Big Bang And The 7 'O Clock Alarm

The big bang theory states that the whole universe with its countless life forms, galaxies, various organisms and the elements sprang to life from a singularity. That moment had the potential for all the life and possibilities of a whole universe. Now, my limited knowledge of the big bang and Advaita vedanta and Sri Ramana Bhagwan's teachings led me to this thought a few days ago. 
Ramana Maharishi,a most venerable sage who had Self realization at the age of 17 and whose name is synonymous with the holy hill, Thiruvannamalai where he spent all his life, always used to ask the questioners with ther various problems and issues a simple yet powerful question: 'Who is asking the question?' 
'Who am I?' or atma vichara, was the constantly recurring theme of His teaching, which was mostly rooted in silence. On one occasion, he said that there is a moment in everybody's life when there is pure awareness, before the 'I' thought enters. That moment is in the morning, just before you wake up. 
From deep sleep to dream land and the waking stage , our life is divided into these three stages. In the Gayatri mantra, the goddess is venerated as the 'the One who illuminatesthree planes of consciousness'. Ramana Maharishi's oft repeated question ,'Did these occur to you when you were in deep sleep?' always brought the questioner back to the root of the problem. The essence of it was that we all say we slept well. But in our deep sleep not only was there no problem, no family, relatives and friends, or home or job, we did not even have our body. So who is the one now who says he or she has all these problems?
If we go back to the moment we wake up, in a micro-second, the whole universe with its multitude of life forms, including our friends and family members, and everything we see, comes to life. Instantly. 
In light of this, it might seem that there is a big bang every time you wake up. And hit the snooze button.

Bullets over body copy

'A clear sentence is no accident', says the author of 'On writing well'. Well, looks like you don't have to look far to find examples of these little 'accidents'. Just pick up any magazine or browse any website and you'll see most of the article headlines will have a number in them. 10 ways to improve your sex life. 37 websites for free graphics. 8 ways to get over your ex. Even football sites are learning precisely 5 lessons from every weekend match. Nothing more, nothing less. Just 5 lesson, derby or not.
I thought headlines like these died along with their 'how-to' cousins. Apparently not. Left to these guys, they would probably rewrite the classic Lemon ad with "3389 reasons why a VW is better" (3389 being the number of QC inspectors in those days). You can understand why, though. It's sheer laziness.I mean why go through hours of writing and rewriting when you can easily crank out a bunch of 'X ways to do Y' headlines? You can spend that time more productively, by hitting the like button on cat videos and posting close-up shots of food. 
I don't know when it will stop, but it's spreading like a cliche. Close on its heels are the bullet points (bullets don't kill good copy, people do, to coin a phrase). While bullets have their place, they shouldn't be the only way to express one's point of view. But 'the-death-by-bullets' approach is dictated by the 'X ways to do Y' headline. And with the proliferation of online material on every topic by anyone with access to a computer and the internet, coupled with the short-attention span of the audience, it seems decent copy will have to roll over and die.
But you do see decent pieces sprinkled across the web, dodging the bullets so to speak, leading you to believe that there is still hope for well-written articles. Speaking of which, here's a link that you might find useful: http://goo.gl/KczFQJ

To Do: Buy vegetables, cheese, milk and a painting.

Something arty happened on the way to grocery shopping a couple of weekends ago. We picked up a lovely painting from Little Red Art's pop-up exhibition at Leisure Park, Kallang. They were just setting up the shop when we spotted this strikingly beautiful painting of Buddhist monks. The chirpy ex-banker running the outfit told us that they don't sell copies and hence this was a one-of-a-kind piece. And at around 500SGD it was extremely reasonable too.
The following week, after learning that the show was still on, we went back and picked up another piece (a HongKong cityscape) for less than $300. Besides the money-well-spent angle, there's a feel-good factor of supporting emerging artists in the SEA region. They showcase photographs too if you are into pixel-perfect art. Below are the paintings we bought and you can find them at http://www.little-red-art.com

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Freelance rates and former police uniforms

