A Guide To A Good Life

Learning English

This is the fifth video in a new series where I talk about the people, experiences and things that have helped me in life. Who knows, perhaps they’ll help you as well! In this one, I talk about how learning English well has shaped my experience as an immigrant to the United States, about how learning English is still very much of relevance in today’s world, and I also offer some comments on the state of immigration in the US and Europe.

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Thoughts

George Carlin's Modern Man

Pure comedic genius. The transcript is below.

I’m a modern man
A man for the millennium
Digital and smoke free

A diversified multicultural postmodern deconstructionist
Politically anatomically and ecologically incorrect

I’ve been uplinked and downloaded
I’ve been inputted and outsourced
I know the upside of downsizing
I know the downside of upgrading

I’m a high tech lowlife
A cutting edge state-of-the-art bicoastal multitasker
And I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond

I’m new wave but I’m old school
And my inner child is outward bound
I’m a hot wired heat seeking warm hearted cool customer
Voice activated and biodegradable

I interface from a database
And my database is in cyberspace

So I’m interactive
I’m hyperactive
And from time-to-time
I’m radioactive

Behind the eight ball
Ahead of the curve
Riding the wave
Dodging a bullet
Pushing the envelope

I’m on point
On task
On message
And off drugs

I got no need for coke and speed
I got no urge to binge and purge

I’m in the moment
On the edge
Over the top
But under the radar

A high concept
Low profile
Medium range ballistic missionary
A street-wise smart bomb
A top gun bottom feeder

I wear power ties
I tell power lies
I take power naps
I run victory laps

I’m a totally ongoing big foot slam dunk rainmaker with a proactive outreach

A raging workaholic
A working rageaholic
Out of rehab
And in denial

I got a personal trainer
A personal shopper
A personal assistant
And a personal agenda

You can’t shut me up
You can’t dumb me down
‘Cause I’m tireless
And I’m wireless

I’m an alpha male on beta blockers
I’m a non-believer and an over-achiever
Laid back but fashion forward
Up front
Down home
Low rent
High maintenance
Super size
Long lasting
High definition
Fast acting
Oven ready
And built to last

I’m a hands on
Footloose
Knee jerk
Head case
Prematurely post-traumatic
And I have a love child who sends me hate mail

But I’m feeling
I’m caring
I’m healing
I’m sharing
A supportive bonding nurturing primary care giver

My output is down
But my income is up
I take a short position on the long bond
And my revenue stream has its own cash flow

I read junk mail
I eat junk food
I buy junk bonds
I watch trash sports
I’m gender specific
Capital intensive
User friendly
And lactose intolerant

I like rough sex…
I like rough sex
I like tough love
I use the f word in my email
And the software on my hard drive is hard core, no soft porn

I bought a microwave at a mini mall
I bought a mini van in a mega store
I eat fast food in the slow lane

I’m toll free
Bite sized
Ready to wear
And I come in all sizes

A fully equipped
Factory authorized
Hospital tested
Clinically proven
Scientifically formulated medical miracle

I’ve been pre-washed
Pre-cooked
Pre-heated
Pre-screened
Pre-approved
Pre-packaged
Post-dated
Freeze-dried
Double-wrapped
Vacuum-packed
And I have an unlimited broadband capacity

I’m a rude dude
But I’m the real deal
Lean and mean
Cocked, locked and ready to rock
Rough tough and hard to bluff

I take it slow
I go with the flow
I ride with the tide
I got glide in my stride
Drivin’ and movin’
Sailin’ and spinnin’
Jivin’ and groovin’
Wailin’ and winnin’

I don’t snooze
So I don’t lose
I keep the pedal to the metal
And the rubber on the road

I party hearty
And lunch time is crunch time

I’m hanging in
There ain’t no doubt
And I’m hanging tough
Over and out.

Naturally, the words are the George Carlin’s copyright, and only he could have come up with this genius concoction.

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The pain and importance of communication

During the past several months, I’ve had to work with people much more than before, and I learned a few things, one of which is the importance of communication.

Ligia and Raoul, talking

It’s one thing to sit in front of the computer all day and communicate via email and the occasional meeting, as it happens in IT work, and it’s quite another to only do it in person, face to face, explain concepts and ideas, try to get your vision across, then see how well others understood and delivered on the stuff you needed. More often than not, I’ve been disappointed, but I’m told that’s par for this course.

So where does communication help?

