Save the Ferris

Wearing my 'Save Ferris' t-shirt

“Save the Ferris” he says, enunciating each word carefully, trying to sound less tipsy than he actually is. He belatedly ends his statement with a rising intonation, making it a question. He gestures helpfully at my t-shirt.

I'm tired and I like my happy-drunk people to have greater pop culture awareness. But we've only just crossed the eleventh floor and the lift isn't very fast (new hotel, old building) so I can’t pretend I haven’t heard him.

“It’s from a movie,” I say. “From the 80s. Called Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

He looks confused. “Oh really?”

“It was quite popular in the 80s,” I add.

“Yeah man,” his friend chimes in, “haven’t you seen Ferris Boomer’s Day Off?”

I smile helpfully in their general direction.

He thinks for a minute but, just as he says “No,” the doors open and two more people walk in. We descend in silence for a while, but the newcomers are getting off at the mezzanine, so soon it’s just the three of us again.

“Save the Ferris,” he repeats. Once again adding the “the” that isn't actually printed on my t-shirt. He says it more thoughtfully this time – his brain cells working hard but still drawing a blank.

“You should watch it I say,” as we the doors open at the lobby, “it’s a fun movie.”

That’s apparently an excellent suggestion because he beams at me and says “I’ll do that,” and since this is goodbye, “Have a great night!”

“You too!” I respond enthusiastically. Then I buy a fruit cup and head back up to my room to finish the presentation I'm working on.

Just another night at the Gold Coast.

My Mother, the Women’s Rights Activist

When I was six I remember spending a few bored hours swinging on our front gate at our house in Lahore. I was there because my father spent those hours pacing anxiously up and down the driveway with my eight month old sister in his arms. It was years later I realized that this was the day that my mother, along with a few hundred other women from the Women’s Action Forum, had been arrested for staging a rally against our then-dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia-ul-Haq was in the process of changing the country’s constitution by creating the Federal Shariat Court, a parallel court system that bypassed the Supreme Court. My mother, who had co-founded AGHS, the country’s first all-female law firm, had helped organize this rally. The police had tear gassed and baton-charged the protesters and had arrested dozens of them. That day, 12 February, is now celebrated as Pakistan Women’s Day. It also happens to be my mother’s birthday.

Shahla Zia at a protest rally in 2003

*start trigger warning about violence against women*

When I was thirteen my mother picked us up from school but, instead of taking us home, we drove for an hour and a half to the other side of Karachi where she had a meeting with some doctors and lawyers. We waited in the car outside the hospital for about an hour. On the way home she told us she’d gone there to see an eleven year old girl from a farming village who worked as a babysitter at her family’s land owner’s mansion. While there she has been raped, beaten, electrocuted, and held captive in a well. Aurat Foundation (AF), the non-profit my mother had co-founded a few years earlier in Lahore, was helping this girl and her family find shelter and legal representation.

My mother, by the way, was a constitutional lawyer and had previously been a criminal lawyer. When she was studying law in the 1970s she was one of six women in a law school of over two hundred men. She was the only woman in her graduating class.

Shahla Zia meeting with Nilofer Bakhtiar, President of the Women's Wing of the Pakistan Muslim League, in 2003.

When I was seventeen I dropped my mother off at her office for a meeting. She had established AF’s branch in Karachi and was now co-running its Islamabad branch. I was supposed to pick her up an hour later but, when I got there, there were a few police cars parked outside and an officer prevented me from going in but wouldn't tell me what was happening. I waited around anxiously for a bit but then went home and telephoned the office instead. My mother told me she’d call me once she was ready to head back, which turned out to be about four hours later.

They’d had a client at their office who had wanted to marry the wrong man; a man who was also of her own choosing. Her family had forbidden her from doing so but she and her now-husband had eloped. Her family had subsequently tracked her down and had made contact with her. She had sought help and had been referred to AF for legal advice. AF had negotiated with the family – who had said they wanted the client to come back home – so that afternoon they had organized a meeting between their client and two representatives from her family in order to discuss terms. However, before the two parties had met, one of the ‘representatives’ had slipped into the room down the hall where the client was waiting and had garrotted her. The murderer and associate had then then snuck out of the building without alerting anyone. From that day onwards there was always a security guard outside of my mother’s office.

