Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ode to the Kindle

My brothers and sister-in-law visited recently. Seeing them was fantastic enough, but they also brought the best presents ever. I've gotten used to the fact that since my son was born, the presents he gets are more exciting than the ones I get. But not this time!

My youngest brother brought me a copy of The Blythes Are Quoted, L.M Montgomery's ninth "Anne book." I've loved the Anne of Avonlea series since I was a girl, had noted the publication of the book with much interest, and written it off as something that I would get to read when I finally make it back to the US some day. Observant kid brother had noticed a Facebook conversation I had about it with some friends, and brought it along. Clever fella. Haven't started reading it yet, because I need to finish the novel I'm already reading, first, and I want to savour the Montgomery (cue joke about savouring Montgomery, when everyone knows they only make sweets).

My other younger brother and his wife, brought me, among other things, a Kindle.

I had wanted one because I have accumulated a great deal of electronic reading material in connection with my never-ending thesis, and when I start reading on my computer, my eyes get tired relatively quickly, plus I am more likely to be distracted and give in to all the many charms that lurk in the computer. So I had figured an ebook reader would allow me to single-task with greater concentration. It was a utilitarian desire.

The surprise is just how much I love it. It's the perfect combination of my love of tech and my love of books. The cover makes it look and feel like a leather-bound book or journal. This is a big part of the charm, because I still feel like I'm reading a real book. The other cool thing (and anyone who is familiar with ebook readers already knows this, but I hadn't seen one in real life before) is that the screen really looks pretty much like a page, rather than an electronic screen. I had read that e-ink technology did this, but I hadn't realized how good it was until I actually saw it. My biggest objection to the whole idea of e-books had been that you couldn't snuggle up in an armchair with them, the way you would a real book. But this is totally possible. And as I said, the cover is critical to the illusion.

Now you can't flip pages back and forth, and it's black and white, so colour illustrations are no good, but the novels and non-fiction I read are mostly text, anyway, so that's not a problem for me.

I'm still getting to know the gadget. But there are other little things that thrill me about it, too. The cover has a built in light. You pull out this little strip, and a light on it's end comes on. The light is powered by the Kindle itself, presumably from the metal anchor points where the device slots on to the cover. When you're done reading, or don't need the light, the strip slides back in, leaving you with what looks like any nice leatherbound journal.

The biggest delight, the one that gives me a little girlish thrill every time I see it is that when you switch it off, an image displays itself on the screen. Most are pictures of authors, but there are some nice line drawings, too. And even when the reader is off, the image remains displayed. No blank screen. It gives me back that feeling of magic that cool new technology used to provide. Like the first time I saw computers communicating via infrared, or my brother controlled my computer in Lahore from all the way over in Michigan. I have yet to cycle through all the images, so that's another delight. I don't know what the next image will be, and they're all images I've enjoyed, so far.

So, from ebook skeptic to convert, in the space of three days. I'm not giving up my print library, though. That would still be heresy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Skill development

My 3-1/2-year-old son has recently started drawing lower-case letters in outline. By recently, I mean I just saw them for the first time yesterday. You know outline letters, the kind where you can then later colour in the letter. In fact that's what he calls them. Colouring letters. He's been doing upper-case ones for a while, and I was pretty impressed with that.

When I saw the lower-case letters today, it got me thinking. I distinctly remember learning to write bubble letters in 7th grade or even later (I remember the school where I learned them from some classmate who was really good at art). So what is it that is so different that my son has learned this, without really being taught, at age 3?

For one, his dad draws well. So that's probably a major contributing factor. But I'm skeptical about the degree of connection between heredity and specific skills. So I thought some more about PakameristanicanJr's drawing and penmanship. And it seems to me that he is really good at imitating. So, for example, as a huge fan of Disney/Pixar's Cars, he has been looking at the Cars logo for a long time. But until recently, he couldn't draw it. Then he asked his dad and me to draw it for him, several times over the course of a couple of weeks, I guess. Not every day, but it must have been a half dozen times. And now he draws it himself. So there's something about watching how we draw it that seems to help him do it himself.

The question that remains in my mind is whether this is a universal thing. Do all, or most, kids learn like this, by paying attention to how grown ups are doing something? I don't remember learning things that way, but upon reflection, it seems to be a difference in attentiveness. When I watch/ed someone carefully as they were doing something, I can/could imitate. But I rarely bothered to do so for things that require manual skills. It's just interesting how carefully he attends to the visual, something that I rarely do.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

I hold my honey and I store my bread

In little jars and cabinets of my will.

I label clearly, and each latch and lid I bid,

Be firm till I return from hell.

I am very hungry. I am incomplete.

And none can tell when I may dine again.

No man can give me any word but Wait,

The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;

Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt

Drag out to their last dregs and I resume

On such legs as are left me, in such heart

As I can manage, remember to go home,

My taste will not have turned insensitive

To honey and bread old purity could love.

Gwendolyn Brooks 1945

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Social Change Creeps In?

Weekday mornings, my son and I grab a cab to his school. Grabbing a cab in Abu Dhabi is probably even more common than grabbing one in NYC, because you don't have a convenient bus or subway system. Plus, taxis are (relatively) cheap. So I've interacted with a lot of Abu Dhabi cabbies. If you bother to chat with them, they may or may not welcome the opportunity.

The demographics are mixed, although Pathans still predominate (can I use that word like that? augh I hate that I don't have room for my dictionary near my computer...ok, yes I can), there are a fair number of South Indians and Filipinos, and the occasional Arab driver. The Pakistanis are almost always Pathan, many of whom speak very little Urdu.

