For loops for fun and profit

For loops aren’t rocket science by any stretch of the imagination, but perhaps some wayfaring programmer will find the following enlightening.

What appears to be at first basic and fundamental can belie the incredible flexibility offered. Below are a few examples related to that most common of control structures, the for loop.

These examples apply to most variations of C and C-based languages as well as Java.

Infinite loop:

for(;;)
{
    // Works a treat for main event loops.
}

Statement scoped control variable:

for(int i = 1; i = 10; i++)
{
    // i is valid within the loop only.
}

Control variable incremented within body:


int i;

for(i=1; i = 10;)
{
    i++;
}

Body-less loop for arithmetic:

int i, sum = 0;

for (i = 1; i = 10; sum += i++);

Once, atop a mountain

She stood atop a mountain
sword in hand
battle in mind, heart, and soul

The stars in her eyes; a universe
her heart; an ocean

And that, that is the story of one’s struggle against a life of action and consequence. That, our dear friend, was what transpired into the greatest battle story of all. Or so they say.

Imagine the scene: Thousands of soldiers, or shall we say minions, descending down the mountain unto the sleeping village below.

Ambushing the silence of her soul, the soldiers almost made the woman-atop-a-mountain surrender her heart. Yet there she stood, silent in her own sea of calm, waiting for the wind of truth to fill her sails.

The soldiers swept past her, their shining weaponry of destruction glittering like a million jewels of Hades.

She let be what will be, she let be and let go as she shut her eyes. The wind settled – she opened her eyes to see nothing of the menacing soldiers, nothing of their ways and swords.

The moment of truth remained. Her moment within her soul. A moment that filled a chasm so great it would remain so until this moment of moments.

That, dear friend, is the story of a woman that stood atop a mountain. It is the story of all of us.

Bars everywhere, menubars that is

MenuEverywhere
MenuEverywhere

The Mac’s quite famous for refined, simple and highly usable design. While some of the design cues found in the original Mac may still work just as well today as they did back in 1984, the single menubar doesn’t.

Having a single, unified menubar back when no one had 27″ iMacs or dual-screen desktops was probably a logical, zen-inspired approach. Nowadays, the single menubar can be an annoyance. As for remembering shortcuts, well, that isn’t always practical for apps used infrequently.

I did something about it: MenuEverywhere. Click on the screenshot for more information.

Color it right: color calibration with the spyder 3 pro

Spyder 3 Pro attached to monitor during calibration
Spyder 3 Pro attached to monitor during calibration

Ensuring that color remains consistent across display devices and printers is a definite must for anyone who takes photography and compositing work seriously.

For the past five months I’ve been using a Spyder 3 Pro to calibrate four monitors connected to my Hack Pro system. So far I’ve been extremely pleased with its ease of use with both OS X and Windows 7. The software for both platforms is intuitive and simple to use. I can attest that it’s fully compatible with Snow Leopard.

The difference Spyder’s proper calibration makes is quite amazing; almost like getting a new monitor.

When prompted by the software, you simply attach the Spyder to the monitor using the provided suction cup or dangling it using the USB cable. The software then runs through several calibration algorithms so that it figures out the optimum color profile for your monitor. The difference Spyder’s proper calibration makes is quite amazing; almost like getting a new monitor.

I have two Dell FP2001s, one Dell FP2007 and one Dell S1909W, all connected via DVI. Previous to using the Spyder, it was quite tortuous aiming for consistent color across all the monitors by fiddling with brightness, gamma and color temperature settings manually; most often than not, the results left a lot to be desired. With the Spyder, it’s a breeze to calibrate.

The little bugger also comes with a neat little stand to keep it perched on your workbench so that it takes care of monitoring the ambient light level in the surrounding environment.

As of writing, you can get the Spyder for 29% off at Amazon.com at a price of $139.

‘Tis the season: updating my core i7 hackintosh pro rig to snow leopard

Following my foray into building a Hackintosh Pro earlier this year, here’s a short update plus additional tips to help you folks build one yourself. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s my earlier post on building my rig using a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 motherboard.

INSTALLING SNOW LEOPARD

The good thing is that Snow Leopard works flawlessly with the build. An even better thing is that digital_dreamer over at InsanelyMac has updated his Standard Retail DVD Install script and has made it Snow Leopard compatible. Go on over there and read up.

OVERCLOCKING AND PERFORMANCE VS A REAL MAC PRO

Although there are some that have managed to get a pretty stable overclock at 4.0GHz on the i7 920, my little experiments have led me to a stable 3.72GHz overclock and well within a reasonable temperature range of 40C to 70C (70C being under heavy load).

This is a 40% increase in GHz over the stock speed of 2.66GHz.

Considering the Hackintosh Pro is 40% cheaper than a similar Mac Pro and is 45% faster based on Geekbench scores, I’d say the Hackintosh route makes way more sense.

In terms of performance, a 2.66GHz Xeon W3520-based 2009 Mac Pro has a Geekbench score of 8,144.

A Hackintosh Pro built like the one I have running at the stock speed of 2.66GHz has a score of 8,667.

And finally, overclocking the Hackintosh Pro to a stable 3.72GHz gives a score of 11,789!