*end trigger warning*

Shahla Zia at a panel in 2004

When I was nineteen my mother became a member of the National Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission was tasked with proposing amendments to the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance (1961). The committee held a two week long session in Islamabad when I was back home from college during the summer holidays and so, every day, I would drop and pick up my mother from the meeting venue. On the way home my mother would tell me about all the different ways in which the rights of women and minorities had been restricted by the law - and not just Pakistani law, but most of the legal systems around the world. It was quite an eye opener.

My mother, Shahla Zia, made a real, tangible difference to the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people in Pakistan – particularly women. Sadly, she died in March 2005 when she was only 58.

Mapping My Social Networks: Facebook, LinkedIn

Following on from my post on Immersion, the Gmail metadata mapping tool, I learnt of two other tools that map Facebook and LinkedIn metadata (i.e. your social graph). David Glance mentioned them in his article in the Conversation about the power of metadata ('Your social networks and the secret story of metadata').  

This is what my Facebook social graph looks like:  

What's cool about this network mapping is that, because people share a lot of information about themselves on Facebook and the tool knows who my friends-of-friends are, you can see one level deeper and find sub-networks within my broader social graph. Many of these are high school and university based sub-networks but some are also immediate-family groupings. 

The social graph that's probably cooler (and certainly prettier) is this one from LinkedIn Maps: 

This shows you that I'm connected to four major networks, one each for my two universities (LUMS and MBS) and one each for the two places I've worked at the longest here in Melbourne (Melbourne Water and Jetstar). 

And even though Jetstar and Melbourne Water are in completely different industries the kind of work I did (and am still doing) in both jobs is similar so the crossover space between their two clouds is where all my suppliers, vendors, and industry contacts are. 

One thing I've noted while doing all this mapping is the size of my network on each platform:  

  • Gmail contacts: 478 
  • LinkedIn connections: 505 
  • Facebook friends: 505 
  • Twitter followers: 776 

That's reasonably consistent and certainly above average for each of those social networks. I suppose that's a good thing. 

 

Immersion: Mapping My Email Networks

I've spent the last few days playing around with Immersion, a fabulous email network mapping project from MIT's Media Lab.  The project's creators describe this as "a people centric view of your email life" and what the tool basically does is create a network map of all your Gmail emails using the From, To, Cc, and Timestamp fields. 

Who Have I Been Emailing? 

You can can learn a lot from these maps. For example, here is what my email network looks like from April 2004 to July 2013. (I do actually have email from 1999 onwards in my Gmail account but, for whatever reason, Immersion only mapped my email from 2004 onwards. )

 

The person I emailed the most during this period was Nadia. After that, the network of people I emailed the most was my family. Obviously Nadia is also heavily connected via email to my family network. She is also connected with our Melbourne friends network and, to a smaller extent, my MBS (MBA) and LUMS (BSc) classmate networks.

The two other networks of people I emailed the most were my work colleagues at MBS and my other freelance jobs. 

Digging a Little Deeper

That's a high-level view but you can also divide this 2004 to 2013 date range into three distinct periods in my life.

The first is from 2004 to 2006, which is when I was living in Islamabad just before I came to Melbourne to do my MBA:  

Nadia and my family are obviously the largest nodes and network of nodes here, too. Aside from that, my LUMS classmates, my music projects (Corduroy and the F-10 1/2 project), and my other projects (earthquake relief) all have identifiable email networks of their own.

A couple on specific nodes are also interesting. Mosharraf, one of my seniors from LUMS and also a work colleague, is a connector of networks. And, on the upper right hand side, you can see my email correspondence with MBS starting to play a bigger role. 

The next period, from 2006 to 2008, is while I was doing my MBA at MBS: 

Here my MBS classmates network is a huge part of my emailing. That network also overlaps with the MBS staff network - from my emails to and from the Careers Centre team and my work colleagues from when I worked at MBS for a few months before graduating.  

Emails to my LUMS classmates have dropped of quite a bit, though I was still emailing Amanullah quite regularly. 

Finally, here is what my network looked like after I completed my MBA, that is from 2008 onwards:

Now a new network has popped up: my Melbourne friends outside of MBS. And, thanks to Facebook, I don't email my LUMS or MBS classmates as much as I used to.

That's really cool, isn't it? :) 

Summary Stats

Immersion also gives you a summary of your email stats, including who your top 'collaborators' are (and, if you want, you can also drill down further into your connections with each of these collaborators).

