bookmark_borderJapanese Death Poems

Just finished reading Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death by Yoel Hoffmann.

The death poem is a genre of poetry that developed in the literary traditions of East Asian cultures—most prominently in Japan as well as certain periods of Chinese history and Joseon Korea. They tend to offer a reflection on death—both in general and concerning the imminent death of the author—that is often coupled with a meaningful observation on life.

— Wikipedia

It was refreshing to see how comfortable the Japanese culture once was with the topic of death. I’ve also enjoyed, more than the poetry, the accompanying texts giving historical context to authors and events.

Following are a few poems that did speak to me.

Death poems

are mere delusion—

death is death.

TOKO (d. 1795)

When autumn winds blow

not one leaf remains

the way it was.

TOGYU (d. 1749)

Festival of Souls:

yesterday I hosted them

today I am a guest…

SOFU (d. 1891)

A willow tree in fall:

its leaves will not be missed

as much as cherry blossoms.

SENRYU (d. 1818)

Since I was born

I have to die

and so…

KISEI (d. 1764)

Chrysanthemums were yellow

or were white

until the frost.

GODO (d. 1801)

bookmark_borderTuesdays with Morrie

A few quotes that stuck with me from reading “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom:

On our culture and values:

“Well, for one thing, the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it. They’re more unhappy than me—even in my current condition.”

“We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on in our country,” Morrie sighed. “Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it—and have it repeated to us—over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.

— “There’s a big confusion in this country over what we want versus what we need,” Morrie said. “You need food, you want a chocolate sundae. You have to be honest with yourself. You don’t need the latest sports car, you don’t need the biggest house.

— “The truth is, you don’t get satisfaction from those things. You know what really gives you satisfaction?”

— What?

— “Offering others what you have to give.”

“People are only mean when they’re threatened,” he said later that day, “and that’s what our culture does. That’s what our economy does. Even people who have jobs in our economy are threatened, because they worry about losing them. And when you get threatened, you start looking out only for yourself. You start making money a god. It is all part of this culture.”

On competing with others:

“Mitch, if you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down at you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.”

On aging:

“It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

On working with what life gives you:

“Every society has its own problems,” Morrie said, lifting his eyebrows, the closest he could come to a shrug. “The way to do it, I think, isn’t to run away. You have to work at creating your own culture.

On investing in others:

“The problem, Mitch, is that we don’t believe we are as much alike as we are. Whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, men and women. If we saw each other as more alike, we might be very eager to join in one big human family in this world, and to care about that family the way we care about our own.

“But believe me, when you are dying, you see it is true. We all have the same beginning—birth—and we all have the same end—death. So how different can we be?

“Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.”

“Be compassionate,” Morrie whispered. “And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.”

He took a breath, then added his mantra: “Love each other or die.”

On death:

“It’s natural to die,” he said again. “The fact that we make such a big hullabaloo over it is all because we don’t see ourselves as part of nature. We think because we’re human we’re something above nature.”

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on—in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.”

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

bookmark_borderMy 2020 Review in Books

This year books helped me stay grounded by spending less time reading news and social media, a great benefit with everything going on in the world. Here is what I’ve read:

The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Kishimi, Ichiro

I found the format of this book on Adlerian philosophy a little annoying. The book is written as a dialog between two people with infrequent interjections from the narrator, while I would have much preferred a concise summary of the ideas. Nonetheless, a few ideas in this book were fresh and key to my personal growth this year, especially in the area of caring less about what other people thought of me.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Sacks, Oliver

I like morbid stories. This book described many cases of people who were mentally ill in fascinating ways but were not always aware of their illness. The language is a bit dry but the content compensated for the most of it.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by Clear, James

Yet another book on building habits; after reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg a few years back I was hesitant to read another book on the subject, so I listened to it instead. I found that this book had some good practical advice on building habits. It also touched upon some deeper considerations around one’s identity and habits and the importance of carefully choosing what you decide to strongly identify with. As I was reading the last chapter of the book I kept thinking about these lines from the Mettā Sutta that advises the reader not to hold to fixed views to avoid suffering:

By not holding to fixed views, the pure hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desire,is not born again into this world.

