Book Review – Brilliant HTML & CSS

Brilliant HTML & CSS Brilliant HTML & CSS by James A. Brannan

So far this has been the best book on Web Design/ programming languages I have come across. It is very well designed, arranged and simple to use. You can dip in and out of any relevant section and it does not confuse you with unnecessary jargon or too much irrelevant information. Great for anyone new to CSS.
View all my reviews >>

Google Buzz

Having just spent the whole day syncing various corporate PR videos and apps onto lots of Apple iTouch devices (not for fun, but for a large multinational company’s annual conference in case you were wondering), I came back home to a googlemail account that was covered with this “supposedly exciting” message and uninspiring logo:
Google Buzz Logo
I had just read about Google deciding to “invade” (or should that be join) the over-burgeoning world of social networking gone mad. I actually read about it on Twitter and even though it did excite me for about 10 nanoseconds I did start to wonder how I could fit yet another social networking site into my already social network crammed life. And I don’t even have a job (yet).
I do love the internet, the web and all things tech, but even I have my limits (which will surprise many). That said I obviously joined, as I already have a Gmail account so I was already Buzzed up anyway. I am intriugued to see who will come out on top in the Social networking wars (here’s me hyping the mundane up again). I personally like Twitter the most as it basically gives me access to lots of links on articles about Technology, Culture, Politics and the news from a wide variety of sources. It would take me ages to trawl through all these various news and story providers but Twitter makes the job easier. I can also access it via my iPhone, and, not to put too crude a point to all this, since I spend a lot fo my time on the loo (I couldn’t think of a more sophisticated way to mention this) Twitter on my iPhone means I have access to the world and all its different events from different angles in the one place I need it the most. What else would I do on the toilet? I am always loathe to take a good book in there as books are sort fo sacred to me, and it would be like defiling literature. Anyway, my Irritable Bowel Syndrome problems aside, social networking does serve a useful purpose in my life, given my specific lifestyle. Yet even I don’t spend that much time locked away from civilisation to be able to go through every Plurk, Tweet, Facebook status update, Flickr update or Buzz that comes my way. I wish I did. I really love the way that social networking on the web connects like minded people who would otherwise never meet as they are separated by geography and other traditional barriers.
I was planning to write a blog post about social networking anyway, before all this Buzz commentary. The angle I planned to take was to discuss why I have more than one Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail account and how that connects with the myriad of different aspects of my personality. Social networking and the web in general allows me to share different parts of my life and personality with a diverse range of very different people. This gives me and my thoughts a great deal of freedom to express themselves. If I did not have this option all my thoughts would fester deep within me, like a swirling vortex of pent up frustrations, boiling and bubbling with rage until they erupted and offended all around me.
So maybe buzzing in addition to tweeting may help keep me a sane, normal, and probably more dull person in real life?
Who knows, I probably won’t have the time to even update my Facebook status with the fact that I am buzzing about twitter.
A lot of people have commented on how social networking has become overbearing and gone into overkill. To an extent I agree about the overbearing comment.  With all the social networking sites around one could spend all day every day just reading status updates (half of which are exaggerated half truths or designed to project a specific self image people want to create). I am already singed up for Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, Moolto, MSN Live, Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, WordPress, Blogger, Library thing and Goodreads! They need one service that combines all of these!
I feel that it is up to the individual to act in a balanced and sensible manner (some might say I am expecting too much, given how humans often abuse advances in technology), when picking which services they use to communicate different types of messages and ideas. Of Course there are some geeks out there locked away in a room with wires attached to their internal organs from their computers who live for the next status update and electronic hit, but most people just use it to share their thoughts and ideas with like minded people.
It is hard to find like minded people who you click with in the real world. It always had been. Most of the people we are surrounded by are with us out of pure chance. They happen to be our neighbours, school friends and family. We have geography and maybe blood or language in common but often we don’t have much else.
Personally I have found sites like TED and Mashable to provide me with a very rewarding experience. I would never have discovered them were it not for Twitter. I have also got back into listenign to more music, and the joys of discovering new bands through sites like Spotify and last FM. I haven’t even joined MySpace but I know it has helped a lot of good bands break through. Twitter has also been a great place for aspiring and struggling writers to network with other writers and get useful tips and make valuable contacts. Like many things social networking can be a positive as well as negative force, and both those forces are at work in our lives.
I hope that I can find the right balance in terms of sensible social networking use, which I think I can, and use it to enrich my life instead of distracting me from facing life.
With all this in mind I will now post this blog onto WordPress, link it to blogger, post a link on Twitter, Buzz, Facebook and Plurk and check any comments on my iPhone, when I should really be finishing “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