These are my overall stats and the stats for my two top collaborators: 

Yes, that's 20,879 emails with 194 collaborators over 9.3 years :)

My most active email sending years were 2007-2008, which was when I was doing my MBA. My most active email receiving years were 2010-2012 and I think those were because of Nadia, my family, my Melbourne friends, and various mailing lists. 

The group of people I email has stabilized over the last few years so the number of new collaborators I've been adding has dropped considerably. That's also because my Melbourne Water and Jetstar work emails aren't in Gmail so they're not counted here. 

Finally, the two people I collaborate most with are Nadia and my older sister Asha. I like that I've sent Nadia over a thousand emails, of which about two-thirds were sent just to her. Meanwhile I've sent Asha only 515 emails. Of those 137 were sent just to her, which makes sense because she's part of that big family network. 

So there you have it - my life in email.  

If you use Gmail you should check Immersion out yourself. It's fun to use and you can learn a lot about yourself and your email networks in the process. 

My Review of Star Trek Into Darkness

I watched Star Trek Into Darkness  a few weeks ago but haven't had the time or brain to  write a proper review.

When people have asked me for my opinion of the film - knowing I'm a trekkie - I've responded with this sentence that nicely sums up what I've been wanting to write in that review: 

It's a decent Hollywood action movie, but not a particularly good Star Trek movie. 

But that's about all I've been able to say.

Then today it occurred to me: Why write a text-based review when you could put the whole thing in a mind map, instead? 

So here is my mind map review of Star Trek Into Darkness. Enjoy :) 

 

New Favourite: Pinguin Radio

I think my new favourite web radio station is Pinguin Radio

They're an independent radio station that play:

mix of pop, rock, hiphop, reggae, folk, metal, and singer-songwriters

Their music mix includes "golden oldies but especially new music" and they "specialize in broadcasting and developing new indie or alternative music."

Besides, how could you not like a radio station with the motto:

No bullshit, great music

:)

Give 'em a listen. They're well worth it.

We Have a New Website!

Yay! We have a new website!

Every since Squarespace 6 launched in July 2012 I've been meaning to upgrade our old Squarespace 5 site to this newer CMS version. I wasn't in any rush to do so - Squarespace said they'd keep supporting the old CMS version indefinitely - but I finally reached the point at which the old site started to look boring and I was itching for something new.  

This, by the way, is what the old site used to look like:

Insanity Works Version 3

And, for future reference, this is what the current one looks like:

Insanity Works Version 4

I've really enjoyed building this new site because Squarespace 6 is a really fun CMS platform to design on. I particularly love how it handles images - which you'll notice are now front and centre in this new site version. 

I also love all the fonts you get access to via Typekit and Google Fonts and the fact that, thanks to developments in responsive web design, this site automatically has an excellent mobile version, too :)

So, what do you think? Do you like the new design?

Great Music Production: 'Mirrors'

Justin Timberlake's latest single, 'Mirrors', is seriously good.

Very few artists and their producers achieve this level of complex simplicity in their music. (In this album the producers were Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and J-Ro.) The musical layers are lovely and their spatial positioning (in the stereo sound field) is exceptional.

I particularly love the bit in the bridge (from 5:30 to 6:00) in which they layer the "You are / you are / the love / of my life" lyrics. That's at least three, though more likely five (or perhaps six) vocal layers of that lyric alone.

Dude.

How to Combine Typefaces

This is an awesome write-up by Douglas Bonneville in Smashing Magazine: 

Best Practices of Combining Typefaces

Creating great typeface combinations is an art, not a science. Indeed, the beauty of typography has no borders. While there are no absolute rules to follow, it is crucial that you understand and apply some best practices when combining fonts in a design. When used with diligence and attention, these principles will always yield suitable results. Today we will take a close look at some the best practices for combining typefaces — as well as some blunders to avoid.

Yes, it's from three years ago but I recently needed to send it to someone and, while trying to look for it, realized that I hadn't actually blogged about it back then. So I'm talking about it now really just for completeness' sake :)

 

Hello NewsBlur!

So, how did I spend my Friday night? I migrated my RSS feed reading life over from Google Reader to NewsBlur :)

The whole process took about five hours because I first culled my RSS subscriptions in Google Reader from 470 down to 302 – not an easy task! – and then I skimmed through all of my unread posts, saving the ones I wanted to read to Pocket.