Mettā Sutta (SN 1.8)

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by King, Thomas

I got to this book after many years of having it on my to-read list; I regret I did not read it earlier. As an immigrant, my education on Indigenous people was minimal and frankly speaking, it’s largely my own fault. Anti-indigenous racism is a problem for most of North America and this book does a great job illuminating some of the problems that exist today as prominently as they’ve existed centuries ago. Plus King has a great dry sense of humour which won me over after the first couple of pages.

The Last Lecture by Pausch, Randy

A sad and sweet story of a Computer Science professor who died from pancreatic cancer but left an amazing legacy for his family and people he taught.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by DiAngelo, Robin

This book was probably the most difficult and important ones that I worked through this year. One paragraph regarding self-education that especially stuck with me was the following:

When white people ask me what to do about racism and white fragility, the first thing I ask is, “What has enabled you to be a full, educated, professional adult and not know what to do about racism?” It is a sincere question. How have we managed not to know, when the information is all around us? When people of color have been telling us for years? If we take that question seriously and map out all the ways we have come to not know what to do, we will have our guide before us. For example, if my answer is that I was not educated about racism, I know that I will have to get educated. If my answer is that I don’t know people of color, I will need to build relationships. If it is because there are no people of color in my environment, I will need to get out of my comfort zone and change my environment; addressing racism is not without effort.

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Dobelli, Rolf

This one took me a while. On the one hand, I realized that I am probably susceptible to a bunch of cognitive biases described in the book. On the other hand, I am now aware of a few of them. I also took the author’s advice to stop reading news so much.

I would predict that turning your back on news will benefit you as much as purging any of the other ninety-eight flaws we have covered in the pages of this book. Kick the habit—completely. Instead, read long background articles and books. Yes, nothing beats books for understanding the world.

– Chapter 99: Why You Shouldn’t Read the News (News Illusion)

The Bonsai Handbook by Prescott, David

I read this one quickly, in an effort to gain some knowledge about not killing a few of my self-grown Bonsai plants. A very detailed book with a lot of background information on the biology of these little joyful plants.

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Fischer, Bobby

Ah, yes, chess. I started playing with my dad this summer as he was teaching my nephew. I very quickly learnt that my chess skills were abysmal. This book was an attempt to improve them. I found it entertaining and learnt a couple of new tricks. I still can’t beat my dad…

Dear White People by Simien, Justin

Much softer introduction to the topic of racism than the White Fragility. It made me laugh at times and sparked the interest in reading more books on the subject.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our by Gottlieb, Lori

Absolutely beautiful story of a therapist who needed therapy herself. It’s good to read about what other people are going through because it makes one feel less lonely and more empathetic.

Zuleikha by Yakhina, Guzel

I picked this book up because it got a considerable amount of positive coverage in Russia and also because I wanted to read some non-fiction for a change. I’ve enjoyed the story-line despite of the fact that some have claimed that the historical portrayal of the early USSR is not entirely accurate.

Orange World and Other Stories by Russell, Karen

This collection of tasteful horror stories was a delight to read. The kind of book that tickles one’s nerves without giving deep nightmares.

To Cook a Bear by Niemi, Mikael

A story based on the character of Lars Levi Laestadius, a Swedish pastor who was evangelizing the Sami people. A mix of crime and Christianity and overall an enjoyable read, largely due to the cultural / historic aspect.

The Woman Who Can Keep Secrets by Elena Vavilova

“A woman who knows how to keep secrets” is a novel by Elena Vavilova, the Russian spy who posed as a Canadian for more than 20 years, first in Canada and then in the US. A fascinating read, even though there is no way of knowing which aspects of it are true and which are not (this book is not a memoir). Somehow the whole media coverage of their extradition passed right by me, so I also caught up on the official facts of the story when reading this book.

Practical Golf by Jacobs, John

I feel like purchasing and reading this book may not have made me a better golfer, but it made me a more committed golfer and allowed me to extract a bit more pleasure out of this evil game. Still a better golfer than a chess player.