Considering the Hackintosh Pro is 40% cheaper than a similar Mac Pro and is 45% faster based on Geekbench scores, I’d say the Hackintosh route makes way more sense.

TIPS THAT’LL SAVE YOU YEARS OF YOUR LIFE, OR MAYBE NOT

Build tip #1: Windows 7 Likes to Think It’s King

Install Windows 7 on the first SATA connector as its installer is picky about that. How picky? Well, after wasting a few minutes of your life, it’ll give you a message to the effect that Windows cannot find itself to install itself. Or some borderline existentialism of the sort that only Redmondville can conjure up.

Build tip #2: Install OS X and Windows 7 on Separate Drives

My initial install had both OS X and Windows 7 on the same boot drive. It was tricky to set up, yet it worked flawlessly. The only snag was that it would bork up every time I installed a new Windows release or reinstalled Chameleon and I’d have to go through a tedious routine to get it all back in shape.

Besides, if one hard disk goes down, I still got at least one OS operational until I get the chance to replace the other one from a backup disk.

When using separate disks for OS X and Windows 7, install Chameleon on the OS X disk and set it as the boot drive in the BIOS. When Chameleon boots up, select the partition icon labeled “System Reserved” and not the one labeled “Windows” to load up Windows 7.

Build tip #3: Ensuring that Sleep Works

This one’s simple, at least in my experience. To keep sleep working fine, make sure that no drives are plugged into the Gigabyte JMicron SATA controller. On the GA-EX58-UD5, these are the white connectors as opposed to the blue connectors for the Intel SATA controller. If you do use the JMicron controller, right-click ejecting the drive before performing a sleep will ensure that your Hackintosh will wake up; obviously you could still keep the drive physically plugged in.

Build tip #4: Installing Silverlight

When installing on a Hackintosh, Microsoft’s Silverlight installer package will erroneously report that it cannot be installed on a PowerPC-based Mac. To avoid the installer assuming such nonsense, you’ll have to slightly modify the installer script.

Select the package in Finder, right-click and select Show Package Contents. Navigate to Contents/Resources/ and load InstallationCheck using a text editor such as TextEdit. Change all occurrences of 96+6 to 0. Save the file and run the installer.

Build tip #5: Enabling Quartz Extreme and Core Image

Under Snow Leopard, OS X’s System Profiler will not indicate whether Quartz Extreme or Core Image are enabled. Apple figured out that since 10.6 will only work on Intel machines, and all Intel-based Macs are QE and CI capable, such a check is not necessary.

This presents a problem for Hackintoshers as we need to ensure that our device-properties EFI string in the boot.plist (whether added directly by us or amended at boot time via so called injectors such a NVEnabler) is working as it should be.

All is not lost however, as there is a quick way to check whether QE and CI are enabled and that’s by dropping a new widget in Dashboard. If the screen ripples, then that’s QE and CI at work. If it doesn’t, then QE and CI are not enabled.

Build tip #6: Fix Broken Printer Spooler in Windows 7

If you’re using VMWare Fusion to run Windows inside OS X, then you may experience printing failure if you boot your machine into Windows directly. This is caused by a buggy ThinPrint client installed by VMWare Tools. To resolve this issue, load up Windows via Fusion in OS X, remove VMWare Tools, and re-install VMWare Tools but this time untick the ThinPrint client option. Now you’ll be able to print when Windows is loaded directly at boot time.

The apple of my eye: building my core i7 hackintosh pro rig

A Snow Leopard follow up to this post is here.

A couple of months ago I built a quad-core Mac Pro equivalent “Hackintosh” based on Intel’s X58 and Core i7. All components were selected for their compatibility with Mac OS X Leopard. My goal was to build as close a Mac Pro clone as possible using off the shelf parts, with the ability to do Apple Software Updates on a retail, unmodified OS X installation as you would with a real Mac. First though, a little background…

BIRTH OF A DELLINTOSH

For five years I’ve used a trusty Dell Optiplex GX280. It’s a 3Ghz Pentium 4, Hyper-Threading system. I’ve never had any issues with it which probably had something to do with the fact that I’d stuck with Windows XP Pro throughout and didn’t bother “downgrading” to Windows Vista. From video editing using Sony Vegas to Photoshop usage, the system was rock solid and stable.

Back in August of 2008 I jumped on the Hackintosh bandwagon by installing OS X on it.

To test out whether my Dell works with OS X, I got hold of a bootable, modified installation disc that allowed me to do just that. These Hackintosh distros are dubbed “OSx86” as they’re patched to work with non-Apple x86-based systems. For instance, Apple uses EFI to boot while non-Apple machines use BIOS, so the distro has to emulate EFI in some way. Additionally, as the kernel provided in OS X only works with a Core/Core 2 CPU, the distro includes a modified kernel that works with a Pentium 4. The distro also includes additional/replacement kernel extensions (kexts) to drive hardware not usually found on Apple systems.

To my surprise, OS X booted up just fine; it even recognized my dual monitor setup. It didn’t identify the on-board Broadcom chipset ethernet, which was easily rectified by using a Realtek chipset ethernet card that I got for around three dinars (eight dollars).

I was even able to edit and render 1080p video using Final Cut Pro without a hitch. It soon became my system of choice and I hardly ever booted XP.