Making the actual switch to NewsBlur was really easy: I signed up for a paid account, automatically imported all my Google Reader feeds, and then tweaked a few feed URLs that didn’t get copied over properly (a couple of them got truncated).

And now I’m a NewsBlur person – complete with NewsBlur Andorid apps on my phone and tablet plus my own BlurBlog (not that I’ve shared anything there yet).

Why NewsBlur?

Why did I choose NewsBlur over Feedly as my Google Reader replacement? A few reasons.

For starters, when reading RSS feeds I prefer efficiency in reading over a more magazine style reading flow and layout – the latter being Feedly’s key differentiator and, therefore, what they’ll probably be focussing more on in the future. I like to get through my feeds as quickly as possible (I do subscribe to 305 of them, after all) and NewsBlur works better for that.

I also like the NewsBlur’s approach to feed reading – everything from its layout options to its Intelligence Trainer that helps bubble up relevant stories from your subscriptions. In a way, I’m glad Google Reader is shutting down because it’s given me the opportunity to explore better and more effective ways of reading news feeds.

I like paying for good quality software and supporting the people who build this kind of software. So even when I use freeware that I really like – applications like Metapad, Notepad++, Freemake Video Converter, Paint.NET, Calibre, Launchy, and so on – I make it a point to donate to these people. By supporting smaller developers like this you help maintain a market for innovators and their innovations.

Finally, I really like having my own BlurBlog. I hated losing the public, RSS-subscribe-able list of shared items that used to be part of Google Reader (they turned that off because they wanted all of the sharing from Google Reader to go into Google+, instead). But with NewsBlur’s BlurBlogs my friends and I can go back to sharing our favourite posts with each other quickly and easily (assuming, of course, they all sign up to NewsBlur, too).

So, yay! And let the NewsBlur-powered fun times begin :)

Explaining Introversion: Imagine You're Not Hungry

Much as I dislike the introversion-extraversion false dichotomy (which is the popular understanding of this ‘personality trait’) I do acknowledge that, given a set of circumstances, people tend to be either outgoing or reserved. [1]

Given this disclaimer, I would classify myself as being usually introverted.

Growing up with Extraverts

This was a bit of a challenge growing up because most of my family members are very extraverted and, at the time, I didn’t have the understanding or the language to express my discomfort with life in that outgoing and energetic household.

In fact I think the first time I read a good, easy-to-understand explanation of what it’s like to be an introvert was Jonathan Rauch’s famous ‘Caring for Your Introvert’ article in the Atlantic in 2003. (Sage Stossel’s 2006 interview with Rauch, ‘Introverts of the World, Unite!’, is a good, follow-up read, too.)

Since then the internet has been full of explanations from people about what their lives as introverts and extroverts is like. Most of these have been bad or, at best, misinformed and nauseatingly earnest (as people tend to be on Facebook).

Imagine You’re Not Hungry

So I was extremely pleased to read today on Reddit this excellent explanation about life as an introvert by bad_username (slightly copy-edited):

Imagine you're not hungry but every single person you meet during the day offers you a sandwich and it's rude to decline so you have to eat all of those sandwiches one by one. At the end of the day you are sick and tired of all the food. On the other hand you like good food and need it to survive. It's just you need less of it than most other people.

I really like that analogy and I think I’m going to use it from now on.

Crawl Under My Rock

My other go-to explanation for introversion comes from Gavin Lister, one of my MBA career coaches at Melbourne Business School back in 2006, who said something along the lines of:

While I am perfectly happy to attend a networking event or stand in front of you like this to deliver a lecture I will need to go home and crawl under my rock to recover from all this socializing.

That is a perfect description of what I’m like: I’m happy to go out to meet people and do things but, afterwards, I will need time to recharge and recover (usually in my cave). That, for those who are interested, is why I very much prefer doing almost little on the weekends.

ufZBiRC

Understanding Nerds

Fortunately life as an introvert isn’t too difficult for me now. Nadia who, as a huge extravert, gets recharged by meeting people (the horror!) really understands my need to be alone for extended periods of time (loosely correlated to how my day has been). More than that: she is happy to go out and meet her friends or even our friends on her own, leaving me at home to recharge. (Yes, she is awesome.)