Нежные листья, ядовитые корни—Елена Михалкова

Another detective story that I read early in the year when I was craving non-fiction. The only thing I recall from this book is a number of references made to the Bushido moral code. Originally I got interested in this author because of a quote from her other book that I found rather nice:

My grandmother once gave me a tip: in difficult times, you move forward in small steps. Do what you have to do, but little by little. Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow. Wash the dishes. Remove the dust. Write a letter. Make a soup. You see? You are advancing step by step. Take a step and stop. Rest a little. Praise yourself. Take another step. Then another. You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more. And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

Elena Mikhalkova, “The Room of Ancient Keys”

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Tyson, Neil deGrasse

I tried so hard to like this book, but most of it went over my head. The creation of the Universe is still a big mystery.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by Bridges, William

I was first introduced to the William Bridges Transition Model at work. I picked up this book to gain a bit more insight into the model. Was not that impressed by the book because I am pretty sure I should have picked up the other one by the same author called Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, which talks more about specifics of the model, while the “Transitions” focuses more on convincing the reader that as a human being you will necessarily go through a number of transitions and discusses the model only in the second part of the book (the idea that one goes through many transitions in life was pretty clear to me even before picking up the book, so I needed not to be convinced).

bridges transition model Archives | Competitive Solutions

The Courage to Be Happy: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You That True Contentment Is Within Your Power by Kishimi, Ichiro

I finished the year with a sequel to the first book of the year. The claim was that this book was supposed to make the first book thoughts more applicable. I found it repetitive and the only new thing that I really learnt was the Birth Order theory proposed by Adler, towards the end of the book.

bookmark_borderКоробка / The Box

Below is my amateur translation of The Box – A Short Story by Punnadhammo Bhikkhu.

Ниже приводится мой любительский перевод короткой истории “Коробка”, написанной Пуннадхаммо Бхиккху. Я нашел её совершенно случайно и мне захотелось перевести её на русский язык в знак благодарности автору и для того чтобы дать возможность более широкому кругу читателей ознакомиться и осмыслить эту историю. Повстречав Пуннадхаммо Бхиккху в личной жизни несколько лет назад, могу сказать что в какой-то мере эта история олицетворяет юмор, прямоту и жизненную мудрость автора.

Когда-то давно я помогал с переводом технической книгу и некий профессиональный переводчик который правил мой перевод сказал мне что мой перевод был “так себе” и что не стоит браться переводить если ты не настоящий профессионал. Что же, я согласен что бегло говорить на языке и уметь переводить – два совершенно разных и независимых таланта. Тогда я сильно расстроился, а теперь мне не страшно если кому-то придется не по душе.

Приятного прочтения!

Короткая история Пуннадхаммо Бхиккху

Дэнни жил в коробке. Возможно вы удивитесь, но он был достаточно счастлив, по-крайней мере большую часть времени. Возможно этому способствовало то что это была довольно приятная, добротно сделанная коробка. Коробка Дэнни была вместительной, она была хорошо освещена и вентилируема, а также была оснащена всеми необходимыми удобствами и даже многими излишествами жизни.

А может быть то что Дэнни смирился со своим положением было вызвано тем, что он твердо не знал и не помнил ничего и никого вне своей коробки. Когда он был маленьким мальчиком, у него были яркие воспоминания о том недолгом времени которое он провел в уютной комнате с большим венецианским окном и о том как он носился по чистому полю. Были у него также и смутные воспоминания о некоторых улыбающихся и полезных фигурах. Иногда, когда он еще был мальчиком, ему становилось одиноко и грустно когда он вспоминал об этих вещах. Но постепенно тухли и Дэнни наконец решил что эти тусклые остатки были всего-навсего его детскими снами.

В коробке у Дэнни был компьютер с первоклассным обучающим программным обеспечением, которое было сконструировано в виде забавных игр. Так Дэнни научился читать. Это было совсем неплохо, потому что в коробке у Дэнни также была приличных размеров библиотека. Вдоль одной из стен тянулись несколько полок с красивыми книгами в твердых переплетах. Эти книги были полны чудесных рассказов об удивительных людях и о местах за пределами коробки. Поначалу Дэнни наполовину верил этим историям, и они одновременно радовали и огорчали его. Но по мере того как он становился подростком, он все меньше и меньше верил этим книгам, несмотря на то что они по-прежнему ему нравились.

