November 25, 2005

So it's come to this:
An Irrelevant Opinions Clip Show

Today marks the first anniversary of Irrelevant Opinions! One year ago, I worried that as my University studies were coming to a close, so too would my University website, where I kept some of my writings and a lot of my rantings. As I intended to go for Hajj shortly afterwards, I also wanted a place to collect my experiences for later reference. Most importantly, I needed a way to revive my passion for writing which had wavered throughout the nearly five years of my Engineering studies.

I've never liked the word "blog"; I still don't believe that the idea is so novel that it warrants it's own word. Before blogs, many people were making personal websites on Geocities or whatever, often writing about their experiences; we just called those "personal websites". With the increasing simplicity of on-line publishing tools, everyone jumped on the blogwagon. Eventually, I reluctantly joined them too, albeit much later. Recognizing the vapid nature of most blogs, I decided to call it Irrelevant Opinions, intended to house everything from stories to essays to software reviews. I had hoped that this would be the #1 site on the internet for people in search of irrelevant opinions. For months, this blog never came up on Google search results for 'Irrelevant Opinions', but now, one year later, it makes the first page.

So in the spirit of tired sitcoms that have run out of ideas, let's take a look back at the highlights of the year - arguably the best year of my life.

November 26th, 2004: I receive my Iron Ring, marking my entrance into the Engineering profession! I graduate a month later, with an excellent job already waiting for me. (I lost my Iron Ring on the first day of Ramadhan last month... still haven't replaced it.)

I could write hundreds of posts about my University experiences. Though I don't miss those days much, I had an amazing time and learned so much - both in the classroom and out. More than anything, I learned a lot about myself in living nearly five years on my own, and I recommend anyone considering studies outside their home town to take that opportunity, just for that reason.

January 2005: My mother and I go for Hajj! It was an amazing experience, with the highlight of the trip coming on the last day of Hajj when massive rainstorms caused major flooding around Makkah and Mina.

I didn't expect to write more here after Hajj, but was surprised to see that blogs had become popular among my family when I came back to Canada in April. So all two of my readers got to read my irrelevance for many more months.

April 15th, 2005: Some reflections on my trip to India, including the advice of some amazing scholars I had a chance to listen to. During April and May, I was also in the middle of a two month vacation, away from everything. I took the opportunity to learn Arabic through the Shariah Program on-line courses. I highly recommend those courses for anyone who cannot dedicate themselves to full-time studies.

On May 30th, 2005, the most recent chapter of my life had begun, with the start of my career in Consulting.

July 9th, 2005: A hilarious incident in the wake of the London bombings. Possibly my best post ever, insofar as it elicited a response from one of the best Muslim writers in Canada, albeit an emoticon.

August 7th, 2005: Probably the most frequently discussed piece of writing I have done, once the metaphor kicks in.

September 12th, 2005: Feeling exasperated with some trite Masjid politics and MSA issues, I let loose in my writing for once. I had lost the ability to do that after years of technical reports and little creative work.

October 22nd, 2005: On October 19th, all my co-workers joined me in fasting for one day of Ramadhan. This was the result.

November 20th, 2005: I ended the year on a high note, with the most unique commenters I've ever had on this site. While still extremely few in comparison to the great blogs out there (and many of the stupid ones too), it's nice to know that I have some readership after a year.

November 25th, 2005: In the absence of new, meaningful content, I strung together a years worth of Irrelevant Opinions in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of this site.

November 20, 2005

How Technology has Corrupted Language

Beep. It's from Hamlet. 2B? NT2B?=??? | Yahoo! News

The above news posting made me feel sick. For a while, I considered writing a piece about how instant messaging, e-mail, and SMS has tainted the value of the printed word, but I often felt that the situation was not as urgent as I originally suspected. When I first heard someone actually say "Lol" in a spoken conversation, I knew things were bad, but I thought we were still some years away from disgusting constructions like "2B? NT2B?"

How wrong I was. I'm not part of that generation where computer ownership was considered a luxury for most high school children; we were expected to submit most things typed and printed. However, back then, we still used our pencils most of the time. We were accustomed to writing out entire words, articulating our feelings with a healthy supply of adjectives. Abbreviations were frowned upon, and we were aware that contractions weakened the language already. Consider the following two statements; it is clear which one is stronger.
"I won't eat this spinach."

"I will not eat this spinach."

The contraction used in the first statement weakens the emphasis of the negation; I would expect that with enough coercing, I could convince the writer of the first statement to eat the spinach. The second statement, however, signifies a bold defiance against spinach-eating that one would take all the way to the grave. For example, it would have been much less effective had William Wallace told the Englishmen that "You can take our lives, but you can't take our freedom." in Braveheart. That he explicitly says, "You can not take our freedom" emphatically suggests that this mans freedom was not something he would compromise under any circumstances.