XX Alone

I am sitting here in my dusty, claustrophobic study with web design books, magazines and course material strewn chaotically all around me imitating the disorganised mess that is my current existence. The dreamy, haunting sounds of English indie rock band XX are floating out of my tinny monitor speakers via the add filled yet free and therefore viable music service Spotify. I say viable as I am currently broke, in the financial as well as psychological state.

One could look back at my life and report that I am usually broke. It depends on how you define broke. However you choose to define it (in terms of more debt than savings or higher expenses than income or high income and high expenditure, take your pick) no one can deny the financial challenge that should be staring me in the face from a multi coloured array of spreadsheet cells in my Family budget file. As it is I am taking a leaf out of my wife’s book and resorting to denial. I should be downloading our bank account and credit card balances to these complex self made spreadsheets but as I know they will only paint an even scarier picture than the one they painted last Saturday, I choose to ignore our impending financial doom and instead surf the net joining various social networking sites such as Plurk and Moolta with my Second life avatar as I am feeling particularly lonely tonight.

The psychological breaking down and current loneliness has much to do with coming back from an insightful yet intensive therapy session to an empty, eerily silent house. The children’s toys are there, littered across the well worn lounge floor, but there are no children playing with them. The wok and saucepans are piled up on top of our ancient electric hobs and various utensils and ingredients are lying about but no one is cooking. The only sound in the whole 3 bed suburban semi is of my stress out pent up mind, swelling with conflicts, anxiety and confusion, overheating and getting ready to blow a gasket. I feel like a faulty Toyota in desperate need of repair just waiting to be recalled before my broken accelerator pedal drives me into a self destructive brick wall.

The loneliness can be attributed to my wife and daughter staying with my mother-in-law to comfort and support her, in deepest rural Woking. My father-in-law is still in hospital and still in a bad state following his major stroke last October. The air of empty silence and haunting alienation of this house is much better than the thick fog of depression permanently hanging over my in laws home as life gets harder and more emotionally and psychically challenging day by day. The financial costs of supporting a stroke victim are not low.

The financial burdens of a South west London suburban family with a mortgage, growing child, constant 70 mile round trips to Milford Hospital in an age of ever rising petrol prices are also becoming less and less compatible with my continuing unemployment. I got a job that would have plugged the outflow of cash for a little while, giving us breathing space, only to have the job offer callously ripped from me due to miscommunication between HR departments and the business managers who desperately needed me.

The spiral of increasing problems and stress has resulted in a sudden relapse of my Irritable Bowel Syndrome and I need to get some acid to pump through our lime scale ridden blocked up toilet discharge pipes before they overflow again (don’t try and visualise it, not a pretty sight, i can promise you.) My bouts of sudden inexplicable fatigue are also increasing. I am back to job hunting, but in this market it is even more depressing than it usually would be. I can’t tell my wife how broke we are. She doesn’t have the time, energy or motivation to read this blog so she will never know, unless the bailiffs arrive early. She will probably be in the hospital anyway so I will find a way to blag it.

It would be nice to hug her after a long, dreary day of depressing chores and job hunting and to snuggle up to a movie or Episode 1, Series 4 of Northern Exposure. As it is I am left to find some friendly conversation online with random geeks who like to create digital art and funny freakish animals in Photoshop and play Star Trek online. That would be one way of escaping my enforced isolation but unfortunately it seems that tonight even the geeks aren’t talking to me. So I have resorted to talking to myself by throwing a few thoughts onto electronic ink and composing this blog.

4 Diet Pepsi’s and many happy pills on from my fatigue relapse this afternoon and I feel myself drifting off into a surreal computer generated world where no one has cancer or strokes and being unemployed and geeky is a virtue not a mark of failure and anxiety.