Почему? Да потому что наш Дэнни обладал даром рационального и скептического ума и рассуждал так: «Я знаю что я существую и я знаю что эта коробка существует. Единственное доказательство существования внешнего мира которое мне доступно находится в этих книгах, а они фантастичны, невероятны и противоречивы. За неимением других доказательств, я отказываюсь верить во что-либо столь надуманное как мир за пределами моей коробки». Читатель должен признать что это была здравая и разумная позиция.

Решив так, Дэнни примирился со своим заточением. По мере того как он становился взрослым, он продолжил развивать свои суждения в привычном направлении. После долгих размышлений, он решил что единственной логически приемлемой гипотезой было то, что и он сам и коробка выросли вместе, развившись от более мелких и простых форм посредством процесса который он окрестил «биокубическим комплексообразованием». Конечно было много деталей которые эта теория не могла объяснить. Например то, что каждый день его еда выпадала из металлического желоба в его маленькой кладовой. Но так как он уже неопровержимо решил что что-то вне его коробки существовать совершенно не могло, то он был уверен что пища обязана была каким-то образом создаваться с помощью неизвестного механизма, заключенного в стенках коробки. Так как его отходы исчезали в другом желобе в туалете, он подозревал что оба процесса были связаны, но благоразумно отказывался слишком много думать об этом.

Когда Дэнни достиг средних лет, он начал изучать некоторые книги которые он ранее считал слишком трудными. Одной из них был тонкий том, зловеще озаглавленный «Как вырваться из своей коробки». Много раз Дэнни поднимал эту книгу дрожащими руками и с ощущением чего-то не именуемого, только чтобы поспешно взглянуть на нее и быстро вернуть ее на полку, громко восклицая при этом: «Чепуха!» или «Вздор!»

Но однажды, по прошествии многих лет, Дэнни решил что как разумный человек он должен хотя бы исследовать эту глупую и тревожную книгу и так он заставил себя прочитать ее. К его удивлению, в ней не было чудесных историй о мифической жизни снаружи, а только краткий набор шагов и диаграмм описывающих как можно демонтировать коробку изнутри.

В духе научного исследования, Дэнни решил опробовать эти шаги. Следуя инструкции, он нашел небольшой ящик с инструментами который был спрятан в секретной нише. Он вынул специальную отвертку, как было указано в инструкции, и начал откручивать винты с настенной панели, описанной в книге. Как только несколько винтов было выкручено, панель немного сместилась внутрь и холодный ветер со свистом задул во внутрь коробки.

Дэнни испуганно отскочил назад, но быстро пришел в себя и поспешно закрутил все винты обратно. «Как хорошо», – подумал он, – «что я пришел в себя прежде чем я нанес непоправимый ущерб коробке. О чем я думал, следуя опасным инструкциям в этой нелепой книге?»

Дэнни затолкнул книгу обратно на полку и после этого дня больше никогда ее не открывал. В течение нескольких лет после этого дня он каждый день часами проводил за столом сочиняя длинные красноречивые очерки в которых снова и снова, разными способами, доказывал невозможность существования чего-либо вне коробки. Он пытался придумать контраргументы, а затем обоснованно и с издевками сам же опровергал их. Придумав особенно остроумный ответ своему воображаемому оппоненту, он ударял кулаком по столу и громко хохотал «Ха! Вот дурак!»

Прошло много лет, и Дэнни начал замечать, что некоторые вещи в его коробке были не так совершенны как раньше. Из кранов капало, а лампочки иногда моргали. Его тело частенько затекало и по какой-то причине ему приходилось держать книги на расстоянии вытянутой руки от лица когда он читал. Самое тревожное же было то что иногда настенные панели тревожно дребезжали, особенно та, которую он так глупо ослабил много лет назад.

Со временем, Дэнни все больше и больше времени стал проводить в постели. В самые худшие дни он оставлял свою постель только для того чтобы болезненно прошаркать в кладовую или в туалет. Компьютер не работал уже много лет, а некогда любимые книги пылились. Время от времени ему казалось что он снова чувствует холодный ветер и тогда он укутывался в одеяло и закрывал глаза.