Following that little experiment, I went ahead and installed OS X permanently on my Dell, dual-booting with XP using the Darwin bootloader. Granted, the Dell was only a P 4 system, yet OS X worked smoothly and flawlessly, recognizing the two virtual cores provided by Hyper-Threading. I was even able to edit and render 1080p video using Final Cut Pro without a hitch. It soon became my system of choice and I hardly ever booted XP.

With its Unix base, OS X took me back to the days when computing was fun, when one could dig under the hood and run shell scripts and do all that good geekery. It’s like FreeBSD or GNU/Linux but with popular application support and a great user interface. I was hooked.

OS X has the best of both worlds: like a *nix system, it is rock solid and allows one to easily get under the hood and elegantly script and code for it, all the while having a mature desktop as Windows does.

Prior to the introduction of OS X, I never had the inclination to get a Mac, since the Classic Mac OS (Systems 7-9 having been used by me) seemed rather pedestrian. OS X has the best of both worlds: like a *nix system, it is rock solid and allows one to easily get under the hood and elegantly script and code for it, all the while having a mature desktop as Windows does.

The only snag with my Dell Hackintosh was that I wasn’t able to update easily or without the risk of breaking the system installation. Part of that is due to the fact that I was using a non-vanilla kernel as well as various other kexts in a way that if they were overwritten by the Apple Software Update, it would render my system non-working.

The Hackintosh community did come up with various ways to install system software updates without the risk of breaking an OS X installation, yet by that time I had been using OS X on my Dell for a little over a year and decided its time to finally upgrade my rig.

CLOUDNUMBERNINETOSH: A CORE i7 HACKINTOSH PRO

I thought of buying a Mac Pro. Whether I purchased it locally or had one shipped from the States, the cost would be significantly higher than if I built my own customized Hackintosh Pro system. True, a Mac Pro uses

Instead of a true Mac Pro clone, I’d be creating a sort of “Mac Pro jr.”, a mythical machine that costs a bit more than an iMac but is as fast as a W3520 Xeon-based 2009 Mac Pro, and has expansion potential similar to the Mac Pro.

way more expensive server-class Xeon CPUs instead of the Core i7, comes in a great case and has an unmistakable quality feel to it. Then again, with the right motherboard, the Core i7 has great bang-for-the-buck when overclocked compared to a Xeon. Instead of a true Mac Pro clone, I’d be creating a sort of “Mac Pro jr.”, a mythical machine that costs a bit more than an iMac but is as fast as a W3520 Xeon-based 2009 Mac Pro, and has expansion potential similar to the Mac Pro.

Besides, what’s the fun in buying something pre-built? I’ve built a PC nine years ago and it was great fun, and the thought of doing it again was more tempting than simply walking into the local Apple dealer and handing him a wad of cash for one box. I wanted crates of components and I wanted to build it myself.

THE BUILD

I’ve ordered most components from Amazon.com. I would’ve loved to order from newegg.com, but they were being jacks about accepting my non-US CC and shipping to my Aramex mail-forwarding box.

The table below compares the Mac Pro vis-a-vis my Hackintosh configuration’s components and shipping price. The motherboard of choice is the Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5, which has been shown to work quite well with OS X.

Item 2009 W3520 Mac Pro Quad 2.66GHz Hackintosh Pro 2.66GHz Hackintosh Pro Item Price (USD)
Processor 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon W3520 2.66GHz Intel Quad-Core i7 920 289
Memory 3GB 1066MHz DDR3 ECC SDRAM 6GB 1600MHz DDR3 (Corsair Dominator) 312
Hard Drive 640GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s 640GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s 66
Graphics Card NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 512MB (GT 120 is a rebranded GT 9500) NVIDIA GeForce GT 9500 1GB +NVIDIA GeForce GT 7600 256Mb

Providing a total of 4 DVI outputs.

140
Optical Drive 18x SATA SuperDrive Samsung 22x SATA SuperDrive 40
Mouse Apple Mighty Mouse Logitech Wireless 40
Keyboard Apple Keyboard Logitech Wireless 40
Motherboard Apple Proprietary Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5 289
PSU Apple Proprietary Cooler Master Silent Pro M700 Series Modular 700W 131
Case Apple Proprietary Gigabyte Aurora 3D 172
Card Reader None 5.25″ Multi-Card Reader/Writer 37
5.25″ SATA Dock None 5.25″ IcyBox SATA slot 36
CPU Cooler Apple Proprietary Noctua NH-U12P SE1366 Silent CPU Cooler 80
OS X Leopard Included with Mac Pro Single-User Retail – Required to be legal! 99
Shipping and Taxes – New York USD 41 106
Aramex Shop & Ship forwarding to Bahrain USD 401 210
Mac Pro from US (USD) USD 2,942 Hackintosh Pro Total (USD) USD 2,080
Mac Pro from US (BHD) BHD 1,109 Hackintosh Pro Total (BHD) BHD 784
Mac Pro from Apple Center Bahrain (BHD) BHD 1,220
Mac Pro from Apple Center Bahrain (USD) USD 3,236

The table below provides the savings potential from going the Hackintosh route instead of buying a Mac Pro locally in Bahrain or from the US.