Today's driver, though, was from Bahawalpur. So we exchanged the usual pleasure at recognizing a humwatan, and chatted a bit on the way back home. 

All of the above is by way of preface. The man asked me whether I was in Abu Dhabi because I work here (we had agreed a minute before that this was no place to live, that Pakistan was an infinitely nicer place, but that one had to earn one's daily bread, etc., etc.), and I told him no, my husband has a job here. To which he responded "Ye ghar ki duty bhi naukri hoti hai, balke zyaada sakht naukri" ("oh house duty is also a job, in fact a much harder job"). I laughed, said wouldn't it be great if more people understood that, and was getting ready to get out of the cab but he was telling me about his wife and how hard it is for her to take care of their two sons on her own in Pakistan, so I listened.

The conversation got me thinking. It's not the kind of opinion I expect from a middle-class Pakistani male. But perhaps that's unrealistic of me. There are probably lots of men out there who realize that the homemaker's role is a really tough one. The real change would be if they were to take on some of that role, which only happens in a small minority of the homes I've seen.

So maybe there's nothing of note in this conversation after all. Other than it being seen as polite to acknowledge that stay-at-home-moms are not living the easy life.

"I raise my hands to frame the light,
Raise my voice in the middle of the night,
I close my eyes when I start to sing,
It's a way of, way of praying"
               - Carrie Newcomer, The Yes of Yes

Monday, March 08, 2010

This is a communications company

So today my husband got our cable bill. Post only comes to PO boxes in Abu Dhabi; no home mail delivery.

Inside, there was a flyer about how the company (which is the same company that provides phone lines, cell phone connections, and internet service) was going to be sending bills by e-mail from now on.

They also included on their flyer the web address for where you could access your billing info. I am attaching a scanned copy of the paper. Read the second sentence carefully.


Friday, February 26, 2010


First, something that I read, and loved, because it put in academic terms many things that I have always felt about the phenomenon of Wifework: What marriage really means for women. Of course the author, Susan Maushart is Australian/American, so there are real cultural differences in our experiences, but she really sums up the parts that get under my skin really well. Been meaning to mention her work for a while. I'll revisit this at some later point.

Second, my thesis reading is totally overwhelming me. Everything I read points me to at least five (if I'm lucky.. more likely fifty) further references that look interesting or relevant or life-changing. And of course I don't have the time to read it all. And of course I don't have access to a decent library, so a lot of books that I could skim and recognize as "not really relevant even though they sound like they should be" remain tantalizingly out of reach, even as they stick out their tongues and wag their fingers at my focus on the texts I *am* reading. It has become very clear to me that this is one of my major obstacles in completing writing tasks. The allure of more things that could be read leads me to collect far more material than I can possibly read, which means I put it off, which means I don't get started on writing till far too late. So now that I've identified this problem in so many words, I need to seek some suggestions as to how I can circumvent the problem: I want my reading to be thorough; that's something I'm not willing to sacrifice. So how do I identify "thorough enough," given that "complete" is never an option where reading and learning go?

Ok, back to reading about qualitative research methods, so I can decide what to go with sometime in the next week. :)

"I raise my hands to frame the light,
Raise my voice in the middle of the night,
I close my eyes when I start to sing,
It's a way of, way of praying"
               - Carrie Newcomer, The Yes of Yes

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Can We or Can't We?

Last night, H and I had dinner at one of his colleagues.' This is an unusual occurrence for us, socializing with people from his workplace, especially since we've moved to Abu Dhabi. The conversation ranged from politics to parenting to comparisons of Abu Dhabi and Pakistan, to any number of things.

The politics part I won't really get into today, other than to comment that I discovered something about myself: I used to get very frustrated when I heard people blame all or most of Pakistan's woes on "the foreign hand." Now I am amusedly exasperated. Something to discuss in more detail another day, perhaps.

The conversation on parenting is what I want to focus on. We were agreeing that too many children in Pakistan were given far too free a hand by their parents, in terms of how much money they had to spend, in particular. We talked about how a lot of drug money had flooded into the country in the 80s and how foreign remittances from expat workers created "money for free." Too many kids had fathers who were working abroad, usually in the Gulf, and sending most of their salary home. These kids never saw how hard their fathers worked, and they worked hard. At jobs that their kids would consider beneath their dignity, for long hours, in pretty nasty living conditions. All their families saw was a sudden influx of wealth. We're not talking extra pin-money here. Family incomes increased exponentially.

The point of this conversation about the Dubai-chalo (Let's go to Dubai) phenomenon was that if kids don't see any of the effort that goes into earning money, they have little respect for money. And this was where things got really interesting, from my perspective. Our host made the remark, only half-jokingly, that it was mothers who would be answerable to God for their failure to raise their children appropriately, the implication being that their moms should teach them that their dads are working hard. And our hostess added, well, of course the mothers would be responsible for the upbringing, but the fathers would be answerable as to whether their children had been brought up on halal  or haraam kamaai ('legitimate or ill-gotten earnings', but the phrase is laden with a whole constellation of connotations in Urdu).

I can't honestly say that I know enough about the Quranic view of parenting to be able to comment on whether their opinions are correct from a dogmatic point of view. I would be willing to speculate that there are probably scholars who would espouse these views. But I'm left wondering how much we can and should control our children's attitudes, in the way that our hosts seemed to think that parents should. I suppose the expat workers' wives could try to get their kids to empathize with their fathers' experiences, but I wonder how many of the mothers were able to empathize themselves. They would have little to no exposure to the reality themselves, except for what their husbands told them in the month or three they were home every two or three years. Could those moms be held responsible for their kids attitudes? Can *any* parents be held responsible for their kids' attitudes?