Однажды случилось нечто поистине ужасное. Панели дребезжали все утро не переставая, и Дэнни прятался в постели до тех пор пока он больше не мог игнорировать зов природы. На обратном пути из туалета, когда он прошаркивал мимо той самой панели, раздался громкий стук и панель со свистом влетела внутрь коробки, больно ударив Дэнни по голени. Он остолбенело застыл на месте. В боковой части его коробки зияла квадратная дыра шириною в метр. Снаружи Дэнни увидел зеленые поля, голубое небо и услышал пение птиц.

Дэнни на мгновение замер, сморгнул слезы и задрожал всем телом. Он быстро подошел к давно забытому ящику с инструментами и, стараясь не смотреть наружу, трясущимися руками принялся мучительно работать чтобы вернуть неправильную панель на место. Его сердце бешено билось, он вернулся в постель и свернулся калачиком под простыней.

После этого здоровье Дэнни совсем пошатнулось и его походы в туалет и кладовку становились все более и более трудными. Скоро он перестал двигаться вообще и лежал в своих собственных отходах. Ближе к концу, верхнюю часть коробки сдуло и Дэнни озарил яркий солнечный цвет. Он натянул грязную рваную простыню на лицо, закрыл глаза и умер.

Через некоторое время какие-то люди пришли и переместили Дэнни в другую коробку. В гораздо меньшую, на этот раз.

bookmark_borderScreenlock language issue on Ubuntu 18.04

I suffered from this issue for so long that I finally decided to do something about it.

In a nutshell, whenever I lock the screen while using a keyboard layout other than English, I am not able to unlock the screen when I type in the correct password.

This is due to my password being in English and this bug reported years ago. Essentially,the screensaver app seems to ignore the layout chosen on the login screen and uses the layout selected prior the screen being locked.

At first, the lazy fix was to switch to a different session and run:

$ killall gnome-screensaver

Then, switch back to the gnome session, switch the layout to English manually and run:

$ gnome-screensaver-command -l

It got pretty annoying pretty fast though, so finally I figured out a slightly better workaround by setting up a cron script to switch the language back to English when the screensaver is detected. Here it is:

# Allows to avoid situation when on screen lock language other than
# English is selected.
# Set up under user's cron like this:
# */5 * * * * env DISPLAY=:0 /bin/bash /storage/scripts/ > /home/your_user_name/log.txt 2>&1
# Prerequisite:
# Add the following line to you .profile:

source /home/your_user_name/.DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS

if (/usr/bin/gnome-screensaver-command -q | /bin/grep "is active");
    /usr/bin/gdbus call --session --dest org.gnome.Shell \
        --object-path /org/gnome/Shell \
        --method org.gnome.Shell.Eval \

Of course the proper, once-and-for-all way of doing that would probably be figuring out and submitting a patch to the package but that’s above my current knowledge.

bookmark_borderDisturbing the Universe

Ms. Daniels and I, shortly before my high school graduation

I’ve recently learnt that my high school English teacher, Linda Daniels, passed away in March of last year.

I will remember her overwhelming passion, strength, kindfulness, and wisdom. Ms. Daniels taught me to have a good laugh and be daring, to not give up and not think much about what others think of me. She furthered my love for reading and fully accepted my strange obsession with squirrels (I was just re-reading some old emails and she would frequently greet me with Hello, little squirrel!).

My homage to Ms. Daniels, Disturbing the Universe, that I am including below, got published in Showing the Story: Creative Nonfiction by New Writers, as a result of my semester-long fight with an expressive writing course at university.

Even though I regret deeply that I did not keep in touch in the past few years and did not have a chance to say goodbye, I am at peace, since I did share this story with Ms. Daniels and know that she knew how grateful I was to her.

I am now working through the last piece of homework that Ms. Daniels’ obituary mentions – I am halfway through Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, I’ve listened to the Last Train Home by Pat Metheny, the lines of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a piece of writing I revisit regularly, and I will, of course, continue to disturb the universe, one day at a time.