Price Difference
Mac Pro Purchased from US vs Hackintosh Pro
Savings (USD) USD 862
Savings (BHD) BHD 325
Savings (%) 29%
Mac Pro Purchased from Bahrain (Apple Center) vs Hackintosh Pro
Savings (USD) USD 1,156
Savings (BHD) BHD 436
Savings (%) 36%

Note that I could have saved over 44% by settling for less, and slower memory instead of the 6GB 1600MHz Corsair Dominator, and settling for one graphics card instead of two.

INSTALLING OS X LEOPARD

The process of installing a retail copy of OS X is simplified by the wonderful “Standard Retail DVD Install” script and instructions provided by digital_dreamer at InsanelyMac.

Apple Software Updates can be performed safely without the risk of breaking the installation.

This method of installation provides for a completely retail, vanilla install and uses the Chameleon bootloader to load any necessary modifications at boot time, without affecting the original system files and/or structure. This ensures that Apple Software Updates can be performed safely without the risk of breaking the installation. This makes the Hackintosh as good as a real Mac with hassle-free updates.

I also installed Windows 7. I don’t usually boot directly into it (though I can), since I use VMWare Fusion to run it in a virtual machine under OS X. Works like a charm. The same goes for other OSs, including Ubuntu and AROS.

I’m currently using three Dell 20.1″ monitors and running four virtual desktops, each one spanning all three monitors. The following is a screenshot of the setup using Exposé:

Windows 7 is running in a virtual machine on the left screen of the first desktop, while AROS is running in another VM on the middle screen of the lower left desktop. Photoshop, Google Earth, VLC and a host of other programs are running as well. Yes, even when zoomed out in Exposé, the videos, Google Earth’s animation, etc. are playing without a hiccup. Mac OS X is THAT good.

BENCHMARKS: HACKINTOSH PRO FASTER THAN A W3520 XEON-BASED 2009 MAC PRO

Without overclocking the i7 920, I’m pleased to say that the Cloudnumberninetosh is faster than a W3520-based 2009 Mac Pro. It has a Geekbench score of 8667, while average W3520-based 2009 Mac Pro scores are at 8144.

Compare this to my old Dell’s score of 1805!

Having at your disposal four real cores and a total of eight virtual cores (each core is virtualized into two) means that whatever you throw at this rig, it won’t break a sweat.

Once I get around to overclocking this beast, I’ll update this section. Based on the experience of others with a similar setup, I can easily get a score of 12,000+ with a 3.6-3.8GHz overclock.

Having at your disposal four real cores and a total of eight virtual cores (each core is virtualized into two) means that whatever you throw at this rig, it won’t break a sweat.

CONCLUSION

Is it worth it? Absolutely. If you’re willing to spare the time and don’t have the need for all the other additions/advantages that a Mac Pro provides, then this is a great way to get a machine which is super-fast and expandable while remaining only slightly more expensive than a high end dual-core iMac (even if you add 100 dinars or so for a decent monitor) and cheaper than a Mac Pro.

Besides, if you’re a Windows gamer, the motherboard comes with three NVidia SLI and ATI CrossFireX PCI Express slots which you can take advantage of for connecting up to three same-model graphics cards to get higher frame rates. SLI and CrossFire is not available on the Mac Pros and is not supported by Leopard, though on a Hackintosh such as the Cloudnumberninetosh you may keep the cards bridged as it won’t affect the operation of OS X. When using Windows, you can turn on SLI/CrossFire for certain games to get higher frame rates.

Note: In no way do I condone software piracy. Having installed OS X on three machines to date, I did buy a brand new, shrink-wrapped OS X Retail Family Pack from eBay for US$149 (a bargain multi-license if you compare it to other software), which gives me a license for up to five installations. I know Apple’s end-user license agreement (EULA) states that OS X should not be installed on ” non Apple-labeled” machines. That is subject to interpretation. Apple-labeled could well mean slapping an Apple sticker on the machine (which is what I did). Besides, in some jurisdictions post-purchase agreements such as EULAs are not valid. I’m not sure what Bahraini law’s take on that, though I doubt it’s advanced enough to deal with such issues.

Don’t ask me for copies of OS X! You can get your own single-license copy from amazon.com for around USD 99.

Good day

“Good stuff,” he said, not looking at anyone in particular. “All I want is good stuff. Nothing more, nothing less. I want my little bit of sweet, and to have it more than the bitter. Way more.”

Jeffrey Mistlethorpe had not yet realized the calamity of the situation he was in. It was the sort of calamity that takes time to dawn on its victim. A calamity of proportions so great that only its shadow was seen by Jeffrey. It loomed over his frazzled head. Poor he.

“Will you look at that fellow over there. Poor thing he is if you ask me,” an elderly woman said.

“Oh, mother, he’s just the way he wants to be. It’s young folks these days. They do things that you or I would never understand.”

***

And so time passed: hours, days, weeks, months; and all that Jeffrey did was walk under the shadow of this great calamity. The mother of all calamities.

He looked up. “That’s it. I want sunshine. I really do. I want that damn cloud to dissipate, to melt away, to vaporize out of my life once and for all.”

He took a few steps by the river Mistlethorpe, named after his great-great-grandfather, founder of Mistleville. A crackling, thunderous, booming sound rained down.

“Oh, my,” Jeffrey said as the sound waves knocked him over.