A couple of years ago, an art director friend of mine and I went freelancing to an agency (where we had done some work a year earlier). The traffic person, who was there on our previous stint saw us, found out how much we were charging (which was a hundred dollars more if I remember right) and promptly told the CD. Next thing we knew, the CD was in our room asking how come we were charging more than 'last time' as the traffic person said. 
To which my art director said very succinctly, 'Last time police wear half pants'. Brilliant, I thought. Shut them up for good.
Which brings me to: why do people think freelancers should charge the same fee they did 5 years ago? Doesn't the rising standard of living not affect us? Are freelancers impervious to inflation and the effects of a floundering economy? It's not like we get the freelancer discount wherever we go. 
You: I'd like to buy a pair of jeans.
Salesperson: That'll be $350.
You: But I'm a freelancer.
Salesperson: Oh, why didn't you say that earlier? It's $25 for you. Can I throw in an Armani suit for an additional $18?
Doesn't happen, does it? When the regular staff on payroll get their CPF, bonus, salary increment every year, why can't the freelancer increase his or her rate accordingly? In a related vein, here's post I did on Picasso and Freelancing a while ago where I raised the point of experience and quality costing money (read here: http://www.guruswriting.com/gurus-blogging/category/picasso). 
The other thing that makes me laugh is 'do you have a package?' 
I'm always tempted to say, 'Yes, I do, would you be interested in a 3D/4N package? No airport pick-up. And just pay what your grandfather did in 1940. And don't forget your half pants.'

    

Beauty is in the eye of your phone camera

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On our recent trip to New Zealand which included a visit to Kaikoura where we were lucky to watch four sperm whales, Hector dolphins and the Dusky dolphins, which was a rarity, said our whale watching guide. They know when the whale is going to the Flipper thing, so they tell you to wait and tell you exactly when to press the button as their experience in the business and the elevated seat in the boat gives them the advantage.
She also said something very insightful and true. "See with your eyes, and then take the photos". Seems obvious but ever since we have been given the power to take a photo in our palm, we don't seem to "see" our world through eyes anymore. Everything is seen through a social media likeability lens. See a rainbow? Snap and forget. See a fight? Snap, post and wait for 'likes'. See something cute? Snap. 
Don't get me wrong, we need to keep records of what we see to share and treasure them later, especially something rare as a sperm whale. But we don't have to rely on our phone camera all the time, do we? Can't we see the world with our eyes, enjoy the sights, take in the beauty, marvel at Mother Nature's creations and then take a photo? 

Lord Hanuman, the art of communication and Jonathan Ive

"Communication is about being pithy and telegraphic", my eight grade teacher used to tell us while teaching a portion of the Indian epic, Ramayana (the Kamba Ramayana version). "And no one does this better than Lord Hanuman."
When Lord Hanuman came back to Lord Ram and his army after completing his mission to Lanka as a messenger, the first words he uttered were: "Found Sita". Not a word more. Nothing on the numerous hardships and problems he faced on his trip.  
A little background to this portion of the story: Before Lord Ram and his army crossed the ocean to Lanka, they wanted to send a messenger of peace first. Hanuman was chosen and he flew across. On the way, he faced a multitude of problems: a mountain rose hindering his flight; a monster challenged him to enter through her mouth; another fought with him unprovoked and was defeated. On entering the enemy country, he still faced many challenges. He was insulted, ill-treated and was almost executed but spared when the king's brother intervened. Instead of being executed, his tail was set on fire and he was dragged all over the city. But when he flew back to Lord Ram and the army, all he said were those two pithy words: "Found Sita"
"The point to note", said my teacher, "is that Hanuman never once mentioned, not even hinted at all the hardships he faced or how he overcame them. Not even the bit about getting nearly executed. All he said was that he found Sita. Because that was the point of the mission. That was brevity in communication. That was what needed to be said." 
Which somehow reminds me what Jonathan Ive said about design in the documentary, Objectified (a must-watch documentary btw): "When you see the indicator come on, I wouldn't expect anybody to point to it as a feature, but at some level I think you are aware of a calm and considered solution that speaks about how you are going to use it, not the terrible struggles that we as designers and engineers had in trying to solve some of the problems".  

Advaita, Bob Dylan and Kannadasan

"All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie", rasps Dylan in Things Have Changed. Which is what Advaita Vedanta alludes to in general. Once you know the rope to be a rope, then the fear of it as a snake disappears. It's not that everything you see in the world is an illusion. It's not that there is no cruelty around, or that people are not killing people, and that there is no violence. It's the wrong identification with the body that gives rise to the sense of reality curated by the five limited senses. As Ramana Maharishi would often remind people, "Did all these occur to you in deep sleep?"
Meaning, all of this came to life with the waking up of the wrong 'I'. We see the world after we open our eyes, the world doesn't come and tell us it exists. In deep sleep, we have no nationality, no religion, no beliefs, no gender, no family, no name, no worries, no anxiety, no plans and we don't even have our body. Yet, we wake up and declare that 'I' slept well. Bhagwan Ramana would ask questioners, "Who is the I that says I slept well and who is the I that has all the problems and questions and doubts?"
Or that's what I understand (that's the trouble with limited knowledge, isn't it?). So all that we think is true, all that we think is the 'snake' is, in fact, a strand of rope. 
Kannadasan, the greatest Tamil lyricist of the 20th century who distilled the most profound truths into easily digestible, simple cinema songs, has a similar yet more powerful take on it. In a song titled "Yaarada manidhan ange " (meaning "who is the real man there?") he says, "In laughter, Man isn't. In tears, Man isn't. In his heart, Man isn't. In sleep, man is. Living beast, sleeping god, in between is Man". Brilliant. 
It is the Man in sleep who is real. Not the beast that reacts and repents. Not the Man in between two stages who is confused and confounded. It is the Truth that lies behind one Big Lie.