Wherever you are, Ms. Daniels – I miss you and I am forever grateful to have had you in my life.

Disturbing the Universe

Put your full name and two things unique about you on the attendance sheet I’m sending around the room,” chirps Ms. Daniels at the beginning of our first grade twelve English class. “That way I can memorize your names faster. Chop-chop!”

“Nikita Pchelin. I am from Russia and I like squirrels,” I scribble on a sheet of lined paper.

After ten years of Russian school, I doodle during Ms. Lammers math class. Other students struggle with quadratic equations and use calculators to multiply two-digit numbers. My math teacher in Russia christened my Casio calculator “a devil machine,” confiscated it on the first day of grade nine, and returned it to me two years later, before I moved to Canada.

After I disassemble and reunite the parts of dusty old training PCs faster than any of my classmates, I sleep through Mr. Juzkiw’s computer engineering class. I have routinely replaced computer hard drives, wiped clean Windows 95 and Windows 2000 Server partitions, installed Linux and FreeBSD, and polished scratches from CRT monitors since 1997, when my dad got my brother and me our first Pentium II.

After I show off my knowledge of organic and inorganic chemistry, I grow bored of Mr. Doyle’s chemisty class and ignore the fill-in-theblank, hand-in assignments. I can recite Mendeleev’s Periodic Table by heart through the efforts of my brother, a biology and chemistry teacher by training, who spent hours tutoring me.

I stay wide awake in Ms. Daniels’ English class. After twelve years of studying English, hundreds of Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use exercises and several successful mock Cambridge tests, I still scribble notes on a sheet of paper, and revere the blue and white Collins dictionary which comes to the rescue each time an unfamiliar word stares at me from the pages of Death of a Salesman.

What would you like your mark to be, Nikita?” Ms. Daniels smiled at me at the beginning of the school year.

“Mmmm…Wha…What? You are asking me? I…I don’t know, Ms. Daniels. I got seventy-five percent last year and I want to do better for my university application, and….” I ramble.

“You are not answering my question, kiddo.” She frowns. “It’s okay, we can come back to this later.”

Ms. Daniels teaches English at Philip Pocock Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. She is four-foot-seven, witty, and loved by everyone in the class, including the most prominent rebels.

Around mid-May, we scrutinize T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” We discover deep symbolism and metaphors in every word; Ms. Daniels yelps “utter rubbish!” several times in reaction to another outrageous guess.

The classroom fills with chatter while we wait for our last class on this particular poem to start.

Ms. Daniels enters the room, dragging a high stool behind her. Beaming at us mischievously, she places the stool in the centre of the classroom and puts a bag full of ripe peaches on it. I glance over at my friend, Pavlo, who sits two seats to my left.

Pavlo, from Ukraine, went through a similar educational bootcamp to the one I experienced. The grimace on his face indicates a mixture of surprise and disapproval. I nod. I fidget in my chair. My immediate neighbours, Sandrina and Sean, follow Ms. Daniels with their eyes, eyebrows raised.

With perfect calm, Ms. Daniels grabs a book from her table and starts reading the poem. She reads slowly, with rhythm, stressing individual words and whole phrases. Entranced by her voice, hearing the poem for the hundredth time, I move my chin in time and silently recite along with her.

“Do I dare disturb the universe? Do I dare to eat a peach?” Her voice booms.

She stops and stares, in turn, at each one of her students.
By the time it is my turn, my eyes flicker. Blinking uncontrollably, I try to stare back. Is that a question that I missed? I glance at my notes, then at Pavlo, then at my notes again and by the time I look back up, Ms. Daniels stares at someone else. The room remains silent. People throw expectant glances at the teacher and puzzled looks at each other.

Ms. Daniels leaps to her feet. She paces around the room and jumps into a monologue about the Universe (Oh God, I think, not another pre-commencement speech) and how we are to disturb it (Here we go, I don’t even know what that means) and how there are peaches waiting to be eaten on every peach tree.

I stare at Pavlo, who has given up listening and doodles a Ukrainian coat of arms. Ms. Daniels goes on and on about peaches and our future, about paths that might await us, about hesitation that makes people miss great opportunities.