***

Jeffrey awoke to find himself as he was by the river Mistlethorpe. Yet something was different. A gentle, calming warmth penetrated his skin. Squinting, he looked at the sunlight that surrounded him. He stood up and patted his clothes clean.

“Good stuff,” he said. He smiled from ear-to-ear, his gleaming whites glinting in the sun.

***

With every morning, Jeffrey’s days got sunnier. His demeanor took one of gentle grace that allowed him to sail through all the tumultuousness that life tossed his way.

“Will you look at that fellow over there,” an elderly woman said.

“Oh, mother, he’s just having a good day.”

“I’d say.”

Make believe

Make believe
cover your eyes and count
to ten

Make believe
open your eyes and look
at me

Show me what you think
I’ll show you what I think

We’ll see each other
in a land of
make believe

So many happy happenings
to find, to have, to be

For make believe
is what we
believe in

How to have fun with two strobes, a camera and a Harley

My friend Husam got himself a Harley, I got myself a camera, a couple of strobes and a light diffuser that seems to have been a shower cap in a previous life.

I’ve been fiddling around with a hybrid photography/graphic style that’s often referred to as hyper-realism. The style is identifiable by its clean, contrasty look, sharp details, vivid colors and usually large depth of field.

Is it a good thing? Well, for what it’s worth, let’s deploy the age old dictum (or escape door mechanism) that art is subjective. And while we’re at it, let’s take a look at a before and after photo I did (click on photos to view original size):

Before

Husam, original 

After

Husam, edited

Obviously, besides the contrast, detail and colors, I’ve composited the sky from another photo I’ve taken (my early attempts had me drawing clouds, which weren’t good at all!).

In other edits, I’ve gone overboard and added more than just a cloudy sky:

Before

Husam, original

After

 Husam. edited

The flames are courtesy of flame brushes from Obsidian Dawn.

For each shot, two off-camera strobes were used. Shooting took place around the Zallaq area in Bahrain on a clear day.

Playground

They asked what love is
I asked what life is

We looked at each other
like children in a playground
asking questions we couldn’t answer

We giggled
we loved
we lived

That is all we did
that is all we needed
that is all

That is all

A moment of eternity

Once, there was a moment that surrendered to eternity.

Like all moments before it, this particular moment was not made to last. At least that’s what everyone thought at first.

In a medley of love and hate, defeat and triumph, lies and retribution; the moment came about. It looked at the blue sky patched with fluffy white clouds and asked, “what is it that makes me so…so momentous?”

The sky of course, being a sky, didn’t answer. The moment looked on elsewhere, it searched for anything that could possibly utter an answer. Perhaps it could be a bird, one that would sing an answer. Or a tree that would flutter its leaves like so and so to reveal a hidden truth. Perhaps.

The moment was steadfast in its search for an answer. The moment kept on looking, until it eventually and inadvertently became that which all moments cannot possibly be: eternity.

Then another thought-provoking, interesting moment came along and took over.

So much for eternity.

It’s a wonderful world (that’s what I know)

It’s funny how when asked about their view of the world, some people will take a rather sardonic and cynical view. “The world is in shambles…mankind’s end is nigh…there’s more trouble than peace…we’ll all kill each other,” and so on, they would say.

The truth is, the world is a wonderful place. This is what I believe. This is what I see. This is what I know.

There are so many good things in this world; too many to simply reduce to a few examples here. Though I can safely say that the world is not in shambles, mankind’s end is not nigh, there’s more peace than trouble and we will definitely not all kill each other.

Sure, there are things wrong with the world, with what’s going on and what has happened. Yet all of these things provide us with an opportunity to put right what went wrong, to seek justice, to help each other, to change something for the better. In short, to turn the bad into good.

From replacing our bad habits with good ones, to paying alms and volunteering, to working diligently to make ends meet or realize our goals; all of these are bridges of love, menders of hearts and one more step in the right direction.

For if one loses faith in the world, what does that say about one’s faith in God?

Snap out of the stupor that is pessimism, I’d say. Stand clear of any obstacles, take a look around you and realize the infinite potential of which you are a part of. Extend yourself into infinity and revel in the fact that you are God’s vice-regent in a world that is not perfect. If it is, then what use to God would you be?

Make happen: Ladby Larabee and the bird that perched atop a coffee mug

Ladby Larabee (which some of you mistakenly read as Lady Larabee) was an ordinary man as far as ordinary men went: he was not dashingly handsome in any sense, nor was he hard to look at; he was not talented in any way, nor was he an idiot. Ladby Larabee was simply average. His outlook on life, though, was not average to say the least.

In the morning, Larabee woke up his soul with a prayer and his body with a shower. He would then sit in the balcony thinking of things that were, are and will be. He traversed his own universe of knowledge, scouring for answers from the nether and hither fields of his mind.

Most of the time Larabee’s universe of knowledge was confronted with a considerable number of questions to which answers were not immediate. Such occasions, numerous as they were, prompted Larabee to seek answers from books, people, film—even music. Thus, Larabee’s universe expanded.

One day—as with all days referred to with a consequential sounding “one day”—Larabee’s mind expanded more than he ever fathomed. On that one day, Larabee found himself floating on the wings of an oft pondered notion: fate and free will.