On a lighter note, at least all my web surfing in the name of my web design course has lead me to discover this great website dedicated to the early 1990’s TV Comedy Drama Northern Exposure:

http://www.moosechick.com/

Second Life Home

Even Virtual Worlds have loneliness

Immortal Presence

I promised a list of the topics I would be blogging about concerning the emotional rollercoaster that my life has become but instead I have some random thoughts.

I have just watched episode 1 of a new BBC Documentary “The Virtual Revolution” (I can’t get enough of documentaries. My wife thinks I have finally lost the plot and our 250GB DVD Recorder hard drive is full with random documentaries on everything from the history of Chemistry to the Battle of Stalingrad 1942-43). Although the programme was generally about the history and development of the world wide web and its impact on society it made me think about my online presence. This is something that I was already thinking about since I read an article about a new TV Series called “Caprica” by the creators of the great TV show Battlestar Galactica (the Ron D Moore re-imagined one not the 1970’s disco pop original with that silly robot dog and Face from the A-Team).

Here is a link to the article from The Guide: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2010/jan/30/battlestar-galactica-caprica-guide

Not to reveal any spoilers (although I just about to do that) but one of the main character’s daughter dies in a terrorist attack but before she dies she apparently downloads information about herself that essentially represents a virtual version of herself, into an online world that her father ends up visiting. I haven’t seen the show yet as episode 1 only aired on Sky 1 in the UK tonight, but that is my summary of events. The show sounds fascinating as it will bring up complex issues such as what is the soul? Merely a collection neural impulses or character traits embedded chemically into our physical bodies? Or is the soul inextricably linked to our physical being? A log is nto the place to discuss such philosophical matters, but thinking about the show and the programme about the internet, which talked a lot about blogging, made me think about my own online presence.

There are very few people who know what truly goes on inside my head, least of all myself, but the few people close to me do know and relate to different aspects of my personality and thoughts. My opinions on books, literature, culture, art, religion, politics, justice, law and order, music, films, scientific theories and mythology amongst other things are shared and discussed with various different people. yet no one single person knows how all of these complex and fluid thoughts fit into my psyche. My wife would be the closest person but there are many things I don’t get the chance to discuss with her and other feelings and conflicts which i purposefully keep from her. I live different sets of lies with different people and the person I am in the workplace or at a job interview is very different to the person I am with my close friends who I can discuss satire or literature with, and I am a different person with other friends who have never read a book outside of school in their life. Sometimes I put on a façade, to try and please others and make them feel comfortable, at other times to stop myself from offending them with my constant curiosity and inquisitiveness. Behind the many lies, façades and different faces for different audiences, new ideas and thoughts are always brewing. I rarely get the chance to put these fragments of thought onto a permanent record, such as paper or a blog.

On the rare occasions I do manage to find a piece of toilet paper, post stick note, note pad, iPhone Notes app or log onto this blog I am able to transfer my often incoherent stream of conciousness onto a platform that will hopefully be preserved long after I have lost my train of thought and even after my body has ceased to have blood pumped around it and is devoured by worms as I transfer the essence of my being into fertiliser for oak trees in deepest Surrey.

Paper can get lost and burnt and all my archaic sets of story ideas and views on various subjects will probably be lost forever in some refuse and recycling dump and turned into Starbucks Coffee cups. There is a glimmer of hope. however, in the thought that some of my personality, character and insights might outlive me in cyber space. If I am honest enough about what I am thinking and my reaction to the events and experiences of my life and I manage to not enough of it down in this blog then maybe, just maybe, in generations to come, my descendants could search a vast database, that they would probably control through telepathy, and find my blog. They would then be able to read posts such as this one and get an insight into what their often baffled and chaotic ancestor was really like. Add this to my many Twitter and Facebook status updates, all the pictures on Flickr and other websites, and all the other data about me held in various databases around cyberspace, then they would be able to create a picture of what I might have actually been like.

This online presence, which will surely outlive me, may or may not bear any real resemblance to the person that I really am, or think I am, but at least they will get the chance to see different aspects of my life, experience,s and thoughts frozen in time forever, as long as the servers and binary files holding all this data survive all the apocalyptic events that Hollywood movies would have us believe the 21st century is destined for.

