iChoose

Choice is the anthem of the monoculture.

I bought a MacBook pro with much enthusiasm. If you’re a fledging developer wanting to make something, and look cool while doing it, the MacBook is the way to go. After all, you see the startup milieu brandishing these machines at hackathons. Even Mark Zuckerberg has one.

Then I got a new phone and realized quickly Motorola had not updated its drivers for the latest OSX. I couldn’t connect my phone to the Macbook.

One would think a laptop as pricy as the MacBook would be as universal as Apple’s message – that design matters. Rather, we see the opposite. The MacBook comes to the user on its own terms. It does everything an average human being could ever want from a computer. It also forms a tight, and jealous family with all the other apple devices. Perhaps that is Apple’s greatest contribution to the world – its dogmatically insular attitude which frowns at the unpredictability and tumult of the outside world. “The world changes, and I shouldn’t”. This attitude also comes with a loss of freedom. But who’s complaining? (Except for me)

We are a culture obsessed with our freedom in what we consume. But this often leads us to existential anxiousness. The rise of Apple is an ironic development. The Apple product user doesn’t have to choose between hundreds of superior android phones – each with their advantages, drawbacks, and looks. The Apple user does not have to bother with the titanic diversity of the windows pc market. The Apple user is contented with the package that is Apple. Not having to choose is itself a type of freedom.

We should value freedom, as it is the greatest legacy of our current civilization. But it seems the monoculture has also come to value a different interpretation of freedom – one that Apple does so well at providing: the freedom from anxiousness surrounding the use of our ineffaceable machines.

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Roots

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There is a tranquility here at Valley Forge. I had come across a fork in the rode, and decided to take the path less travelled. It was a good decision. The sun flickered through the dense cover of trees and the rugged, rocky path – jagged rocks, exposed by centuries of soil degradation – ate away at my shoe soles. The silence of the trees was telling. A breeze blew once in a while, making me shiver as the sweat on my back evaporated with the wind.

These woods have a history. Centuries ago, in the chilly autumn of 1777, George Washington and his men had also trekked through here, heading north to make camp for the long haul that was the American Revolutionary war. Washington came here to keep his army safe from British raids. But he would encounter a new enemy.

That long winter took the lives of 2500 of his men, frozen, starved, diseased. Many of them are still buried here, their graves demarcated with small stones and a miniature American flag.

Some of these trees saw it all. I wish they would speak. I would listen.20150829_132751

Soon, I crossed a small bridge over a creek which time had dried, and came to a clearing teeming with dandelions. General Henry Knox’s encampment was only a walk away. He was one of Washington’s favorite generals.

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It was there, in that clearing, that I saw it: a fallen tree, exposed at the roots, a sight both majestic, and out of place. The dandelion clearing was severed across the middle by the body of that fallen tree. The path led me behind, to the exposed roots. The scene reminded me of a dead lion with its guts exposed. You are saddened by the scene and fear the lion no more. You reflect on the parts that made the whole.

The mold of congealed soil, dirt and vegetation that made up the entrails of that fallen king of the forest overwhelmed the eyes with detail. Here, looking at that entangled web of dirt and root, of soil and grass, I knew the tree.

“We are usually amazed by the height of the tree.” my friend quipped, groping the ropy vines around the grave site. “But it’s really the roots. It’s really the soil.”

I imagined how it fell, this creature Knox perhaps stood awhile to admire, this creature a different type of people might have taken for their god. Over the centuries, the soil in these parts might have thinned due to erosion, eternally sloping towards Valley Creek. Maybe that was all it took for the roots to give in: an awkward, leaning, unsustainable stance. Branches groaning and roots snapping, it must have come crashing down to earth in that bitter divorce from the soil, warning its friends of the transient nature of existence.

The tree relied on the soil. The soil seemed insignificant to me.

Perhaps Washington also understood his success to be tied to a greater, more mundane force than himself.