Where there’s tension, it helps deflate anger and potential conflict. I’ve been in situations where the tension had built up so much the hair stood up on my back and I was ready to punch someone, and yet if we were able to communicate rationally for a few minutes and hash out the various problems that we faced, all of that pent-up anger literally melted away. Of course, if the other person can’t communicate rationally, that’s another story altogether…

I can’t overemphasize the importance of communicating with each other as you work on a project with other people, particularly when it’s new territory for either one of you. Most people aren’t good communicators. They’d rather just do their work, but if they’re not taking the time to understand what it is you want them to do, being faced with an end result that differs from your expectations can lead to bad situations all around. So what I’ve had to do is to initiate communication most of the time, and to get these people to explain to me each stage of the work they were doing, several times a day, just to make sure they’re on the right track.

In the past, when I worked on IT projects, I had to do the same thing sometimes, but more often than not, I got too frustrated with the capabilities of others and brushed them aside, preferring to do the work myself, knowing I could do it faster and better. That wasn’t possible this time. I’ve been involved in construction/renovation work, and even though I could do the work myself, I couldn’t allow myself to do it because I needed to get results on a tight schedule. Doing things myself would have meant pushing deadlines into the future, and that wasn’t an option. The teams I worked with could deliver the stuff on time, but I had to make sure we were communicating properly. It was a real challenge, and I gained a new-found respect for general contractors and project managers. It’s very stressful and exhausting to work on construction projects and ensure everything gets done according to plan and to your vision when you’re dealing with people. Unfortunately, until we invent robots that can do all manner of construction work to spec — and I doubt that’ll ever happen — that’s what we have to work with.

In IT work, if something isn’t right, you can go back in and change things. You erase or modify the code, re-adjust the software options, etc. You’ve only wasted time, not materials. (Yes, you can also waste resources and others’ time, but let’s not bring that into the equation for this analogy.) In construction work, you not only waste time, you waste materials, and that can really add up. There’s also the painful cost of tearing down stuff that wasn’t built right and starting from scratch, and you pay for this in more stress.

So yeah, communication is vital, but there are some serious flip sides to it.

I’ve found out that you can still be misunderstood and judged even when you do your best to communicate as much as possible — and here I’m not talking about construction work, but life in general. Your every action can be perceived as the opposite of what you meant it to be. You’ll try to help someone else and they’ll think you’re trying to hurt them. You’ll do a good deed and it’ll get mocked or your kindness will be abused when others seek to take advantage of you. It is so painful to deal with this crap, and yet there’s no way around it unless you go live someplace away from everybody — and let me tell you I’m sorely tempted to do it.

There is so much potential in each of us to create, to do good things, lasting things, beautiful things, to achieve lofty goals working in harmony, but we’re stuck using language to communicate what’s inside us. There’s no better way to transfer information and ideas between us. Unfortunately, words can be sorely lacking in the power to transfer information and vision, in most situations where it’s really important for them to convey that. And yes, this is coming from a writer, someone who loves using words. It’d be so much easier if we could communicate what’s in our hearts, unequivocally, when we needed to do it, so there would be no doubt in the mind of the other person of what our true intentions really are. Of course my vision is somewhat utopic. After all, many people simply don’t aspire to do good things. Their goals stop at the ordinary or downright sordid aspects of life, and you can’t do much good with those people. You’re better off avoiding them, unless you welcome extra stress in your life.

I suppose one antidote for all this pain caused by living and working among people is to not care. By this I don’t mean we should be callous. I mean we shouldn’t care what others think of our actions or of us. We should stand rooted in our morality and do what we know is right, treat others the way we want to be treated, and let others think what they will of us. As long as we’re true to our own moral compasses, nothing else should matter. Right? But somehow it does, doesn’t it? And it’s so damned painful, too.

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Google Reader translates posts?

Yesterday morning, I added a new feed to my subscriptions in Google Reader, and noticed what I thought was a new feature: the ability to translate posts automatically, within GR. The feature was actually launched in November of last year, and it works through the normal drop-down menu. A new option was added there, and it looks like this:

Google Reader automatic post translation

Isn’t that cool? The translation technology used is the same one found in Google Translate. What’s also cool is how the languages are detected. I assume the translate option with GR uses the language setting saved in the GR settings or in the Google Account settings, and then it either uses the auto-detect capabilities built into Google Translate to figure out the language, or it looks at the language setting encoded within the feed itself.