Whatever the effects of climate change or nuclear wars and viral epidemics I hope that some fragments of my personality will remain intact for future generations of Latif’s to be able to study. I would love to be able to log onto to a web site and read extracts from the diaries of my grandparents. All of my grandparents died before I was born and a certain part of me feels empty at having never met them. Even if I had I would have only got a small glimpse into their lives and what they were thinking and feeling as the world transformed before their eyes.

When my father was born in Lahore in 1934 India was still part of the British Empire. World war 2, partition, the cold war, the fall of communism, the moon landings, the personal computer, smartphones and the world wide web were all to come. His father, my paternal grandfather, grew up and live din a world where a few Western European powers ruled with an iron fist and nobody had a car, phones or credit cards. I have been told a few stories about his life before he got married and it sounds fascinating. His own father (my paternal great grandfather – this is getting complicated) died before he was born. His elder brothers all moved to Bengal, which was to become East Pakistan then Bangladesh. he remained in Punjab and apparently joined the army and fought in the rugged mountainous terrain of North Western India, where war and fighting is going on to this day. I woudl love to be able to travel in his mind as he recount his experiences of being a soldier and fighting in the mountains on some imaginary blog somewhere.

At some point his fighting days were over and he somehow become a bank manager and successful businessman in Lahore. He was too nice for his own good and had a strong moral conscious, which in a society as ruthless as India is not an asset. He lost a lot of money and power due to being exploited by those he helped and cared for, not least his iron fisted tyrannical wife, my paternal grandmother, but apparently he never worried about people walking all over him. He left people’s fates to God and continued to be kind, generous, loving and gentle. He sounded like a great man and I can see many of his traits in my own father and also in myself. However he witnessed many life changing events. He lost a young son, who died when he was only 5. He saw the British Empire fall and lived in through the bloody events of partition, which tore Punjab in 2. Many years later his eldest son and best friend, my father, left to study in the UK. My father was only supposed to stay in the UK for 4 years then go back home to his family. Instead he remained in the UK, never to return to Punjab, save once in 1973 just a few months before my grandfather died.

My grandfather suffered a major stroke but apparently overcame his fragile health and through determination kept walking. I would dearly love to get an insight into his mindset at that time, especially considering my own father-in-law’s tragic recent stroke, from which he is struggling to recover.

I feel that I could learn a lot about myself, my heritage my character, and what makes me tick (or not as is often the case) if my grandfather had left an online presence, no matter how fragmented or small.

Maybe a little bit of me and the struggles I am grappling with in my own little life might survive me in the form of an immortal avatar who some confused, conflicted, geeky descendant of mine may find it heartening to engage with.

Lahore

Links of the Day 24062009

I should be balancing the heavily reddened books of our personal family finances and updating the bank account balances and setting the budget which shows just how dire my current financial situation is. As this is not only very depressing but also very dull I have decided to escape back to the world of blogging and share the few interesting articles I have come across.

I also wanted to let you fellow blog addicts now that I actually managed to spend 3 hours away from a computer and in the garden dealing with nature by mowing the lawn, trimming (actually butchering) the hedges, and learning about butterflies from my neighbour, who also proceeded to tell me about how she went to Sloane Square to buy a Baguette Baking tin, as she is into baking bread, and she gave me half a white loaf of freshly baked bread which melted in my mouth instantly, even the slices not smothered in Nutella.

I did not take a picture of the Nutella covered bread but here are the links and the garden post clear up.

Guardian article on slow death of Blogging:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jun/24/charles-arthur-blogging-twitter

Libraries Tap Into Twitter:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/24/libraries-twitter

JG Ballard Obituary from the Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/19/jg-ballard-obituary

Link to the Guardian Book Blogs:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog

Revolutionary Road – Iranian Blog

http://shooresh1917.blogspot.com/

Official Website of the excellent documentary I watched last night about Virtual Online worlds, such as Second Life. They even interviewed Philip Rosedale:

http://anotherperfectworld.submarine.nl/

What will the literary archives of today’s authors look like?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/jun/22/literary-archives

Sam Toman’s blog about his travels to the land of his forefathers, Ukraine:

http://samtoman.wordpress.com/

Before my return to manual labour:

Garden Before

The garden after I pulled myself away from blogging:

Garden After

One final link, to a blog that is a taking life more seriously than me, with a different perspective on what is happenign in Iran at the moment:

http://socialist-blogs-news.blogspot.com/