The corpse remained silent, passing onto me the timeless lesson of living: little things matter. What was once great is no more and new life will grow out of its cadaver. We are all in a process of constant resurrection.

Quran 22:46
Quran 22:46

Mounting an external hard-drive on Linux

I am using a fedora 32 bit machine for this exercise

First open up a terminal and type in

tail -f /var/log/messages

This will show you the activity about to take place.

Plop your hard drive into a dock and connect it (via USB in my case) to the computer.

You should see output similar to this in the logs.

drive

Notice the sdb stuff down at the bottom. Mounted devices are managed in /dev/ and /dev/sd* is usually used for mounting USB’s. 

Cool. Let’s try looking for files like /dev/sdb*

I do an ls /dev/sdb* and only get one file /dev/sdb

Makes since, because the hard drive I plugged in is formatted. It has no partitions. Partitions are specified as such.

/dev/sdb1 — first partition

/dev/sdb2 — second partition

etc etc.

Since I don’t have a partition on this drive, I will use

fdisk /dev/sdb

to make one. FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS (press ‘m’ for the options).

After you’ve set that up, now it’s time to make a FILE SYSTEM on the partition.

Your new partition should appear under /dev/sdb1 (if you chose 1 as your partition).

Use this command to make a file system on the partition

mkfs -t ntfs /dev/sdb1 (or wherever your partition is)

CONGRATS, you now have an empty partition ready for use. Now, let’s mount the partition.

Simply

mount /dev/sdb1

Now do what ever you want with it! It’s all yours.
If you did not find this helpful, please ask me questions below.

Robin Hood

These articles serve as short summaries of the Radio Show In Our Time (IOT) with Melvyn Bragg. This week, we begin with the IOT: Top ten essentials list.

An ancient rhyme goes

“Lithe and Lysten, gentylmen,

that be of frebore blodel shall tell of a good yeman

His name was Robyn Hode

Robyn was a proude outlawe

Whyles he walked on grounde

So curteyse and outlawe as he was one was never none yfound.”

 

Robin Hood fights Little John

These lines are from William Langlan’s epic poem Piers Plowman, dated back to the 1370’s. They contain the first ever reference to Robin Hood, a ‘yemen’ (pronounced ‘e-yomen’) or a freeman according to the poem, and a ‘proude outlawe’ who has captured English imaginations for centuries. Robin Hood was allegedly a master swordsman, bandit, vigilante, and a hero. Oh, and also a master archer, wearing his conical Lincoln green. We now know him as the heroic outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor. But studying the old ballads present us with a different picture of the proud thief. In fact, none of the earliest ballads mention Robin Hood ‘robbing from the rich to give to the poor’. So how did the myth develop?
The many ballads of Robin Hood (RH) were one in a sea of folk tales on the lips of the English peasants, transferred orally through ale houses, taverns, and village festivals during the middle ages. RH’s ballads however, were unnaturally popular among the local people, so much so that in another classic ballad, a priest complains he does not know his prayers but has every song about Robin Hood memorized! The popularity of these ballads no doubt, troubled the established authority of the church. Unsurprisingly, the early Robin Hood was a fierce opponent to authority of every kind – particularly the church. The early stories were also a tad gruesome, and certainly not ‘kids’ material. For example, one particular early ballad has RH arrested by a monk and his men. Only a short while later, RH and his friend Friar Tuck kill the monk and his boy assistant, buries them on the side of the road, and then goes on their way. There seems to be no indication of regret or horror in the text, but rather codonment, as if RH killing a holy man was justified in this case and we shouldn’t bat our eyelashes at all. Another story has RH engaged in a fierce battle in which he decapitates his opponent, and then carries around the head in his hood. The early RH it would seem, was a strong figure of masculinity, a fighter of local corruption (he didn’t care much about the King, but would deal with local corrupt officials in a gruesome manner), and a no-do-gooder. He is portrayed as a rabble rouser and an entertainer, and would hold great comedic events in the countryside or in the forests of Sherwood where entire villages would gather together to have a good time (these events were supposedly held on Sunday). He is the first green man, or a man of the forest, drawn by the boundaries of civil society, and the limits of freedom. In a sense, his ballads were a reflection of the wishes of the populace.