"The days of good English are went"

So says one of the graffiti messages in a book compiled by Nigel Rees I found many years ago. It sums up the way the language is heading these days. People don't craft anymore. Nobody seems to spend any time weighing the words before hitting the keyboard. And nobody bothers to check before subjecting innocent members of the public to horrendous misuse of the language. 
We grew up writing and rewriting copy, in David Ogilvy style, with his seventeen drafts regime. We were told never to use words like 'That's not all', or 'What's more' to link sentences. Not even in brochure copy. Because that was a lazy way out. We were told that body copy should flow from the headline, linked syntactically and conceptually so it flowed better, with the last line looping back to the headline. We were told to use tactile words, like 'bristle'. 
And we studied the work of masters of writing, legends such as David Abbot, Tony Brignull and Tom Thomas among others. In one ad, Abbot had used 'on the contrary' as a paragraph. I spent many days trying to mimic that, and when I was able to, I was so thrilled I drowned that immediately in a few beers.
But not many care for the language or the crafting part of it these days it would seem from what you can see in the newspapers. One could live with laziness, blaming it on the era of smartphones (people still read on their smart devices, don't they?) and short attention span, but what is irking is the total lack of respect for the language (it goes for any language incidentally, not just English) evidenced by headlines such as 'Path your way to success'. Since when is path a verb? You can beat a path, carve a path, create a path but you can't just 'path'. Here are some more examples that I'm sure will irk you too:
Irregardless. It's not a word. It's like saying 'unirrelevant'. It's regardless. 
Should of. If you are writing that instead of 'should have', you need to go back to school. Like now.
It's vs its. Its is possessive as in 'the metal has lost its sheen'. It's is a contracted form of 'It is'. If in doubt, use the expanded version, it'll be clearer. Whenever it is sounds wrong, it's quite likely its, if you know what I mean. There are a few good sites that can clear your doubts such as grammar girl. I keep 'Elements of Style' recommended by Stephen King and Fowler's Modern English Usage recommended by my former boss many years ago. You could try these methods if you're between it's and its or discrete and discreet.


 

An excerpt from 'The Wallet'.

"It was right there by his side. A swollen wallet. Bulging with the pride of bundles of dollar bills and coins it could barely hold, like a glutton's stomach, almost obscene in its fullness.He saw it on a chair as he sat down at the empty table of this quiet restaurant by the station. He looked like someone to whom life had been unkind for a long time. You could tell he was down on his luck which was dutifully reflected on the size of his own wallet. His hands automatically went to his trouser pocket, his grubby fingers feeling for his wallet, thin and emaciated - a drought hit landscape sewn in leather, frayed at the ends and starved, except for some old name cards, receipts and coupons that had gone past their use-by date, much like his life."

Ah, the good old days when everything was just as violent.

It occurred to me the other day when I was reminiscing about the beautiful, orange-sun-drenched, all-smiles-no-worries happy days of youth with a childhood friend of mine. About how pure everything was, how nice people were and how peaceful it all seemed then compared to the problems and worries of today.

Then it occurred to me, as I mentioned already, that we tend to look back on the good old days with misty-eyed romanticism and longing mainly because we were not exposed to any of the atrocities happening elsewhere in the world. All the violence and wars, street crimes and starving children, senseless bigotry and unnecessary killings were happening back then just as they are now. The only difference is we, as kids, we not exposed to them. There were no 24-hour channels bringing the guns and gore right into our livingrooms. We didn't even have TVs then in fact. Whether it was the mindless deaths during the Vietnam War or the murder of innocents by blood thirsty monsters posing as dictators in some African country, we read about them in the newspapers. Depending on how serious the national news was, the global atrocities either made it to the front page or they didn't. Even then, we, as school-going kids, didn't bother to read about them, especially when there were cricket matches involving the Indian team. 
Priorities and exposure. These decide how you look back on your growing-up years. It's not that people were not getting killed or that children were not going hungry, it's just that we had our minds focused on passing the next exam. We didn't have to worry about where the next meal was going to come from. We didn't have to work to feed and clothe us. We were kids, so we were shielded from the unnecessary harshness of reality by our parents. Everything was just as it is now. Granted things have become more violent and senseless on a more frequent basis with every bullet fired landing on your dining table but essentially not much has changed. 
Perhaps that's what fogs up our perspective and tints out glasses a lovely shade of rose when we look back on the good old days. Ah, those were the days, weren't it?