Books, people, film and music (and pizza, Coke and gummie bears) all conspired to conjure up an answer for Larabee. That questioning started taking twists and turns, going back and forth in time, traversing diverse planes of knowledge, and masquerading as a parade of history’s most famous: prophets and fraudsters, princes and paupers, champs and chumps.

Indeed, the questioning turned into a quest. The quest, dear reader, consumed Larabee. With each turn of the page in the grand book of universal knowledge, Larabee’s days rushed into each other. Flip-flip-flippity-flip, Larabee’s eyes scanned the words of the living, the dead, and the word of God.

Until one day (one of those one days undoubtedly), a little bird perched itself atop Larabee’s coffee mug. Tweet-pew-tweet, the bird said.

“Do you have an answer, little bird, about fate and free will?”

Tweet-po-tweet.

“I figured. I’ve been racking my head all this time trying to find an answer. I still don’t have anything.”

The clichéd days turned into clichéd months, which in turn turned into even more clichéd years. Larabee kept pestering the universe and its book of knowledge with how so? And how come?

The universe was aware of Larabee’s quest alright, it just wasn’t about to let go of the grandest secret ever kept without some more work on poor Ladby’s part. Yes, the universe was willing to answer, but only if Larabee would submit his question in the sincerest form possible.

***

Tweet-po-tweeeet!

Larabee awoke in the middle of the night upon hearing the bird. “You. What’re you doing here at this time of night?”

Tweet-tweet-po-weet!

“So, you’re saying that if I manage to sing my heart out I’d eventually find an answer? That if I go out on a limb and risk everything I might stumble across an answer? That needs a lot of faith.”

Tweet.

And so Larabee did. Not only did he sing. He danced, and danced, and danced. He skipped from star to star, galaxy to galaxy, he tossed pebbles of questioning across the grand pool of knowledge. Skip-skip-skippity-skip. He smiled and smiled. And laughed too, lots.

Larabee had found what he was looking for. He had found an answer to the age old question of fate and free will. It wasn’t in the annals of history, nor in the mouths of men busy about nothing. It was right there in Ladby’s heart.

***

In life, there are matters best left to fate, while others are best left to free will. It is with such delicate balance of fate and free will that our individuality arises.

Everyone is handed a set of cards. That’s fate. Playing the cards however you want, now that’s free will.

The common factor between fate and free will is faith. Faith is that which helps us believe in what we have (or are given) and what we aspire to achieve (what we want). Be it running an errand or changing the world, whatever we do is an intertwine of what God has predestined and what we ask God to please make happen.

Ladby Larabee, Esq. and Tweet, Bird.

Silence, patience, ego and love

I’ve had these thoughts running through my head for some time now. Thought I’d let them out before they got too worked up…

What is silence but that moment in which one’s heart beats intently, screaming to be heard?

***

While some matters in life make immediate sense, other matters require time to seep into the mind, heart and soul until meaning arises from them. Bearing the passage of that time entails faith. It requires letting go of immediate concerns, predicaments or worries and to consider what lies beyond those trifles of fear and doubt.

***

Do things neither for ambition nor for a show of courage nor for a display of your peacock wings. Do things for the Love of God, and the Love of God will be what you do.

***

Damn be the day one’s ego reigns supreme, let one be a selfless beggar. Let one deny himself and nourish his soul with Love.

Have a good day, everyone.

One candle at a time

candles2.jpg
The winds of change
will shift the sands of time
but will never, ever blow out
the candles of love

Sleepless, I lay in bed
wishing upon a white ceiling
to have you set free
and for my heart
to capture you

Set sail to the stars
let your ego drown
let your hope surface
let your humility take charge

Without light
a heart is dark
and in disarray

Let me take you
to a far away place
to a place of opulence and magic
of daydreams and starry nights

Let us light a candle for you and I
every single day that we sail
until we light our hearts
until we are free

Image: Candles at a Buddhist temple. Taken during my Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia trip.

Jim Masri

Jim Masri decided that today was a good day to die. There was nothing better than having a clear blue sky, or a starry night, on one’s day of death.

“It’s better than watching television. I’ll watch the sky. That’s what I’ll do. Might as well get ready for up there,” he said to Melissa, the day nurse.

“Enough of such talk, Mr. Masri. This morbidity of yours will not get you any better,” she said. “You’re perfectly well according to Dr. Petersen. In fact, you probably will not be needing me this time next week, Mr. Masri.”

“Call me Jim, dammit. And you’re right, I probably won’t be needing you this time next week.”

Going on about her daily routine, Nurse Melissa didn’t show much sympathy to the octogenarian’s drivel. Jim didn’t mind though, he knew she was trying to get through another day.

***

“No, no, no. Don’t turn on the television. In fact, don’t turn it on anymore.”

“Well, suit yourself,” said Jerome, the night nurse.

“It’s just a waste, kid.”

Jerome didn’t say anything back. Jim didn’t mind; after all, like Melissa, Jerome was just trying to get through another day.

The whole world seemed to be trying to get through another day, Jim thought.

***

Many days and nights passed and Jim Masri kept on repeating one spiel or another about it being a good day to die. Death; however, did not mind Jim Masri. Death did not care to pass by and pull the strings of life out of Jim. Death merely played them from a distance. It played them like a virtuoso, with flair and sophistication.

