference call. I will provide the students with a very basic idea of what to do. Then give them their assignments. I will not check the assignments but let a smart computer program do the checking for me.

How I will not teach:
I will not drill writing into anyone’s head. Just show them their next assignment and let them do it.

Students will be able to enroll at any time, leave at any time and re-enroll at any time. But they will have to enroll in the right level for their skill set.

Since this will be an open enrollment program, I will verify past work on applicants’ blogs, google docs or printed papers. I will just count the Hazaris.

The levels will be setup like this:

White Belt:
In this level students will not work with me, see me or hear me. They will work with a Brown Belt assistant who will need to help them through their level.

The student in this level will have to produce 50 Hazaris and he/she will be awarded the white belt. The content of these documents is not important at this level. Just the ability to write about anything but produce the right quantity is enough.

Of course their Hazaris will have to be grammatically correct.

Yellow Belt:
The student will have to produce 50 Hazaris on subjects that I choose for them. These subjects will be unrelated to their core competencies. Quick internet research will be required for most assignments. Extensive self editing will be introduced.

Red Belt:
50 more Hazaris. This time they will be writing articles. I will give them the angles and the constraints. They will produce the body and sub headings. From this level on, skills acquired in one level will be applied to higher levels. This will be mandatory.

Green Belt:
50 more Hazaris. This time they will be writing short reports. Still a thousand pages each. I will give them a problem statement. They will think of a solution and outline it in special reports. They will have to make all paragraphs connect.

Blue Belt:
50 more Hazaris. In this level, I will provide the title of an article. The students will come up with an angle and write complete articles.

Brown Belt:
No writing. Be my assistant and teach other newbies to write 50 Hazaris and get their white belts successfully.

Black Belt:
50 final Hazaris. They will choose the content entirely and produce the documents independently.

At this point there will be a ceremony and the final belts will be awarded.

Dojo Transfers:
If the dojo concepts catches on, I will happily accept transfer students from other copywriting dojos.

Since this will be an open enrollment and “work at your own pace” program, the burden of discipline will be on the students and not on me. I would charge $100 per month. If a student can do each level in one month, he or she can get a black belt in $700.

My dojo will make much more than 700:
Although writing 50 Hazaris in a month is quite possible, most students will not be able to. But the goal is so finite and measurable that they will still remain with the program. Delays on their part will mean extra monthly income for my dojo. I’ve got bills too, you know.

And students who work hard to make their targets, hell, I would give them free scholarships. All in the name of goodwill and smart marketing.

Easy buy in.
The whole process is laid out upfront. The students will know exactly what they have to do, to get to the levels. They will know what they are getting into. If they go with the program, they will have produced 350 articles on various subjects.

If someone can write 350 articles on related and unrelated subjects, have acquired quality as a side effect. According someone very special, its like jogging. The more you do it, the better you get.

If someone goes through the program and says he or she didn’t get the value out of it, I will refund their money. If someone signs up and wastes their time, I will only have a note of consolation for them.

The first sale:
If something like this existed today, I would be the first one to signup.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

To be beaten is hellish. To be ignored is worse

There is unforgettable beauty in learning new words of wisdom, immediately after they've been caned into your hands. Yes, caned. As in you standing with your hands stretched out. And your tutor demonstrating how a stick of wood can break the sound barrier as it reaches the palm of your hand. Practical physics 101: Free with every caning.

This particular acquisition of wisdom is specially memorable. My Math tutor Mr. Riffat Pervaiz gave it to me in Lahore on 07-07-77. The caning at 4:01 pm and the words --that he most graciously inscribed in my journal-- at 4:16 pm. The root cause of this incident was Math. Or rather my inability to do it fast enough and accurate enough that day.

I could go endlessly about math, caning and wisdom, but right now I just want to mention a disaster that I successfully foiled at home.

My younger daughter (now in eighth grade) showed me her math book. She knows my affinity for math. Anyway, the first thought that came to mind was that why is an eighth grader lugging a book heavier than a college calculus book? The second thought that came to mind was: why so few exercises, and yet so much verbiage?

Isn't it true that:
  • If you want to learn swimming, get in the pool. Practice. Later on you can read a book on it.
  • If you want to learn writing, start writing. Practice. Later you can read books on improving the writing.
  • If you want to learn riding, get on a horse and start riding. Practice. Later on you can read books on it.
To me, math comes under the same category. That is, practice first, read about it later. Math, specially Algebra, cannot be taught by explanation as the primary vehicle. I think 80-20 would be a good rule to apply. 80% of students' time should go into practicing sample problems. 20% of their time should go into listening to explanations. But this may be old fashioned. Things are different today.

To my kids, I am opinionated. Maybe someone who doesn't get it. Someone who should not talk about this stuff at all. Specially with their teachers. They love their teachers. When we talk math, it ends up in big arguments, two brilliant angry kids, a pissed of wife who --from her demeanor-- wants to cane the math wisdom out of me. Every intellectual [math] discussion turns into a disaster within two and a half minutes.

Anyway, like I was saying, I thwarted this one before it happened. I just kept quiet.

Sir Riffat Pervaiz said that someday I would remember him and thank him for for not ignoring me.