I also have really good friends, many of whom are nerds like me and so understand very well the needs of other nerds.

So, overall, life right now is good. And today I have added another arrow to my introversion-explanation quiver.

--

[1] For the record my preferred personality classification tool is the Birkman Method.

Online content & services worth paying for

I get a lot of ‘free’ stuff from the Internet – everything from news and entertainment to email and online storage.

By 'free', of course, I mean ad-supported (in most cases) so while I do technically pay for these services with my time, attention, and user profile data I don't directly pay for them in cash.

There are, however, a bunch of online services that I do explicitly pay for with my own money.

Paid Services

These include services you can't access without a subscription, such as:

I only recently signed up with MOG, by the way, and chose to pay them over their competitors for two main reasons: they stream high quality music (320kbps over WiFi and 4G) and, since they’re a Telstra partner, streaming music from them doesn’t count toward your mobile data bandwidth. Being both an audiophile who values high quality music and a Telstra mobile customer both of these are excellent reasons.

Payment Optional & Freemium Services

The other online services I pay for/contribute to are the kind that you can access for free but can also support financially if you so choose.

These include the news, information, and editorial services like:

With the exception of Wikipedia, to which I donate annually, the rest I support through automatic monthly micropayments.

The freemium services (products, really) that I pay for include:

  • Online information management from Evernote
  • Online photo storage from Flickr

Oh, and depending on how Fairfax rolls things out, I’ll probably subscribe to The Age Online, too, once they set up their paywall. And, speaking of news outlets, I also used to subscribe to the Economist but, much as I loved their content and editorial, I wasn’t getting enough of a return on my investment.

So that’s my list. What online services – content services or products – do you pay for?

My Bridge Authors

In the November 2012 episode of the ‘First Tuesday Book Club’ Jennifer Byrne and her guests discussed the ‘The Chrysalids’ by John Wyndham.

Author Monica McInerney had this to say about it:

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham was what I call my bridge book. It was my first book to read that wasn't Enid Blyton, Trixie Belden, you know, like children's books. And it was the book that introduced me to a whole world of adult fiction. So it was the one that I walked across into a big, wider world of books. [Read the full transcript on the ABC website]

To a certain extent ‘The Chrysalids’ was my bridge book, too.

However I took my first steps into the world of adult fiction with the help of a number of authors, including (in no particular order):

My proper love of adult fantasy fiction didn’t kick in till later. Not till I’d read things like the ‘Duncton Wood’ series by William Horwood and, of course, the J.R.R. Tolkien canon.

What These Authors Did For Me

Of all those books, I think the ones that really opened my mind were Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’ and ‘The Chrysalids’. I suspect that’s because they were among the first adult-level first person narratives I’d read. And, as someone who has a younger sister, David and Petra’s relationship in ‘The Chrysalids’ was something I related very strongly to. 

The stories that inspired me the most were probably the Clarke and Asimov short stories. I both wanted to be and had a huge crush on Susan Calvin and was generally looking forward a world in which Multivac existed.

Finally, the books that got me thinking the most about people, society, and politics were the ones by McCaffrey, Christie, and MacLean. Also, I think the first few books I ever read in which people simply lived and worked in space – as opposed to went exploring in space – were McCaffrey’s.

Newer Bridges to Cross

In more recent years (the last fifteen or so) the latest literary “bridge” I’ve crossed has been into Young Adult (YA) fiction. And the authors that have led the charge in that crossing have (so far) been J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Philip Pullman.

What were your bridge books and who were your bridge authors?

A System for Editing Documents

Use the Web to Be a Better Skeptic

Lifehacker recently published a skepticism-for-beginners type article called 'How To Determine If A Controversial Statement Is Scientifically True':

Every day, we’re confronted with claims that others present as fact. Some are easily debunked, some are clearly true, but some are particularly difficult to get to the bottom of. So how do you determine if a controversial statement is scientifically true? It can be tricky, but it’s not too difficult to get to the truth.

The article features advice from Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy) and David McRaney (You Are Not So Smart) and, even though it's a little long, it makes for a good read.

tl;dr for Lifehacker article: Search the web (Google, Snopes, Wikipedia, Science Daily, Phys.org), search scientific journals (Google, Google Scholar), and ask science advocates. Also, beware of confirmation bias and don't forget to think critically.