“I’m afraid you have what’s called a…”

“Spare me, doc, I don’t give a damn what it’s called, I can’t keep track of all the crap going on inside of me. Is it curable, doc?”

“I’m afraid it isn’t,” said Dr. Petersen.

“Good. Now if Death would only go about its business and come ’round here, you and I would be spared a lot of time, doc.”

“Now, now, Jim, we’re all here trying to help you as much as we can. You might want to go out to the park a little, get some fresh air. It’s a bit breezy and overcast though, winter’s almost here.”

***

One night, when a full moon shone bright, a shadow spilled across the grassy lawn of St. John’s.

“Jim, your time is up,” Death said.

“Figures, showing up at midnight. At least it’s a starry night. A good night to die.”

Change

Marwan stretched across a couch in the lunchroom of the Al-Wasat daily, pen and notepad in hand. On that day following the Eid holiday, there seemed nothing more serene than the silent rush of traffic as observed from a double-glazed window. The setting sun poured down its golden light in bucket loads across the road to Budaiya.

I began writing my column in this daily with the idea that I could say something that might, or might not change the world, he wrote. I then learned that changing the world does not begin with a barrage of ideas. Changing the world is not in the realm of human possibilities. It is an illusion that we chase, one that we fool ourselves into accepting just to give ourselves hope about the future. An uncertain future.

Little by little, Marwan slipped into the past, into the memories of a childhood spent running under the summer sun in palm gardens, stepping on rich, moist soil. Into a time when he went to the hafez, learning and memorizing the Quran.

“The objects of nature change very slowly. A palm tree remains a palm tree, it remains what it is and will not change for a very long time, unless it is very young and immature. The more mature, the more set in its ways an object is. All that changes then is what we think of it and how we appreciate it,” Sayed Ali Al-Qudsi said one day at the hafez.

“It is the same for everything else. Most mature things are constant. The change we observe in them comes from us.

“What changes most in this universe is what we, the vice-regents of God on this earth, do. Our free will, our choice and reason is what makes us different from other creatures and objects. We can change in an instant.

“Yet the older we get, like the mature palm tree, the less potential for change we have and the less potential for change we see in others.”

On remembering what Al-Qudsi said, Marwan continued writing:

Everyone is the same, it is only our inherent subjectivity that makes us appear different to each other. It is a subjectivity formulated by our presumptions and conceits, our judgments and suppositions, our culture and traditions, and our religion and faith. It is that subjectivity that makes you and I different to the same person. Perhaps I’m being sardonic, perhaps not.

Sometimes maturity means understanding why we’re heading somewhere before we know how we’ll get there. It is the reason why people stipulate and postulate, sometimes with regards to what they see as right, other times with regards to what they see as wrong. And sometimes, with regards to what they see. Simply see.

I’m afraid there is no better way to end this column than with an age-old cliche, that which says change begins with oneself. Ergo, change in others begins with oneself.

Remembering the present

Cleaning up my bedroom yesterday, I came across something I wrote a couple of years ago, tossed deep down in the under-bed archives

At various points in their lives, some people realize the need to forge ahead new selves, to attempt to claim some identity as if they never had one to begin with. They’re preoccupied with the things they are yet to do, yet to achieve, with the things they must do to be. They try hard to find that place within and outside of themselves which speaks true. Which speaks not to their past, but to their future. They fret about the nature of their past and shun the slowness of the present and live only in a future that is of unknown, untested potential.

Then there are those who’d rather lay trapped in the comfort of the past, their minds lingering woefully about days gone by. Desperate, they seek solace with what’s left of the past–snapshots, snippets and nothing else. The past is all that these people seek, they’re preoccupied with a melancholic nostalgia caressing their daily routines. The future to them is nothing but another moment to remember the past.

Still, there are others who seek themselves in the present moment. Every minute to them is one of reinvention, of change and transformation for the better. They simply aim to find within themselves the present moment. They look to this moment for who they are. And once they center themselves in the present moment, any temporal disruption of a past or future nature that has been cascading their days into nowhere will be no more.

Here’s to everyone who managed to find his or her present moment! Live and love and may all your present days–past, future and now, be as blessed as this Ramadan.

Curious Laura

“The degradation of an individual does not encompass the certainty by which that individual sees himself. For one to see himself in true light requires both certitude and verity. It is only with a lack of levity in character that one rises above the trifles of day to day life to obtain light. Sometimes–no, most of the time, we need each other to obtain light,” Dr. Emmerich said. His words slightly echoed in the lecture hall.

Emmerich was old, frail and had a calm demeanor about him that indicated his total and utter acceptance of his state of being. His tweed jacket seemed to have been surgically stitched to him, for one never saw him with any other jacket.

“He’s an idiot,” whispered Laura, “I’m going to Mack’s…you coming?”

Laura was young, pretty and–to put it bluntly, hot. She was the type of girl that you’d fool around with even though you had nothing in common apart from unhindered raging hormones.

“Sure,” I said.

***

Mack’s was a regular hangout for the five of us. We’d spend hours on end wasting time, talking about nothing and everything. Every time I decided to do something interesting, useful, or remotely beneficial, I’d be overwhelmed by the sheer mind-numbness of dazed and confused freshmen.