You will not find many contractions in classical texts. They became common because of tongue laziness, as pronouncing too many syllables can quickly become tiresome; now, it is a perfectly common and normal part of speech. Lots of abbreviations have also been accepted as common enough to be used in formal writing. Nowadays, we do not even know what the acronyms mean, but still use them in our writing.

It is possible, perhaps likely, that common internet and SMS terms like "lol", "brb", and "l8r" will embed themselves into regular grammar in the same way. Some may say that this is just the natural evolution of language, and there is no reason to prevent it. However, many of these terms are incredibly stupid and ingenuine, and for the later generations who have been writing like this all their lives, that lack of authenticity will likely weaken the language even further.

Seriously, who actually laughs out loud when they type "lol"? Is there anyone who actually rolls on the floor laughing after typing "rofl"? Originally intended as abbreviations, these have become terms in themselves now which have been corrupted even further through contructions like "lolz", "loooooll!!11", and "rofflez!!"; these are indications that mainstream acceptance of the original terms has already begun. I do not want to even get started on the unpronounceable, meaningless terms like "pwn", which is at least two mistakes away from actual English.

Text messaging on mobile phones, or SMS, has made things far worse. Nowadays, most mobile phones are advanced enough that users can send full sentences, without resorting to abbreviating every second word. However, the culture of abbreviation in mobile technology has been so pervasive that these habits have persisted, and it is considered uncool to actually write out entire words. Grammar and spelling is so 20th century, after all. I remember watching a cousin of mine in India chatting on MSN. When accidentally writing "How are you?", she promptly deleted her last two words and wrote "How r u?" instead. After all, those pesky vowels sure complicate things.

For Muslims, the Islamic greeting of "Assalamu'alaykum" has not been spared from this corruption. This is a beautiful greeting which is shared by over a billion people worldwide, irrespective of language, culture, or sect; there is probably no other phrase in any language which matches the prevalence of this greeting. Every once in a while, however, I will get contacted on MSN Messenger with the message "aa". Many Muslims will reply with "ws", to imply "Wa'alaykum assalam." Our greeting is beautiful, "May Peace be with you." The more people use "aa" and "ws", the more likely this greeting will go the ways of "Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem", which has been reduced to a meaningless "786" in much of the Muslim world.

For those of you who continue to spell out words entirely in their instant messaging conversations, kudos to you. You will find me responding accordingly. But if you insist on "aa"ing me, then I can not promise you a meaningful discussion. And if you ever say "rofl", you better be rolling on the floor, laughing. Otherwise, I will have a very hard time believing anything else you say.

Update 8.1.2006: Apparently, research has proven my assertions false:
Texting helps teens' grammar | The Globe and Mail

The ironic part is the "verbing" of the word "text" in the title of the article, which is a grammatical failing in itself.

November 14, 2005

This almost makes you want to write buggy code!

When attempting to retrieve a recordset for a web application developed in ASP.NET, I encountered the greatest runtime error ever:

Run-time error '-2147418113' Catastrophic failure
There has been a catastrophic failure. Please stand by.

Catastrophic failure! Run, children! Save yourselves!!

This now surpasses the Quartus "This operation is legal, but highly suspicious" error message I encountered in fourth year university as the greatest error message of all time.

November 11, 2005

The Joys of Multiculturalism

This happened over a week ago, but since everyone found this story funny when I told them in person, it has now officially been relegated to an Irrelevant Opinion. Generally, I'll try to keep work-related stuff out of here, but this is an exception.

I was working on the integration of a third party tool into the system we were developing for the federal government. We had been waiting for months for the company to deliver this product, and finally last week, they told us that it was ready to be tested. We scheduled a conference call between a few of us from our company, with the third party vendor joining us from locations in Toronto and Arizona. I had not met any of these people previously, and didn't know most of their names either.

So after everyone introduced themselves on the call, someone asked: "Do we have a jew on the line?" I gasped, perplexed by the question. "Not yet," another replied.

Later, after our test failed, I was told to "touch base with a Jew" before I continue with my testing. I was confused, but didn't inquire further.

Finally, someone else joined the call. He had a heavy Indian accent, and introduced himself to the rest of us on the conference call.

"Hey everyone, this is Aju."

Finally, it all made sense. A few hours later, I was explaining to others within our company how to conduct the tests I had just run. When I told them to "get in touch with a Jew before you move forward," I was greeted with lots of furrowed brows - their confusion was probably amplified since this was being explained to them by a devout Muslim with a thick beard.

Ah, multiculturalism at work! It's a beautiful thing.