 

But as times changed, so did Robin Hood. The modern RH begins in the 17th century, with Anthony Munday’s ‘The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon’, an Elizabethan play that reinterprets almost every quality of the then popular Robin Hood and turns him into an aristocrat. And rightly so, since this play was aimed at the posh, Victorian upper class. Even the rich needed their myths. In The Downfall, RH, is not so anarchic. He is an upholder of ‘good’ authority by being on the King’s side. He is less masculine, and more of the do gooder. Ironically however, Munday’s RH meets a bitter end in the forest. The forest is a foreign place for RH and he is not a man of the world and of the trees like the earlier conceptions. This is an example of Victorian royalty adopting popular myths for their own usage. In this conception, Robin Hood becomes the gentleman, whereas the previous RH was just a bandit killer.

Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’

RH is not a unique English myth. It is one among thousands of ballads about heroic bandits and outlaws. So why has it persisted? The credit for this goes to the great Romantic writers of Scotland, most notably Sir Walter Scott. Scott repackages Robin Hood as a cool, collected man of skill and honor in his celebrated Ivanhoe. It is in Ivanhoe we get the first mention of Robin Hood splitting an enemies arrow right down the middle like a badass. Scott’s writing catered to the English lust for a Romantic history, and additionally to a wider audience worldwide. He is the first to create the Robin Hood we know of today: utterly masculine, romantic, heroic, pensive, and vigilant. He is both the killer and the gentleman.


But what of historical accuracy? Is there one Robin Hood in history? This question would seem irrelevant to the early ballad singers, because to them, RH existed in their voices, and in the effects their songs had on other people. The concept of ‘historicity’ is a modern invention and for the people of the past, the myth was both perfectly true and perfectly false. It would evolve into whatsoever was required in its time. This is how stories and legends retain their relevance, by speaking to the wishes of their readers and listeners. This is certainly what the legend of Robin Hood has done and continues to do (see Hollywood).

Durarara!! and the Interconnectedness of Things

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/50/Durarara!!_vol01_Cover.jpg

Durarara’s second season makes a triumphant return, and now more racier than ever with unfortunate amounts of fan-service not to be found in the original. But the original (and better) season is the topic of this short reflection.

I haven’t watched a lot of Anime, but I usually avoid anything longer than twenty five episodes in length, because my main objective in watching media of any kind is not the entertainment, but the very real benefits I might pull away. I think this is an advantageous mindset to have, for entertainment is a natural side effect of good media anyway, so why should it be an end? Now, Durarara might not be that appealing. It is slow, sluggish, and at times incoherent, exacerbating its audience, confused for not knowing what happened in the episode, and also not knowing what questions to ask so as to unravel the confounding tapestry of a plot. But this is the style of Durarara, an anime (if anime can be loosely defined as cartoons with a distinct art style) which refuses to follow any convention.

The story follows a host of characters, lacking any clear main character in Tolstoian fashion. Every face appearing on the screen may become an important figure (an easy thing to keep track of because background characters are drawn as dull, grey outlines), or could even have an episode dedicated to his/her honour. This erratic nature of the presentation is not to be taken as a failure in storytelling; the reason being Durarara seems not to have a conventional story at all. By the end of the first season, one is left asking what had actually taken place; what had changed? Thus in its most poignant moment, Durarara asserts nothing had changed, and that life moves on, as it should. The twists and turns of the plot are satisfying. Yet despite it all, the anime is the story of its characters. It is one big mirror that reflects – in its absurd and fantastical way – the vicissitudes, and the hidden connectedness of human society.