Google Translate

It’s an incredibly useful feature, because it allows people to read blogs in other languages without worrying about copying and pasting the text into a separate translation tool. Just think, if I write a post in Romanian and publish it on my site, the auto-translation tool within GR will allow you to read it as if I’d written it in English! Granted, the translation is machine-generated so it won’t read fluently and might even miss a few meanings here and there, but it’s certainly better than nothing, which is what we had before.

I’d also like point out that if you’re reading articles on my site instead of the feed, I’ve recently added auto-translation capabilities to each post via the same Google Translate technology. You’ll have the option to translate any of my articles into several languages, by clicking on a particular language, right under any post title, as shown below. I hope this will prove useful to my readers from other countries.

Post header showing auto-translation capabilities

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Object-Oriented PHP: Concepts, Techniques, and Code by Peter Lavin

“Object Oriented PHP: Concepts, Techniques and Code”, by Peter LavinCan a single book get web designers to start writing better, reusable PHP code? Peter Lavin makes a go of it in Object Oriented PHP, and it comes out pretty darn well.

The gist of the book is this: would you rather write code that does the same sort of stuff over, and over, and over, and over, and… so on and so forth, or would you rather write a piece of code you can plug into any of your pages or sites when you need to do a certain thing? The object-oriented way involves a little more time upfront, but it pays off time and time again. Because let’s face it, none of us enjoys coding the same boring stuff unless we’re gluttons for punishment.

Some may say, “What?! What’s this nonsense about OOP with PHP?”, and I will duly point them to the specs for PHP 5. That’s when OOP techniques were truly made possible. I tell you, even I started reading Peter’s book with skepticism, because heck, PHP is “just” a scripting language, and besides, Dreamweaver can write a lot of the code I need for me. But as I went through the book, I realized an object-oriented approach is a scalable approach. It can be applied to multiple projects. In essence, that’s what Dreamweaver’s doing when I tell it to write a recordset for me, and Macromedia’s not doing too bad as a company… There are obviously benefits to be reaped from OOP in web development.

Peter’s book is great, because it walks you through and explains how OOP in PHP should work. He first explains the basics of OOP, then applies them to PHP, and provides real-world techniques and code to illustrate his points. He touches on AJAX, XML, RSS, thumbnail images, PDO, and other cool things, in an approachable and understandable manner.

It’s funny, but the illustration on the cover of the book says it all. Would you rather code a waffle from scratch, or code the wafflemaker, and make yourself waffles whenever you want them? That’s the difference between just writing code and object-oriented programming. It gives you the power of reproducibility and scalability. So what are you waiting for? Get cooking with OOP!

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The world wouldn't be the same without Romania

This video will show you why Romania is a wonderful and inventive country. Yes, it was sponsored by some beer companies, but it’s very nicely put together, and the things it talks about are all true.

The subjects presented in the video are listed below in the order of appearance:

  • The invention of the fountain pen, by Petrache Poenaru
  • The invention of the cybernetic model, by Stefan Odobleja
  • Insulin, invented by Nicolae Paulescu
  • The first jet-powered aircraft, invented by Henri Coanda
  • The first History of Religions, written by Mircea Eliade
  • Defending four penalty strokes in a row – done by Helmut Ducadam, in the soccer World Cup of 1986
  • The second most spoken language at Microsoft is Romanian
  • The Maramures Gates – some of the most beautifully sculpted wooden gates in the world
  • Romanian girls are some of the most beautiful in the world – I should know, I married one!
  • The sculpture of Constantin Brancusi
  • Brancovenean Architecture
  • Baseball (its grandfather, anyway – the sport got started all the way back in 1364)

In case you’d like to learn more about Romania, ICI.ro has a great collection of illustrious Romanians right here. Use the link menu on the right hand side to brows by subjects like Geography, History, Politics, Culture and Tourism.

(Thanks, Cristina!)

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Google Translation is fantastic!

The Google Research blog has a great post about their latest development: Arabic translation. From what I understand, it’s hard to translate back and forth between English and Arabic because of the different sentence structures, but they’ve done it!

Google TranslationThanks to Google Translation and the power of the Internet, now you can read my site in eight languages other than English: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Simplified Chinese. Arabic is coming soon.

Let me know how it reads in your language! 🙂 Just look for the Translate section in the site’s sidebar footer.

Updated 9/28/07: Arabic was added several months ago.

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