“Dude, where’re you off to?” Andrew said.

“Dorm,” I said as I stepped outside Mack’s. I needed timeout.

“I’m coming with you,” Laura said.

I wasn’t getting timeout.

***

My dorm room was Spartan at best. There were some textbooks and notebooks strewn on the floor and a few unwashed tees and boxers peering from a basket.

“Told you it’s not much to look at,” I said.

“You know, you’re the kind of guy I’d want to know more about. You make me…curious, Michael,” Laura said.

***

Laura was very curious. She was very, very curious. I’d never wanted to know as much about her as she did about me. It was fun, though. It was also one of those things, when you’re out there having fun, enjoying whatever comes your way, then suddenly–bham! You get hit on the face with,

“I love you.”

She’s nuts, I thought.

“I love you too, Laura.”

***

“Twenty years ago, a lecturer of mine once said, ‘the degradation of an individual does not encompass the certainty by which that individual sees himself. For one to see himself in true light requires both certitude and verity. It is only with a lack of levity in character that one rises above the trifles of day to day life to obtain light. Most of the time, we need each other to obtain light’,'” I said.

I was wearing a tweed jacket, ill fitting socks that had been washed one too many times, and I had a little photo of my curious Laura in my wallet.

The lens of small things


My favorite lens currently is a 50mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro. It’s perfect for life-size close-ups and portraits. Although it’s not as fast as I’d like it to be (i.e. f/1.4 or f/1.2), it’s sharp and has lovely bokeh (the appearance of out of focus areas) thanks to its circular aperture.

Some of the above photos were shot using a DIY soft box that I hacked together last night (instructions at Strobist – highly recommended site). A soft box diffuses light, softening shadows. Previously, I bounced light off a wall to diffuse it. While wall bouncing works, control is fiddly for shadow direction and spread.

Wall bounce light diffusion photo: Matryoshka dolls.

DIY soft box light diffusion photos: Toy truck, Mac remote, Chrysanthemum 1 and 2, Artifact, Microlith/Loompas photos, Bulb and Soviet Union Full Metal Lighter.

Here’s my soft box:

Soft box

The lights I’m using are ordinary tungsten lamps rated at 60W and 40W. To get a perfect infinity sweep background, I need brighter lights or a hot shoe flash off camera.

Equipment used: Sony Alpha 100, Sony 50mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro lens, vacuum cleaner box converted to soft box and two tungsten lamps.

Mr. Crippin

Mr. Crippin had a deservedly wicked name. He walked into class with calculated, military-precision steps that he himself never faltered to observe every morning. He’d focus on his own brown leather shoes as he walked in front of the whiteboard.

“Children,” he said, raising his head, “the homework tray seems to be filled up nicely today. I expect each and everyone of you to have done a job that would not have me furious this time tomorrow.”

He was barely taller than us, yet his extra two inches made all the difference to third graders. Add to that blondish side-combed hair, a weighty mustache that spelled nothing short of strict, and gleaming gray marbles for eyes.

We never could tell were Mr. Crippin was from. His unaccented English deluded all of us. At one point, he did say he was Welsh. Then he said he was British. By year end, he was either American or Canadian. I could never recall what the reason was for his ambiguous origins.

All sorts of theories were put up about Mr. Crippin. He murdered his neighbor and fled the country…he’s an alien…he’s Crippinface, a ghoul…he’s…and he’s to no end.

Yet we could never come to grips with the fact that Mr. Crippin could be the nicest man on earth at interspersed times throughout the year in which he taught us.

Mr. Crippin added a gold star to my sticker book…Mr. Crippin said I did real good…Mr. Crippin said I should skip a grade…and so on.

***

I don’t know what became of Mr. Crippin. It’s been twenty years since that day when I last saw him before summer vacation.

“Young man, you keep at it and you’ll rise to the stars. Aim high, always,” he said to me.

Throughout third grade, that was the only nice thing he ever told me. I remember it to this day as I sit here in my office writing a little diatribe about a certain teacher that scared us a little, that encouraged us a little, and that–most of all, believed in us before we were old enough to believe in ourselves.

FLIM TIME

A quaint little mistake, quite harmless: FLIM instead of FILM. Subtle, yet evocative of an age when sheep herders and boom operators discussed mountain winds and ambient noise pickup. Or maybe not.

Here’s something for everyone (that wants to make flims):

Celtx – free scriptwriting/media pre-production software for Windows, OS X, and Linux.

Intelligentsia

See and be seen
know and be known

It’s the game of society
we play

Run like a champ
avoid the chimps

A few tips
for sounding intelligent

When someone says something, nod ever so slightly, as if you’re agreeing, then stop as if you’re disagreeing. A subtle frown might add to the effect.

When someone mentions the “government,” look distressed and say “1984.”

Quote Oscar Wilde whenever someone talks about literature.

Refer to everyone that serves you as “sir.” You’re smart enough to appreciate that everyone is a human being.

Listen more. Talk less.

At the end of a night out, ask if anybody would be interested in a game of name that tune, then hum Symphony No. 6 in F Major by Beethoven.

See and be seen
know and be known

For it’s a game of society
we play

Run like a champ
avoid the chimps

Be a chum

Smart one, that is