The first episode begins with the innocent Mikado arriving at Ikebukuro, a city very much alive, very much its eccentric people as it is its dark alleys, glowing skyscrapers, color gangs, street fights, Russian Sushi, and urban legends. We soon find these urban legends becoming part of normality; thus the fantastical – represented by a Dullahan doubling as a vigilante searching for her lost head – creeps into the everyday; and what we thought innocent and unconnected, turns out to be the centre of a multifarious collection of events that throw the city into chaos – only to return it to normality once more. This theme of apparent chaos, only to be exposed as a certain twisted harmony, is why Durarara holds a special place in my heart. Its most striking theme is purpose: unintelligible in the moment, but clear when one takes only a different view of things. This theme is present in nearly every episode, opening with a flurry of seemingly random, irrelevant events taking place across the entire length of the city. But by the end, we’ve uncovered the the whole story and most importantly, the personal stories and motivations of all involved. What at first thought seemed nonsensical chaos had reasons behind it all. Small pieces played their own role in assembling the bigger, beautiful puzzle. This message is apparent from the beginning.

When we are first plunged into Ikebukuro, with its myths, dangers, uncertainties and vastness, it presents itself a lonely, unconnected place where people live their lives in vacuums, as so often is the case with city life today. Our characters are one dimensional beings, very much like us – worried about making new friends, battling their own demons, coming to terms with their pasts, or hopelessly lost in their own fantasies. All are moving along, independent of each other.

But if there is anything to learn from the spirit of Durarara, it is that the apparent is never reality, for we see the shady informant cross paths with the innocent schoolboy, the headless rider cross paths with a certain Shizuo – a man dressed in a tuxedo who has anger management issues -, the supernatural girl with a sword up her arm chatting cheerfully with a Russian black man, and the underground doctor falling in love with the headless dullahan from Ireland.

The power of Durarara, is not the sheer eccentricity of its plot, but its depiction of the hidden harmony in human societies, held together by an unknown power originating in accidental human relationships. It additionally uncovers for us, the web: that intangible, ubiquitous, voracious, invisible web that sucks all of humanity – and even non-humanity – into its clutches, connecting them in ways they could never have imagined; so as some of us seek to tear away from this web, cutting our ties, it seems to pull us back in a ceaseless, inevitable cycle as if to say ‘You cannot get away because you are human. And human beings need each other’.
That to me is a valuable lesson.

The Other Messiah

It’s Christmas time again and and with it, the time for stories. What better stories to tell than real stories? So let’s talk about Messiahs, because isn’t Christmas the celebration of the birth of the Messiah Jesus Christ? Note that Muslims too believe Christ to be the Messiah. However, the Jewish faith denies this claim, and thus, are still waiting for their Messiah. As a result, several Messiah claimants have popped up throughout Jewish history.

 

Perhaps one of the more interesting period has to be the 17th century. After the fall of Granada and the destruction of the Muslim empires of the Iberian peninsula, the Ottomans became the patrons of the Jews and thousands upon thousands flocked to the protection of the ‘Grand Turk’. It was a bloody age. Catholics in Spain were forcing a misinterpreted version of Christianity down the throats of Jews and Muslims, the Ottomans teamed up with the Protestants to subdue King Charles while the Venetians quietly made off with the loot and got filthy rich. One year in particular frightened and excited Ottoman Jewry – 1666 AD. As the fateful year arrived, millenarian fever gripped the Balkans as the Jewish mystical traditions – firmly based in Salonica – predicted the coming of the Messiah and all sorts of apocalyptic disasters. The Protestants too were in on it. They eagerly awaited the conversion of the Jews while the Jews awaited the conversion of the Protestants at the hand of their Messiah. Rumors were abound that a ship had been sighted off the coast of Scotland with ‘The Twelve Tribes of Israel’ written on the sails, bound to carry the Jewish people to Zion. Understandably, the Ottoman authorities kept an eye on the whole affair but decided to ignore the commotion- unless that is, if any were to talk of deposing the Sultan.