How to present like Steve Jobs?

Short answer, you can't. 
Long answer:
You can wear Issey Miyake blue jeans and black turtle-neck, grow a scraggly beard, wear John Lennon/Mahatma Gandhi glasses, pace up and down the stage, and even manage to say, 'And one more thing'. But you can't present like Jobs.
Simply because you are no Jobs. You don't have a groundbreaking,category-changing, revolutionary product that the audience will queue up for hours on end to buy (if you do, you can stop reading here). 
I'm writing this because I see quite a few articles on the Net handing out useful tips on presenting like Jobs. It is a bit misleading I feel. 
When Jobs presented, he often sprinkled his speech with things like, "...I am about to show you this awesome product"  or "This is the greatest yet" or "This is the best in the category" etc, he had physical proof to back up those claims. 
Unless you have industry-trend-bucking innovations in your pocket, it's a bit of a stretch to say, "You know what the little pocket in your jeans is for?" and proceed to show the iPod mini and finish off with "Now you know".
In his own words innovations like the ones he presided over, are hard to come by and if you have one, great. I'm talking about people presenting a bunch of retail ads for a furniture mart or pitching for a burger account, you honestly cannot stand up there and say you have category-breaking idea that will change the way people live and breathe. 
That doesn't mean you can't make an impressive presentation and wow your audience. Rely on your strengths, use fireworks if you have to, and do what works for you. Yes, of course you can learn a lot from his style, his delivery, his pauses, repetitions and so on but Jobs is a hard act to follow, especially when what you are presenting is not the next iWhatever. Give it a thought before you change your wardrobe.

 

The Buddha in the next cubicle

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9-5 can be a pain, and any place with more than two people (and that's one too many) will have politics. There are no companies where you are going to part of 'one big family'. The boss may eat with his office lady during lunch time and the MD might get drunk at office parties and pat you appreciatively, but all that means zilch come assessment time. Anyway, if you're looking for a family type place, you shouldn't step out of home in the first place.
Every office will have one or all of the following: An unreasonably demanding boss, a backstabbing butt-kissing junior, a politically motivated ambitious colleague, a smug relative of the boss who can ruin your life, a stupid moron who somehow is your immediate superior (who, for some reason, is considered spectacular by the big boss), not to mention people who think you are a walkover because you just want to do your work and get back home. It doesn't mean you should stew silently in the fumes of a toxic situation. Buddha tells you how to handle tricky situations with dignity.
Once, when the Buddha was walking across a village, he encountered a very scared bunch of residents. Everyone was walking around in serious distress. Moved by his characteristic sympathetic nature, he asked what was wrong with them and whey were they all so scared? They said that there was a snake, very poisonous and deadly snake, that had been going around biting and killing anyone who had the misfortune of crossing its path, children included. The men couldn't go to work, the women couldn't go and fetch water and the kids couldn't play. They were worried that soon there will be no one left in the village. The Buddha looked upon them with kindness and said he would look into the matter as he knew how to talk to snakes.
He went to where the marauding snake was living and called out. Hearing him, the snake came out. The Enlightened One spoke gently to the vicious snake, saying there was no need to go around terrorizing the whole village and biting everyone. Having imparted the message of kindness, he left on his journey.
A while later the Buddha was crossing the same village on his way back. He saw
the villagers happy and walking about fearlessly. He was glad to see that the snake had listened to his advice and went to see how it was doing.
Hearing his footsteps, the snake came crawling out. But it was in severe pain, its body was bruised and battered, there were scratches and wounds all over. The Buddha was aghast. "What happened to you?" asked the Compassionate One. 
'Well,' said the snake weakly, mustering all its strength, 'you said not to bite so once people knew there was nothing to fear from me, they started pelting me with stones and beating with sticks. I was just waiting for you to come so I could tell you. I don't know how long I can take this.' 
'It is true that I told you not to bite,' said the Buddha as he took the battered snake in his healing hands,'but I didn't tell you not to hiss'. 
So there are times you need to hiss. Just to let people know where you stand, and where they stand as well.

AIDS. Let's find a cure for ignorance first.

AIDS. Let's find a cure for ignorance first.

AIDS. Let's find a cure for ignorance first.

Ignorance stems from little knowledge.
And little knowledge is dangerous.
Especially of something as serious as AIDS.
Important decisions are made on insufficient data.
Life long biases are formed and transferred, based on irrational fears.
People are shunned and ridiculed, 
when they should at least be understood if not embraced.
Because judging is easier than making an informed decision.
Let's hold back a second before pointing fingers.
Let's find a cure for ignorance first.
Ignorance is deadlier than AIDS.