“I know you will disturb the Universe big time one day. As for now, who dares to disturb the Universe in this classroom? Who dares to eat the peach?” She concludes as abruptly as she began. It takes five long minutes before Jessica stands up, walks to the stool, picks up a peach from the pile and bites into it.

“Good job, Jessica!” Ms. Daniels applauds. “How does it feel?”

“I was not sure what I was supposed to do, but then I decided to go for it. Oh, and the peaches are delicious.” replies Jessica.

“You see, guys and gals,” Ms. Daniels addresses the class. “Even though you all wear the same blue and white uniform, some of you know how to grab the moment by the tail better than others. Don’t worry, you still have some time to learn. Now come on, come everyone, grab a peach.”

Enjoying my peach moments later, I rock in my chair and look out the window. Outside, the wind rustles the leaves on the silver maple trees.

“Well, well, well, Little Squirrel…there you are!” Ms. Daniels greets me a few years after high school graduation. She tells me about the books she has recently read, school politics, and her new students.

“You know I still punk them every year when we cover Orwell’s 1984. I pick one big tough guy and make him empty his pockets and knapsack in front of the whole class. I then explain to him that he did not have to do that, because he does have some basic rights, even in an English classroom.” She giggles.

I tell her about my successes and failures and about transferring from engineering to computer science and about interning at my dream company, IBM, and about my graduation that has been deferred because of the internship. She listens, nods and beams at me.

“No worries, Nikita, I know you will disturb the Universe one day.”

I leave with a dozen book recommendations ranging from Orwell’s 1984 (“Oh, you must reread it. It’s great!”) to Margaret Atwood’s Edible Woman (“Not everyone likes her, but she is part of contemporary Canadian literature!”). I feel calm, happy and inspired.

bookmark_borderGrinder settings on BES870XL Espresso Machine

In one of his sketches, Eddie Izzard notes that there are two kinds of people: those who have techno-fear and those who have techno-joy. I land squarely in the second group. This also means that my first step in learning a new piece of technology is to throw out the manual that I feel restricts my ability to mess around with buttons and lights.

My BES870XL espresso machine from Breville was no exception. I’ve had it for almost three years now and generally get decent shots out of it. Lately though, I’ve been having a hard time getting the pressure into the espresso range without using all my weight to tamper the coffee in addition to using the lowest grinder setting (the dial on the left side of the machine).

I complained about this to a friend who has the same machine and promptly realized that sometimes reading the manual could save some energy. She told me that the grinder on top of the machine has a hidden adjustment dial as well.

Once you remove the plastic bean holder, you can can lift and twist the metal bracket to the left to remove the round dial (takes a bit of effort and wiggling if you have never done this before). Then, the metal bracket itself can be removed and the round dial can be rotated to adjust the grind size.

I was so excited to get home and give it a go! I am now consistently hitting the espresso range and get some serious cream with normal tamper force and the side dial adjusted to 12-13.

bookmark_borderArduino Bunny Light

I built an Arduino nightlight that looks like a bunny:

I was inspired by this blog post on Sparkfun.

A single button, when pressed quickly, selects the lighting mode: single solid color, single fading color, or a series of colors fading into each other.

The same button, when pressed and held will activate / de-activate a sleep mode. This GitHub page contains the code and circuit design files.

bookmark_borderOne thousand origami cranes

Thousand Origami Cranes (千羽鶴 Senbazuru) is a group of one thousand origami paper cranes held together by strings. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by the Gods. Some stories believe you are granted eternal good luck, instead of just one wish, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury.

It turns out that even if one has no particular skill at origami, if one folds something about 1000 and five times, one gets surprisingly good.

Here is some stats I’ve gathered on this process:

  • The whole project has lasted for 252 days, I have only spent 41 days actually folding.
  • On average, I made about 24 cranes at a time. There have been at least 10 days where I’ve made only 10 cranes and two very productive days where I’ve made 70. Further to this, I made 20 on 16 different occasions, 30 on 4 different occasions, 40 on 6 different occasions and 50 on 1 occasion.
  • The longest streak was 9 days in March and the longest break was for 64 days.

I am pretty sure I can fold a crane in under a minute now.