Modern day Salonica (Thessaloniki) in Greece. The city was a thriving port and haven for the Sephardim (Jews from Iberia) during the Ottoman era.

That winter, a Jewish scholar from Izmir headed to Istanbul, intent on killing the Sultan and ushering in the promised Kingdom. Sabbatai Zevi was his name, and he had been going around rabbinical circles for a while, declaring himself the Messiah here and there. Many believed him and his popularity soon soared. The Jewish world went into an uproar at his journey towards Istanbul. All around, Jews were abandoning their shops, selling their homes for pennies and preparing great entourages to make the pilgrimage to Zevi. The fervor was nonetheless greatest in Salonica, where the Jewish residents were preparing for a great pilgrimage that threatened to leave the city bare. Rabbis urged their congregations to purify themselves, and thousands fasted, whipped themselves or jumped into icy baths in the cold Balkan winter to purge themselves of sin. Several buried themselves up to the neck in the dirt and had their faces splashed with frozen water. Christians and Muslims looked on in amusement. When one French consul reprimanded a Jewish boy for his excitement, the boy assured him he had nothing to smile about, for he was shortly to be a slave of the Messiah.

 

The Ottoman authorities caught wind of the whole affair however, and arrested Zevi en-route to Istanbul. Caught red handed, Zevi denied all of the charges yet they threw him in jail just in case. The fervor did not end. Delegations visited him from as far away as Poland and many reported the miracles he performed; of them – a bright light shining from his presence, a golden crown and a golden robe suddenly appearing on his body etc. Continuing Zevi’s momentum, another man named Nehemiah appeared. He went straight to the imprisoned Zevi, and convinced him that the Messiah actually had a second almost-Messiah who was to be his side kick. Unsurprisingly, Nehemiah claimed to be this side kick. The two fell into fighting however (no doubt Zevi feared Nehemiah stealing his thunder). Nehemiah, clearly furious at Zevi, went straight to the authorities and convinced them – albeit through much exaggeration – how corrupt and impious Zevi was and how he was inciting his congregations. The Sultan quickly resolved to have him executed, but the more sensible judges feared turning him into a martyr. Finally, one of the Sultan’s Physicians (himself a Jewish convert to Islam), gave Zevi the option of converting to Islam. If he ‘repented’ of his ‘sins’, the Sultan was sure to save his head.

 

To the great astonishment of Ottoman Jewry, Zevi agreed! The Jewish fervor gradually subsided as his once great popularity diminished. Zevi’s congregation found themselves asking how the ‘Messiah’ could leave his own religion. His most fanatical followers however, justified the conversion via mystical means and followed Zevi into Islam. The Messiah would spend the rest of his life traveling the outskirts of Macedonia and the Balkans as he whipped up a new Jewish sect known as the Sabbatian movement. The Jewish community at large soon spurned him and looked on with suspicious eyes at mysticism thereafter, forcing Zevi to keep a low profile wherever he went. Those who had converted to Islam with him became known as the Ma’min and they continued to exercise a degree of influence in the Muslim communities in the Balkans till the late 19th century.

 

The commotion surrounding Zevi shows a certain anguish of the Jewish people in the 16th and 17th century. Though the Ottomans became their protectors from Catholic Europe, they still longed for a Messiah as they saw their people banished from Iberia – a home above homes. Disaster made them look continually heaven ward for a savior. The Christians and Muslims have their Messiah, yet we too seem despondent when gazing out at the modern world, with its rampant inequality and atrocious violence. Perhaps some of us too wish for a second ‘Messiah’ like figure. And perhaps he, or she will come from among our own ranks – not as a divine god of sorts, but as a regular human being intent on rectifying humanity with compassion. Who knows what the future holds?

Sources

Mazower, Mark. Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims, and Jews, 1430-1950. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. 69-71. Print. (awesome book!)